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Bowling for Soup Chapter 2

by Felix 

Posted: 24 February 2005
Word Count: 7917
Summary: A non-fiction autobiographical peiece about the wierd and wonderful world of ten-pin bowling - subjectively speaking of course. This piece was used for my final year dissertation for my degree in English With Creative Writing.

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Bowling for Soup: Chapter 2
My Sphere of Influence

Crown green bowling: the great British past time I’m told. The same people tell me Margaret Thatcher was a good thing for Britain. Idiots.
Prefix bowling with the ‘tenpin’ concept, however, and I’ll understand where you’re coming from (and you can prefix Thatcher with a rusty hatchet while you’re at it). Although the two sports share the same name, their ideals couldn’t be further apart. One involves getting as close to an object as possible, while the other involves beating as much shit out of as many objects as possible. One requires a delicate touch and a careful judgement of power and placement; the other promotes brute force, ignorance and balls the size of an elephant’s head. And then there’s the social aspect to consider. Green bowlers might timidly comment, “Jolly good shot, Albert. Two to you” but tenpin bowlers will rage: “That should have been a split, you spawny bastard”. And what would you prefer, tea and crumpets, or beer and onion rings?
From first hand experience I can tell you that their skills aren’t transferable either. I tried my hand at green bowling last summer with my friend Steve. Steve is one of those sporty types who can pick up any game within a few minutes and be a world-beater at it by lunchtime. Football, cricket, tennis: whatever I play him at I always end up on the receiving end of a good thrashing. He’s a genius too, having the luxury of being able to stroll into exams and pass them whilst listening to his iPod. Everyone’s got a friend like that haven’t they; don’t you just hate them?
I was hoping, however, for a little sporting retribution with this green bowling malarkey. Sure, I had just as much experience as Steve at the game, but I knew how to tenpin bowl and I thought that would give me the edge I needed. It didn’t.
Each game quickly dissolved into arsey affairs of defensive posturing. Steve slyly placed protecting balls in front of the jack and then effortlessly knocked rebound shots off my balls to score extra points. He was, as I should have known, naturally gifted at the game. After about the fifth set he started playing shots through his legs, bowling left handed and started listening to his iPod, he was showboating with quintessential ease. Bastard.
It was a total humiliation that could only be remedied by my tenpin instincts. ‘Bollocks to this’ I thought and I obliterated our game with a crunching shot that splattered balls in every direction.
“I believe that’s game to me, Rob,” Steve noted, heading for the car park where the jack had come to rest.
“I believe, Steve, I don’t care anymore,” I said, meaning the exact opposite.
The crown green bowling experiment didn’t last long after that I must admit. We got bored, made some impressive divots in the pitch and got chased off the green by a group of angry fist wagglers. We ended up going on the crazy golf for four rounds (paid for one) and hid the loop section for the fourth hole. Steve won every time. Git.
There’s no two ways about it. Crown green and tenpin bowling are not compatible. You either play one or the other. Most (in fact all under the age of retirement) choose tenpin bowling, but even then it’s taken as a sideshow to getting drunk and playing on those crazy dance machines. No, I’m afraid to say that the general public don’t tend to take tenpin bowling too serious. I can understand why. Competent players look weird, arrogant, use flashy balls and exchange high-fives far too much to maintain any dignity. I’ve often watched the Joe Public look at us bowlers with a dumbfounded gaze that suggests we’ve just made a racial slur or flashed our genitals in their general direction. Regular punters can’t believe what we’re doing and how seriously we take it. Nor can I sometimes, but then I get a jammy strike and piss off the opposition no end. It’s a great feeling.
I know tenpin bowling is a curious game to understand and I can appreciate why there might be a kind of stigma attached to it – I play videogames excessively too so I’m socially retarded either way. But I’m here to plead for the defence of tenpin bowling. Why? Because bowling is about more than just throwing balls and pissing people off. It’s about pissing people right off.

