Coning the Duke in Glasgow

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traffic cone statue afp AFP A replica of Glasgow's renowned Duke of Wellington statue complete with road cone headgear is paraded during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREJ ISACOVIC

The Times of London, which is sold in Glasgow with a Scottish bent, published a picture of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge at the Commonwealth Games, taking part in what the caption described as a “South African jumping game”.

The game was Three Tins, and for one paper it was proof that the Duchess wasn’t pregnant. Expectant moms don’t jump, apparently.

I’d never heard of Three Tins, but then I’m not much cop on schoolyard or traditional games. I played stingers as a kid, like dodgeball but it hurts more.

Three Tins, according to a British Council document on traditional games posted during the London Olympics, is played with two equal teams with a minimum of five people. Here are the specs: “A playing space 8mx4m. Three tins are placed on top of each other. The first player has three attempts to knock the tins down. The player throws the ball from outside the marked playing area. If successful the player runs out, re-builds the tins, draws a square around the tins and hops over the tins three times. If the ball misses or is thrown too far the players shout “Thayma” until the ball is returned. If after three throws the player has been unsuccessful, the first player from the opposing team becomes the thrower. Equipment: Three tins, plastic blocks or other stacking objects. A small ball. Safety: A flat playing area free of debris.”

The Times does not say whether the Duchess shouted “thayma”, nor whether they forced her to rebuild the tins, but there was the massive news that she has begun to take her son, Prince George, to swimming lessons.

Earlier this week, in the Main Press Centre at the SECC here, I heard two fully-grown men, English both of them, talk about how Prince George and exactly what angle he had been sitting on his mother’s lap and for how long. George wasn’t at the Commonwealth Games. They were talking about a previous public appearance. I waited for them to say, “aaaaahhh, ain’t he cute”, which would have been my excuse in the assault trial to follow.

kate jumps Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge plays Three Tins during a visit to the Commonwealth Games Village. REUTERS/Danny Lawson/Pool REUTERS

The Scottish have a strange relationship with the monarchy and people of title. The statue of the Duke of Wellington on the Royal Exchange Square outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow in Queen Street yesterday had a traffic cone on the head of the Duke, who sits astride a horse. A pigeon sat on the horse’s head. I took a picture. So did many others. We all thought it was a new joke, but it is a tradition that has been going since the 1980s.

The city leaders have tried to stop it, and keep removing the traffic cones 100 times a year, an exercise that costs the council around R170 000 a year. Last year the council wanted to double the height of the plinth on which the statue stands, which would have cost over R1.1-million. Thousands took part in a social media backlash that forced the council to back off those plans. The cone would remain on the statue, erected in 1844, but it would still be considered undesirable by the council.

The Queen’s sculptor (yes, she has her own sculptor), Sandy Stoddart, said: “Any move to end the tedious, unfunny, irreverent and strangely righteous addiction Glasgow has had to “coning” the Wellington statue I greet with warmth. The single most embarrassing thing about the culture of Glasgow has been the cone on the Duke’s head. It is detestable.”

And, yet, it featured in the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, a nod, reported one paper, to “Glasgow’s irreverent charm”. The statue has been damaged by drunks climbing up on the statue to place the cones, losing his spurs and half his sword. In 2011, the coned Duke was named as one of the “top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth” by Lonely Planet. It’s no three tins, but coning the Duke sounds like a lot of fun.

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