The Holy Grail of children's games

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The Independent Online

For some time now, the letters page of this paper has conducted a correspondence under the rubric "Take No Notice", in which people offer misleading signs they have noticed. Somebody once cautioned me savagely that journalists are not supposed to write letters to their own newspapers, so I have been unable to write in and say that the best advice for life I ever saw was written simply and humbly on the side of a box of matches. It said: "Keep in a dry place and away from children". I have followed this advice most of my life, to great advantage, and when I have ignored it, I have usually suffered.

For some time now, the letters page of this paper has conducted a correspondence under the rubric "Take No Notice", in which people offer misleading signs they have noticed. Somebody once cautioned me savagely that journalists are not supposed to write letters to their own newspapers, so I have been unable to write in and say that the best advice for life I ever saw was written simply and humbly on the side of a box of matches. It said: "Keep in a dry place and away from children". I have followed this advice most of my life, to great advantage, and when I have ignored it, I have usually suffered.

But I have also, over the years, tended to jot down the wording of signs that have mystified or intrigued me. I saw one the other day in Old Compton Street, in Soho. It was chalked on a blackboard outside a wine shop, and it was declaring the great qualities of some champagne or other - very appley, lovely mousse, that sort of thing - and it added, underneath: "The favourite champagne of Zoe, the lesbian vet in Emmerdale!"

Have I got that right? I hope so. I have never seen Emmerdale Farm, so I can't be sure. What baffles me is why they think such a claim should sell any extra bottles. I grant that the lesbian vets of the country might make a beeline for it, but what is that in overall percentages?

Here's another one, from Chippenham Station. It was painted on a wall. The train was there for a long time. I had time to copy it down. "CHAINAGE DIFFERENT ON EACH WOOD TO USE BECAUSE OF RADIUS".

What does that mean? It might be an instruction to people lifting timber by crane to vary the chain attachment according to girth, but even so it is fairly contorted. There is something poetic about it. I don't mean lyrical. I mean poetic in the modern sense of meaningless and irritating.

The best notice I ever spotted was, alas, not spotted by me but by my wife, in a railway station in South Africa. Here it is. Read it carefully.

"Any Person Who Fails to Comply With this Notice Shall Be Prosecuted And May Be Liable to a Fine".

There was nothing else. There may, once, have been a notice alongside it to which it referred, but there was no trace of it, and now it hung there just like that, in all its existential glory. She has a photo of it, if you doubt me.

And today's final exhibit is one I spotted a month ago, while on a bicycle ride around Georgetown, a small Canadian town near Toronto, where I was staying with in-laws:

"Kids Camp - The Hottest in Town! Luau party - crafts - snacks - songs - games + Bible Adventures! Georgetown Christian Church 905 873 9652"

This was a brave notice. Someone had been told to try to write a sign for a Sunday School outing and make it sound like a wild party, and they hadn't done a bad job. I didn't know till I looked it up that a luau party is some kind of Hawaiian shindig, which sounded commendably non-Christian. It was only in the last two words, "Bible Adventures", that they were forced to admit that it was going to be a bit religious. But, hey! The Bible is where to find adventures, right?

I'm not so sure. Although we have lots of adventure games drawn from history - pirates, cops and robbers, cowboys and Injuns - I don't think there is any drawn from the Bible. The Quest for the Holy Grail is the nearest I can think of, and I always thought that that sounded pretty dreary, especially as you never got to find it.

So how would you entertain children using the Bible as a source of adventures?

"OK, kids, you've got 10 minutes to break as many of the commandments as you can!"

"Now, who wants to be Daniel and who wants to be the lions?"

"In a moment we'll all get into a boat, but first I want you to find two of each kind of animal you can..."

"In this game, children, we have to take all our clothes off, and then we have to eat an apple..."

No, I still don't think I've got the hang of it.

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