Nannyish chasies ban needs run out of Northern Ireland's schools
Banning playground 'chasies' - as one Glengormley principal has done - is just the latest example of health and safety gone mad, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
So, Northern Ireland qualified for the European Championships and Ireland booked a place in the quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup. Enjoy it while it lasts, because our presence at major sporting contests may soon be a thing of the past.
Contact sports? Careful now, you'll do yourself an injury. Pelting round a field after a ball without first filling out a 76-page risk assessment questionnaire? Health and safety won't stand for that nonsense, mate.
As for tiddlywinks, don't even think about it. It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
Confirming the new nannyish spirit of the age comes news from St Bernard's Primary School in Glengormley that it has imposed a playground ban on that most dangerous scourge of young people's physical wellbeing otherwise known as, er, chasies.
Now, there may be some people wondering at this point: what is this chasies of which you speak? Presumably, these are the ones who went to our posher schools, where break-times were spent playing chess in the library. The notorious Urban Dictionary isn't much help either: "There aren't any definitions for chasies yet. Can you define it?"
Consider it done. Chasies is, not to get too technical, a game where children chase one another around the playground. Hence the name.
One of you gets picked to be on. He or she then pursues the others until they're tipped, declares "You're on" and so it continues until everyone's been caught.
Sometimes there's a den. Sometimes: "There's no den!" Cue pandemonium. It usually ends in a huge argument when some total wuss won't accept that they've been caught and now have to be on.
There's always one - and if you can't remember who it was back at your school, then that's probably because it was you, ye big cry baby.
It's still a mystery why chasies never made it as a professional sport, with domestic and international leagues and highlights presented by Jackie Fullerton, because it's a hell of a lot more fun than many so-called "sports" which are inexplicably taken seriously, such as golf.
There'd be huge crowds for it and, best of all, my own experience suggests we'd be brilliant at it. Or at least would be, given half a chance.
Which brings us back to St Bernard's, presumably named after the patron saint of mollycoddling, where chasies has gone the way of the Dodo. Another sign that the world's gone mad, some say. And they're right.
What next? No kissing games in case it's seen as sexual harassment? No Piggy In The Middle in case Muslims take offence?
Double Dutch will definitely have to go. Someone might trip over that skipping rope, and, besides, it's probably racist to Hollanders.
Blind Man's Buff is out, too, on similar grounds of "disablism" and add Farmer Wants A Wife to the forbidden list while you're at it, because what if the farmer is gay? He might get upset at having these hetero-normative expectations foisted on him. Unless the farmer's a woman and gay herself, in which case it'd be ok for her to want a wife. It's complicated.
And that's the problem. It shouldn't be complicated. It should be simple. You're on. You run. You all get caught. You start over. The school bell rings and you head inside. Now, none of this is apparently to be permitted because we live in an increasingly risk-averse society.
Looking back, it's astonishing how so much has changed so quickly. One friend recalls sliding across the playground when it iced over in winter. No need to worry about how to stop; that's what slamming into the wall on the other side of the yard was for.
Another remembers games of conkers where the intent often seemed to be to whack the opposing player on the knuckles rather than the dangling target.
Parents who used to revel in these games and survived intact now flinch with horror at the thought their own children should ever receive a scratch or bruise; but, of course, this urge for ever greater safety is based on a miscalculation, because real risk is not the same as perceived risk.
More people are afraid of flying than they are of cars, but the drive to and from the airport is statistically the most dangerous part of the journey.
Likewise, the real risk to childhood health isn't that your little darlings will get a bang on the elbow, but that they won't get any exercise at all and will gradually morph into sedentary obese "screenagers" doomed to a lifetime of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease as they sit in front of a computer or video game console pressing buttons.
There's probably no point blaming schools for that. They're petrified of getting sued by parents who can't cope when wee Johnny comes home with a bust lip.
I remember the time I got a call from school to say my daughter had suffered a clash of heads in the classroom and had chipped a tooth.
What struck me most wasn't the look of panic on the teacher's face when I turned up in reception, but the even greater look of sheer relief when she realised I regarded the incident as just one of those things that happen when children play together.
Schools can do so much, but they can't make parents stop over-reacting to the sprains and scrapes of normal childhood experiences.
St Bernard's is far from being the worst example. The school still insists that it encourages a full range of sporting activities - though a statement from the school did contain those dreaded words "organised games", when everyone knows it's the boisterous, disorganised games that children will look back on most fondly in years to come.
There was also some ominous talk of providing a running track where pupils could run during break "under supervision", as if any self-respecting kid with a spirit of adventure wants to be under the watchful eye of adults who'll step in and stop the fun each time life starts getting interesting.
But we know the introduction of this policy is only the beginning. Where St Bernard's goes, others will follow. Things are only going to get more safe, more predictable, more boring.
No wonder our children prefer the anarchic, exciting world of video games where stuff actually happens to the dull predictable reality of a world under 24-hour surveillance.
Meanwhile, if anyone wants to know in 20 years' time why we aren't qualifying for any tournaments any more, they should look back to the day that chasies died as the moment when the rot set in.