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Celebrating solid mandalas : world marble day

Updated: Apr 18

"There is another world, but it is in this one" Patrick White in The Solid Mandala.

There's a fairly large glass spice shaker on a shelf in my house where I keep some of the marbles I have found - mostly dug up when gardening - over the 24 years I have been on this continent.


Apparently 29 March 2024 is World Marble Day. Discovering this, and reading a bit about the fascinating history of this ancient game, had me visiting the collection of marbles who have sought me out in recent decades, because of course I no longer have any from before October 2000, when I crossed the ocean on a one way ticket, all my worldlies in two bags and a carry-on.

Though I don't have a lot of good memories of schooldays - socially awkward and painfully shy, I didn't do well away from the solitude and uncivilized (my mothers attempts notwithstanding) natural world of farm - I do remember playing marbles under oak trees in primary school. Boys played marbles. My father taught me to play marbles so I saw no problem playing marbles with the boys. This made me a pariah amongst the girls. Boys were not to be associated with. Our primary school playgrounds were gender segregated not by rule but social custom. Without knowing it, my bag of marbles lured me across a line.


Philosophically I think I have never managed to recover that ground which I gave up for adventure and challenge at this very early stage of life. It was marbles that did it. No other girls played marbles: it involved getting down close to the dusty, red Kwa-Zulu-Natal earth which could stain hands, knees, clothes. This was, it must be remembered, the mid sixties and my primary school, like many of its kind across the country, pretty much culturally still in the colonies. But me: I had no choice if I wanted to exercise skills my father had nurtured in me.


Apparently in one game on that school playground, I lost a warthog tusk but gained a silver metal bullring extracted from a dead bull's nose, permantly locked into a circle which made it a great, chunky bangle for a child's wrist.. My father thought this a dubious win. Warthog ivory versus battered metal cut from a dead bull's nose. Today I might agree with him, but the young person I was wore that bullring proudly into my teens and henceforth have had a tendency to adorn my wrists with too much (mostly) silver. Armsful of jangly bangles became a signature.

No I don't know where the bullring went - probably lost it in another game of marbles, certainly before I graduated to games of chance not skill, playing poker dice with much older boys for way higher and wilder stakes .


Marbles on my mind also set me thinking of one of the most important books of my late teens : "The Solid Mandala" by Patrick White.

Though he (grudgingly by some accounts) won the Nobel Prize for fiction in 1973, I discovered, when trying to add his enduring titles to library collections, that the Australian author's works are hard to find new in the USA.

Still, since it's easy to find used copies inexpensively online, I highly recommend The Solid Mandala and Riders in the Chariot as a start to exploring this very worthwhile storyteller.

Come to think of it: like much of what I have done in this life, out of sync and maybe in over my head, I think I read Patrick White far too young.


Deep ending it is a way of life, it seems.



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