What’s the time Mr Wolf? is a tag game that was very popular during my primary school years – more so at school, where we had a long lawn to run on, than in ordinary gardens that tended to lack such a generous space.

Unless someone really wanted to be Mr Wolf, we would go through the ritual of counting games to decide who would be so. Mr Wolf then stood at one end of the school lawn while the other players lined up at the far end. As Mr Wolf turned his (or her) back the other players would creep forward chanting “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” At any time Mr Wolf would turn around and call out a time e.g. “Four o’clock!” The group would then advance that number of steps. Tension would mount as the players came closer, repeating this procedure, until Mr Wolf might call out “It’s dinner time!” It is at this point that Mr Wolf would roar and chase the players back to the starting point whilst trying to catch one of them, who would then help Mr Wolf in the next round of the game. The last child standing was declared the winner of the game. We also played it in Afrikaans, chanting “Wolf, wolf, hoe laat is dit?”

The fact that we do not have wolves in this country was neither here nor there as we were all familiar with the wily wolf’s attempt to eat Little Red Ridinghood – a story narrated to us in both Afrikaans and English.

As is the case with a number of the games we played during my primary school years, I see little evidence of this one enduring when I watch young children at play. My grandchildren have enjoyed the game though – with me being Mr Wolf!



Does anyone play kennetjie (meaning ‘little chin’) anymore? I am not aware of my children ever playing it and I haven’t seen children playing the game in camp sites anywhere. Have grassed / bricked / paved school grounds ‘blocked’ opportunities for playing, or has kennetjie lost out to the allure of computer games? Two sticks and a hole in the ground is all that is required for a lot of fun.

I loved playing kennetjie as a primary school child. While I have seen it played as a team game, I regularly played kennetjie in the dirt road below our house with a boy from my class, who lived just below it. We would make a trench in the hard ground about 3cm deep and 15cm long and choose the two sticks very carefully: a short one of about 100mm long and about 25mm thick, which is known as the kennetjie, and a long straight one, about half a metre in length, to use as a bat. If we had particularly good ones, we would leave them at the side of the road and hope they would still be there to play with the next afternoon. Johan and I would play until his mother called him home to wash his hands for supper, then I would rush up the stone steps and wooden stairs to wash my hands before my father got home from work.

To begin the game the first player places the kennetjie across the middle of the hole in the ground. The tip of the long stick is placed in the hole and the player now flicks the kennetjie as far as possible. Of course we were only two playing the game, so if Johan caught the kennetjie it would be his turn to bat.

If he couldn’t catch it, he could try to throw it towards the long stick to try and hit it in order to bat. Failing that, I would hold the long stick in my hand, gripping it between my thumb and forefinger, and place the kennetjie on my hand to form a cross.  I would then flip the kennetjie into the air and try to hit it away as far as possible with the long stick.

Essentially, one has to defend the hole by hitting the kennetjie while it is still airborne when the fielder throws it towards the hole. I am quoting the rest of the complicated rules from

Regardless if the batsman could hit the kennetjie or not, after an attempt by a field worker to hit the hole, the following applies for Right handed players and is inverted for Left handed players:

  1. If the kennetjie is within one stick length of the hole, the batsman is out and the field worker who did the trick, is the new batsman. If in the actions that follows hereafter, the batsman misses the kennetjie, he is out.
  2. Within two stick lengths (Voetjie): The kennetjie is placed on the toes of the left foot, flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  3. Within three stick lengths (Tip-Top): The kennetjie is held with the left hand and must be flipped in the air with the long stick and hit as far away as possible.
  4. Within four stick lengths (Bokhoringkie): The kennetjie is placed on the ring finger and thumb flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  5. Within five stick lengths (Elmbogie): The kennetjie is placed on the elbow of the left arm, flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  6. Within six stick lengths (Ogie): The kennetjie is placed on the left eye, flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  7. Within seven stick lengths (Oortjie): The kennetjie is placed on the left ear, flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  8. Within eight stick lengths (Kennetjie): The kennetjie is placed on the chin, flipped in the air and hit with the bat.
  9. Within nine stick lengths or more: The batsman gets and extra life. The player with the most lives wins and a live can be used to play again if he is out.

If the batsman drops the kennetjie in any of the above moves, the field worker who made the last throw, becomes the batsman.

I am grateful to the above mentioned site and those below for enriching my memories and reminding me some of the complicated rules of the game.


A traditional childhood game I never particularly enjoyed playing as a very young child was Hide-and-Seek. It wasn’t so bad when we played it at home, for at least the environment was familiar. For me the worst was playing it at a neighbour’s house while my parents were visiting. We nearly always played this game in the dark. This made it much scarier – which was probably the whole idea! I didn’t mind the hiding, but loathed the prospect of having to look for anyone in the dark – especially in a home I was not familiar with.

I eventually tumbled on a way of avoiding having to be ‘it’ for as long as possible – always hopeful that someone would think of another game to play in the interim. I would flatten myself against the wall as close to the ‘den’ as possible – fully aware that it would take time for the eyes of the seeker to adjust from the light to the dark. If I was passed by I knew I would be reasonably safe for the time being. If there was a strong chance of being discovered, I would give the seeker a fright, which would in turn give me a fractional advantage to reach the ‘den’ first.