I often tried to figure the historical basis behind tenpin bowling but I’ve never found a suitable answer. Throwing objects down long strips of wood at delicately balanced objects just doesn’t seem a natural thing to do – unless you’ve caught a group of lanky Scousers trying to nick the stove off your canal boat. And where did the idea come from to have bowling balls the size and weight that they are? There doesn’t seem to be any historical logic to that either. I can’t imagine cavemen, whilst foraging for food and water, came across too many perfectly rounded, heavy polyurethane objects with three holes in them and decided it would be a useful hunting weapon – unless these particular cavemen had sadistic tendencies and lived on an island exclusive inhabited by lumbering tortoises.
I suppose bowling’s popular because humans like annihilating things. Civilisations, species, delicate matchstick models, hopes of a good dissertation project, relationships, Sunday afternoons, Iraq – we can’t seem to get enough of it (especially the last one).
As a sport I'm pleased to tell you that the origins of tenpin bowling predate most sports, including football, by quite a healthy margin. We have Sir Flinders Petrie to thank for this discovery (and for a comedy surname too). During the 1930s, Flinders, a boffin at the University of London, discovered what appeared to a bowling ball and a collection of pins in a child's grave in Egypt. Some estimates suggest that the artefacts could be as ancient as 3,200 BC. But bumping into William Pehle in the toilets would convince you that bowling's actual inception was some time in the fourth century in the Germanic regions. As a test of faith, parishioners would roll a stone at a kegel target (supposedly representing a heathen). Successful conversion of the shot freed the peasant of his sins, and (if the modern game is anything to go by) would save him a visit to the bar to bring in the next round.
The first concrete evidence of tenpin bowling points to good old England during the mid 1300s. The sport was deemed so popular and distracting in King Edward III’s reign that he outlawed bowling to prevent his army from skiving off their pillaging and debauchery duties. Francis Drake had none of this though, he famously insisted on finishing his game of bowling when Spain’s invincible Armada was spotted sailing up the English Channel in 1588. “Look can’t you see I’m on for a 260 game here? Fuck off!” No wonder the Spanish got hammered, you should never put a man off his bowling.
We're still a fair distance from the modern workings of tenpin bowling though. The whole of continental Europe was inventing its own styles - including that French one played in sandboxes for people with limp wrists. It would require a mass merging of the continent to provide us with the modern form of tenpin bowling. The New World would provide it. Ninepin bowling took early precedence in the States as players aimed at a diamond target of pins ninety-feet down a wooden board. If you take into account that modern tenpin lanes are around sixty-feet long from foul-line to headpin, we’re talking about some serious skill involved.
Ninepin bowling was banned in 1841 in the state of Connecticut because of its links to gambling and organised crime. Rumour has it that to circumvent this law a tenth pin was added to the deck - this can’t be substantiated, however, as a town in New York had previously banned tenpin (or ninepin) bowling for the same reason. It’s therefore pleasing to know I play one of the sleaziest, most frowned upon sports of the 19th century. I knew there was a reason why I felt so at home with the game. Badda-bing badda-boom!
As the game continued to evolve, the pins (which originally looked more like slender candles) were shortened and fattened to improve scores. By the mid 1800s New York City boasted 400 bowling alleys and the game had grown to such an extent that it demanded the establishment of a governing body. Earlier attempts in 1875 and 1890 had formed the National Bowling Association and the American Amateur Bowling Union respectively but neither of these lasted long. Eventually, standardized rules were passed and on September 9th, 1895 at the Beethoven Hall, New York City, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was formed. The women's movement into bowling soon followed in 1917 with the formation of the Woman's National Bowling Association. I think that's usually a good sign, when a sport is representative of world politics.
The game was rapidly cleaned up its act once the ABC formed and the game quickly gained respectability. Sanctioned leagues and competitions attracted money while Brunswick pioneered new technology. In 1905 they introduced the first rubber ball. Nine years later a Mineralite ball hit the market. (I’d love to tell you what a Mineralite ball is but I’m sure you couldn’t give a monkey’s nipples, I know I don’t.) With the sport now fully integrated into American culture, tenpin bowling began to modernise into the game we know today. In 1951 the American Machine Foundry Company (AMF) acquired Gottfried Schmidt’s automatic pinspotter patents and the world lost pinboys forever. Electronic scoring would later make its influential appearance during the 1980s and with it the burden of manual scoring became obsolete.
These days tenpin bowling is mainstream. According to bowlingmuseum.com ‘the sport of bowling is enjoyed by 95 million people in more than ninety countries’. I hope that doesn’t mean that the other six billion people in more than a hundred countries loathe it.


My personal interest in the game doesn’t stem from any historic destiny I’m afraid to say. There were no famous grandfathers going by the name of “Tossing” Tommy Wilson or Fred “Finger magician” McWils. I simply had nothing better to do with my teenage years.
I was at that time in life when everything seems against you, bar the creature comforts of middle-class suburbia, a free society and a stable household. I treated life like shit and in return it sugar coated me with Gameboys, three pairs of Kickers and a license to poke fun at anyone walking around with one of those Midland Bank bags you used to get free when you opened up a school account. Of course it wasn’t enough, I was 14 and I wanted everything. What I ended up with was tenpin bowling.
It was up to my best mate, Chris Cockcroft, to get me involved in the game initially. He, thanks to his father’s insane passion for the game (and general insaneness across the board), had been bowling for years and had recently started bowling at a new centre in Huddersfield.
It was during a Friday afternoon IT lesson when the conversation began that would change my life. After an idle hour of teacher taunting, sending dirty messages over the network and flicking chewing gum at the ginger-haired girl at the front, thoughts drifted towards the weekend.

