The wickedest thing I ever did was convince my little sister that the orange hippo was the hungriest one.
Aged 9 and 7, we sat on the living room carpet playing the game. I’d just won my eighth “campaign” when it all kicked off.
I know this for certain because it’s all recorded for posterity in my hand-decorated Hungry Hungry Hippos log book.
“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS WINNING?!” she snapped.
My sister isn’t a bad loser by nature but I’m certainly not the best winner and, looking back on it, my celebratory dancing and waggling of my posterior in her face could have been taken as provocative.
The subsequent cocky posturing can’t have helped either.
“In life, Katherine,” I said, striding around with the swaggering self-importance reserved for firstborns, “there are winners and there are big fat smelly losers.”
“AAAAAAEEEEEEEEEE!” she said and made a lunge for me over the game board, scattering marbles hither and–to some extent–thither.
“Okay, okay,” I said, not wanting to get cooties all over my “Bedrock Olympics” tee-shirt depicting Wilma and Betty throwing stalactite javelins, and Fred and Barney attempting to play soccer but finding that the ball has been mistaken for an egg by a broody Dino, much to the amusement of Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles.
“If you start behaving in a civilised fashion,” I said outrageously, “I will let you in on my strategy.”
“How can you have a strategy?”, she spat, “This isn’t chess. It’s Hungry Hippos.”
“Hungry Hungry Hippos,” I corrected her.
“IT DOESN’T MATTER! There’s no strategy! You just mash away at the levers and the luckiest person wins.”
“Tsk, tsk,” I said, pushing my luck further than luck has ever been pushed before or since.
I’d seen Tsk Tsk printed in an Enid Blyton book but I didn’t yet know it was supposed to represent a tutting noise and so I pronounced it outright as “Tusk, Tusk”. Even so, it was deliciously derisory.
“Tsk Tsk, Katherine. If you were more attentive you’d know that one of the hippos is hungrier than the others.”
She mulled it over.
“The orange one?” she said, observing correctly that I’d selected the orange hippo. I always selected the orange hippo. I was playing the long game.
What she had not observed is that I also made a point of sitting with my back to the fireplace, taking advantage of the fact that the living room floor was ever so slightly sloped in that direction.
“Yes,” I said, “The orange hippo is the hungriest of all four hippos. A wise old man once told me…”
“THE ORANGE HIPPO IS NOT HUNGRIER! IT IS THE SAME AS ALL THE OTHERS! MUM! MUUUUM!”
I nipped a toke from an imaginary pipe in what I imagined was a professorial manner.
“Not so,” I said, sinisterly adding, “And don’t cry to mother. I assure you that she cannot hear you.”
“The Orange Hippo appears hungrier,” I said, “because of it’s unusual hue. You see, it’s the only hippo not painted in a primary colour.”
This was a lie. One of the hippos was green.
“Orange, being a mixture of red and yellow, has twice the gravitational pull and so the white marbles are attracted to it like a magnet. Here, you try it,” I said.
We swapped places so she could witness first-hand that the orange hippo was the hungriest. The slope in the floor served its purpose and for once my sister won the game.
She was convinced. I really had her believing that the orange Hungry Hungry Hippo was hungrier than the others.
A few days later, she came along proposing we play a certain game involving a quartet of semi-amphibious pachyderms, one of whom, she thought, had a bigger appetite than the others.
“Yes, I suppose I could come out of retirement,” I said, cracking my hippo-slamming fingers.
“But I want to be the orange hippo,” she said.
“Naturally,” I said.
We set up the board as usual on the living room carpet, I sitting in my usual spot with my back to the fireplace but my sister proudly with the orange hippo before her, leaving me with the yellow hippo.
Needless to say, another eight victories were added to my log book in an overly-deliberate, even pantomime, fashion. She was furious.
Katy got her own back on me a few years later. We were driving, as a family, along the motorway to Rhyl. It was raining and our father was impressing us with his ability to predict when the rain would intermittently stop.
Needless to say, the rain only stopped when we happened to drive beneath a footbridge. My sister caught on very quickly and was soon joining in on predicted the stops. “Stop!” she’d say and the rain would momentarily stop.
“You must have worked it out by now,” said Dad, laughing.
I mulled it over.
“Holes in the clouds?”