Belfast Telegraph

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Kerry McLean: Why I'd love to fling out all our electronic devices and get the family playing curbsy

By Kerry McLean

There are times when you realise you've let you children down. One such time happened yesterday when I was sharing the news that the first ever Curbsy World Cup competition was taking place in Belfast over the next few weeks.

My lot gave me a blank look and asked what I was talking about, saying they'd never heard of curbsy. I thought maybe they had been corrupted by their father's Lisburn ways and words and gave them a few alternative names for the game. "You know, curby? ...cribby?" But still, I was met with three confused little faces.

How could it be that I had never introduced them to this pastime that had swallowed up entire days of my free time when I was a kid? I know every area has not only their own name for the game but their own set of locally honed rules.

Where I grew up, we played it en masse. All the kids from the estate would gather and split into two teams, one on each side of the pavement, and line up in a row. If you managed to bounce the ball off the opposite kerb and back to you, the person on the opposite team would go to the back of their row and you gained a point. If you didn't, the ball would go to the opposite team and you'd head to the back of your own team.

These circuitous rules meant that there was no prearranged end to a match and they'd quite often last as long as daylight did, or until your team dwindled to zero, as mothers appeared at front doors, hollering for their brood to come home for dinner. The worst thing was finding yourself lined up behind the oldest, biggest, strongest player in the team because then you knew you'd have to stand twiddling your thumbs for hours before you got your hands on the ball, only to lose it in seconds again if your aim was anything like mine.

I had, and still have, a throw that would embarrass a newborn kitten in terms of strength and, I have to confess, I couldn't hit the side of a barn with a ball, never mind the tiny edge of the pavement. Still, I loved it.

So how could it be that my three have never played this game? I think it may be down to the fact that they never really get to experience the creative uplift that comes from extreme boredom.

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I mean, no one had ever taught us how to play curbsy, but give a bunch of kids a ball and little else, combine it with the endless hours of a long, hot, hazy summer (remember those?!), and it seems our thoughts all went in the same direction. Nowadays, if they're not signed up to some sort of club or activity, they have phones (their own or their parents'), tablets, laptops or games consoles to take up their time. Or if all else fails, they have the tele and a hundred-and-one channels to flick between - and that's before you even start to include the endless options on YouTube.

More than once, after being told he's used up his weekend allowance of Xbox time, I've found my son with his eyes glued to the TV, having opened up YouTube on it (I wouldn't know how to even start with that…) and watching some eejit who's old enough to know better, playing a video game and providing some inane running commentary. It drives me bananas that he'd rather spend his time watching someone else playing rather than getting off his bottom to play with his mates but I know, having spoken to other mums, that he's not the only 11-year-old with this bizarre habit.

So, as from this week, my family will be time-travelling back to the early Eighties in their spare time. All access to electronic diversions, including the tele, will be extremely limited and instead they'll all be chucked out the door to invent ways to fill their days. I've got some chalk, tennis racquets and various sizes of balls at the ready and who knows, maybe this time next year we'll be ready to enter the Curbsy World Cup as a family team!

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