“You watching wrestling tonight, Chris?” I asked, my eyes not flinching from my keyboard.
“I dunno. What time is it on?” I could hear him confidently bash the Enter button.
“Does it really matter? It’s the weekend,” I told him while straining at the thought of trying to spell genital.
“Well yeah, I’ve gotta be up for bowling at nine.”
“What…” I paused for dramatic effect, “tenpin bowling?”
“Wuss,” I said, cramping my wrist and mocking him with kisses
“How do you know if you’ve never pl..?”
“Who’s Mr Bennet?” I intervened, repressing a chortle
“Well you’ve put here ‘Spare chin for sale, three days’ stubble, razor cut free. Would swap for wig. See Mr Bennet,’” I said, relaying his message back to him from my computer.
“Oh, he’s that lard arse substitute teacher we have for history,” he said, swinging his arms in an arc depicting Mr Bennet’s elliptical shape.
“Is that the one with the sweaty shoulder blades?”
“Did you send the message to the entire network, Chris?”
“Yup,” he nodded with a cheeky grin.
“Nice one,” I congratulated returning to my own comical concoction.
There was a brief pause as the keyboard clacking resumed before Chris began again, “Hang on, you didn’t answer my question. Why am I a wuss for going bowling?”
I tried to type blind from the keyboard and directed my gaze to Chris, “Well come on, Chris, it’s not exactly summat you should take seriously, is it?” I said, cursing my puny attempt to spell ‘unequivocal’
“You should try it before you start dissin’ me bitch,” he said returning to his spreadsheet… for a few moments.
“Why’s Mr Lynch,” he ran an index finger across his screen, “an unequivocal gentlehead?”

I didn’t give the concept of going tenpin bowling another thought until that evening when Neighbours finished and I realised I was bored. Just what exactly was I doing everyday; existing for the soul purpose of winning the European Cup with Leyton Orient on a football management game? To say I had meaning in life would be to extend Noel Edmonds the same courtesy. I needed a purpose, something that would at least occupy me for a few hours a week. But what?
It was too late to join a football team, I’d only become interested in the sport the previous year when I started going to watch Huddersfield Town. When I played football during lunchtimes I was always the last to be picked and always got plonked in nets – a position that in my formative years I have adopted with enthusiasm. Cricket was also a no-no, too. I only had to look at a corky ball and I got a headache thinking about the potential for injury. I mean, I’m well akin to tossing solid, spherical objects, but you can throw cricket balls in the air. Hard. Fast. And at people’s heads!
Rugby? Well it was ok at junior school, back then we played tag tackling. Then secondary school introduced us to the more physical side of the game. At that point rugby disintegrated into an excuse for fuelling classroom vendettas and practicing Jurgen Klinsmann dives through huge mud patches.
Then there was hockey. I quite liked that actually, but I considered it too feminine, plus those sticks did look a little too hard and wieldy for my liking.
I had an excuse for every sport. Golf: total bollocks. Basketball: stupid. Tennis: no hairband. Snooker: impossible (how on earth can anyone play this?), and as for darts, well I’m afraid I’m lacking the sufficient ballast and a giro-sponging wife that’s been on ITV’s Trisha program. I mean, I like sport, I can watch all the aforementioned on television and admire the excellence, the passion and the pride, but the sport’s feelings for me just aren’t mutual.
As a result, my general out-of-school-hours activities ranged from detention to nothing at all. I’d done the dib-dib-dibs of Cubs but quickly scarpered when I graduated to the Scouts. There they expect you to actually learn stuff. It’s not like Cubs where you frolic about with giant, novelty dice and have strawberry fights on camping trips. In the Scouts you have to wash people’s cars for free and learn how to survive in the woods with just a Stanley knife and a book on origami. I mean, I have a sense of honour and I’ll gladly do my duty to God and Queen, but I simply refuse to even enter into the notion of spending my weekends playing bingo at the old folks’ home.
I tried kung-fu once as well, my enthusiasm ignited by watching the Karate Kid: Part II. But when I realised it wasn’t all about balancing on log stumps at the beach and kicking people in the face I gave up trying to be active and watched the Krypton Factor instead. Wasn’t the Krypton Factor ace? The women always came a cropper trying to land the plane in the virtual reality machine and the person leading throughout the entire program always messed up on the final quiz round. Oh those were the 80s weren’t they? Television at its absolute best. But my teenage years brought the 90s and with it the end of the Krypton Factor. Now I had to watch Judith Chalmers jetting off to the Serengeti, whilst the junior reporter got a portable toilet in Filey. I was bored and willing to try anything. Bowling was about to get its chance.

