Wednesday, 11 November 2009

B is for Bat. And Ball. And Britain.

Over the last couple of days, the English language google has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. So today, as a sort of educational feature, I thought I'd take a quick look at one of the ways that Britain has shaped the world's sporting culture. The British have a long tradition of inventing sports, such as football, which was played on the streets of Medieval Britain, cricket, snooker, croquet, bowls, curling, golf, squash, rugby, etc. Actually, many of these games had origins elsewhere, but the modern versions and their rules were invented here.

The British have a very strong sense of fair play. When the Spanish sent their Armada to invade Britain in 1588 our defence forces were delayed from setting sail because Sir Francis Drake was in the middle of a bowls game, and the official rules did mention abandoning the game if it started to rain, but they said nothing about a war. It was okay, though, because the Spanish invasion was eventually cancelled due to rain. Or rather, storms to be precise, which led to the sinking of many of the Armada's ships. In accordance with the rules, the British were declared the winners.


Unlike the Americans, the British long ago made the mistake of letting foreigners play their games. The problem is that they've managed to get much better than us. This is especially true of the outdoor games, since people in drier countries (i.e. everyone else) actually get to finish them more often, whereas here of course they're usually rained off.

Tennis is a good example. It became popular in the mid 1800s, and the Wimbledon championship is still considered to be one of the main competitions. It's 32 years since a British player won the women's singles there, and 73 years since Fred Perry won the men's title.


With the popularity of tennis in Victorian times, people started to play a smaller version of it on their dining room tables, using a row of books instead of a net. This game was called Whiff Whaff. Eventually they constructed proper green tables with nets, and renamed it Ping Pong. Then they made the mistake of letting the Chinese play it.


Many years later in the USA, Ping Pong was turned into the first arcade videogame. For some reason the manufacturers, Atari, called it "Pong", which you wouldn't have thought was a great choice of names. However, the game was successful and led to a home version and further games consoles. Today instead of "Pong" people play "Wii".


Anyway, Bee is the same age as Pong, which is why I didn't say what year the arcade game appeared. It wouldn't be polite since B is also for Birthday. I hope she has a happy one today.

Maybe in three years Google will have a celebration for Pong...

6 comments:

Bee said...

"whiff Whaff"? Bwahahahaha!!

Thanks Brian! I'm sure people will be nice to me at work today...

Jean Knee said...

I get dibs on the week old cake crumbs

Jean Knee said...

Awwwww, what a 'sporting' good Birthday post



did I sound British? even a little?

Rhonda said...

Whiff Whaff is much more appealing to me. It sounds proper.

Bee is as old as Pong? That really puts it in perspective. Please don't do anything similar for my next birthday. ;)

Chris Wood said...

Cricket is still a matter of some regret to us all ...

Brian o vretanos said...

Chris,

The problem is that we haven't invented any new games since Rugby. We need some more that no-one else plays.

Oh, and I agree about Le Diner du cons - it's one of the most hilarious films I've ever watched - it has me howling with laughter every time...