“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Ecclesiastes Chap 3 Verse 1

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As all mibsters, shooters and lovers of ‘playing for keeps’ know the Marble season is nearly upon us and now is the time to ‘knuckle down’. Application forms are already going out for the National Marble Championships which take place in Wildwood, New Jersey over four days in June. Closer still are the British and World Championships at The Greyhound in Tinsley Green, West Sussex on Good Friday, 14th April. This UK competition attracts ‘mibsters’ (marble hot shots) from as far afield as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Wales and the United States. With the event so close and the competition so tight now is the time for polishing up your ‘Elephant Stomps’ and ‘Leaning Tops’.

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When our ancestors weren’t raiding our shores in their longships or marauding from the East with dreams of empire, wealth and free parking for their ponies they were playing marbles using bones, nuts, cherry stones and small pebbles as their ‘shooters.’ Small stone balls were found in the ruins of Mohenjo-daro dating from 2,000BC and similar examples made of glass and china have been found in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The Roman poet Ovid mentions the game in his poem ‘Nux’ in which walnuts are used.

The championship competition played at Tinsley Green started in 1588 and are set around the game of Ring Taw, derived perhaps from the ancient Greek game of Omilla which was played with nuts. In America Ring Taw is known as “Ringer” and in Germany as “Englisches Ringspiel”.

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Here in Britain the competition rules are organised by the BMBC, the British Marbles Board of Control. Forty-nine target marbles, each ½ inch in diameter, are grouped together in the middle of a six foot diameter raised concrete ring covered with a thin layer of sand. Two teams of six people of any age, gender or ability take it in turns to knock the target marbles off the concrete ring by firing a larger ‘shooter’, ‘taw’ or ‘tolley’ at them with their thumb. During this process the player’s knuckle must ‘knuckle down’ - be touching the ground. Foul firing is known as ‘cabbaging’, ‘fudging’, and ‘blocking’… Any player who makes three foul shots during a game is eliminated from that game. The first team to knock 25 marbles from the ring is the winner. A lot of beer is consumed.

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Of course if Ring Taw is a little too complicated for you there are other marble variations like Spangy, Bounce Eye, Marble Racing, Capture and Spanners, not forgetting Wall Marbles, Dustbin Lid and Die Shot. Want more? How about Hundreds, Three Holes, Bunny Hole, One Step and Picking Plums with Archboard and Dobblers as optional extras. All it takes is balls - little ones.

Credit: “ A Game of Marbles” by Karl Witkowski

– from Martyn Day