Wednesday, August 1, 2007

/Know when to roll 'em!/

I had the greatest memory-trigger the other day. I've been temping at the Don Dunstan Foundation and a woman there had a little bowl marbles on her desk - for decorative purposes I assume. Suddenly I was nine years old, inspecting her impressive collection of Speckledies and sizing up values ...

I don't know about you, but marbles were big in Gilles Street Primary. The craze ran in cycles (like all school crazes) and when marbles were in, the grassed-area (irregular hexagon, left) became the first casino we ever experienced. There were the high rollers, the pigeons, the wheelers, the dealers and the stealers.
We didn't have a large circle from which we would try to knock each others marbles. Instead two players started side-by-side and took it in turns to hit the other's marble, keeping the marbles on the grass. You could throw yours to the other side of the grass if you wanted a long match (or if you were a chicken), or you could drop it close by for a genuine battle of skills and wills (or if you were stupid).
The match was only a part of the battle. First you had to negotiate terms and values. One marble was not worth another. If fact, I would venture that this is still the case. Along with the patrons of the marble field (as it was known), there were officials. Marble experts who could be relied upon to correctly judge the value of one marble for another or go through your collection to decide what was worth playing for and who was trying it on. Of course this system was entirely corrupt. The marble expert was often chosen purely because they were bigger and/or bossier than the opponent. Having a grade seven with a large Spiderman t-shirt and real acne tell you that your Big Bluies would have to be included as a prize along with the lowly Cats-Eye for it to be worth a Tri-Colour BirdShit was often authority enough for anybody who didn't want to be seen as a wuss.
The experts would also hold the winner's prize in escrow on particularly big matches, but, since
The Sopranos hadn't been thought of yet, they never took a cut.

Every Marble Craze Phase was divided into roughly three eras that would last anything from a few days to a few weeks.

1. Innocent Fun
A few kids bring their marbles to school in their pockets and play a few rounds on the grass. At the beginning of this sweet and simple time kids would even take back the marbles they played with. No one lost their possessions; it was all for the love of the game. After a while a few more kids would remember that they too liked playing marbles, and had them at home. They would bring their own and the more competitive types would begin challenging one another. Bitty Bins would appear, making the beginning of ...

2. The Rush
The grassed area would be crowded. All shapes and sizes. Every second player would have a Bitty Bin tucked under their arm. Gazes were intense. Skills were building with daily play and those with classrooms nearer the grass would always snag the best first few rounds just after the bell before the masses began arriving. Long bombs would pay off and the distinctive, grinding click of hardened glass balls knocking together sounded like the faint rustle of poker chips in a late-night gambling den. The big marbles would appear. The Tombolla sizes and the Giants above them. Rich kids began high-stakes games from which the casualties would begin to mount. Bigger Bitty Bins would appear and the pros even had flunkies to carry them while they played. Then, it would happen. Someone would challenge someone who wasn't ready for it, but didn't want to back down. Their favourite marble would be played and lost and the first tear to fall on the well-trodden grass would signal ...

