No British Bulldog On The Playground! – A Look Back At Primary School Games

This morning I woke up with the oddest ‘earworm’ for a while. I can’t recall what I was dreaming and it’s nice to finally replace the “DUUUN DUN DER-DER-DER DUUN” of the Game of Thrones theme that’s been lodged in my head since the start of season five. The simple tune looping around my brain this morning is, “Orange balls, orange balls, here we go again!“, a playground chant from my days at primary school (1985-1991, although I have no doubt the game dates back earlier). It’s triggered a morning of childhood memories flooding my mind, all the different games we used to play at break time, and whether these games are still played or if they, and the often accompanying chants, have died out. The games themselves would have been played at many schools across Britain (and worldwide, I’m sure) but with regional changes to the rules, names and rhymes. To get it all out of my system, I thought I’d record a few games I remember playing during my early years in a Kent primary school.


‘It’ was the most common game played and I’d be deeply shocked if it doesn’t live on in playgrounds nowadays in various forms. Simple rules with one person being ‘it’ and whoever they catch now becomes ‘it’. Played indefinitely until the bell rang for class, people got bored and wandered off, or that one boy you really hate wanted to join in (hey, kids are mean, I was no exception!).

Sticky Glue (also called Stuck In The Mud?) was a play on it/tag. Once caught, we had to stand still with our arms outstretched and were only freed once a teammate ducked under an arm. Or, if you were an impatient cheat like me, nobody was looking.

British Bulldog. An infamous game banned in many playgrounds, eventually mine included. My school even banned running in the playground for a while which I can maybe blame on it being a Catholic school – no fun allowed, for it is a sin! I’m not sure if the British Bulldog ban was due to injuries or because it selfishly hogged the entire playground. Again, one person started off as ‘it’ and must catch the horde of kids running from one side of the playground to the other. It would eventually end with all but one child being ‘it’ and they were the hero, declared the winner.

Forty Forty (40/40). A variation of hide and seek that we would play on the field during summer. One or two seekers would count to forty while everyone ran off to hide. As the seekers went hunting for their classmates, the hiders would have to try and sneak back to the base or ‘home’ and would be ‘safe’.

What’s The Time Mister Wolf? is a game I’ve kept alive with my daughters. The wolf stands with his/her back to the other children a few meters away. The children would chant, “What’s the time mister wolf?“. Wolf replies with a time eg, “It’s five o clock!” and the children must take five steps towards the wolf. Once the wolf senses they are close enough to catch, he replies, “It’s DINNER TIME!” and rushes to catch someone who then becomes the wolf.

Kiss Chase. I can’t say too much about this game as I was never asked to play. Apparently you boys weren’t interested in chasing a gawky, awkward, ginger, freckled ten year old, but that’s okay, I’m not bitter about it or anything…


Orange Balls, the chant I woke up to this morning, may be a more obscure game as I never see it mentioned anywhere. Girls would form a circle and skip around singing, “Orange balls, orange balls, here we go again. Last one to sit down gets a boyfriend!” At that time, there would be a rush to sit down first because, eww, boys! The girls collude to choose a boyfriend for the last girl to sit down. She enters the circle, is informed of her boyfriend and the rhyme continued with, “Clap your hands if you love him, stomp your feet if you hate him, fall down dead if you want to marry him.

The Farmer’s In His Den had a farmer at the centre of the circle and ‘he’ must choose a wife, the wife chose a baby, the baby chose a nurse and the nurse chose a dog as the rhyme was sung. At the end, everyone pats the dog.

Cake The Cake is another that may have been regional. One person stands in the middle, their arms outstretched, palms together, like a knife. They close their eyes and spin around. Once they’ve stopped spinning then the two people parted by the knife must run around the outside of the circle. Last one back becomes the knife.

Oranges And Lemons wasn’t a circle game as such but involved two children making an archway with their hands while singing, “Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements. You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martins. When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be say the bells of Stepney. I do not know says the great bell of Bow. Here comes a candle to light you to bed and here comes a chopper to CHOP OFF YOUR HEAD!” Whoever has their head chopped off starts the next arch.


Ah, the mysterious world of girls huddled together, chanting nonsensical rhymes in the quiet corner of a playground. Sometimes done with a skipping rope or usually to a convoluted clapping pattern.

I went to a Chinese restaurant,
To buy a loaf of bread bread bread.
He wrapped it up in a five pound note,
And here is what he said said said,
My… name… is…
(sadly I can’t recall the rest)

A sailor went to sea sea sea,
To see what he could see see see,
But all that he could see see see,
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea.

My boyfriend gave me an apple,
My boyfriend gave me a pear.
My boyfriend gave me a kick up the bum,
So I threw him down the stairs.
I threw him over China,
I threw him over France.
I threw him over the Eiffel Tower,
Where he lost his underpants.

Popeye the sailor man, full stop,
He lives in a caravan, full stop,
And when he goes swimming,
He kisses the women.
He’s Popeye the sailor man, full stop.

Now I’m in my thirties, looking back at the bizarre rhymes we sang, I’m not surprised by any boys finding us girls strange creatures from a very young age!

Speaking of bizarre rhymes, I may as well finish off with something that I really hope went round other schools, not just ours, and is, finally, a rhyme that the boys delightedly joined in with…

Diarrhea, diarrhea, it comes slidin’ out your bum like Pedigree Chum, diarrhea, diarrhea. When you think it’s chicken soup but it’s really liquid poop, diarrhea, diarrhea. When you’re sittin’ on a mountain and your bum becomes a fountain, diarrhea, diarrhea. When you think your friends are joking but your pants are brown and soaking, diarrhea, diarrhea. And on, and on, and on…

One Response to "No British Bulldog On The Playground! – A Look Back At Primary School Games"

  1. Vincent says:

    British Bulldog was the cause of many a sporting injury at my school, especially because nobody ever explained the rules so to an outsider coming in it simply appeared to be a game of ‘tackle the noobs’.

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