By Steve Van Nattan

Tenure: Rift Valley Academy days

When I was growing up and going to boarding school in Kenya, we had several unique games which we played. Some would have made kids from the USA wonder if we had gone crazy, while others were complex and took ages to understand. I will launch into it anyway.

Bull dog was a great game since the more you had playing it, the more exciting it got. This game, like many games kids play, could be hard on your self-image in several ways. The game was played on the soccer field. Sides were chosen, which could go on for as much as 30 minutes, and it was trying on ones self-esteem to wait and hope you would not be chosen last.

Once both sides were chosen, they would head for opposite ends of the soccer field and stand behind the goal lines. Playing the game was almost silly to watch, but the intrigue was fantastic for us all. One person would walk out across the field as a challenge. Someone from the other team would then walk out from their side.

The point was to try to capture all the other team and put them in "jail." This was done in this way. If you walked out on the field AFTER someone from the other team, you could tag them and they were caught, and you could take them back to "jail." The only problem was, if someone from the opposing team walked out on the field AFTER you, they could tag you and take YOU back to "jail."

Now, maybe you can see the suspense. One after the other would walk out on the field. You would keep an eye on those who came out there before you, but you would act like you didn't see them. But, you would also have to keep an eye on any opponent who came onto the field after you. As more and more of each team came onto the field, you would find it harder and harder to remember who had come out before you or after you. One miscalculation, and you were off the "jail."

This game could last easily three of four hours with kids coming and going and being added to the teams according to fairness to be sure not to have uneven numbers or ages. The other way this game tested you social standing was if you got caught and went to "jail." Your team could rescue you. This was done by going out on the field and pretending to be after someone, and when the other team was not ready, and almost all their players were on the field, you would rush for their line. If you crossed it without being tagged by someone coming out to meet you, you could rescue anyone languishing in "jail."

The problem was, if you were not in high demand, you might stay in "jail" for a long long time. Maybe there is something in this for modern parole boards to consider. "Who WANTS this guy let out of jail? Hmmmmmm

The game was almost never done and ended when the dinner bell rang.

You have probably been involved an a mud fight or two, but never like we had my friend. These mud fights were also on the soccer field as a rule, but we stood side to side. This was because the field was cut out of the hillside which slopped from side to side. We positioned ourselves strategically so that one side had the hill slopping up behind them from which to mine ammunition, and the other team had the hillside slopping off behind them from which to gather mud pips (bullets).

Now, if we had been more civilized kids we would have gotten bored with this pretty quick, but we had many devious way to make a mud fight ugly, and the war went on sometimes for days, with recesses for school, sleep, and eating.

One of the nasty tricks we use was to go ahead of time and make mud balls and dry them outside our room or in a secret place in the weeds. These would then be inserted in the flow of the battle at internals, and if anyone caught one, pow, what a lump they got on the head. You see, the mud was prolific in the Kiambu or Kenya. It was high in clay, and it was very red, like the dirt of Oklahoma. This gummy mud packed well, and a "legal" round made of fresh mud was hard enough. So, when some scoundrel made these dried rounds, it was dangerous.

Another nasty trick was to implant a rock inside a mud round. This would make it fly a bit better, and it was also deadly if it hit you. This was serious, because even a staff member would take umbrage at this evil trick, and you could get yourself a couple of demerits for that. Bad karma!

The mud fight ended when you couldn't tell who the combatants were anymore for the mud all over them, or when the dinner bell rang. Sometimes the game was called off by popular consensus when some kid got hit so bad he started bleeding. We all would kind of get into a state of remorse and swear we would never let this happen again-- At least not until tomorrow after school.

Dinky Toys is the trade mark of the company by the name from the UK. Way back in the 1940s I think this company started making toy autos and trucks of metal with wee rubber wheels. Today, there are many companies making these sort of cars and toys, but all of them followed the original company. Match box was another company who came into it in about 1960/

Now, we did not buy Dinky Toys simply to play on the floor and then throw them in the corner. We collected these cars like Mr. Harrah in Reno collects old automobiles for his museum. And, they were serious toys also. Boys were known to have a collection of considerable impact until the graduated from High School, though this was not too common.

The whole point of having the Dinky Toys was to be able to stake out a claim along one of the dirt banks behind the boys' dorm or in some other location of choice. These banks were virtual towns where every imaginable innovations took place. We would use wooden match boxes into which we would pack mud with some cement in it, and after pulling off the matchbox form, a brick was left in the sun to dry. These were used to make houses and garages.

