I didnt even know how to spell the confounded thing. Poppet? Poppat? Pop-It?
All I knew was that Oliver Twist and the misty-eyed gang were staring at me over the top of my Sunday newspaper, asking me to take them to the shop so that they could buy them. I ruffled the papers in their general direction, hoping they’d go away, but alas, it only made the eyes plead harder, and their whines increase in pitch. They informed me that everyone at school had one and that they were just incredible, and their young lives would be shattered by not having one. “It’s your pocket money,” I said, “far be it me to tell you how to spend it.”
So off we went in search of the ever-elusive pop-thingy. We searched high and low, but alas, there were none to be had. Then I
had the bright idea of hitting the local flea market to see if the vendors still had stock, and lo and behold, they did, but at double the price. To my aged, curmudgeonly eye, they looked like brightly coloured ice-cube trays on one side with bubbles on the other that you ‘popped’. Yup, that’s what I thought.
“Is that it?” I asked once we were back in the car and heading home.
“Is that all it does? You just pop it from one side to another?” The silence in the back of the car was deafening as their tiny fingers danced over these bits of highly-priced rubber as if they were skilled typists on a deadline. I just shook my head and wondered, is this where we are heading? To top it off, they didn’t even make a pop sound! It didn’t look remotely challenging,
and I could almost begin to see brains dripping out from their young, wax-filled ears. When I was their age, and if you were lucky, the brightly coloured must-have accessory of the day was a Rubik’s Cube which was a lot harder than the object with which they are tinkering; I remember we even had books to teach you how to do it. I think we all secretly nursed hopes of
being a World Champion until we saw snippets of kids our age doing the cube in mere nanoseconds, then we chucked them in the cupboard to gather dust as we went off to collect more scabs on our knees from falling off our bikes.
But I digress. As a matter of interest, I priced the trusty cubes of yore and was shocked to find that two would run you nearly a thousand Rand! Poppit things it is then I thought, maybe they can do it while hopping on one leg, behind their backs, blindfolded? Just something to up the ante and make it seem less brainless. But it was the first term, and last year had been hard on them, so I cut them a little slack. I needn’t have worried; the second term made up for it in spades. Overnight marbles became the big-ticket item that every boy needed, reflected by their dearth on the shelves. I found some, eventually, and pricewise you got far more for your money than the Poppit thingy. I bought what is referred to as ‘milkies’ or ‘Milky Ways’ because they are pale white, with wisps of colour, and one milkie gets you about four to six junkies, depending on who is
making the trade. For all you old-timers out there, junkies are what we would just call marbles, glass balls filled with a brightly
coloured spiral virtually worthless on the open market of primary school.
It’s more about weight with those, rather than individuality. Suddenly, children who could barely tie a shoelace, or sling a sentence together, became serious market traders trading in junkies, milkies, kongs, gongs, and the legendary gom that’s supposedly a marble the size of a tennis ball. I think he doesn’t exist and is only ever seen by a friend of a friend’s cousin’s aunt—a bit like sasquatch. The kids had created their own market economy, with their own sets of values and names for the
marbles that were as intricate and confusing as the real deal on the New York Stock Exchange floor.
Tiger’s Eye, Frost Spiral, Swampie, Blue Beast, Greenie, Sky, Honey Bee, Chilli Peppers or Lava was just a fraction of the lexicon used. Also, each one has a fluctuating value attached to it that is as fickle as any crypto-currency you can name. A Lava today may not be worth the four Swamps you paid for it yesterday, and you’d better hope your Honey Bee holds its worth until you can trade for that Purple Nurple you’ve had your eye on for the longest time.
Every day after school, you could hear a thousand marbles rattling around a thousand pencil cases as the kids explained to their parents what they had traded for that day. Some little dudes had buckets meant for the beach to carry their loot around. The funniest thing was that not one single, solitary boy even played marbles to get them.
No one drew a little circle in the dirt and played for them; everything, and I mean, everything, was traded for by the boys. They were an army of tiny, slicked-backed hair Gordon Geckos from the movie Wall Street, espousing that,” Greed, is good.”
Well, at least it taught them mathematics, is what I say. Then came Pokemon. Pokemon is a card game played with collectable cards that, thanks to the Pandemic, are now worth an absolute fortune. Some stores in America refuse to stock them as they
have become the targets of armed robberies and break-ins.
Can you believe it? People are getting hurt over Pokemon cards. That’s where I drew the line. If they took cards to school to trade, it would be standard cards only, nothing fancy. They might trade in marbles, but this was at another level entirely with real-world consequences, and I didn’t want my less than street-savvy youngsters getting taken to the cleaners by some card-sharks. Besides, if anyone is going to con them out of few cards worth a thousand dollars or so, it’s going to be me.