One of the many joys in my life over the last year has been to have joined Finchley Victoria Bowling Club, very close to my home in Finchley. Joining the club was as a result of a pivotal moment. Our next door neighbour Ralph died on June 29th 2014 at the age of 88 after a series of illnesses. He had been an anchor for me, and for my partner Helen. She grew up with him as a neighbour and had known him, his wife and family for over 50 years. I had known Ralph for 18 years and he had been a bit of a surrogate dad to me after my own dad died 10 years ago. Ralph and I shared a sense of humour, and he always welcomed up in when we knocked on his door and we looked out for him when he beloved wife Mil died three years earlier.
After the funeral, Helen wanted to get away, so she went off to North Cyprus, but I felt a need to stay home. Ralph and been an anchor into where we lived, and I felt a wanted another anchor, but I had no idea what that would be. Since becoming an author, I had spent many years travelling extensively and in the last few years I felt a greater need to belong where I lived, put down roots, and to travel less.
I walk through Victoria Park in Finchley every morning and this time noticed a sign offering free bowls coaching on a Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. I had a hunch to give it a go as the weather was nice and thought it would be fun to do an outdoor activity. I was reluctant to accept that learning to play bowls was an acknowledgement that am getting older! But I decided to try out Finchley Victoria Bowls Club.
I gathered my courage and went over on the next Wednesday afternoon, and chatted to them and asked if I could have a free lesson. The coach John kindly gave me a lesson and I found myself really enjoying myself and being outside on a lovely day. I even played a few good bowls. I sensed I would like to play more, so started going along regularly. I wasn’t sure I would get on with the strict dress code, rules and etiquette, but I had a white shirt, found a pair of grey trousers and I bought some second-hand white shoes from the club for a few pounds.
I noticed I began to plan my work and other activities around Wednesday and Saturday afternoons so I could play.
The club was founded in 1925, and had once been thriving, with 100 members, and two greens, one for men and one for women. In the last decade though, both club houses had been burnt down by arsonists, and the club nearly had to stop operating. Eventually, the council built a new clubhouse but now only a handful of playing members remained. Many had either died, moved away or were no longer able to play.
Sadly, the season finishes at the end of September, but for the whole of the winter I found myself looking lovingly at the greens every time I walked in the park, looking forward to play resuming at the end of April.
So I re-joined and starting playing again at the beginning of May this year, and found my enjoyment of the game even stronger than last year and have got even more involved and I have even started playing some matches for the club.
I have taken some time to reflect on what it is I have enjoyed so much about it, and here are some thoughts:
- The love of the game itself – I enjoy the game with its skill, luck and tactics. It is wonderful to be out in the sun in the green on a sunny day playing a lovely game. Whilst like all games, there can be a competitive element, there is also that wonderful sense of “the love of the game” that transcends competitiveness.
- The rituals around it – one of the things I have always believed makes life meaningful is ritual. The club has its rituals. The club flag is raised up and flown at the beginning of each play, whether a match or a “roll-up.” (A roll up is simply when we play amongst ourselves.) I giggle when I think there is no other activity in my life where a flag is raised before I do it! Sylvia, the club captain then rings a bell to call us to order and explains any club business and tells us the order of play. And then there is the tradition of tea and biscuits, analysis and chats at the end of play.
- Team work – I have started to play in matches for the club now, and I find it a relief to know it is team effort. So much of what I do is a relatively “solo” effort – writing, speaking, coaching, event hosting – a lot of it falls largely on my shoulders. It’s great to know that the result is a combination of all our abilities, not just my own. I am learning more about interdependence. We recently played a team of blind and partially sighted bowlers, (luckily we won, that would have been embarrassing!) but I was especially touched by how the blind bowlers needed to rely on each other for lifts, instructions, feedback and guidance. I felt a lot of love there.
- The social side – I am also enjoying the social side of an activity that has nothing to do with personal or spiritual growth. I enjoy being known, welcomed and welcoming to new members. It is also fun to be in an environment, where, at the age of 57, I am again one of the youngsters! One of the members, Ken, only started playing last year at the age of 92, and is a really good player and I find that inspiring.
- My own set of bowls – when we were clearing out the clubhouse and storage areas recently, I found a wonderful classic looking set of bowls, and immediately fell in love with them. They seemed stylish, they are individually numbered, and I enjoy playing with them.
- Finding my inner bowler – if you have followed my work, you may know I am a fan of fiction writer Steven Pressfield, and especially his non-fiction book The War of Art. Steven’s first published novel was The Legend of Bagger Vance, a golfing novel subsequently made in to a film by Robert Redford, and based on the Hindu scripture The Bagavad Gita. In the book, the lead character is a golfer who has lost his confidence and ability and is coached to find and call forth his Authentic Swing. He finally wins the tournament. I have used that approach in my play – the game has called to me, I enjoy it, and I am allowing the game to “call forth” my inner bowler, which I am assuming is already in me, but hadn’t been utilised so far. I am allowing a “mysterious” dimension to my game.
- Seeing myself in the mirror – like all things, playing bowls has held up a mirror to see my own “stuff” – I see beliefs like, “I shouldn’t be too good, I feel guilty about winning,” and I see where I get angry and frustrated with myself when I am not doing well. I also see my love of play, and generosity of spirit.
- Generosity – I am enjoying how the older bowlers are very generous and encouraging, and they share their wisdom and experience. They are very validating and seem happy to help incubate the next generation of players and pass on the “bowls baton” and breathe new life in to the club. Sylvia and Eve, the club captain and president, put in a massive amount of time and love and energy behind the scenes to keep the club going.
- Baby steps and deepening commitment – I teach a lot about baby steps and how just taking lots of little steps can transforms us and our lives. From going to a single lesson last year, I am now more involved and am enjoying being more engaged with the club and the game. I am curious to see how involved I get in the game in years to come.
For me, it was a great thrill to be part of a team of three that participated in the Coronation Cup, hosted by Friary Park bowls club on August 8th in North Finchley. We played against four other teams. Our club hadn’t won anything for years, and then blow me, we won the cup. It was such a thrill, and even got us interviewed and photographed for the local newspaper.
As the season now comes to an end though, I was playing Ken, who I had been playing with to win the Coronation Cup, in an internal club match, and he beat me good and proper. I came down to earth from my “winning high” with a bump, as I was decisively beaten by a 93 year old man who had only been playing bowls a few months longer than I had.
So I guess, one final addition to my list of learnings and enjoyments would be “humility”