With the virtual Leyton Orient out of the F.A. Cup for another year and the Only Fools and Horses’ credits climbing up the television screen, I tentatively picked up the phone and dialled memory-#4.

“Hi, Chris, it’s Rob. You know that bowling you were going on about today?”
“What about it?”
“Well… erm…,” I hesitated. Did I really want to go bowling?
“Hurry up, my tea’s ready.”
“Can I come tomorrow and play?”
“If you like, come up to mine at about half-nine tomorrow. Gotta go, bye.”

That was it. My commitment to tenpin bowling had been made.

The following day I went to Chris’ house, went bowling and had the time of my life. Shortly after, a friend called Ross and myself formed a team and joined the Saturday Youth Bowling Club at Huddersfield UK Superbowl. We called ourselves the X-perts, an X to signify a strike and the ‘perts’ to give us the phonetically sounding ‘experts’. Well, we thought it was a good name anyway.
We soon picked up the basics of bowling and became quite a force in the league. Although we started competing half way through a season, by its conclusion we had caught up and overtaken the bottom team. So what if they were seven year-olds more interested in the toy machine near the bar, climbing the league was important to me. By the end of the season I was up to around a 125 average.
I remember these points so vividly because tenpin bowling became the paramount fixture of my week. Every Friday night it felt like I was trying to go to bed on the eve of a birthday I was that excited. Bowling was the first thing that I simultaneously enjoyed and was actually quite good at, and on top of that I was meeting new friends and becoming part of an exclusive and special society. I was part of a select few who actually thought tenpin bowling was a worthwhile endeavour. At last I had a sense of independent identity.
What I really hungered for, though, was the competitive edge the game provided. To many it may have been an irrelevant bowling league designed kill two hours on a Saturday morning so mum could go out and get her hair done, bur I played to win and I loved it. The friends, the socialising, it was all second fiddle; I wanted to win trophies and have my named engraved in history. I wanted a sense of purpose. Yes, that’s what life was to me when I was fourteen: winning at tenpin bowling.
My infatuation showed all the signs of true lust. I devoted more time to bowling, joined an adult league on a Sunday morning and started bowling in youth competitions across the country. I ploughed my entire weekly, poverty stricken, income into bowling leaving nothing left over for anything else. I neglected my other interests too. Leyton Orient FC got stuck, frozen in the year 2016 on my football management game, I lost touch with Chalmers’ cruises to the Caribbean and I finally conceded that wrestling was indeed fake. Bowling was the excuse I needed to throw my GCSEs down the pan too – frankly, who doesn’t find an excuse? Given the choice between studying and a game of bowling and I headed straight for my bowling bag every time.
I was so keen to bowl that I even offered to clean up the house everyday for an extra five-pounds a week, just so I could bowl extra games during the week. My mother was astounded to find me holding up my end of the bargain. It was simply unheard of for me to even lick the plates clean after tea.
But all these little things will shrink into insignificance when you hear this. Here’s how crazy it got: I was once so excited about getting a new bowling ball that I hyperventilated and passed out on the floor. Astonishingly I did it again a few months later, this time cracking my left shoulder. It embarrasses me to write that but it’s true. My relationship with bowling had become truly intimate and buying a bowling ball was like a declaration of marriage. I take thee, tenpin bowling, in holy matrimony.
Despite the self-inflicted injuries, my average continued to climb. 140, 150, 160… sport had finally found my calling and I was a fully-fledged member of the short English renaissance of the mid 1990s. Sport in particular united the nation in a single voice and I tried to paraphrase its success with my own bowling exploits.

I remember writing a similar sentence of the sort during an English GCSE exam. After the open book section, where I conveniently found all the answers I was looking for by WRITING THEM IN BEFOREHAND! I got a question along the lines of ‘Write about an event that changed your life’. There was only one subject I was going to cover.
The content was true, if poorly articulated: ‘As England smashed Holland for four at Euro ’96, I smashed my first 500 at bowling. Alan Shearer’s hat-trick was quickly followed by my first turkey, three-strikes-in-a-row.’
I think I passed English GCSE on the strength of that question. Not only did I enjoy bowling, but I loved writing about it too. Maybe I’ll use it again in an academic capacity.

