Thursday, 26 May 2011

Malc Playing Bumblepuppy in Bonn 1928

Whether I in turn am unfair to Weber or not, which may be, he certainly hated me, so that it was a moment of satisfaction to me when I finally managed to better him at his favourite game of Bumblepuppy. Letter Clemens ten Holder April 23rd 1951.

Malc spent eight weeks in the Autumn of 1928 at Captain Weber's English College on the Koblenzerstrasse in Bonn learning German. The Captain later featured in Under The Volcano as a villain in revenge for Mal's experiences at the college.

I was intrigued as to nature of the the game of Bumblepuppy.

I have come across several variations on the Net:

Bumble-puppy - also known as tetherball - was a game for two players who use their hands to hit in opposite directions a ball that is on a length of rope attached to the top of a pole. The object of the game is to wind the rope completely around the pole. If Deryn Lake's novel 'Death at St James's Palace' is to be believed, it seems to have been in existence in the 1760s at the Queens Head in Marybone (Marylebone) Park, London.

We had an identical game - using a tennis ball on a metal pole - which we used to play at the caravan but we called it swingball.
Words, words, words and (phrases)

a game of whist played carelessly or contrary to rules and conventions.

1a) the old game of nine-holes b) whist or bridge played without a system
2) a game in which a ball slung to a post is struck with a racket by each player in opposite directions, the object being to wind the string entirely around the post; also the post so used.

One of the more interesting games was the one mentioned above called "nine-holes" which I quite liked because the obvious golf reference which would have gone down well with Malc:

a rectangular slate, six foot by three, built on brick piles or irregular height and sloping down at one end. At the lower end was a strip of wood with a series of numbered holes, with little boxes behind them. Bumblepuppy, which some of my older village customers played regularly, was played with smooth stones which they could pick up from the river bank if they lost the old ones. The players were allowed five stones each and bowled them down the slate towards the numbered holes in the strip of wood: they were caught in the boxes on the far side of the strip…’ Patrick

The above website goes on to describe the origins of "nine-holes". It is difficult to imagine that this was the game Malc played with Weber unless he had built something similar. I would imagine that it was the card game but Malc was young and active in 1928 so he may have relished beating Weber a the more vigorous ball game.

Though before we leave this post, I came across a more sinister version which had a certain resonance as to where Germany was going in 1928:

The Director and his students stood for a short time watching a game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. Twenty children were grouped in a circle round a chrome steel tower. A ball thrown up so as to land on the platform at the top of the tower rolled down into the interior, fell on a rapidly revolving disk, was hurled through one or other of the numerous apertures pierced in the cylindrical casing, and had to be caught. Aldous Huxley Brave New World 1932


I have just discovered that Malc's former German language teacher Karlheinz Schmidthus wrote to Clemens ten Holder about the game:

As to the game of "bumblepuppy", it was an awful thing. It takes place around a three -or-four-metre-long post to which a rope is attached; at the end of the rope hangs a leather ball at about chest height of the players. There are two players who hold a piece of wood with which they hit the ball so that the rope has to twist itself around the post. The goal is to twist the rope around the post in one's direction and to keep the other player from doing the same to himself. The game is played until everybody is dripping i sweat and completely exhausted. There is no German name for the game. The only place where I have seen it in Germany was in out garden in Bonn.

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