Author Archives: teaganwe

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Modern Practices of The Winter Solstice

Informant: I researched it and made it our own, and it changes constantly every year, but that’s to be expected. I’ve always done solstice when we were out here (America) because we were otherwise going back to England for Christmas and we didn’t want to go schlepping (moving) all the presents back, so we starting celebrating this.

Interviewer: So what is it that you do for the solstice?

Informant: I go out in the late afternoon and I pick Bay Leaves, Oak Leaves, and Ivy Leaves and I wash them and then I put them out to dry in the last rays of the sun. Traditionally I’m making pork and prunes on that day, so I put that on to cook. It is the first night we light the yule log. I build a fire in the fire pit, using what remains of last year’s log. We start around the fire making wishes with the leaves I left out to dry and throwing them into the fire. When we come in to eat, we eat take a light from the fire and light a candle then carry that light to the table where we’re eating. You are bringing light into the darkness. My husband also made me a yule log table decoration with fire candles in it for the five of us in the family.

Interviewer: You mentioned wishes with leaves, what kind of wishes do you make?

Informant: I can show you, I have it written down.

[Informant returns with a red book]

Informant: This is where I record all the big events that happen to my family every solstice. Here’s the wish list.

[Written information on a standard white piece of paper]

These leaves have been washed clean and dried in the last rays of the sun. Splash them with whatever you’re drinking and drop them into the fire with a wish. This is a time of giving so your wishes should not be for yourself but for the good of others.

IVY
For friendship, fidelity, and affection

OAK
For luck, also strength, endurance and vigor

BAY LAUREL
For health and Protection
This is also a time for letting go, making amends or saying farewell.

PAPER
Write your regrets and resentments on a slip of paper and toss them into the fire.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

The Joke A Dog with No Nose

Informant: It’s a very short joke.

Interviewer: That’s perfectly fine. Just tell it how you know it.

Informant: Okay. A dog with no nose, how does he smell? — Terrible!

Interviewer: You don’t wait for someone to ask how?

Informant: Not usually. Usually everyone knows the punchline so we all say it together.

Informant: Who’s the we? Where did you learn this?

Informant: Well I think I learned it from my father, he was always making silly jokes like that. Everyone learned it so quickly that it’s a bit hard to say. I remember hearing it during a big party at a small house. It must have been a Sunday because Sunday was when you went to see your family. I remember that because it was something everyone used to get hysterical about, everyone would roll about laughing.

Background: The informant believes she first heard this joke from family. She was not sure if she heard it from her father or older brother who was in the army. They were very close so it’s difficult for her to say who came up with it first, or if they heard it from someone else.

Context: I was asking my informant to recount things she remembered from her childhood and she remembered a few songs and this joke specifically.

Thoughts: It appears to be more of an inside joke but every British person I’ve interacted with appears to know it, but they always play along if they’re asked. It is probably incredibly popular because it’s an easy joke for children to remember and is incredibly easy for them to share to other kids.

How To Play The Game Bull Shark

Informant: This game rewards players who can lie convincingly. The object of the game is kind of the opposite of Slapjack, cuz you have to get rid of your hand as quickly as you can. The game is played comfortably with 6 players but I think it’s better with less. You don’t want more players cuz then it becomes too easy for people to lie their whole hand away. Someone splits a standard 52 deck equally for the number of players present. The players look at their hand and the person with the ace of spades plays first, the ace card face up.
All cards are played face down after the ace. The play then goes clockwise as each player has to play the next number up, so after the ace the next player plays a 2, the next a 3, and on and on and on. This is where the lying element of the game comes in, if a player doesn’t have the next card up for their turn they can lie and play an entirely different card and just say it’s the right one. After every play people can decide whether or not they believe the player, if someone does not believe them they can call ‘BS’ and flip over the played card. If the card is what the player said it was, the caller has to take the deck of used cards, making it harder for them to lose all their cards first. If no one calls the player and they WERE lying they say ‘popcorn’ to say that they were lying. If no one calls the player and they were NOT lying the game continues with no incident.
The game becomes more complex when multiple cards are played at once, if a person has more than one of a kind in their hand they can play up to how many they have OR play up to as many they are willing to lie about. The game ends when a person gets rid of all the cards in their hand.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered this game back from middle school and searched out for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: While definitely a fun game I remember a mutual friend started abusing the lying rules to stack more cards than they said they played. There was a great deal of dispute as to whether lying was allowed when talking about the number of cards one played or only what number the card was. Everyone agreed that lying only applied to the number the card was but we were not always able to stop the kid when he continued to play more than he said for we never knew when he did it. We eventually stopped playing with him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
The game also goes by:
‘Bullshit’ or ‘BS’

The Ritual Game: The Midnight man

Informant: It’s some ritual that was apparently used to punish bad people somewhere in Europe. The ritual starts at 3 AM and you need a candle, a piece of paper, and your front door. You write your name on the piece of paper then put it outside the door under a lit candle. Knock on the door 12 times and make sure it is EXACT, and make sure to get the last knock to stop at 3AM. Then open the door, pick up the paper and the candle and the game has begun. It lasts until 6 AM, so it’s only three hours but you have to keep your candle lit for all that time. The Midnight Man will try to blow out the candle or scare you into dropping it. Your candle is your only source of light so it’s pretty easy to get super scared. If your candle goes out and you cannot relight it within 5 seconds then surround yourself in a circle of salt and sit there until morning. Do not under any circumstances turn on a light! Both of these things are ways of forfeiting the game but that doesn’t mean the Midnight Man leaves. He haunts you until you complete the game.

