Virginia Barton

1 December 2017: Onondaga


1 December 2017


“Blow blow thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind…”

For some reason we always sang this in the winter; well obviously you goose. It’s As You Like It – or not as the case may be.

Cowering, that’s what. Cowering like some poor old sheep fetched up against a stonewall on the fell in a helm wind. Winter weather affects the old girl that way.


T’was not ever thus, of course. As a large (“well-covered,” the aunts kindly put it) teenager, rushing on to a playing field wielding a lacrosse stick come rain, sleet, or hail, was the very foretaste of heaven. To be let out of the classroom every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, legitimately skipping the dreaded Latin lesson – or worse still, maths; and go bowling in the coach from Kensington to Richmond playing fields was a twice-weekly reprieve.

Oh we did love Games! We played Lacrosse from September until Easter. It is a game with few rules and no boundaries. Your stick is your weapon and your path to glory! I grew very attached to mine – woe betide anyone who “borrowed” it. Its magical catching abilities and discreet whack when applied to a member of the opposition were legendary.

“Good old Ginny!” they yelled, as I pounded past left defence and whipped the ball to centre point.

One could be sent off the field for violence but not much else. Personally I knew no bad language apart from bingkit, my mother’s alternative to blue expletives in stressful moments. We girls didn’t swear and any boys we happened to come across were much too polite.


Lacrosse is a game played originally by a North American Indian tribe named the Onondaga. They called their game dehuntshigwa’es, which translates as “men hit a rounded object.” A French Canadian Jesuit took it up and called it Le jeu de la crosse.

The stick is vaguely crook shaped, with a largish net “pocket” made of strips of leather. In this one catches the ball. You must then “cradle” it to prevent it tumbling out.

Cradling, keeping the stick close to the chest and moving it swiftly back and forth across the body as if pacifying an infant brutally, requires skill and practice. As does passing accurately to a team mate. (My sis was hopeless at all this and quickly lost her place in the fourth team and returned to maths and Latin.)

We sporty types raced up and down the pitch, cradling, passing, yelling, whacking here and there and at last shooting the ball into the net. Hurray! A goal! A melée of huge red mottled legs: we were big girls in those days – no stick insects in the First Team. Beaming happy faces and shrieks of delight greeted every goal scored until the opposition was flattened into the mud and we could sit on their heads – metaphorically of course.


Cheery “rounds” like “Row row row the boat” or “My bonny lies over the ocean” were bellowed in the coach on the way to matches – rather as football supporters do today.

But in Choir we sang “Blow blow thou winter wind” melodiously, politely.

The last line is apposite though:

“Then, heigh-ho the holly!
This life is most jolly.”

I still think so, don’t you?





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