The real sense of incongruity only began to sink in slowly as the evening’s first Cup match progressed. I was Captain (I am the Vice Captain but the Captain was not available that evening) for my club of four teams of triples, playing away at a nearby club. It was a fabulous riverside setting at the foot of this Lower Dales market town, famed for its brewery and annual sheep fair. To my opponent, the whole situation must have felt a bit like waking up from Paul McKenna’s hypnosis session on stage in front of a packed theatre. At least, we both had the good humour to laugh it off.
What could have caused the bemused indignation?
As Skippers, we chatted, as any affable Skip should do. After all, these are only Friendlies. Fair enough, this was a Cup match, still, winning friends was just as important as winning a match.
“So, where’re you from?”
“Come on, you know what I mean. Melmerby! Which country?” (Well, I could have been born in Melmerby)
I half raised both hands with my index fingers pointing skywards, then lifting my right leg with my toes pointing forward. We were holding three.
“What do you do for a living?”
Their number two was trying to reduce the damage, but his second wood ran through by a yard.
“I’m a teacher.”
“What did you teach?”
My opponent chuckled with disbelief. “A Taiwanese man came over here to teach Yorkshire children English!”
I laughed. “A toucher! Good shot,” I acknowledged my number two’s precision on the opposite side of the rink, bending down to spray a chalk mark on his Henselite bowl.
“I think they are all done. Our turn,” I invited my opposite number to walk down to take our position.
“We might as well go home now,” he conveyed his frustration to his team mates as both teams walked past each other half way down the rink.
“Well played, guys,” I exchanged acknowledging smiles with mine.
“Early days yet,” I tried to encourage my opponent after picking up my first wood, polishing it with a tea towel smelled of Grippo.
But the rot had set in. The bias was against him; he couldn’t quite find the right line or weight, following me.
“Seven,” my number two mouthed from the far end, standing up after being on his knees measuring under the watchful eye of his opposite number. Their number one gathered together all the bowls with a trolley for the next end.
“Seven!” my companion moaned. “You are teaching us a lesson here.”
“Don’t give up. It’s not finished yet,” I tried to keep the atmosphere light.
We were the first rink to finish out of the four out on the green. I watched and did my arithmetic. All the results finally came in as the evening grew chillier and chillier under a dark cloud. The sky was blue over yonder though, over the south east. Both teams took two games, but we won on aggregate by 7 points – 65 to 58, to us.
Then, we retired to the Club House for super and raffle. The Captain of the home team gave his short speech and vowed to put on a better performance when they came to visit us for the second match in July. I stood up and spoke on behalf of our club. I thanked our host for their hospitality and a good game; we emerged “fairly unscathed”. As the applause began to subside, my Skipper partner announced, laughing, “Ey up, listen, he’s from Taiwan and he’s teaching us Yorkshire folk how t’ speak English. Now he’s teaching us how t’ play bowls, too.”
I smiled my inscrutable smile and we shoke hands one more time.
I took that as quite a compliment, coming from an Yorkshireman.
Bloody good foreigners.