Despite my advancement in skill, I never quite achieved what I really wanted: unbridled success. I don’t know how many times it happened but I continually finished in second place. I once even managed to do well in a competition away from Huddersfield, but I still finished second; ironically, my team-mate Ross came first. All my skills, efforts and persistence kept producing silver. I could live that, though, just so long as I was performing well. Then came the yips.
Should I be calling it the yips? I’m not really sure. In the broader sense of the term I simply went shit. After a very promising start to the 1997/1998 season my form collapsed. I went from averaging 160 to 140. I had gone through stages of bad form before but not for a sustained six-month period and the frustration quickly got to me.
Tenpin bowling’s not the type of game to get frustrated with as violence inevitable follows. I remember a huge lad by the name of John who got aggressive when he got frustrated. John was over six feet tall by the time he was fourteen and his ginger hair was all of the childhood insight you needed into his violent tendencies. One day bowling got the better of John; he had to lash out at something. I heard a scream of annoyance boom through the alley followed by a crunch of a plaster. John had pummelled one of the building’s support columns with his fist leaving a hole a cat could climb into – the legacy remains there to this day. John went on to become a mechanic at the bowling alley, which would explain why nothing seems to work down there anymore.
I’m not as angry as that but my anger tends manifests itself mentally. I start swearing under my breath, gritting my teeth and muttering ‘You’re a set of fucking bastards aren’t you?’ towards the pins. At this point my team-mates usually can’t get a word out of me. I shrivel into a weeping mess and sink my face into a towel. The ability to function socially eludes me if I bowl a 450 series.
I set myself high standards and for what seemed like an eternity I fell short of them. I felt like I was trying to run a marathon and only doing three miles before my legs collapsed begging for amputation. The worse thing was that bowling had become as important to me as my vertebrae; living without it was just unthinkable. If I bowled rubbish at the weekend then it took most of the week to recover from it. Bowling actually started to depress me; can you believe such a small thing would have such a huge impact on my life?
I remember a particularly bad week one autumn when I was fifteen. The Huddersfield Youth Bowling Club had travelled to Burnley on a Sunday for some sort of trios competition. It was a right dump of a place; so dark it was like trying to bowl in a nightclub and the beefburgers were smaller than the pound coin they cost. I bowled something horrific like 420 and 440 and I couldn’t wait to get out of the place - I was in Lancashire after all. The day after the competition at Burnley I sat through my school lessons completely oblivious to the outside word. Friends insulted me, someone drew biro on my scalp and a teacher even gave me a detention. But it didn’t matter, I bowled a rubbish set and I wanted to sink into the ground. It was then that I realised that the marriage was breaking down.

Then I finished secondary school, and a self-transformation occurred. I grasped the concepts of responsibility, maturity and adult cynicism. A-Levels suddenly seemed relevant to my future career and the paper round jaunt soon evolved into shelf-stacking boredom. They say that the difference between a chimp’s DNA and a human’s is just three percent. I’ve found that three percent: where as chimps like to scream a lot, swing around in trees and play supporting roles in Clint Eastwood films; humans swing around in pubs, scream at boy bands and innately seek shitty jobs in supermarkets for £2.80 an hour. Well, I wasn’t about to argue with nature was I? The pay wasn’t great but at least I no longer had to rely on the charity of my parents – a charity insolvent since birth
When God was handing out parents I must have been one of the few not queuing for tickets to see the Matrix. I have pretty good parents, but when it comes to spoiling me they’ve either lost the plot or never bothered writing one in the first place.
My dad comes from the old breed of spenders that simply don’t. Give him a dictionary and ask him to locate the term ‘disposable income’ (which, incidentally you won’t find) and he’ll start foaming at the mouth. He hoards money like squirrels protect their nuts. The difference being that my father never seems to come out of hibernation unless he’s adding to his expansive shoe collection. Every weekend he goes to a shopping mall and every week he comes back with a variant of the shoe family. Boots, slippers, trainers, loafers, galossches, flip-flops and sandals, my dad has got them all. He even owns some bowling shoes because he thinks they look nice - as tradition dictates, they smell of manure.
As a family we never spontaneously went out for meals, or watched the latest flick down at the cinema at the weekend. And while my friends got all sorts of goodies for their birthday I was lucky to get £20. I might occasionally bag a chocolate chip muffin at the bakers on a Saturday morning but there was never an impulsive moment of parental generosity that you would consider anymore than trivial. I even tried to blag some new shoes once, thinking my dad might appreciate the need for some, but even then I was met by an evasive response.
Whenever I wanted something as a child, my father always employed a brilliantly non-commitive answer. It neither got me what I wanted nor completely diminished the hope of getting it. Whenever we were in town I would excitedly bounce up to him in a toyshop and ask him if I could get an action figure or a model spaceship. He’d look suspiciously at me but I carried on regardless, showing him some of the features it included like engine noises, LED lights and a 14-day return policy - I always thought that might seal it. He would study the box like a professor validating the authenticity of a centurion’s helmet; checking the screws, seeing where it was made, looking at the type of batteries it took. After a few minutes he would say, ‘Well, we know where it is’ and then quickly usher me out of the shop. Of course, while we knew where it was we never came back and I never got my toy spaceship. What a cruel experience to endure every weekend.
And while I’m having a go at my dad, he also always used to infuriate me in shops by saying, ‘Are you ready?’ when he blatantly wasn’t. He just did this as an empty gesture to shut me up while he finished off reading his magazine. I hated it when he did that.
I’m beginning to rant now, I best move onto my mother. Ah… rant number two.
Moan, moan, moan. My mother seems to have a special moaning voice; it’s like an automatic switch. One moment she’ll be talking in a calm, collected manner and then she’ll get irritated, kick up the decibel level and screech at the type of pitch dogs howl at. Over recent years she seems to be going senile too. She’ll often charge into the kitchen claiming she can smell burning just because I’ve opened the fridge. And she has this really annoying habit of asking me if I’m going out seconds after entering the house herself. She’ll do it even when I’m asleep. It’s not as though I’m continually sneaking out of the upstairs window to see the secret girlfriend I don’t have. In fact I make it a policy to let her know I’m going out when I put my coat on. And she insists on asking me what I want for tea and then making me something even when I say I don’t want anything.
You know on second thoughts I had rubbish childhood and crap parents, God bless ‘em.

