Lawn Bowls Poetry

John Kingsmill will be writing a series of bowling poems over the next few weeks.

 

WEEK ONE

Back to the Bowling Green
after a long delay 

My father’s bowls are still too large in my hand.
It’s only my obstinacy, I suppose, that makes
me stay with them. His hands were no bigger
than mine; if he struggled for all those years

to control their weight, to make them leave
his hand in a smooth manner, to steer them
to their little white home, the least I can do
is to trust them. Giant orbs, these things –

huge compact weighty breasts that slip out
of my reach the instant I let them go. Tonight,
I played again at McLaren Vale. The last time
I played there, the seven-year drought hadn’t

finished its business. Then, the rinks were
concrete hard, hot yellow ice, flatline skating.
Tonight, the bowls gripped the green turf,
sucked in the moist air, and rolled on and on

slowly like the springing of the Costa Concordia
end over end, on and on forever, to finish
perched on their side, nudging the coast.

WEEK TWO

The permanent reserve

Being a blow-in for a new team each week
is hard. You can’t be too good when you
are playing with a set of strangers. You can’t
make them feel like crap. And you can’t be

crap yourself. You can’t allow them to say
to management, or themselves: “We would
have won tonight if only we had been given
a better reserve.” Tonight, my new team

went down 10-12 in thirteen ends. It was
3-3, then 4-4, then 7-7, then 10-10 with
two ends left to play. Let the statistician
note that of the ten points our team scored

seven of them were my scoring bowls. Let
the reporter also note that, in the death,
when the game was there to be won,
I bowled wide and short. I didn’t crack

under pressure. I lost my resolve. Our
lead bowler played most shots talking
to somebody on his mobile. Our skipper,
at the other end, played with a beer

in his hand all night. Night Owls is casual;
it’s meant to be fun. But come on, boys!
Winning is fun! Multi-tasking and losing is passé.

WEEK THREE

Reeling from older women

Last Thursday I played, miserably,
against a dusty rack of older women.
They beat us 3-15 in thirteen lousy ends.
I hated this; my pride was decimated.

I loved them, of course. They were full
of broad smiles, like geraniums in a drought.
They hadn’t won much this season; beating us

was a pleasant unexpected surprise. Here’s
the rip. My team was older than them
or two of them were. I was the third,

the reserve. I’m much older than yesterday
but I was still the baby in this contest.
Thus I played with five grandmothers on the rink

all telling me that I had perfect green, when my
bowl was still ten feet short of the kitty, or that
I had perfect weight when my bowl was jack high

but still three feet wide. I lead; of our three scoring
bowls that night, two of them were mine. I put my
first bowl close and the second behind the jack,

as leaders should do. But these giggling older women
cleaned up most rounds. They snatched the lead by
bowling with pleasant consistent draws in the searing heat.

Each good bowl was accompanied by modest claims
of surprise and silly giggles. “That’s a shocker” their
Number Two said, often, as she released her bowl.

“I don’t think so,” I thought, as I watched its line
and then saw it slip through the gate and snuggle
against the kitty, as if is was a proud tiger returning

to its favorite place in the jungle. These old women
drove me mad. “We are enjoying a lucky streak,”
they kept on saying, which wasn’t true. They knew

what they were doing. They were turning our minds
into cement. And they were doing this with big, broad
lovely smiles. Beware of older women on the rink.

WEEK FOUR

The first night of autumn
with six old men

Each team has three bowlers who play two bowls
each over thirteen ends. That means two things.
Each bowler plays twenty-six bowls. I try
to get there early enough to play three ends

of four bowls each by myself, to get the feel
of the green, the strength of the wind, the suck
of the moisture in the twilight air. Lawn bowls,
like archery, has nothing to do with eyesight.

If you can see your feet, knees and hands, you can
reach the target; you can feel your way into the zone.
That’s why old people can play it; it’s also why
young people are better at it. Secondly, thirteen

ends means that apart from dead heats, which
rarely happen, total points can range from thirteen
to seventy-eight. It’s possible, but improbable,
for a side to score six every round.

