Is bowling really ‘old men’s marbles’ or something infinitely cooler? Alison Goulding finds out.
FAR, far away I see a tiny white spot surrounded by acres of manicured green grass.
In my right hand I am holding a heavy bowl, under my breath I am muttering to myself: “Come on Alison, how hard can it be? Just chuck the thing.”
The bowl is duly lobbed and I watch it sail through the air, curve to the right and land in a different postcode to the white spot.
It is my first try at bowls, and I suck.
Thankfully I am under the careful tutelage of Mick Carr, committee member for Sunderland Bowling Club.
Over the next 15 minutes he gives me some good advice and gradually my bowl and the white spot (a smaller ball called a Jack) grow a little more friendly.
The club’s champion bowler, Mel Milner, also helps – ‘the trick is to bend your knees’ he says, and sure enough this does seem to help.
To my left Mel is going about his daily practise in a peaceful and unhurried manner, and to my right a small competition is underway.
The club’s lawn is in a hidden-away spot within Ashbrooke Sports Club. With the picturesque clubhouse, the immaculate grass and the beautiful borders it is a tiny corner of old England that smacks of cream teas, manners and discreet cocktail hours.
In contrast to this, the youngest member is 18, and people from seven generations come to play throughout the week.
Mel, 80, explained: “It’s a young man’s sport played by old men.
“Going back many years I was a footballer and a cricketer and then I got too old for both. So I took up golf, which is a very cruel game. You play for 20 years and one day realise you’re not going to make it as a golfer.
“So I took up bowls and I absolutely love it. It’s good exercise, it’s competitive, there’s a social side to it and the whole family can play. I’ve made many, many friends through it. My wife plays and my daughter and her husband have just had their first few lessons so I’m encouraging them at the moment.”
As Mick and Mel get me up to speed I see the full beauty of the sport, which is extremely enjoyable in the June sunshine.
Even if, like me, you can’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo, it is strangely addictive.
The bowls are weighted so there’s a skill in getting them to curve round and meet the jack. It’s an ideal sport for cricketers or anyone who plays ball games but equally suitable for those who’ve never played a sport.
The other benefits are the fresh air and tanning opportunities, as well as the members’ discount on drinks at the sports club bar.
When I tot up the thousands I spend on horseriding and the hassle involved, a £110 yearly membership at the club starts to seem like exceptional value.
Mick started playing a year ago and visits the lawn every day.
“I wish I’d started years ago but now I’m just looking forward to the years ahead,” said Mick, 58.
“Like anything else I do I got fully involved and joined the committee.
“People don’t realise what a challenge it is. They think it’s for geriatrics but it’s brilliant and anyone can play. A man came down the other day who was partially sighted and as soon as he knew where the line was he was bowling to the jack.”
The club has been part of the Ashbrooke grounds since 1889 and holds competitions and league play for men, women and mixed teams, with social bowling most days of the week as well. During the winter months the club plays indoors.
Mick said: “We’ve got some good players here and whenever we compete we’ve got our blazers and ties on.
“I was watching a competition in Cyprus on the telly the other day and thought our lot could have stuffed them. They were playing for £10,000 and were nowhere near the jack at times.”
Beginners are welcome to the west lawn at Ashbrooke Sports Club every Tuesday and Thursday from 9.45am to have a go. All equipment is provided for first-timers, who should wear flat shoes. For more information call Barry on 522 5704 or email firstname.lastname@example.org