Today I have not been losing my marbles. It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, 40 days of abstinence and observance before another big party at Easter. To celebrate, I’ve been eating lots of chocolate, and generally not giving much of a toss about anything, which I’m guessing isn’t quite the spirit of these things, but then I am giving up self-denial and perfectionism, so maybe it is.
I was going to wear an ash twig down my sock today because traditionally, if you don’t, it’s perfectly permissible to be pinched by all and sundry before noon. However after wandering the neighbourhood yesterday, I couldn’t find any ash trees to blag a twig from. I thought I saw a tree with leftover propeller seeds but the bark was all wrong for ash. So I had to abandon that idea and hope for the best. Luckily I wasn’t accosted, although had I stood between the cat and its food, I’m sure it would have been a different story.
However, Ash Wednesday is also the start of the marble season which runs throughout Lent and finishes on Good Friday. And I like marbles. On our recent wassailing trip, Susannah and I spent a disproportionally long time in the gift shop looking at Queenies, cats eyes and oilies. Making these bad boys from scratch is a bit of a mission, and not one that falls into kitchen witch territory, but crazing glass marbles is another story.
To craze a marble, all you have to do is bake it in the oven and tip it into iced water. I call it crazing, others call it cracking, but I think crazing sounds more appropriate. To prepare, I put a bowl of cold water in my ice box and turned my oven on to 250C. I keep my marbles in a glass goblet, both props that mysteriously found their way into my possession after a six month tour of The Duchess of Malfi. I was slightly disgusted with myself, as after hauling them off the top shelf in my kitchen, I found them to be covered in a thick layer of dust. That is no way to preserve ones marbles. I thought I would experiment with a few different ones so picked out a handful, washed them, popped them into a small bread tin, and shoved them in the oven.
There is lots of different advice about how long to bake your marbles. Some say it’s 20mins, others say it’s anything up to an hour. Originally I had the timer on for 30mins, but then got engrossed in something else so it was probably closer to 50mins by the time I took them out. And here’s what happened – make sure you have the sound up, it’s rather satisfying:
Some didn’t work, but the ones that did are now extra pretty. And all ready for the start of the season. So if you’re asking, I’m playing…
Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books
Simpson, J. and Roud, S. (2001) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford, Oxford University Press