Marbles tops and other toys

Growing up in the islands of the Pacific we didn’t have seasons like spring, summer, autumn and winter. We had wet season and we had dry season; and we also had two other seasons each year. Nobody knew how or when they would start but one morning the gang would all wake up to find it was tops season. So it was time to pack up the marbles and work on your collection of tops.

Our tops were shaped like upside down teardrops. They were made of wood with a metal tip. You wound the string from the bottom to the top and threw the top at the ground where it would unwind and spin. If you filed the tip to be blunt you had a traveller which wandered all over the place. A sharper tip gave you a sleeper which simply spun on the spot. A needle sharp tip on your top gave you a fighting top.

You used the fighting top only when everyone had agreed to the contest, which was to see who could split the other’s top by scoring a direct hit on it. Even when everyone had agreed to the rules, this was a game that could lead to tears when you were very small and didn’t have many tops. Because, in those days it wasn’t a throw away world and you weren’t going to get a new top just because you wanted one.

There was one other thing you could do with a top. It was fun but it was very dangerous. If you still own a top today, or are still a kid, I want you to stop reading now.

If you wound the top one way and then wound it back on itself you would never throw it down yourself. Instead, you would pick a victim and hand them the top. I think we must have been born lucky because the result could have been really tragic, because when a top wound this way is launched it travels half way to the floor – and then straight back. Straight back into a face or an eye or whatever is in its way. Apart from a couple of bruises, though, I never saw a bad injury. But then, as you would expect of me, I would never have played such a trick.

When marbles season came along, as reliably it always did, we would all bring out our bags of marbles. Some we had won, some we had found, some we had been given and some we had just always had. There were glassies and steelies and agates and chalkies and cat’s eyes and milkies, I think, and certainly a few others that I have forgotten.

What I have not forgotten is that our Fiji “style” differed from that of our cousins in other places; the sort of places that had spring and summer and autumn and winter. They “fubbed” the marble, holding it in their palm on the first and second fingers and propelling it with their thumb. Weak! We, on the other hand, placed our hand palm down on the ground or up on one thumb and then pulled the middle finger right back as far as it would go. The marble, held against the tip of that finger, flew with great force when that finger was fired at the target.

Now if that target was say a glassy and the attacking marble was a steely there was again a fair chance of tears. Particularly if the game was “dropsy”, dropping the steely from a height onto someone’s far more breakable treasure. CSR kids might have had the advantage here because the steelies often came out of the sugar mills.

Just as there was a marbles game called “pilo”, invented by the Fijian kids, many of the other games we played were learned from the Fijian and Indian kids. Gilli-danda is one that comes to mind. And when we were little, as in any Fijian village, we had a toy we pushed around which was made from two cigarette tin wheels and had two strings that crossed from the wooden axles to the handlebars at the other end of a longer piece of wood. Turn left go right. Remember?

Our main means of propulsion when we were a little older was a bicycle. I think most of us owned a bike. The one I owned for the longest time was a Hercules. It had a bell, and a dynamo which ran off the front wheel and lit up the headlight. It had a toolkit behind the seat. It didn’t have gears. When I was given that bike I couldn’t reach its pedals, so I rode on a cushion strapped onto the bar. It was, of course, a boy’s bike and had a bar. Some boys had girls’ bikes, without a bar, and never recovered from the embarrassment.

In Suva days bikes took us everywhere; to the Sea Baths, to the Regal Cinema, to Suva Point and even the Royal Suva Yacht Club, to wherever the gang was gathered.

Then we were allowed to drive … often to the cable huts. That’s another story.


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