It was, to put it mildly, unexpected. On an evening on which I anticipated keeping a very low profile, I ended up being crowned king and supreme ruler. Had I known that a simple afternoon at a lawn bowls club would end with my coronation if not deification, I would probably have worn a better shirt. But some are born to greatness. Others have greatness thrust upon them. And then there’s the rest of us for whom greatness just rolls along as it pleases until it comes to a gradual resting touch. So it is with lawn bowls.
This was the second time I’d ever set foot inside a bowls club. The first was decades ago in St Kilda to see one of my all time favourite bands, You Am I, play. Although they may well be terrific lawn bowlers for all I know, they stuck to playing rock music. And, as music goes, it was a great gig but it wasn’t much of a sporting event. Which, in retrospect, made my decision to dress in bowling whites all the more unfortunate. I’ll only say that I was misinformed as the venue entry requirements. Besides the ensuing mockery, I’ll simply say that bowling whites will always come off second best in a mosh pit. Always.
But this time, my visit to a lawn bowls club was different. This was no late night gig but an afternoon that would casually slip into the evening by which time spirits would be high and great sporting achievements would be honoured. My partner plays football. In fact, she plays football really, really well. And this year, her football club’s end of season shindig was being held at a local bowling green. Naturally, I went as her ‘plus one’.
I say ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ because I quickly learned that referring to God’s own game as ‘soccer’ is akin to referring to Penfold’s Grange as ‘go-juice’ whilst drinking it from a plastic sippy cup, and is something that only the most ignorant of neophytes would do. I’ve also learned to refer to potato chips as ‘crisps’ and to ‘Eurovision’ as awesome. There’s been a lot of talk, too, about the World Cup but, to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around that one. All I can tell you is that Meat Loaf won’t be playing at half time. I know because I expressly asked.
The end of year knees-up was dedicated to celebrating the sporting achievements of the club, whatever form they took. From great victories and bags of goals and glory, through to narrowly avoiding relegation – the teams within the club had experienced it all. For my part, I was there as the partner, not the star attraction, which is the role I feel I was born to play. In attending, my mission was simple: don’t get sunburned and don’t do or say anything embarrassing that would result in being disowned. It was, without a doubt, a low bar. As it happens, there was also a low bar directly behind the bowling green that was doing a roaring trade, but I took up a discreet position against a wall and watched.
Early on in the pandemic, I stopped drinking alcohol. I’m not sure why. It was event without drama – there was no bottom of the barrel (or bottle) moment. Rather, it was a gradual loss of interest that was hurried along by a general sense that the world was spiraling out of control. That was more than two years ago, and I’m still very much enjoying life without it. But when it comes to lawn bowls, would being sober give me an unfair advantage?
We were broken up into teams. One of our players had played the game before and another had seen the movie ‘Crackerjack’. Looking around the room, some of the teams were large, loud and were limbering up. Given the warm up exercises they were doing, I could only assume that some of them were intending to bowl over-arm off a long run-up. I was nervous.
I’ll admit there was a learning curve. One that saw my bowl skive off the green and into the path of someone else’s before high-tailing it to the gutter. But the next one was better and, by some miracle, we won our match. And the next one and the one after that. Within an hour, we were in the grand final. The atmosphere was electric. The other team was taking things very seriously indeed, but our team held its nerve and we ultimately prevailed.
As the medal declaring me ‘Lawn Bowls Champion – 2022’ was being hung around my neck, it occurred to me that I may have made a mistake. Attending a sporting club function as the ‘plus one’ and designated driver, I had no business winning anything. Much less winning against a group of highly competitive humans. Mind you, I suspect I’ll have to return the medal once the results of the random drug test come back and it’s revealed that I was stone cold sober.
I wasn’t the only winner that night. As I sat at our table, I watched as my partner collected a ‘golden boot’ award. Unlike my medal, her trophy was hard earned and richly deserved. It was quite a night. And if you’d asked me a year ago whether being a ‘plus one’ at a sports team function held in a bowling club would be a glorious experience, I’d have thought you were mad. It’s funny what time does.