IT IS with great sadness that I must report the death of The Grand Old Duke of York, famous for marching his ten thousand men up to the top of the hill, and so on…    

I recently attended a children’s party at Harburn Village Hall near West Calder in the company of a group of youngsters aged from around four to eleven years, and great fun was had by one and all. The little ‘uns enjoyed the usual games of Pass the Parcel, Musical Statues and Simon Says – although the background music hip hop version of Kiddy Tunes was a bit lost on me, I have to say. Gangsta’ sings Toytown.

Although the organisers did a sterling job, things went a bit out of kilter when it came to coordinating The Grand Old Duke of York. I doubt if one child in that room had even the faintest idea what was going on or what was expected of them. Undemanding though it is, they had no idea where they were supposed to go, or what they were supposed to do when they got there.

Oh, the Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men…

It was all new to them, and what followed was pandemonium.

He marched them up to the top of the hill…

Forming up in two ranks – No, Nigel, facing each other – it descended into a jumbled matrix of wriggly lines that stretched along the hall, through the hall and across the hall.

And he marched them down again…

As for holding hands with your partner and merrily skipping up the avenue of fellow partygoers, well, things just went from bad to worse. It probably didn’t help that several of their number had spotted a cache of chocolate biscuits, and headed off towards them.

When they were up they were up…

“Now, everybody, follow the person in front…” That directive would have worked, had the individuals who were leading this merry parade understood where they were supposed to go to form “The Arch.” Instead, they both set off in opposite directions, probably in search of the source of the chocolate biscuits.

And when they were down they were down….

One group of kids followed one leader, the bulk of the balance followed the other, and before it could be stopped there was a general melee of thoroughly confused youngsters, some of whom had started a balloon fight.

And when they were only half way up… everybody said, “Stuff this for a game of soldiers.”

Honestly, kids today have no idea what The Grand Old Duke of York is all about; and that’s rather sad, don’t you think? It’s been around since the 15th century, and when I was a youngster it was a favourite party pastime. My fellow partygoers held it in great esteem; an adolescent form of ballroom dancing.

But on reflection, every kid in that hall could re-program a computer, score a gazillion points on a PlayStation, text at a hundred clicks a second on their mobile phone, perform dizzy acrobatics on a skateboard and set the timer on a DVD recorder – all at the same time.

Me? I’ll just fade into obscurity with my chum, The Grand Old Duke.

Drew McAdam


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