On The Mat : the origins of modern tiddlywinks 1954-57

Two Lean Years: 1. Oct 1955 - Sept 1956

The first meeting of the new academic year took place on the evening of October 10th. The Club continued to meet every Monday evening, and during the term membership rose to fourteen. These fourteen were (in order of joining the Club) Steen, Martin, Howells, Rilett, Parker, Tyler, Flinn, Pascoe, Pybus, Hughes, Turner, Cooper, Moreton and Ridge. Hodge had joined at the second meeting in January, but had resigned from the Club by October 10th.

Early in October Howells sent the Goons a copy of the Thesis, and a renewed challenge for a match "at your own convenience". The Goons for their part replied that they were not keen to play the match "'at our own convenience', as you suggest. It is a very small one and we would far rather journey to Cambridge to meet you on your own ground or, if your prefer, at your convenience." But no match could be arranged before Christmas, and the matter was deferred till the New Year. In the event this produced no match.

Peter Shepherd & Co were also challenged, but declined on the grounds of needing to practice first.

Howells wrote to Stephen Potter on October 18th, only to find he was lecturing in America, "studying USmanship on the spot". On his return he wrote declining the challenge (in spite of his surname!), but had this to say: "One of the thoughts that strikes me is that to say 'I represented Cambridge at tiddlywinks' might sound trivial to thoughtless people. Why not let us invent a new word for this, e.g. 'I charted for' or 'I minored for Cambridge'? The initiated will know what it means; the uninitiated will be impressed."

Gilbert Harding was another disappointment. He replied on October 27th that "unhappily, tiddlywinks was a game at which I invariably lost my temper, until the inevitable onset of adolescence at the age of six. I suffer from an enlarged spleen and high blood pressure", adding that if he played tiddlywinks again this might cause him to burst, which would be "a horrible sight".

Denis Compton read the Thesis with interest, but feared that his infamous knee would be unable to stand the strain of a winks match. It thus appears that the rigours of cricket (Compton scored 94 and 35 not out in the Fifth Test against Australia the following summer) are as nought compared with the physical hazards of tiddlywinks! Compton ended his letter by saying that "I read recently that in the 1920's a number of undergraduates founded a movement which urged a return to a more leisured form of life; they sat on pavements, playing tiddlywinks and urging passers-by to join them."

The two academic sessions from October 1955 to September 1957 were a very lean period for the Club, and in the Lent term of 1956 the weekly meetings were changed to fortnightly. It was undoubtedly discouraging to find no opponents at all for 1.5 years: after June 1955 no match appeared until December 1956. By October 1957 there had only been 4 matches in two and three-quarter years of existence. Lesser mortals would have disbanded the Club, disillusioned.

It must be said that the Lent term of 1956 very nearly did produce a fixture. A match had been arranged against the University College London Rugby XV, on Saturday 18th February, at Cambridge; "unfortunately, however, the elements were against us, for a blizzard raged over most of England during the day and our opponents didn't leave London."

The Club took careful note of the fact that about this time both Aneurin Bevan and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Harold Macmillan) had mentioned tiddlywinks in political speeches.

On the evening of March 12th 1956 C.U.Tw.C. held an Extraordinary Meeting, the culmination of discussions and debate which had arisen within the Club. The meeting concerned the Rules. One debate centred on the scoring system. The current scores were 5 points for being first, 3 points for second, 2 points for third, and 1 point for fourth. The proposal now being mooted was to award only 4 points for coming first, the other points remaining the same. This proposal runs counter to the predominant school of thought a decade later, where it is considered important that the score earned by getting first and fourth places exceeds the sum earned by coming second and third; if this were not so it might in some circumstances place undue emphasis on defensive play, aimed at avoiding fourth place rather than gaining first place. This was probably less true in 1956, when the strategy of double-squop was unknown. As it happened, after much discussion the proposal was defeated by 7 votes to 3.

The other matter at issue was resolved when it was unanimously decided to clarify the Rules by means of an addition; the addition is worth quoting extensively:

"State of the Game- If both members of the team have all their winks either cupped or covered, then it shall be said that they are squapt. The verb shall be declined thus:

          Present                   Past
       I squallop                I squapt
       You squallop              You squapt
       He (or she) squallops     He (or she) squapt
       We squallop               We squapt
       You squallop              You squapt
       They squallop             They squapt
              Past participle - Squapt
              Noun - Squap (masculine). "

This entertaining addition to the Rules went on to discuss the taking of free turns when the opponents are 'squapt', along lines similar to present practice. It will be noticed, however, that the term 'squapt' applied only when both partners had all their winks unplayable; the present use of 'squopped', referring to any individual wink or winks being covered, is a later development.

[Ed.: Original booklet now contains a small diagram of "Imminent Forward Spin" taken from the Thesis]

The remainder of the academic year passed by relatively uneventfully. Bill Steen tried unsuccessfully to arrange a match against 245 Squadron R.A.F. The A.G.M. was held on June 5th, Lawford Howells becoming the new President, and John Scully (who with Quarmby was the Club's newest recruit) taking over as Secretary. There is an incongruous item in the Minutes of the A.G.M., headed Walking Race Challenge: "It was agreed that the Club should challenge any other non-athletic club in Cambridge to a walking race from the Senate House, London, to Picadilly Circus." The Minutes conclude "N.B. Although we had no tiddlywinks fixtures we did have a fixture against Green Sox Exclusive Sports Club. We played them at croquet! (and lost)."

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