That’s like a golfer holing in one for eighteen rounds.
Ones, twos and threes are par. Fours are sensational;
fives win games; sixes don’t happen. We started well
tonight – 7-0 after the first five rounds. I was leader;

that gave me the mat, the kitty and the round’s length
and the first dab of paint on five empty canvases.
My first bowls were close, jack-high; my seconds
were around the back, in play and handy.

I was landing in the zone. The greens were tricky;
there was a stiff wind from the sea blowing
into the valley. From one end, you had
to cut your dare and only let your hands

place the bowls as if they were cans of milk.
If you hurled them down, they would spill over
the green and drip into the gutter. From
the northern end, you had to imagine you were

bowling uphill, like Tony McEvoy’s fillies
in the finishing straight at Kildalton Park.
We lost an end; they came back; we rebounded.
Midway we were 10-3 and looking good. Then

the weak autumn McLaren Vale sun sunk below
the valley and the conditions changed, as they
always do as soon as the sun leaves the sky.
We fell asleep; suddenly it was 10-10

with two ends left to play. My bowling sulked.
Our second was useless, our skipper was
even worse. They picked up a three in the
penultimate end. In the last bowl of the last end,

our skipper played his only good bowl of the night
– three down on a long end, he delivered a soft draw
for a perfect conversion. But it was too late.
We went down, 11-13. Afterwards, before the raffles,

my teammates of this night discussed things that only
old male bowlers discuss if there are no know-all women
on the table – polyps, angiograms, over-sized hearts,
nurses fiddling around inserting lines on the back of our wrists.

Our second was in hospital yesterday, having bits cut
out of him for pathology. “You should be in home in bed,”
I said. And miss bowls? he replied, with an unforgiving stare.

WEEK FIVE

The excusable moan of
the permanent reserve

It’s taken me some time to realize that
as a permanent reserve player I’m only

going to be slotted into losing teams.
Winning teams have reason to shore up

their ranks, protect their depth, maintain
their pride. At this level of competition,
struggling sides lose their interest in the
back half of the season. Some of them find

a good reason not to attend – A sore ankle, sorry
or The dog’s gone missing, sorry… or I have to work
this Thursday, sorry…
“Don’t worry,” the captain sighs,
“we’ll get a reserve.” I’ve been there many times

before, as a captain of many strange teams. I’ve heard
all the excuses and, on some occasions, I’ve made
sillier ones myself. I’ve locked my keys in the car,
I once told my pennant squash captain half an hour

before match time. You will need a reserve. It took me
a whole day to devise the timing of that terrible excuse.
Being hungover didn’t help. However, nothing beats century
goalkicker Grenville Dietrich’s magnificent excuse for missing

training just before the finals one year back in the eighties.
“I’m sorry, coach,” Grenville said. “I rode home on my bike
with a pizza and burnt my thighs.”* Mike Nunan dropped him
for the finals. “I have plenty of men in my squad who are

capable of kicking goals,” he told a gobsmacked press.
On Thursday night, I played with two Scottish men –
their bowls were as erratic and as wild as their accents.
Our opponents were a tight-knit trio: a gentle, quiet

unassuming man around my advancing age, and his
boorish beer-drinking son, and his young grandson.
The matriarch of their family sat behind us, reading
a book only watching her teenager grandson bowl.

That was jolly. They cleaned us up from the first end
while the sun was still in the sky. Their teenager led.
As he played his bowls he kept his spine straight
as only the young can do. His long arms reached down

to the green for perfect release as if he was stroking
the grass. He adjusted the angle of his stance and
the weight of his delivery quickly, turning his arm
into a perfectly compliant pendulum. He was fourteen

or fifteen. I wanted to sign him up for the Australian
team there and then. He could win gold in four years’
time if he had a coach, a scholarship, and nothing
else he wanted to do in his life. The sun collapsed

and a yellow full moon rose over the valley. Five
ends in, we had yet to register a score. I was bowling
second and erratically. My first bowls were short
or long – “Range-finders,” the father kept on saying.

He was right. My second bowls found their way
but his son would then take them out. In the sixth,
I bowled two on target in a row and the boorish son,
with his stubby in one hand, couldn’t touch them.