You can imagine, then, how it felt when I got my first part-time job and my own income. I had money and I could spend it on whatever I wanted. You wouldn’t believe how liberating it was to get my first Mars Bar stuck in a vending machine. I’d never used one before and when the chocolate got lodged, tantalisingly close to the edge, a prick of excitement seized my spine. I had the power to buy crap whenever I wanted.
I bought CDs, clothes, computer games, whatever took my fancy. It was like capitalism’s crowbar had yanked the lock off my wallet. I went from a parentally deprived, middle-class brat to an Asda supplemented, teenage-spending sensation. I went to football matches, started going out shopping at the weekend and bought random junk food and fizzy drinks as if money were printed on paper. Bowling merely became a quiet pleasure among reckless ecstasy.
In the last few months of 1997 I had reached a bowling plateau, noticed a sheer drop and leapt off it with all the elegance of a belly flop. My team was losing every week, my average continued to slump and new bowlers were taking over the top mantle. I felt like I was spent force in the world of tenpin bowling at the age of sixteen.
What really got to me was that Huddersfield is a very small Y.B.C. and it doesn’t have a support infrastructure for those bowlers more talented than an amoeba. We had a few very hard working, endearing people down there who successfully completed phase one of a bowler’s instructor course and could help the new bowlers no end. But for the more experienced players, resources were lacking.
I have briefly explained that I’m a straight-ish bowler, to be more precise I am an ugly bowler. I have no balance on the run-up, my wrist collapses on the back swing (which means I can’t hook the ball properly), and I transform into a gangly hunchback as I release the ball. I don’t even follow the guidelines for converting spares. But this is the way I’ve been brought up to bowl, my own way, the ugly way. I get lucky strikes, spare like a machine and constantly rack up decent scores. I take all the flair and energy out of games and grind out results. People hate bowling against me and not just because I have hygiene issues.
I get the job done and I never give up on a game, these are qualities that I very much admire in myself. But I lack natural talent; it has to be substituted with effort. I am my own incurable disease. I’ve tried to teach myself to change my style to something a little more attractive to the eye but I simply can’t do it. I’ve been feeling my own way through bowling for so long now that I don’t think I can be re-taught. Back in those final months of 1997, when I was really struggling, I needed a guiding hand. Huddersfield Y.B.C. unfortunately didn’t have one.
I’m being harsh on the Y.B.C. here. It wasn’t their fault I couldn’t bowl. My peers, through time and effort, found the formula of hook bowling. Ross, Chris and John, they all adapted and reaped the benefits. The Y.B.C. may have lacked the resources of the well-endowed alleys in the region, but the tough conditions hardened our bowlers with resilience and stamina. We didn’t have an elite team of bowlers who got pampered by coaches and surrounded by fans chanting irritatable melodies. If anyone started singing ‘Oggy, oggy, oggy! Oi, Oi Oi,’ at bowling competitions we retaliated with tribal football style chants such as ‘You lot, take it up the arse. You lot, take it up the arse’. Huddersfield Y.B.C. was the school of hard knocks and produced several excellent players. Indeed, my peers developed into such a potent strike-force (apologises for the pun) that they reached the finals of the prestigious Junior Scratch Tournament. It was a victory for the little bowling alleys, but I wasn’t a part of it, I’d already given up by then.
I don’t deserve any sympathy, not after my attitude collapsed. The constant disappointment had hammered my emotions for so long that I was past caring. I decided the best thing to do would be to give bowling a break for a while and start afresh in the New Year. But in truth my priorities had shifted. I worked more, earned more money and got promoted to milk duty. The tenpin bowling experience had turned sour. It didn’t mean anything anymore.
When I returned to the Y.B.C. a month later, I was out of touch, out of form and out of love. It was, predictably, after a Sunday competition in Sheffield that I decided enough was enough. The following day I rang up Chris and told him to find a new teammate, I was through with bowling.
“Now who’s the wuss?” I could hear his voice whisper in my head.

