There were many reasons to hate Sunday evenings as a kid. It always had a very gloomy feel to it. The weekend was almost over, my mum would be busy ironing our school clothes for the week, I was forced to have a bath (in my sisters second hand water) before doing my homework and there was always a load of shite on the television. I mean, did anybody really watch Songs of Praise and Highway with Harry Seacombe? Sunday night tele always peaked too early with Bullseye at 5.30 pm. For those too young or not from Britain's fair shores, Bullseye was an amazingly bad, yet good quiz show which centred on the noble art of dart playing. Contestants played in pairs and answered very simple questions, whilst the host, Jim Bowen (an ex P.E at our rival school), made awful jokes and patronised them. The climax to the show was when the contestants got the chance to gamble all the prizes that they had won against Bully's (programs emblem) star prize. Invariably the star prize would be a speed boat. All good and well if the contestants didn't live on a council estate in Humberside and could barely afford the bus fare to the show, never mind weekends away in the Lake District.
Every now again, my dad would go on a geology field trip on a Sunday and would often bring me and my sister a gift back with him. On these Sundays I would finish my bath and pretend to do my homework in record time and then go downstairs to impatiently wait for my dad's return. His gifts would generally have a geological theme. A gift pack of semi precious gems or a lump of crystal that he had found in the mountains of North Wales, for example. One Sunday in the autumn of 1980 however, I was to receive a gift that was to make me famous for 15 days.
"He's home!", I shout to nobody imp-articular, from my makeshift seat on the window ledge of the living room. I've been sat there for the past hour awaiting his return.
I bang on the window and dad gives me a big smile and points to his back. On his back sits his old blue rucksack (nothing was ever new in our house). He indicates that there is something in there for me. I rush to the door to greet him and more importantly to relieve him of the gift that he has for me.
"Oh, you're going to like this a lot", he teases.
"What is it?". "What is it?", I cry out, whilst hopping from foot to foot and trying to get into his back pack. Maybe at 11 years old I am a little too old to be displaying excitement of this nature. Aren't 11 year olds smoking crack these days?
He says, "Here, feel the weight of this", as he passes me the backpack. I am taken by surprise by the weight of the bag and it hits the floor with a dull thud.
As quick as a flash, I'm on my hands and knees and have undone the straps of the backpack. Delving past, his sandwich box, flask and magnifying glass, I spot a large ball of newspaper.
"Is that it dad?", I shout, whilst not actually waiting for an answer. By the time he as replied in the affirmative, I have liberated my gift from it's packaging and am staring in absolute, delightful awe, at my prize.
"Wow, that's amazing!", I scream, as I begin to tribal dance around the living room. I would love to hoist my prize above my head at the same time, but I can hardly lift it.
So what is it? I'm sure you are dying to know. I not aware if kids in every country play (played) marbles or not, but when I was a kid - it was the playground game of choice in the UK. It involved spherical objects made of glass, pot, steel, marble or plastic (marbles), which came in varying sizes. Although the largest were never bigger than a golf ball. The object of the game is to hit the other persons marble with your own marble. One person throws and the other person tries to hit his marble to win it. Generally speaking the bigger the marble, the more value it had. The hierarchy was not that simple though, dobbers were worth more than normal marbles, pearlies and pot alleys were were worth more than dobbers and ironys or steelys were worth more than virtually every other marble. If you had a big irony you were basically king of the castle, until you lost it. To win a bigger or better marble your opponent would have to hit it more times. The maximum would be around 3 times for the biggest irony/steely.
My dad had only gone and found the biggest bleeding marble I had ever encountered. This thing was made of steel and was the size of a cannon ball (no exaggeration). He found it in an old coal mine somewhere in Wales. His excitement at his find is not far less than my own. He informs me that there were hundreds of them down there and they were probably used for breaking rocks. For a moment my excitement turns to anger and I question him about why he did not bring all of them. It only takes a glance at my new prize to bring a smile back to my face (spoilt little bastard that I was). For once, I can't wait to go to school the next day.
For the next few weeks, I am the envy of the playground. Me and "Cannonball", as he has become named are the stars of whole school. My fame does not come without risk though. There are rumours of plots to marblenap "Cannonball" and the school bullies are a constant threat.
"Hey Mitton, don't get too cosy with that steely, we will take it when we want it", they taunt.
But, it's all made worthwhile by the constant stream of kids that approach me just to get a glimpse of Cannonball. Their faces contorted in disbelief at the magnificence of my steel orb.
I can't wait for playtime. I am wiping everybody clean of all their great marbles. Marbles that used to revered are now sitting in my marble bag. It looks like a pirate's treasure trove in there, marbles of all colours, shapes, sizes and materials gleam back at me, as I frequently stick my head in the bag to admire my collection. By the middle of week 2, I am having to use my P.E kit bag as an overspill. And it's no wonder that I am winning, even the second best marble has to hit my marble 10 times to win it. Fair enough, Cannonball is a big target but my skills are good and it's NEVER going to happen.
On day 15 however, a misty Monday morning, as I recall, I am challenged by Lorraine Heywood, a girl in my class. From her marble bag she produces a shiny steel ball around the same size as a golf ball. Even through the mist, I am drawn to her shining sphere, like a magpie to a gold ring.
"How many times, I shout out?", with a cockiness that is new to me.
"Three", she replies.
"No way, three - five at the very least", I demand.
"Three, or we're not playing", she says, as she turns to leave.
By now, a crowd have amassed and they are keen to see Cannonball in action. They start to chant "three, three, three, three".
I am not comfortable with this situation, but the eager and unrelenting faces of the crowd make it difficult to walk away.
"So, are we on then?", Lorraine rhetorically asks. I think that she senses my anxiety of the situation that I have found myself in and she seems to be thriving on it.
"I guess so", I respond and without determining who throws first, I lever my arm right back and hurl my ball across the playground as hard as I can. My action is so spontaneous that Cannonball almost dismembers half of the onlookers. Over the past 2 weeks I have taken large chunks out of the Victorian walls that surround the playground and have broken several sapling trees. How any of the kids in the playground have avoided serious injury is a mystery to everyone. I've even had warnings from the teachers that my stupendous steely may be confiscated.
Cannonball comes to rest some 20 ft away, which it turns out, is not far enough. Lorraine smoothly launches her own gleaming sphere and "smaacckkk", she only goes and hits it first time. My anxiety increases.
Round 2 last slightly longer than round 1 but with the same ultimate result. I shudder at the clack of her steely, as it hits Cannonball dead in the centre. My arse has gone, my knees are trembling and I know deep down that my fame is under threat. If I lose this next round I am going to have become just another ordinary kid, wandering the school in silent anonymity. This thought eats away at my mind and reduces my concentration levels to that of a goldfish in the latter stages of dementia.
Lorraine, throws her steely and I think that I have it in my sights. I launch Cannonball and "whooooshh", I literally miss her marble by millimetres, but worse is to come. Cannonball piles into the steps of one of the prefabricated buildings that surround one edge of the playground and rebounds back from whence it came. Only the power of the throw has been absorbed by the steps and my pride and joy comes to rest only inches from Lorraine's shiny steely.
"Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha - hurrah", the crowd erupt in a frenzy of excitement and then begin their taunts. I look up, only to be faced by numerous wanker hand gestures and more 2 fingered salutes than a battalion of archers.
"He's going to start crying", I hear somebody shout and they laugh like a pack of hyenas.
"No, no, I'm not, I'm not", I somehow manage to reply. My trembling jaw rendering my words unintelligible.
"I didn't want it any more anyway, it's become a burden", I lie, as I head off into silent anonymity.