Our clumsy skipper, with the last bowl of the end,
bowled as if he was whisky mad. He used weight when it
wasn’t needed and converted two up to one down.
I knew then why the third absent member of this team

was finding excuses to not play any more. In the tenth,
they scored a six – the rare maximum count of
two bowls from their three players all being closer
to the jack then any one of ours. That was a fully

shared disgrace, a team-binding moment. Two ends
later, we came back slightly with a four, but the fun
was over by then. And the cooked moon was higher
in the clear autumn sky. It had lost its golden hue;

it was now cold and full and sucking our water.
Over supper, I asked my new Scottish mates
about their thoughts on the devolution
of the United Kingdom. For a while they didn’t

know what I was talking about. The Scottish
National Party, the first party to win government
in its own right in the Scottish parliament, will
hold a referendum asking Scottish people to leave

the kingdom and allow Scotland to become
a country in its own right within the European Union.
“That will never happen,” my men said, as if I was talking
about Western Australia seceding from this nation.

“It might,” I said. “I was in Scotland in January. It’s a raging
debate on nearly all fronts. For example, when Team Britain
announced its Olympic soccer squad, Scottish players were
invited to consider their future by Scottish authorities.

“FIFA recognizes Scotland as a country; the SNP wants
to go all the way, including plans to withdraw Scottish
regiments from the UK defence system.” The teenager
and his grandmother were instantly bored by this sudden

intrusion of international politics. That’s good. They might
already only be focusing on his bowling career. I hope that
in 2016 he’s in a play-off for gold against Scotland.

 

* source: In Grenville’s own words. go to http://saafl.asn.au/footynews/pdf/51.pdf.
 Curiously, his footballing son Sam says that lawn bowls is his sport of first choice.

 

WEEK SIX


Take the win

It was an awful Thursday; a difficult client
was stringing me out on a small job. I was up
to the tenth version of her newsletter and
beginning to think that I had lost my touch,

that I had become a lousy graphic designer.
Her instructions kept coming back: “I am
not happy.” Her staff were as befuddled
as I was, but they attempted to turn

her blanket statements into concrete requests.
“We know that we asked you to shift Item A
from Page Four to Page One. Can you please
take it back to Page Four but somehow make it

 

better?” That was a big ask. I wasn’t allowed to
rewrite it. Somehow I had to make it look
better than it was. That’s like asking the designer
to prevent the next day’s sun from rising.

I drove down to McLaren Vale happy about
only one thing. The greens were a long long
way from my city desk. Thunderbolts and
hard rain had hit the city the day before

and bursts of more hard rain had picked
out parts of the Adelaide Hills and the
southern coast on bowls day. I drove,
half expecting rain to hit my car and to

arrive at flooded greens and to turn
around for the forty-minute drive home,
unbowled and very pissed off, and full
of late-week lousy. This is not a good

frame of mind to enter any sporting contest,
expecting the worst. No-one recommends
this. McLaren Vale was clear of rain. There
was lightning to the left and lightning

to the right in the valley but we were
clear to play. Sorry, dear reader, having set
you up for a fall, but I bowled my best bowls
ever. I was lead which, once again, let me

paint the first stokes on the blank canvas.
All night I drew close left and then close right
with my two bowls. Once, I carried the jack
like two new lovers slowly slipping from the bed

to the floor, so much in love they don’t notice
that they have shifted ground, and so much
in love, they shift without breaking their kiss.
Beautiful bowling. I wish it was on TV and that

I could have gone home afterwards and watched
it all again. And my team-mates played as well;
in fact, they played better than me. By End Seven,
we were 13-3. Our opponents, three feisty women,

were very pissed off. They added ten to their score
in an outrageous act of bastardry. Let’s keep it
competitive
, they said. Okay, we mumbled. Women
rule at McLaren Vale. We beat them again, in the

latter ends by another ten. I drove back to the city,
happy at last. Amateur sport, like this, is only there
to defeat the working day. To ease the slip to pillow;
and to be ready, again, for more impossible tasks.

