Eccentric Britain Gets Its Marbles Rolling



Britain's annual orgy of odd behavior picks up tempo on Friday with a world class display of knuckling down and cabbaging.

The British and World Marbles Championship -- held at the Greyhound Inn at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, south of London, for the past 70 years -- will pit 23 teams of six players in tense competition for the coveted title and silver trophy.

But this year it is a match with an edge after a German team snatched the top prize in 2002.

"The Germans won last year and we are determined to get the trophy back this year," championship organizer Sam McCarthy told Reuters on Thursday.

The winning team which knuckles down -- shoots from the correct position -- and does not commit the heinous crime of cabbaging -- cheating -- will get the title, a cup and a marble each to take home.

The origins of the event, in which downing liberal quantities of alcohol is encouraged, are lost in time but reputedly date back to a 16th century competition between two local men for the affections of a village maiden.

But for Britons, considered by many to be a nation of professional eccentrics, the time-honored sport of marbles is but a starting point.

Three days later and 250 km further north in the village of Osset in West Yorkshire ambitious males race each other over two kilometers carrying a sack of coal to win £100 and a cup -- but not the coal.

There follows a peculiar parade of Easter egg rolling, lawn mower racing, worm charming, cheese rolling, nettle eating, lying and mud racing to name but a few.

The competitive instructions for the annual international worm charming championships at Totnes in Devon stipulate clearly that during the warm-up period no worms should be eaten.

They also insist that after the competition, participants must leave the field of battle in a sober manner.

The British summer provides the perfect backdrop for rolling cheeses from the majestic Stilton to the muscular Gloucester.

Toe-wrestling and snail racing also feature during these halcyon days of June.

And if it is late August in Wane Rydd Bog at Llantrwyd Wells in mid-Wales then it must be the annual international competition with the self explanatory title of Bog Snorkelling.

Later, as the British rain turns cooler toward the northern hemisphere autumn and winter, Britons in Cumbria indulge in telling lies to each other competitively.

Last year's winner George Kemp retained the title for the second year running with a tale of trying to get to the Isle of Man TT races on a wooden motorbike.

Later still, as winter sets in, the people of Maldon in Essex opt to race in the freezing mud of the River Blackwater.

And at the stroke of midnight on December 31, deep in the dark winter in Stonehaven, north eastern Scotland, the locals indulge in the age-old tradition of whirling balls of fire about their heads as they stroll through the town.