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Saturday, 15 March 2014

I hurled it down the lane fine - Part 2

The second of three parts, sequel to I hurled it down the lane fine - Part 1

Digressing for a moment, I used to know someone at my local whose wife had grown tired of his predilection for spending his nights in the pub.  She had decreed, in an effort to curb his intake, that he could not go out until 10.25pm.  Unfortunately, this bright idea merely proved the law of unintended consequences, as his desire for intoxication was greater than any artificial time constraints.  On entering the pub, this quiet, well-spoken, mild-mannered individual, would order 4 pints of Pedigree, which he would then proceed to consume at an alarming rate.  By 10.50pm he was almost totally incoherent and ready to fight anyone in the place.

Anyway, this stultifying regulation not only hampered the enjoyment of the pub customers.  It made life pretty tiresome for the landlords and landladies as well.  For a few years, in the mid-1960s, we kept a pub in Burton.  In a perfect world, the pub would have kept us, but it didn’t quite work out like that.  By the time we had closed the bar, emptied the pub of customers and generally cleaned up, there really wasn’t anything interesting available to do.  The evening’s television programmes had long since vanished into that white dot in the centre of the screen (which will completely baffle readers of a younger disposition) and every entertainment venue was closed…until the arrival of the ten-pin bowling alley.  You see, I do get to the point, eventually.

I can still picture the scene as my mum and dad and me, plus a possè of like-minded pub customers, drove rapidly, and probably illegally, across town to Bargates’.  I would be about 11 years old and there was something impossibly exotic and intoxicating about being able to enter this exciting world of music, noise and laughter at the unearthly hour of 11.00pm without anyone tapping their foot and looking sternly at their watch.  I can’t remember much about the actual games on those first visits, which I suspect involved more enthusiasm than skill, other than mum giggling helplessly as her ball made a bee-line for the gulley time after time, but I do remember the overwhelming feeling of excitement and liberation.

Unfortunately, visits to the bowling alley were, by necessity, limited whilst we were at the pub and remained a rare treat for the next couple of years.  My only other contact with the game consisted of a toy version I received as a Christmas present, which I had completely forgotten about until I started to write this.  It consisted of a quite realistic looking bowling lane, about two feet in length and six inches high (sorry, I don’t do metric), complete with all of the relevant logos and markings.  At the far end was a covered area housing the ten pins, which were suspended from the roof of this area by lengths of thread and which could be lowered to the lane floor by means of a handle and pulley system.  At the base of each pin was a small magnet which connected with a corresponding metal dot on the lane.  Thus the pins were kept in place, theoretically, until a marble was rolled down the lane.  As it struck the pins, they would spring to the roof, leaving the remainder for the next ‘ball’.  It was great, albeit slightly unrealistic and dependent on the continuing effectiveness of the magnets.  It even came complete with proper scoring sheets.

My next encounter with ten-pin bowling proper came via my school.  As I said in the previous chapter, in a sudden bout of uncharacteristic enlightenment, my school had realised that not all of their pupils were enthusiastic devotees of football, cricket, hockey, netball or gymnastics.  Therefore, more engagement might be achieved if the students had some choice about how to spend their recreational time.  I’m not at all sure that this was really the ideology behind the strategy, but you’ve got to admit, it sounds convincing!  Anyway, ‘outdoor activities’ as it was inaccurately termed, ran on a Friday afternoon and gave pupils the choice between a whole range of sports and activities, including the usual suspects of football etc. but also some less well-worn options such as cycling, which can wear your options down quite considerably, badminton, table tennis and…ten-pin bowling.  The only catch was that you had to continue with your choice for a whole term and you were unable to repeat your choice in the same school year, the idea being to broaden the student’s horizons – which brings us back to cycling.

As soon as possible, I signed up for the ten-pin bowling option.  My decision was based on various, carefully considered, criteria:

1. It took place indoors, in a nice dry, warm environment
2. It didn’t involve kicking or being kicked, or throwing or catching anything
3. It didn’t require the participant to jump, leap, run or swim over, under or around any object

In addition, because it was subsidised by the school, it was affordable whereas, in the normal way of things, it would have been an expensive luxury.

To my surprise and delight, not to mention the shock of my compatriots and teachers, I discovered that I was not too bad at this game.  That is not to say that I was good or excellent, just not too bad.  This was in sharp contrast to my endeavours in every other sporting discipline, where I had consistently proven to be a one-youth disaster area.  Suddenly, I found I was an asset to the team rather than a liability.  Flushed with success, a group of us formed a bowling team, sponsored by a local butcher, and played in the mid-week league.  We didn’t win many games, but at least we weren’t a laughing stock.

I can still remember the mounting excitement I felt each Friday afternoon as we climbed the flights of stairs up to the bowling alley, chattering optimistically about scores we would achieve and techniques we would apply.  With each step, the rumble of the balls in the alleys and the crash of pins would get progressively louder, until you opened the double doors at the top and were overwhelmed by the wall of sound.  Balls making their hopeful journeys down the aisle, the crash of pins or the rattle of the ball in the gulley, the clanking and whirring of the pin stacking mechanism and the subterranean rumble of balls making their way back to the playing area.  Over and above all of this, there was the sound of the juke box playing the hits of the late 1960s.  It was like entering another world.

Continue reading in Part 3

You can find this, and a lot more like it, in the bumper book of 'nostalgedy' - Crutches for Ducks.