I was back bowling in the league today, after a three-week layoff brought about by two successive byes, which seems to me like bad planning on the part of the league but who am I to judge? And what better way is there to spend a pleasant summer afternoon than on the bowling green?
Today’s match brought the bottle-green and cream (though today most of us stripped off the bottle-green and played in cream shirts) of the Barrow Island team face to face with Park North, whose home green is one of those in Barrow Park. I enjoyed a 21-9 win so I get to keep my place in the team at least for now. I have a bad habit of winning every other game.
Playing in the park got me thinking. When I was young, even into early adulthood, public bowling greens were one of the things public parks offered. You could hire a set of woods for the session for a nominal fee and enjoy an hour or so on the green. My parents used to to exactly that. If you wanted to try out bowls it was an inexpensive way to find out if it was for you. Looking around it looks as though Barrow Park boasted at least six greens and I can imagine if my experience elsewhere is anything to go by that they were well used on a sunny summer evening by casual players. Now, one of those has been turned into flower beds, two are abandoned and neglected, two are the preserve of the Park North and Furness Abbey teams respectively, and one is open for public hire (although I’ve never seen anybody playing on it). It is no longer possible to hire woods, so you can’t just try it out. The crown-green bowler only needs two woods, as opposed to the the flat bowler’s four, and if you keep your eyes peeled you might pick up a second-hand set for twenty pounds or so, but that seems a lot for a pensioner, or somebody on benefits, to try out. And that reminds me of another thing – bowls is a game of guile and concentration and judgement; it doesn’t demand youth or physical agility so players can complete well into one’s senior years. It’s a great way for older people to keep fit, and it does seem to work very effectively. I should note that there are some very good teenage players indeed (it’s galling to get a thrashing from a 13-year-old) and it’s great that young people continue to play but the sad truth is that bowls is dying. Almost all the pub greens have gone the way of the municipal greens, sold off for housing or car parking, and only the private clubs survive, some of them barely. It would be sad indeed if this seriously addictive game were to die.
And another thing. There are no municipal tennis courts in any of Barrows parks any more. I don’t know what the situation is in the rest of the country. Next Monday comes one of the great British summer rituals, the opening of the Wimbledon Fortnight. And on Tuesday, when all the British players bar Andy Murray (I hope) have been eliminated, comes another regular ritual; asking what’s wrong with the state of British tennis. Well, I can answer that – there’s no longer the opportunity for anybody to play a casual game of tennis, unless they join a tennis club, and that never comes cheap. The local park used to provide that opportunity. Now local authorities can’t be bothered providing them.