Sunday, July 12, 2015

He and Me, or, How we played Kick the Can

Kicking the can down the road is a cliché of political journalism that bugs me. It cropped up in a Guardian editorial in connection with Greece, as I mentioned last time. But on this occasion no blame attaches to The Guardian because they acknowledged it as someone else’s cliché.  No such excuse however on 27 September 2013:-

Here “kicking the can down the road” appears not only within the article but dear oh dear, in the headline.  And dear oh dear, not just any old headline, but an editorial.

And here's a particularly lame instance in the Irish Examiner last year.  It's in an op-ed piece which finishes:-

“Scandal has been kicked down the road, where, history warns, it will rear its head again.  But with a bit of luck for Shatter and Callinan, that will be on somebody else’s watch.”  Two sentences groaning under the weight of three clichés. 

I'll spare you further examples. It's a metaphor that appears to have no precise referent. Or maybe there really is a kicking the can down the road game that all other kids played, and I didn't, due to my privileged upbringing? If so then I withdraw that part of the objection.  (Note: idly kicking a can down a road doesn't count; it has to be a purposeful game.)

Kick The Can

At my school we did have a game called Kick The Can and very satisfying it was too. No road was involved - we played it in a clearing in the woods at one side of which a steep bank fell away to a pond on which (I think) moorhens swam. The can was a large upside-down floor polish tin. One boy would be “He”, while the rest of us ran to hide behind trees. The He's task was to catch sight of one of us. Suppose he spied me he would shout “one two three Household” and then I was caught, and had to stand at the edge of the clearing. When we were all caught, the He had won the game.

Here I am running up behind the He to kick the can and release three boys who have been caught. However, my run is likely to be in vain, because his foot is on the can.
But there was a catch. While shouting “one two three Household”, the He had to have his foot on the can, else it didn't count. If another boy ran from behind a tree and succeeded in kicking the can while the He’s foot wasn’t on it, then all those who had been caught were released, and the He had to run to retrieve the can, giving us all time to hide again. Or the He was deposed, and the can kicker became the new He. Of course the He could avoid all this inconvenience by the simple contrivance of staying put in the middle of the clearing with his foot placed firmly on the can. But this defensive tactic entailed disadvantages. Firstly, the He would be unlikely to discover any of us who were hiding. To have a good chance of this, it was necessary to go on patrol amongst the trees. The other disadvantage was the rest of us from our hiding places would taunt him with a chant of “Can Sticker! Can Sticker!”

It was a brilliant game.

By the way, although I've depicted us all in Billy Bunterish school caps, these were worn only on Sundays, not for kick the can. The caps were similar in style to the one shown but they were pink, indeed Leander pink according to one of my informants. It was a prep school in Sussex called Boarzell that I attended from 1956 to 1961, age 7 to 12. Finally were my illustration accurate, I feel the can would have frequently ended up in the pond. But as I don't recall this happening, at least not often, maybe the pond wasn’t as close as I remember it.  

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