I didn’t miss bowling, not for a heartbeat. I continued on with my A-Levels and discovered that there was in fact a transition period between youth and adulthood, namely the toss-it-off years. Sure, I recognised responsibility and maturity, but at that age you can claim naïve ignorance. Your parents still wash your clothes, give you lifts into town and generally make your tea – in my mother’s case five times a night. People say that the teenage years the roughest of your life. Bollocks! Not being able to tell mum you hate the bloody Tweenies and would rather watch Button Moon, those are the toughest. I, naturally, tossed off my A-Levels with mediocre returns, worked endless hours for morally erroneous wages and believed I was contributing in some way to society.
Tenpin bowling became a taboo subject. My friends seemed to tread water by not broaching the subject. When people asked me why I left bowling I responded with an ambiguous “I had to work on Saturday mornings.” Bah, that wasn’t the truth, complete hogwash. I wouldn’t work on a Saturday morning if you paid me! (er?) No, instead of meeting new friends, wrapping myself in the social fabric of bowling and elevating my self-esteem through sporting triumph, I slept in. I flushed the notion of tenpin bowling away like a bad habit from my youth. But it wasn’t my mum telling me to stop picking bogies and eating them (I still manage that covert little indulgence today), it was my conscience sealing memories in an unmarked brown envelope and despatching them off to some distant and dark alley (presumably a bowling alley) somewhere in my cerebrum.
Tenpin bowling probably gave me nightmares, but I can’t be sure. They’ll be repressed in some figurative way, maybe as a pencil sharpener or a monkey. Yes, that’s it, I used to have loads of dreams about monkeys throwing marbles at an effigy of the Duke of Edinburgh. They must have been about bowling. Or am I just trying to throw literary critics into disarray as to what this book is really about? Yes, OK, I’ll admit it, this is all about our cultural repression enforced upon by the British monarchy. Don’t worry, students, if this book gets onto the syllabus I’ll save you a job and write all the answers in the back.
The only thing that gave me any pleasure when I thought back to my bowling days were the trophies that adorned my shelves, gathering dust as a kind of symbolic gesture. Of course they were all of the silver variety, but at least they were a lasting representation of my achievements.
For 18 months I didn’t throw a single ball, nor go within a mile of the bowling centre. There was nothing sinister in this - I wasn’t resisting the urge to charge into the alley with a can of kerosene and a Bunsen burner to give the whole bowling experience closure - it was a simple matter of logistics. The bowling alley was a place I would never go near unless I was actually going in it. Bowling was out of sight and out of mind. I had been rehabilitated, the divorce papers signed. Tenpin bowling was lost of me forever.

It only took one game to get my heart beating again. One crash of the pins, one X on my scorecard, one appreciative nod from a fellow player. During the summer of ’99, Chris and Ross dragged me to a bowling alley on the other side of town for a couple of games. It was one of those everything-under-one-roof joints with pool tables, arcades, a nightclub and a chiropodists. Imaginatively titled ‘Hotshots’ the place didn’t last long. The pool tables were lopsided, the arcade machines never worked and the food barely resembled any edible qualities. The roof had also been left open in the same way old supermarkets used to be, with massive, mysterious fans and pipes the size of railway tunnels, pumping out the smell of freshly baked bread. I think the pipes in Hotshots pumped out the smell of virgin vomit, with added carrots.
I bowled three games there and put together a score far exceeding my expectations. It felt good, too good for my now conservative liking. The sense of achievement, the competitive touch (I thrashed both Chris and Ross who complained about the quality of the lanes), the awe struck look of the six-year-old in the ‘If You Smell What the Rock is Cooking’ t-shirt behind the lane, I wanted it all back. I wanted to start tenpin bowling again. Though, at first I hesitated.
I was apprehensive that the same thing was going to happen all aver again: bloke meets bowling, bloke enjoys bowling, bowling’s bloody well annoying. After the game at Hotshots I made a few enquires and sheepishly put about the word that I might be interested in bowling again. Nothing too committal I underlined, I didn’t want to bowl any more than once every three weeks; bowling could not be allowed to consume my persona again. But nothing happened for a long time, a new season began and I still kept my distance from the bowling alley.
It wasn’t until February of the following year (now 2000) that I received a phonecall from an aging man with a gentleman’s voice. At first I thought he wanted my dad so he could try and flog some Saga holiday insurance, but no, he definitely asked if a Robert Wilson was there. Was this an old school teacher or some new manager at work? I had no idea. I’m a hard man to contact at the best of times and this person had made a considerable effort to get hold of me, so who was it? By now the idea of bowling again had more or less escaped me. The brief flirtation with weighty spheres in the summer was as dark in my mind as the place where I had bowled the games. (Incidentally, Hotshots shut at the end of that summer and became a casino. It might have had something to do with the fact that the centre did not open until 4pm during school holidays). With the formality of a solicitor the man on the phone explained that his bowling team was in need of players and asked if I would be interested in joining his team. I soon realised who I was talking to and vaguely remembered him from my previous years of bowling. He was a man by the name of Brian Irving who bowled with his wife, Beryl.
I reluctantly agreed to come down for a week to see how things went. I could hardly say no after all. Brian was offering me a chance to bowl again and I had to seize it. I thought to myself ‘maybe I could play with these old fogies for a year, build my skills back up and ditch them for a more favourable set of players’.
That sounds like an awful thing to say, but I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to play for the ‘Millenniums’. They seemed nice enough people from a distance, but distance can refract when you’re looking through the telescope of one’s mind. Maybe that would be the best way to establish a relationship, to keep my distance.
But whatever apprehensions I had about bowling with them, from a social sense anyway, soon evaporated. Beryl and Brian are wonderful people. They’re talkative, considerate of my relative youth and innocence, and aware of my shy persona. They soon brought me out of my shell and I have since formed a wonderful relationship with them.
So at least the social aspect of bowling was something that I could once again enjoy. Bowling, it seemed, might be more of a work-in-progress. One of the things that Brian skilfully avoided telling me was where exactly his team stood in the league. When I looked at the league table on my first night it was as though I had bungee-jumped off a bridge only to look back up in horror at the technician apologetically holding out his arms and saying, “Rope’s not tied to anything, mate”.
Brian’s team, The Millenniums, had found the basement of the league during the first game of the season. It looked quite a cosy place, somewhere quiet, without too many distractions and no kids throwing rotten eggs at the door. The Millenniums decided to get a mortgage on the place and started hauling in the furniture. To say the Millenniums were dead in the water would be an insult to the Bismarck, we hadn’t even sailed out of dry-dock. I can’t remember how many points adrift we were - I vowed never to look at the league table again after the first night - all I knew was that it would take a meteoric climb to even get out of last place.

When I left bowling, the Tuesday league was considered to be the most competitive and best represented league at Huddersfield UK Superbowl. One team dominated then and still dominated when I returned. They were called the Dragons. They had subjugated the championship for the past couple of years with ease and seemed to be dispensing destitution, famine and misery to boot. They were all middle aged farts with sullen faces and a tendency to moan when they weren’t winning – that sounds a lot like me, without the middle aged bit. They all averaged over 170, one of them was hovering around 185. They were the elite team of the league whilst being elite bastards too.
In comparison we had a crazy Scottish man, a chronic gout sufferer, a bloke who looked like he was constantly sieving with anger, and a tantrum kid who gave up bowling two years prior with some cock and bull story about the toss-it-off years. Only Beryl seemed to uphold any sense of dignity within our ranks.
But with our combined efforts we somehow started to win matches. I gradually eked out some form, built up my average and eventually committed myself fully to bowling again by buying a new bowling ball. I’m delighted to tell you that on this particular occasion I remained conscious while my ball was drilled. I should, however, have been a lot more concerned for the man doing the drilling. Only a week before, the Pro Shop owner, Bob, had suffered a minor heart attack. I’d like to think that he absolutely insisted on drilling my bowling ball in a heroic dedication to his work, but that’s probably a lie. The good news is that he’s well and tanned in sunny Spain these days. I would like to think it was the pride Bob got from seeing me transform into a very dangerous and successful bowler with the ball he drilled for me that aided his recovery. Though again, I would be lying.
The Millenniums surged up the table. By that I mean we caught up with Bob’s team and relegated them to the bottom of the table. Sorry, Bob. At the end of the season my average was back up to where it had been before and I was loving every minute of it.
Bowling and I were dating again, and you know what they say about old flames getting back together again, don’t you?

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