Interviewer: So what do you get for winning the game?

Informant: I think you get to make a wish and it will comes true.

Interviewer: So what happens if you lose?

Informant: He kills you, obviously. [laughs]

Background: My informant had done research into different dark ritualized games such as this for a film projection she was doing. She did not end up using this game as the final inspiration for her movie.

Context: My informant and I were staying up late on the night of the 19th, just finishing playing video games together. We were walking through the house in the dark and she tried to scare me with this scary ritual, saying that she was going to do it.

Thoughts: I imagine the combination of sleep deprivation, lack of light, and the general atmosphere of being in an empty house would make for a fun time. Apparently this can be played with multiple people at one time so you could probably mess around with each other a great deal. With that in mind, I suspect this actually could have been a punishment ritual, though I am unsure where it would be used. The game could be turned into a form of psychological torture to get people to confess to crimes by making them think a demon was coming to kill them anyway.

The Joke: Boston Crow Story

Informant: have you heard of Boston Crows?” ‘No?’ Okay so, in Boston New York, there has been a recent discovery of these special crows that are smarter than your average crow. They have these white speckles, making them very distinct. They’ve been recorded learning how to talk, do routines, and a lot of other things. People started considering them the local pets, almost, but people then started to find a lot of the same crows dead. The outcry got researchers to look into this, led by avian expert Dr. Roseburg. Rosenburg theorized there were many possible factors: different life spans, specific diseases, or predators. So the team observed the crows, trying to find the cause. They found a very interesting behavioral pattern. These crows mated for life early on and would spend a lot if not all their time with those partners while foraging. The most frequently visited places for these crows were the sides of not very busy roads, where people threw out trash of their windows while driving by. This is when scientists discovered something, a majority of these birds were dying due to being hit by vehicles. But these crows were not stupid, they had a very good system of communicating with one another. One bird would sift through the trash while the other sat on a nearby sign post or something and be look out. When a vehicle came along the look out would alert the one down in the gutter so it could fly out in time. But some birds still got hit, for you see, while it’s very easy for a crow to say ‘cahr’… it is very difficult for them to say ‘truck’.

Background: My informant states that they learned this joke from Reddit but they don’t remember the original name of the person who posted it. They first told the joke close to how it was originally written but quickly developed a game out of it where they’d try to spin the story for as long as they could. Their record was 30 minutes

Context: I asked my informant about the joke specifically because they took pride in making the story longer every time they told it. Over Discord I told them to make the story as long as they wanted, they sent me this version a day later.

Thoughts: This is a wonderful example of a shaggy dog story, and allows a lot of creativity on the half of the teller. As long as the punch line isn’t altered you can make it as local or as distant as you want. It was also a great joke to hear someone tell if you already know the punchline, for then you can simply watch the reactions of others who haven’t heard the joke before. I believe I found the original post my informant was referring to on reddit, please see:
docpepson. ‘The Crow Mystery‘. r/Jokes. Jan 25, 2008. www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/1l888r/the_crow_mystery/. Accessed March 22, 2020.

The Tale of Lady Godiva

Informant: My parents used to tell me the story of Lady Godiva. She rode a horse naked through Coventry in I believe some time around 1066. They told me she did it because her husband was over taxing the peasants of Coventry and she begged her husband to lower the rents and the taxes. He said he would grant her request if she was willing to strip naked and ride through the town on a horse. Which of course, she did. I always thought he must have felt right silly about agreeing to that. When he realized she was going to do it, he ordered all the towns people to go inside and to not look. That’s where a Peeping Tom comes from. This chap Tom peeked out his window and saw her and was struck blind and later died.

Background: My informant heard this story from her mother when she was a child growing up in Birmingham, 20 Miles from Coventry.

Context: My informant started sharing the information while I was finishing up collecting another piece of information regarding The Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Thoughts: An interesting short story to be sure, and I suppose it can be considered female empowerment through using one’s body to send a message. However, I don’t know if a child would get that idea unless explained thoroughly to them.

How to Play The Game Slap Jack

Informant: So the goal of the game is to get the full deck in your hand. The game starts with the stack of 52 standard cards being split into equal piles for the number of players sitting around the table. No one is allowed to look at their cards. The dealer who split the stack, plays the first card. Then the play goes around clockwise for the rest of the game. When a Jack card is played all players must slap the deck as fast as possible. The first one to slap the deck gets all the played cards under the Jack. Because of the nature of the game, more players can ‘slap’ in and enter the game if it’s already started. (but that makes the whole thing go WAY longer)

The initial version I was taught had one extra rule: if you got a ‘sandwich’ you could slap. A sandwich consisted of two of the same numbers and one different number in between them. So like 2, 3, 2 is a sandwich.

The second version, has the ‘sandwich’ rule but also somethings called ‘doubles’ and ‘faces’. Doubles is self explanatory two of the same card played one after the other. So 2, 2. ‘Faces’ is if a face card – Queen, King, or Ace – is played the next person must play a face or the played-card pile goes to the first person. If they succeed in putting down a face card, the next person must play a face card or the second person gets the pile, and on and on and on.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered a few games back from middle school and looked for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: I learned how to play this game while I was younger from the same person. However, they called it a different name from what I remember. They now call it ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’, however, all the rules the same. I wondered how a group of kids got ‘Slap Jack’ from ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’ and extra research showed that the games has many other names as well:
‘Slapjack’
‘Slaps’
‘Beggar-My-Neighbor’
‘Egyptian Ratscrew’
‘Heartattack’
‘Snap’