Parable of the Bowls … or ‘What it’s like going to church for the first time’

My neighbour Bill (it’s appropriate to change his name) was on my case. He wanted me to play bowls at the local club in the park. He’d been once with his wife Jackie (not her real name, of course) and loved it.

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Bill would talk to me about joining him at the club, perhaps with our wives to make up a foursome, as we made our way home from the tennis courts, past the bowls club, in the early evenings of the summer. Whenever he raised the prospect I pointed into the club and jeered. Not at any club member in particular. Just jeering in general.

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To be honest, the bowls club gave me the heebie-jeebies. From what I’d seen all the members dress the same, white shoes, white trousers, white shirts, white caps, and – important to someone like me fending off the passing of years – white hair. And imagine being trapped in a small enclosure of hedges and railings with people I didn’t know and had nothing in common with.

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But the pressure was mounting. The summer was ending.

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It was now or never said Bill.

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We finally gave in.

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The evening came several weeks ago when the four us ambled up to the bowls club, my wife and I and our evangelists by our side. My steps were getting slower as we got closer. My whole body was crying out for an emergency to take place in the children’s play area so I would have to stop and administer comfort and solace to the parents of a poor child as we waited for the ambulance. But God didn’t answer that prayer (I knew it! Never when you need it).

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We arrived at the gate. It was not inviting. Because of the eight foot high yew hedge there was no way to see who or what was going on in the club. The gate in the hedge gave a foreboding screech as we entered and there, suddenly, was a startling freeze-frame tableau. About twenty elderly (sorry, sprightly) people immediately turned towards us and froze – some of them in mid-bowling action, one foot forward, bowl ready, but perfectly still. Twenty cap peaks pointing at us as if to accuse us of being … NEW PEOPLE!!

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Suddenly it was all action (albeit at a jolly snails pace). One member took the shopping trolley (yep, they’d stolen one from Asda) past the nice little club house to find sixteen bowls in the portakabin (“sorry they don’t quite match; we don’t have many visitors. Make do and mend …”). We were taken to our allotted place,  slot, or aisle (not sure what it’s called) and off we went.

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I confess, the bowls was fun. It’s not decent to be competitive with neighbours, but that didn’t stop us making up our own scoring system and keeping score. And bowls has an attractive nerdy quality to it.

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During a couple of ends a senior member came and gave us encouraging comments. At one point the club secretary came and suggested we might like to look over the membership forms in the club house. There was lots of cheerful banter from the ‘folk’ next to us.

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We wrapped it up halfway through the evening because Bill and Jackie wanted to get back home to see “The Great British Bake-off” and we wanted to go to the pub first. I refused to share in pushing the trolley back, but from my bench I could hear the cheerful banter as my three competitors said their goodbyes, and resisted the invitations to drink at the nice little bar in the clubhouse (“…it’s cheaper than The Victoria!”).

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Thank goodness that was over.

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Although getting there felt like walking to the dentist, at least we were walking through a park in a truly beautiful summers evening. The event itself was pleasant enough, we escaped without commitment, our friends are still friends, and we pasted the experience into the scrap book of things to talk about in the winter when the nights draw in.

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But for me, and bowls, I won’t be going back.

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