When I initially agreed to accompany my mother to The Carbonear World Cup of Tiddly on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I was going to see people play tiddly-winks.
I was pretty curious to see what the buzz around this event was — the game warranted a sign permanently anchored at the edge of town proudly proclaiming Carbonear as the home of the event. Every time I drove past it to visit my mom, I wondered. Now I would know.
I was in no way prepared for what I encountered. If you don’t know much about tiddly, looking at the equipment of play will not help you much. A pair of bricks and a small bundle of sticks, some short and some long, and an open area for play is pretty much it.
The first person I approached for explanation said simply “tiddly is an old game with strange rules.” This became obvious when I acquired a copy of these rules: two pages long and rich with minutia about how many “long stick” lengths away from the bricks things have to happen.
Pegi Earle, my tiddly angel, took me out to the field and explained the game to me as it was played, which may be the only way you can ever really understand it. The game consists of two teams who alternate their positions on the field as players either score points or get each other out.
Two bricks are placed 6 inches apart on the ground and a short stick laid across them, which is then hooked up into the air and flung with the long stick into the field. If a member of the opposing team catches it, the player at the bricks is out. If not, points are scored on how far into the field it has gone.
A player successful in this first task then gets to throw the small stick into the air and bat it out with the long stick, called “the bat-off.” If successful here, the final move, the “tiddly” ensues.
“This is the tricky one, cause it’s two moves” Pegi says. The short stick is angled on a brick and tapped backwards, then forwards into the field with the long stick. Parts of the play are so much like softball you expect to see a batter take off across the bases, but other elements are very unique to this regional favourite.
As with folk games, this is the basic framework, but rules differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and are always evolving. Arguments are not uncommon, hence the two page rule list for a game played with nothing but bricks and bats.
Everything was starting to make sense now. Pegi, it turned out, was a passionate tiddly player from the area, but had injured herself kayaking recently and had to sit this one out.
“We used to play with broom handles and rocks, not the fancy sticks we have now”, she said. This was affirmed by an older gentleman who told me there would be real trouble if you broke your mother’s broom handle and had to go home and tell her.
Tiddly was commonplace in areas like Carbonear, Fogo and Springdale, but unknown in others. Believed to be brought to Newfoundland as an Elizabethan English or Irish game, similar games are played in such places as Germany, South Yemen, The Phillipines, and Latvia.
Its popularity waned to almost nil after the 60s, as new games came with a modernizing Newfoundland. When the World Cup of Tiddly began in 2008, it was born out of the interest of a 50 plus bracket of town who remembered the game fondly.
You wouldn’t know it as an “old timer sport” now, with the crowd spanning youth to senior and some teams sporting multiple generations of the same family. Teams with names like Harbour Rock Hillbillies and Valley Road Rockslingers duke it out with passion, and this year’s Women’s Division Champs, Knox’s Nuggets, have won more Tiddly World Cups over the ten years of its history then any other women’s team.
Having Pegi by my side, I already knew that the action this year was between the Nuggets and the Flings, each team with veteran players.
Men’s Division Champs, The Gulls, were given their trophy by MHA Steve Crocker, a golden replica of two bricks and short stick. The Nuggets received theirs from former mayor Sam Slade.
Janet Kelley of Auntie Crae’s fame had come round the bay with friends to catch the action as well. “She played as a child in town,” I’m told. Clearly this was an important game in local tradition.
Tiddly expert Judy Cameron helped fill in some gaps of tiddly’s history. In a game where “give it the tap and wang” or “defend those rocks, girl” are common cheers, I was grateful to have so many people help break down the terms and play and fill me in on the folklore.
Thank you Carbonear for that awesome and informative sunny day on the field watching families have fun and celebrate our unique traditions. This event shows the best of what Newfoundland culture can be when treated like the precious thing that it is. Happy 10th Anniversary World Cup of Tiddly. I wish you many more.