Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Children’s games: Marco Polo

It’s a hot summer Saturday afternoon, and I hear the kids next door playing in the swimming pool, and I listen and hear that they are playing Marco Polo.

Suddenly I’m transported to another time, another place. A farm in Zululand, 1979, and the kids there were playing Marco Polo too. It’s a kind of blind man’s buff played in the water. The one who is “on” calls “Marco” and the others reply “Polo”, and the one who is on tries to work out where they are from the sound alone, and catch one of them.

I wondered how the game had travelled to Pretoria, and passed down several generations of kids, apparently unchanged.

Back in 1979 a friend got tired of the repeated cries of “Marco” and “Polo”, and suggested some variation. “Why don;t you call ‘Connie’, and the others reply ‘Mulder’?” he suggested. He joined in the game to demonstrate, shouting “Connie”, and the kids dutifully replying “Mulder”.

Girls playing hoscotch in Lesotho

Girls playing hoscotch in Lesotho

Connie Mulder was a cabinet minister, much in the news at the time because of a scandal involving the Department of Information, which he headed. The newspapers imaginatively called it “Infogate”.

It seemed appropriate that Connie Mulder should be commemorated in a children’s game. At an earlier stage of his career he had been Minister of Sport, and was uniquely qualified for that position because at university he had written a dissertation on hopscotch.

If I recall correctly, he found that there were two versions of the game, one played east of a line drawn on the map between Kakamas and Bredasdorp, and the other to the west of that line. Presumably the girls in the picture were playing the eastern version (hat-tip to Rusty’s Odyssey). You can also see more about hoscotch here.

But the Connie Mulder version of Marco Polo doesn’t seem to have made it. Children’s games are far too resilient to be changed by bored adults.

But I wonder how many people reading this played Marco Polo as children, or if their own children play it today.

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