During the lockdown, my daily exercise has been an evening walk in my local park. Many evenings, after 9 PM, it seems like I am the only one out. One of those evenings, I noticed something moving in the distance. It was man, from his posture, probably middle aged, looking suspiciously around, and holding,what I initially thought to be a string. I was curious as to what he was doing, and watched him from a distance. When he was erroneously reassured that none was watching, he unravelled his rope and started skipping.
From that day on, I started noticing more and more regular adults, wearing casual clothes, not presenting exceptional athletic competencies, skipping. Seeing them, inspired me to order a skipping rope for myself.
I assumed that I would find one with wooden handles and an ivory rope, very much like the one in the V&A Museum of Childhood collection and of that of my childhood; instead I encountered image after image of skipping ropes composed of different materials and colours, for both children and adults, amateurs and professionals. After a bit of research, practicality gave in to nostalgia, and armed with a compact, lightweight rope with tangle-free coated cable and anti-slip foam handles, I ventured to the park. Like my inspiration, I waited for the park to get quiet and found a secluded spot to have my first attempt. Luckily, I found I could still skip – not as fast nor as long as I had hoped, and bearing some surprising side effects. But I was there, in the park for my daily exercise, skipping. And I was happy.
In the evenings that followed, a great number of childhood memories surfaced: images of the school playground, of my neighbourhood, of singing and jumping with my friends or alone setting myself targets and not stopping until they were achieved. I also recalled an image of a skipping rope, folded and put away in a box in the basement of my childhood home. All of my skipping memories were of girls; where were the boys? Contacting friends and family, they only confirmed that skipping was a girls’ favourite, and that only occasionally, girls would recruit little brothers, with not much choice, to turn the rope.
Interestingly, the earliest European records of skipping are from the sixteenth century. Those records refer to skipping with a hoop, only later was a rope involved. Unsurprisingly, it was, at that time, a boys’ game, as girls would have been discouraged to skip and been in danger of showing their ankles. This changed in the nineteenth century, when girls took control of the skipping games, invented the rhymes and decided who participated. Thanks to Iona and Peter Opie, folklorists, who pioneered the study of childhood, we have records of skipping games and rhymes in Britain.
Last July, during the Festival of Play at the V&A Museum of Childhood, we showcased some of those playground games. We were partners at Playing the Archive, an EPSRC-funded collaborative project, that explored memories and practices of play by bringing together archives, spaces and technologies of play and involved research and cultural production with people of different generations and cultures. I would recommend to all who have revived their skipping ropes, due to the pandemic, to explore it.
Skipping has now been added to my daily exercise, and even if I try to be out of the way, I no longer do it when it is dark. People passing by, stop to look, smile at me, and do occasionally utter encouraging sounds. There is also a sense of solidarity with my fellow adults – with our skipping ropes, we ensure we do our cardio exercise, work our muscles, improve our bone density or just have a little bit of fun.
Related Objects from the Collections: