The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - February 6, 2014

FAMILY NIGHT: What games do you play with your famiy? Any old time favourites?
FAMILY NIGHT: What games do you play with your famiy? Any old time favourites?
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We had a games night at my mum’s the other weekend.

Around 20 or so members of the family congregated to eat a shed-load of food (my mum, whose motto is ‘No one will leave my house hungry’, cooked about 14 casseroles and 25 desserts – we’re still eating the leftovers two weeks on) and then do some quizzes and play games.

I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I find family occasions a bit trying. I mean it’s difficult to make conversation with that second cousin from Doncaster who you last saw at Aunty Phylis’s funeral in the summer of 2005 (Hi. I haven’t seen you since, when was it? Ah yes. Phylis, such a shame. Still, lovely funeral wasn’t it. All well with you?)

But, aside from the severe indigestion and heartburn after being plied with vast quantities of my mother’s food, it was actually very enjoyable.

One of the games we played was Saints and Sinners, and it is a game no one else I have mentioned it to has ever heard of.

My parents remember playing it as children in the 40s and 50s but quite how far back it goes, or who came up with it, is a mystery.

I Googled it but all that came up was a bingo hall in Cleckheaton and a slightly dodgy lingerie site (I clicked on the link to the latter purely as a matter of research ... or at least that’s what I told Mrs Canavan when she returned unexpectedly early from the shops).

The rules – and bear with me here, it’s a bit convoluted – are this.

Everyone sits in a big circle and four people are chosen as the Saints (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as any Christian worth their salt will know) and the remainder are given a number, so in the case of our gathering we had one to 14.

Matthew is the top man and he starts each round by shouting out his name followed by one of his fellow Saints, or a number. Whoever he chooses has to respond with their own name or number followed by someone else’s. So a round might go – Matthew-Mark, Mark-7, 7-Luke, Luke-12, 12-3, and so on.

If anyone hesitates or stutters in any way, they are relegated to the bottom and everybody shuffles up a place (you need a big lounge to play, and lots of chairs). The aim is to become Matthew.

It’s an absolutely ridiculous way to pass an evening, yet strangely enjoyable and better still, doesn’t cost a penny – no board game needs to be purchased, you don’t even require a pen.

Of course, the more alcohol that is consumed, the more raucous and shambolic it becomes.

If anyone knows of the origins of the game, please let me know.

It strikes me as one of those many games dreamt up by previous generations that are slightly mad, another one being Split The Kipper.

My dad told me about this game, which he’d played as a kid.

It was a game for children involving – and I’m not making this up – knives. The authorities clearly weren’t too hot on health and safety in the 1940s.

The rules were this – two players stood facing each other, about a metre or so apart, with their legs together.

The person holding the knife hurled it at his opponents feet and had to make it stick into the ground blade first within 30cm of the foot.

The opponent then pulled the knife out of the ground and it was his turn.

The game continued, each player taking turns to throw while all the time trying to remain standing, their legs getting further and further apart. If a player fell over or gave up, he lost. When one player felt he couldn’t take it any longer he could decide to ‘split the kipper’.

That meant – and this is enough to make your eyes water – aiming the knife between his opponents legs. If his throw was successful, he got to close his own legs to the starting position again.

Blimey, they clearly bred them tough in the old days. If it happened now social services would be on the scene quicker than you could say ‘help I’ve got a knife embedded in my foot’.

Needless to say we didn’t play that at my mum’s house – it wouldn’t have done the carpet much good and, besides, we had 15 quiches to eat.

Maybe at the next games night...

Scan as you go

Mrs Canavan and I had an argument the other day about food shopping.

She thinks we should do one big shop each week. I prefer to do it daily, not least because it gives me something to do after work other than slumping on the couch and watching Dinner Date.

As happens in most arguments, she won, so on Sunday we went to Tesco, a place that is to me what I imagine Lebanon means to Terry Waite.

When we walked in we were greeted by a young man who asked us if we were interested in using the new scan as you go service.

I said OK then. Now I’m not sure if you know about this new-fangled thing but you are given a scanner which you clip to your trolley.

As you walk around picking items off the shelves, you scan the barcode and pop the item in your bag. When you’ve finished, you go to a special area by the exit, place your trolley in a little space and it confirms you’ve scanned everything in, that you’ve paid, and off you waltz to your car. Now this is clever, I’ll give you that.

But they’re being crafty because, if you think about it, we are essentially doing their work. We are working as a Tesco cashier, scanning our own goods. Shouldn’t we get some sort of refund?

And isn’t it depressing that you can now, what with all the self-service tills, do your shopping without having to interact at all with another human being?

I swear in three or four generations time, no one will know how to have a conversation.

We’ll all sit on our own texting or Tweeting and doing our shopping in absolute silence. Anyway must be off, Dinner Date has started.