My older grandchildren often play Hide-and-Seek with friends in either their garden or mine. They play it during the day, which is friendlier, I think, even though hiding successfully may be more of a challenge. I listen to the laying down of the rules – usually relating to places where one may not hide. Then comes the hotly contested decision about who the first ‘seeker’ will be and up to how much the counting should go – obviously the higher the number, the more time there is to seek a hiding place. My heart lifts at the sounds of muffled laughter, the skittering of leaves or snapping of twigs against the backdrop of very loud counting.

“Ready or not, here I come!” The seeker announces this loudly and starts prowling around the most obvious sites in the garden. More muffled giggles come from the hidden ones, followed by squeals of laughter when discovered. Sometimes I hear the inevitable shouts of “You cheated! You must have peeped!” if someone was found ‘too quickly’.  Some children seek out the same hiding place time and again – and continue to be surprised when they are pounced upon.

Did you enjoy playing Hide-and-Seek when you were very young?


Hopscotch has a long history, having been played by Roman soldiers, dressed in full battle armour, thousands of years ago to test their strength and agility! The name refers to hopping over the scotch, which is a line or scratch in the ground. It was a favourite game when I was in primary school. There were plenty of sandy places where we could draw the markings for the game with a stick, and any number of stones to choose from to use as our markers.

This is a game in which a configuration of squares are drawn on the ground. The squares should be large enough to fit one foot and to make sure that a stone thrown into the square will not bounce out too easily. The semi-circle at the end was regarded as a rest or stop area where one could turn around and/or regain one’s balance.

To play, you have to toss your stone inside the first square without touching the border or bouncing out – otherwise you miss your turn and have to pass the stone to the next player. You then hop through the squares, skipping the one containing your marker. What makes it difficult is that you can’t have more than one foot on the ground at a time, unless there are two number squares next to each other. Here you can put down both feet, one in each square. When you get to the end, turn around and hop your way back in reverse order. While you’re on the square right before the one with your marker, lean down and pick it up. Then, skip over that square and finish up. If you managed to complete the course with your marker on square one (and without losing your turn), then throw your marker onto square two on your next turn. Players begin their next turn where they last left off. The goal is to complete the course with the marker on each square. The first person to do this wins the game!

It is not a game I see my grandchildren playing, either at home or at school. Then again, hopscotch hasn’t been a familiar game to any number of high school girls I have taught over many years.

It seems to me that this is a worthwhile game to pass on to the next generation before it is lost completely.


This is an undated view of my childhood home at Sheba Gold Mine in the then Eastern Transvaal Lowveld (now Mpumalanga), where I lived from the age of about three weeks. It is from here that I walked to my primary school down the road; it is where I came home to from boarding school; it is where many memories were created – and it is no more.

It was nothing fancy, as you can see: basically built from wood and corrugated iron on a foundation of local stone. These red-polished steps (mimicked on the other side) led straight into our living room. The open door you see there is a screen door – very common in those days to keep out mosquitoes especially; we also had screens fitted to our bedroom windows. It was while sitting on these steps that I, in the company of my family, observed Sputnik I on 4th October 1957 with such excitement. Commentary on the radio indoors kept us informed of its progress as we scanned the sky for what would look like an exceptionally large and bright ‘shooting star’ travelling across from one horizon to the other. Now we take satellites for granted, barely looking up at them if we happen to notice one in passing.

The far window is where our dining room was. I still have the table that we sat around for meals. It is there that my father encouraged us to know about a world wider than the small community we lived in. We discussed what he called ‘general knowledge’; he asked for our opinions; he told us about earthquakes and volcanoes; and would talk to us about interesting events he had seen or heard about. That is where I did my homework in primary school and thought hard about what to write in the obligatory thank you letters for cards or gifts from my grandparents.

You might notice a sprig of leaves in the top left hand corner of the picture. This is a glimpse of rambling roses that twisted their way this way and that through wooden lattice-work at the side of a shady veranda that ran the width of the house – providing protection from the sun for the two bedrooms that faced onto it. Believe me, the house used to get so hot during summer that on some evenings my mother would hose down the corrugated iron roof to bring down the temperature a little. We would sometimes see snakes threading their way through the roses: a fascinating yet fearful sight when we were small. Now I would be interested and reach for my camera. We were taught to have a healthy respect for snakes.

The building at the back was our garage – also constructed of wood and corrugated iron. More often than not there was one vehicle or another being taken apart to be fixed by my father and brothers. I loved being there with them; loved the smell of grease and oil; loved the way they worked together; loved being asked to hold something or to fetch a tool.  The bicycle would have belonged to one of my older brothers and the Jeep to my Dad.

An enormous Brazilian pepper tree grows behind the garage – a challenge to climb, along with the jacaranda just peeping out from behind the house and the Erythrina lysistemon on the right hand side of the picture. We grew up walking along the hills behind our house – a factor that probably influenced my decision to join the Mountain Club at university.

The driveway is not paved, which meant it was a wonderful place to make mud pies after heavy rains or to use a thin twig to tease the ant lions from their hollows when the weather was hot and dry. We used the driveway to play marbles or hopscotch – sometimes even gouging out a hollow so that we could play a game with two sticks called kennetjie. My childhood home was an unpretentious house filled with love.