3. The Ban.
The ban wouldn't happen at first, but it was in the air. Once that first tear rolled off that first quivering cheek. Once that first pout followed the prized Reddy as it floated away from its family (often having been there for generations) and into the 4-litre Bitty Bin of a dead-eye pro. That's when a teacher on yard duty would have to spend most of their time hovering, trying to make sure that the kids in the cubby house weren't about to jump off the roof while simultaneously keeping an adult eye on nineteen separate marble matches to ensure that no one was violating the School Rule about personal possessions. Too much. At around this time the grassed area became known as The Marble Yard or The Arena and it was patrolled by either dead-set, sharp-shooting pros or the angry, confident, future-poker-machine addicts, certain that they could take their last few Galaxies, challenge for that Swamp Tombolla and really turn the tables. Stakes were ionospheric. For a time, the eye of the storm would descend and many gathered to watch the big dogs take one another on for marbles that most would never see up close, let alone touch, let alone own. Then came that sound, and that cry.
'Marble scatter!'
No sound is so electrifyingly, terrifyingly sweet. Sometimes you would hear it during The Rush.
Some kid would actually just drop their Bitty Bin and we would all swarm like coked-up seagulls, digging in the dirt and shovelling handfuls of marbles into our pockets while the poor, clumsy owner attempted to both scoop as many marbles back into the container as possible through tears of desperation, and dispense a few elbows about the place to curtail the massive losses they were about to sustain. If a teacher were around, it was simple to claim an insatiable altruistic urge:
'I was just helping him pick them up!'
If no teacher was around, then old Slippery Fingers had better have some persuasive friends or they would be left with a runny nose and a rattly Bitty Bin at the end of the day to help explain to Mum and Dad why taking toys to school was a safe idea.
However, during the time of The Ban, marble scatters were less ... accidental. If you were to unlock the lid of your Bin, then you had better check around first, because all it takes is one burnt, vindictive eight-year-old to believe that you didn't win his Jelly fair and square to walk by, grab the edge of your Bin and yank downwards.
'Marble scatter!'
The marble scatter from a high-roller was doubly delicious. Especially if it happened on bricks, cement or, best of all, inside on a hardwood floor. The same aural rush can only be had by a embezzling slot-jockey when the royal flush turns up. Ch-Ching! Whoosh!! Endorphins and joy!
That's when it starts getting dirty. That's when it's the beginning of the end. It can only be a matter of hours before all marbles are banned from school property. One ban happened after someone pulled a marble scatter next to a major road. Lucky no valuable ones rolled out under the taxis on their speedy way towards the South Terrace Hotels or there would have been a flew still-confident pigeons who ended their rolling days the way they lived them: chasing the beautiful glass balls.

Then all would be quiet, until the next craze hit the school. Snap-bracelets, basketballs, Tazos, skateboards and eventually, like a really hot summer or Australia winning a big soccer match ... marbles would once again come around, and the gentle click of fun and nostalgia could be heard, waiting for the Bitty Bins to arrive.

River once again takes the honours. It is indeed an old chain covered in guano and all the symbolism about the links that the internet forges and the conditions under which it forges them that goes along with that kind of thing.
Better luck this week gang!


  1. As much as I find lolcats tedious, I just had to whip up this for you.

  2. Love the Tropix T-shirt. I had many and even wore a Tropix jumper, brought from Big-W, especially for my appearance on the TV show 'Guess What'?
    My location guess for GHT; primary school playground (sleepers and perm-a-pine logs abundant). The alarm on your digital watch you set to remind the teacher its lunch time has just sounded, signalling the beginning of the glass-on-grass battle.

  3. I've got a bitty-bin full of marbles in my shed - under lock and key - mine! all mine!....heh heh heh

  4. Whose bitty-bin do you think it is?
    I recently found out that my mother who is 80 gave my millions of marbles to charity. A truck was needed to take them away.
    My father claims that when he returned from the war and discovered that his mother had kept his marbles, he proceeded to fire them at birds in the nearby bushland with a shanghai. I understand that no fauna or flora was were injured or mistreated in this action.

  5. Location, location location.
    Hmmmm. Primary school yard, near an entrance, since the bike rack is visible as is the bench seat where kids would sit to swap lunches. Empty handed child who has lost his marbles?
    Read your comment on MillyMoo's page and clicked your link to see the cars. Love that stripped down mustang!

  6. 327 - Thank you for the lolsk00ly4rd

    Trent - You are a competitive man and I admire your tenacity at trying to squeeze the GTH answer out of me, but you're going to have to buy a few more beers than that to loosen my lips.

    Neil - THOSE MARBLES ARE MINE MINE MINE!!! They are splattered with the blood and tears of dozens of childhood foes! Priceless! Irreplaceable! But, I must say, I admire your restraint concerning the obvious pun to do with marbles and loss.

    River - You and Trent have much to discuss ... Also -

    it turns out I was wrong about that Mustang never seeing the street

  7. Oh yes, I do remember the marble crazes at our school too. Having two brothers also helped in that area and honed my skills for recess times.

    In between the marble fads were coca-cola and fanta yo-yos, skipping and stilt-walking...

  8. Discussions?? NO NO NO Discussions cause me to lose MY marbles...........

  9. Wow, this brought back some dusty old memories. I even had visions of a couple of my favourite marbles from Grade Three! I think only the boys ever played - other than me of course; well, we were too old for kiss chasey now (one should NEVER be too old!!). I whupped their asses most of the time if I recall correctly.

  10. Don't hate the player; hate the game!


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32