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A Game of Hopscoth

 

Do you remember games you played when you were a child? I looked forward to recess so much that I couldn’t sit still for those awful last ten minutes in class, wriggling in my seat and going mad with anticipation. The need to run and jump, getting every muscle into motion, made me feel like I was going to explode.

There was a playground across the street where I could hurl myself all over the monkey bars (also called a jungle gym) and, if I was lucky, get into a game of hopscotch. Two patterns were permanently painted on the paving. One was a spiral with squares winding around and around to the center; the other outlined seven rectangles, subdivided into smaller squares and triangles where you tossed your potsy and tried to retrieve it, all on one foot, until you reached the half circle at the top, the goal of all attainment. Agonizingly, you rarely got there; if you as much as touched either foot on a line, you had to go all of the way back to the beginning.

Most children draw their own hopscotch patterns in the dirt or in the street. Their scratches were originally called “scotches,” from an old French verb, “to cut.” So, in hopscotch, you hop over your scotches. Long ago in Roman Britain, children were fascinated by the sight of fully armed soldiers hopping along a road where they had scratched hundred foot long patterns in a military drill for deftness and endurance.. And that’s how it all began!

Here is a British hopscotch pattern inscribed with a rhyme about magpies:

461px-Magpie_hopscotch
A hopscotch game with a traditional magpie rhyme in Morecambe, England From Wikipedia

One for sorrow

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

,As in many hopscotches that mimic a religious quest or pilgrimage, you make your way from Earth to Heaven, . This is the kind that Clare and her friends are playing in the first chapter of The Marshlanders, making their way through Lesser Lamentations, past Sun and Moon to the almost impossible Greater Lamentations, then through Milk and Honey to  jump triumphantly into a dome-shaped Sky Blue.

I described Clare and her friends playing hopscotch in the first chapter of my novel because I remembered how much I loved the game. But then, all of a sudden, it became central to my plot, determining everything that came after. Keeping watch on a wall while her mother collects the herb goldenseal, Clare is distracted by a  stone that would make a perfect potsy,  sure to improve her game. As a result, her mother is captured. Soon after, Clare too is set upon, and lamed for life. (Did I mention that “to hop” used to mean being lame?)

So much depends on a game of hopscotch.