No harm in a little rough and tumble

5th March 2010 at 00:00

I stopped a playground fight yesterday. Obviously copying the professionals, two boys had been arguing over who had scored a goal, and a mild bout of shoving had quickly developed into something a bit more serious.

For all our health and safety rules these days - just in case Mrs Smith sues - many boys undeniably enjoy the occasional tussle. But then, as a youngster, so did I.

When I was 14, I got into a wrestling match with a boy called Anthony and, I've no idea how, threw him spectacularly over my shoulder. It astonished Anthony, and it certainly impressed my classmates, who immediately and inexplicably dubbed me the best wrestler in the school. Fortunately, I was never asked to repeat the performance.

But then, I'd grown up in the Boy Scouts, and how we didn't emerge from Monday evening meetings in a swathe of bandages I'll never know. We did all the important things like learning how to pitch a tent, catch a rabbit and tie a bowline on a bight, but the highlight of the evening was games hour, where we were divided into teams and civility was dropped.

A classic game was a little divertissement known as "Fight For The Chalk". Two rectangles were drawn on the floor, one at each end of the room, and a circle was drawn in the centre.

A lump of chalk was placed in the circle. The boys were divided into two teams and they sat facing each other, stretched out between the rectangles. The boys in the teams were given corresponding numbers, and you sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for your turn to play.

If your number was called, you leapt to your feet, grabbed the chalk, and ran to make a mark inside your team's designated rectangle, thereby scoring a point. The only problem was your opposite number. He'd be trying to do the same, so you had to fight extremely hard for chalk possession. This meant grappling energetically with your opponent until you'd got his head firmly jammed between your legs. Then you squeezed, while trying to prise his fingers open - a process that could take a good 10 minutes, with much egging on from your mates.

If you weren't too keen on the fight element of the game, the tactic was to sit still for a fraction of a second too long, let your opponent score, and then pretend you hadn't heard your number called. It was an accepted way of saving face.

Even worse was a ferocious two team game known as "Bung The Barrel". One team lined up at the end of the hall and each boy bent down, placed his head under the crutch of the boy in front, and held his legs tightly. The other team, one by one, took a running jump onto the backs of the crouching boys and then energetically bounced up and down, trying to make the crouched row collapse. If by some miracle you withstood the bouncing and didn't fall, you became the team to jump in the next round. It was the lesser of two grim alternatives.

We all thought it was tremendous fun, and I don't remember anybody being carted off to hospital. But how times change. Recently, I read about a group of Scouts who erected an aerial runway on a camping trip. The Scout leader had fully equipped the boys with hard hats and harnesses when two louts gatecrashed their enjoyment and climbed on the runway. One fell off and injured himself, whereupon his mother successfully sued. Unbelievably, the Scout leader was told he should have forced the louts to wear protection.

Obviously, the judge had never played Bung The Barrel.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, South London. Email:

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