Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why Lawn Bowling is Better Than Ten Pin

There's an element of Australian culture that remains a mystery and mostly inaccessible to me: the world of sport (not 'sports'). Not that I was an avid sports fan in Switzerland, but I knew that the most popular sport was fussball (soccer). No problem; unathletic as I am, even I played AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) as a kid and can comprehend the basic rules of play. Australians are a competitive folk and football (soccer) is also one of the most popular sports here along with rugby, cricket and Australian rules football (not soccer).

I guess we in America were a British colony long enough to adopt English as a national language, but not long enough to fall in love with those sports that are so popular in the commonwealth countries. Instead we developed three different sports that the rest of the world doesn't really care about: American football, baseball and basketball. When you think about the American independent spirit, sports doesn't always spring to mind, but maybe it should.

Anyway, I don't think I'll become a crazed cricket fan or paint half my face blue in support of a local rugby team and I certainly won't play any of these sports for exercise or recreation either. When we got invited to our friend Chris' lawn bowling birthday party, though, we had unknowingly stumbled upon a perfect compromise. Lawn bowling doesn't require protective head gear or (lucky for me) heaps of coordination and it resembles ten pin bowling and bacchi ball, two "sports" we know and love.

I had watched lawn bowling on TV and even lived next door to a lawn bowling club when I studied in Edinburgh. I gathered that you were supposed to wear white, but little else. When you're as unathletic as I am, the accompanying food and uniforms are half the fun of sports. I go to ball games for the hot dogs and garlic fries and want to take up tennis so that I can purchase a skirt and matching polo.

Anyway, Charlie of the Paddington Bowling Club ("Paddo" in Ausspeak) showed us the basics of the game when we were all gathered on the lawn. From a distance the balls appear round, but up close you can see that they are weighted toward one side. When you first release the ball, it rolls in a straight line, but as it slows down it curves toward the heavier side. At the beginning of the game, someone throws a much smaller white ball, called 'the jack,' down the lane and this becomes the target of the game. The team with the balls closest to the jack wins and balls bowled outside the lane are out. That's pretty much it; at least that was the depth Charlie went into when describing the rules to us newbies. Instead, he focused on Paddo's two most important rules: no drinks on the lawn and keep the noise down because they're being sued by the old folks home next door.

The rule prohibiting wearing heels on the lawn probably ran a close third. Because even my kitten heel could have aerated the grass, I bowled barefoot (allowed by the rules). And though avoiding stepping on cigarette butts became an added challenge to my game (my friends wore flat shoes and thus were allowed to keep them on), I still left loving lawn bowling. Forget stinky bowling shoes that have seen who knows how many strange feet; lawn bowling allows you to feel the grass between your toes. And the fact that it is an outdoor "sport" is primarily why lawn bowling is better than ten pin bowling. You've got the grass beneath your toes, the sun on your back and you can hear your friends without shouting. The absence of 25 lanes of fourteen pound balls smacking into a pyramid of pins makes it possible to concentrate on your game and chat with your team without your head ringing.

Still I can see why lawn bowling hasn't overtaken ten pin bowling in places without the luxury of great weather. When it started to rain on our game, we were relieved that Paddo has a backup plan: come inside and drink more. The interior had been recently renovated and it was indeed a pleasant place to wait out the weather. When we ordered lunch we were delighted to learn that the menu offered more choices than burgers or hot dogs. Paddo was light years ahead of most ten pin bowling alleys with Asian noodle salads and the "salad" we ordered with sweet potato, parmesan, pinenuts and extra chicken. Yeah, you wouldn't find the boys from the Big Lebowski here and that's fine with me.

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