One day, it occurred to some clever kid to see if we could pave all our dirt roads. These roads were intertwined and woven all along the dirt bank from village to village and house to house, but, as in real life, the rainy season would wash them out. So, this kid went to the school principal, Mr. Herb Downing, and asked if we could have a ration of cement. Well, in spite of the fact that cement was not real cheap, Mr. Downing decided that progress in Dinky Toy land was urgent. He gave us limited amounts of cement, and we would all have to hold meetings to decide whose roads were worthy of paving.

Law and order was also a tricky matter. It was a terrible offense to sneak out behind the dorm and mess up anyone's habitat on the sly. The punishment meted out by the community was brutal for this. In fact, some fellows would just leave their Dinky Toys parked in the garage all the time.

What a joy it was, on a Saturday afternoon, to run up the hill with a bunch of the guys, and Brrrrm Brrrm, drive all over Dinky land. You could stand back and watch the work of hundreds of boy-hours of hard work and urban planning take fruit. These guys would drive and drive, only pausing to duck and bob around each other as they scooted their cars from here to there.

Being over fifty years old, I am told we are allowed to go back and play a bit without anyone scolding us for frittering away our lives. I do wish I could go back there and "play cars" with the titchies one day :-)

This was perhaps the most serious game we played, and it was mastered only when one was somewhere between 9th and 12th grade. It was also the game that I think did not exist anywhere else on earth. "Nyabs" was what we called a viciously commutative game we played with marbles. Honest, and it took great concentration and strategy.

Here are the principles of the game. A hole was made in the ground about one and one half times the size of an ordinary marble. Capturing and holding this hole was one objective of the game, while the other was to make points. More on making points in a minute.

The first possession of the hole could be done by shagging marbles at the hole from a distance. Whoever was closest would take possession of the hole. The others would place them selves at a distance. Whoever had the hole could make a circle around the hole with his thumb in the hole and make a circle by sweeping around the hole with his middle finger, and, to his advantage, he could place his marble on the circle anywhere he liked between turns of the other players.

The other players would take turns shooting their marbles either trying to drop into the hole, or they would try to knock the owner of the hole out. All that was needed to do this was to tap him, and then another shot was earned by this in which the challenger could bash the hole owner with his marble as hard as he could. Once the challenger did this, he was permitted to pace off in his own shoes between his marble and the opponent's. The smaller his feet, the better he did.

Now, if a challenger came too close to the hole, the hole owner could move around the circle around the hole, and he could bash the challenger away, and he too could pace off his score. But, if the hole owner flew off at an angle, he had one chance only to get back into the hole or lose it.

The key was to hit the opponent dead on so that your marble just sat there and spun like crazy but didn't go anywhere. Only the masters could do this consistently. There WERE masters too. I think the one I always had in awe was Carley Barnett. He was a bit of an gangling kid, and blind in one eye, but he was a deadly shot. From a distance of eight feet of more I have seen Carley bash another guy's marble, send it clear across the quad, and his marble would just sit there and spin itself into the dust like a top. In fact, I have seen Carley simply bash someone's marble so hard that the thing exploded.

You really have to learn to hold a marble right to get the power needed to play effectively. This is done by holding the marble so that it is poised between the knuckle of the thumb and the end of the index finger. The end of the thumb is then tucked under the middle finger which is very tightly wrapped around the end of the thumb. Just before firing away, great pressure is exerted by the middle finger against the end of the thumb, and the thumb fights back. When the thumb explodes, the marble shoots out with a force hard to imagine. This is done with the hand laying on its back against the ground.

There were certain calls involved. One was "upsies." If you called this out before someone yelled "nix-upsies," you could prop you shooting hand up on your other hand positioned upright, and you could shoot over obstacles, like another player's marble. "Fudgies" also could get you a fudged motion of about eight to fifteen inches, depending on the patience of the other players. Done correctly, this could get a little more speed on the marble and make the shot shorter. Of course, "nix-fudgies" would stop this trick also.

These games could go on and on for days, and as the scores got close to each other, crowds of onlookers would gather and debate the chances of various shots and players' skills. As I said, you never would see this game anywhere else in the world I think. But, it was a great sport, and the equipment was cheap.

[ I will be back one day to finish this, but do enjoy what is here please. ]