Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
Peopled call, say, beware doll, you’re bound to fall
You thought they were all kiddin’ you*
I’m sure that my reader (and your friend) must be familiar with those famous opening lines from Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. However, you may not be aware that the ‘throw the bums a dime’ refers to an old rural pastime that has been played certainly in Little Frigging and its environs, for many centuries. Some scholars have even suggested that it is in fact a modern reworking of an old pagan fertility, or marriage ritual.
For those of you not familiar with the pastime as it has come down to us, maybe a little explanation is probably in order.
First, the so-called ‘dime’, this is not as it later became known in the Americas a coin, although there is some resemblance. A dime, for the purposes of the game is a hand crafted highly-polished and often individually decorated circular wooden counter, a regulation eighth of an inch thick with a diameter of two and a half inches**
The game itself can be played either indoors, traditionally in England either in the bar of the local pub or the village hall, or - if outdoors - on the village green. However, providing there is the room available for the pitch – or, to give it its official name, enough ‘Arsing About‘ room, then the game can really be played more or less anywhere.
The players are first divided into pairs; usually each is a team of a man and a woman, although, if the players are willing, and that way inclined, this may not be strictly necessary these days. However, according to folklorists, this traditional pairing of the sexes harks back to the early days of the pastime when it was used as a ritual where the unattached young men and women would use the game to choose their marriage partners.
The two players on each team are called The Bum and The Tosser. The Bums kneel down on their elbows and knees on the official line, or as it is known ‘The Arse Crack’, directly in front of, but facing away from their Tosser. All the Tossers then approach the Oche line***.
The Tossers each now take careful aim, of course, how careful depends on just how much they have imbibed beforehand. Then they toss their ‘dimes’ towards the Bums. The Bums have to try to catch the ‘dime’ between the cheeks of their bum.
In the modern game, for each dime that is successfully caught the team earns one point for that round. The teams that fail to score in each round have to buy those who do score the drink of the scoring team’s choice****.
The winner is the first team to score twenty points, or to be the only team still capable of standing up unassisted, whichever is the sooner.
Of course, in the traditional matrimonial form of the game, it was assumed that any couple who could catch enough of each other’s dimes must therefore be compatible and marriage must thenceforth soon follow. Of course, it also meant that if the man or woman in any particular pairing didn’t fancy their putative partner they could throw to miss their partner, or even manipulate their cheeks so that they didn’t catch the dime. This gamesmanship would, obviously, prevent any discord or disharmony between the couple until - as traditional - after their wedding, when the normal marital hostilities could begin.
*Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan. Of course, Like A Rolling Stone is another rural pastime, usually played after closing time when the player attempts to get back home without ending up in the village duck pond. Bonus points are awarded for managing to visit as many takeaways in the village as possible before arriving home.
**Obviously, in European countries they do tend towards the metric, for example the German ‘Dimensplatentargen’ is 5 mm thick and with a diameter of 60 mm
*** Some folklores and historians contend that the use of the Oche suggests that somewhere in the mists of time Throwing The Bums A Dime and Darts, both common pub past times for centuries, must share a similar root. Although, our Health and Safety representative has pointed out that playing Throw The Bums A Dime with darts instead of Dimes is NOT recommended.
****Hence, folklorists believe the use of the word ‘round’ when buying drinks for others in the pub. They also believe this is where the traditional unwillingness to ‘get one’s round in’ comes from, a folk memory of feeling one is on one of the losing teams.