 

WEEK SEVEN

Bowling in the rain

Let’s be honest about this. Each time
I bend down to bowl, I’m still not sure what
I am doing. The jack is too far away to be
a visible target. I’ve stopped looking at it.

It’s the line I want – the short angle from the mat,
the position of the feet. And it’s the weight
I want – how far above the ground will I hold
my hands in the prayer position, before I swing

back and let the pendulum roll. Tonight, I bowled
my best bowls of this short season. Nothing went
into the gutter; everything was jack-high or better;
three times I snuck under my opponent’s gems.

On ten occasions my leading bowls survived the end
and became scorers. Once, I had a double toucher.
The team won 25-7. Our opponents were bored.
Too bad. I wasn’t bored. The night had thin rain;

our bowls collected wet lawn clippings and
slugged the journey. The heavy green dulled
their pace and cut the bias from their arcs.
It was a night for firm, insistent drawing. It was

a rare night that suited my heavy 1960 bowls.
My father, always drunk in heaven’s twilight,
stared down. “Never play bowls wearing jeans,”
he said. “Apart from that, you are going well.

 

 

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Lovely to read John. Enjoy your bowls.

  2. After 28 years of playing bowls anything is possible nothing surprises me anymore about outcomes and one gets a degree of cynicism but I wouldnt swap it for “quids”

  3. John Kingsmill says:

    Thanks, Pamela. You are so loyal.
    One day I will marry you when you and no-one else are looking. We’ll be on the coast somewhere; the sun will be setting; neither of our parents will be there.

    David

    Yeah, but?

    Nothing surprises you about outcomes, you write.
    Here’s something that would surprise me.
    Write a poem about lawn bowls. I double dare you.

    If you are not up to that, SHOW or DARE something else about lawn bowls.

    Don’t waste your wisdom. Lawn bowls needs any intelligent advocate it can get at the moment.

  4. Have you ever been involved in a double resting toucher John?

  5. John Kingsmill says:

    Resting toucher? Most bowl;ing nights.

    Double resting toucher is, I sadly admit, outside of my life experience…

    … although there was one strange night nearly forty years ago when, strangely, I ended up with five nursing students in my bed, because they had missed their curfew. And, believe this or not… I didn’t touch one of them, and not one of them touched me.

    I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I was too young to know what to do, but they weren’t.

    My flatmate walked in the next morning to ask me if I’d like a cup of tea. He was gay. I wasn’t. He saw a flurry of girls in my bed and nearly fainted.

  6. Ben Footner says:

    I’ve played many a pennant game on McLaren Vale greens (as opposition representing another great wine growing region, Langhorne Creek). As someone who has played the game for 15 years I can relate to your observations, my relationship with the game is best described as ‘love hate’.

  7. Stephanie Holt says:

    Lovely! Can’t wait to read more. Making me itch to pick the bowls up again. I think I’ve played with those women, many a game. Disarming or disingenuous or just plain decent – I could never decide.

  8. John I pass on the Poetry and Im not an intelligent advocate as 28 years of playing a great game has me thinking anything can happen and does to affect results .Ben the Creek blokes are the best to play at Pennants and they dont mind a drink either

  9. Ben Footner says:

    We do have that reputation David! I think some clubs love it when we visit as they make good money over the bar when the Creek come to play.

  10. Stephanie Holt says:

    Another lovely piece. Worth the price of admission just for the ‘suck of the moisture in the twilight air’ and ‘my bowling sulked’ (which I’m so hoping wasn’t a typo!)

  11. John Kingsmill says:

    Thanks, Stephanie. No; sulked wasn’t a typo. I must admit, though, that in re-reading WEEK THREE, the sudden shift from four-line stanzas to three-line stanzas was something of a mistake.

    For those interested, there’s more bowls poetry at http://www.bigfooty.com/forum/showthread.php?t=841768. If that link doesn’t work, go to bigfooty/AFL Team Boards/ Adelaide/The Backyard and search for the Where to Now Adelaide thread.

    This is a booklength thread that started in June 2011 and will take some time to work through. It’s worth it. The lawn bowls component comes in at the end.

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