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Heavenly Bowls

They seemed quietly assured, these aldermen of the green. The little groups in no hurry, and if you wait for a moment, passing, they will wait too. They have time, eternity. Theirs is the mission to establish, in a world disjointed, the reign of luxe, calme et volupte.*

* ( luxe, calme et volupte - (Fr.) luxury, calm and voluptuousness, a quotation from Invitation au voyage (Invitation to a Voyage), a poem by Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867), a French symbolist poet.)

Voluptuous! What other word for that green, so much greener than any other, and, indeed, not so much grass as velvet?

On it their feet press or stray like fingers and the long spindly shadows are almost absorbed where they fall.

One, more important than the others, has stepped forward, bent his knee to the ground, not quite touching it - practising for a knighthood?* - and now rises in dignity, in an agony of tenderness and hope, as his bowl travels smoothly away. He is Francis Drake keeping Armadas (or at least supper) waiting, Discobolus** with a difference: for he's round as the bowl delivered and at this moment curling to rest near the jack.

* (practising for a knighthood - an allusion to the kneeling attitude assumed by the person upon whom knighthood is being conferred.)

** (Discobolus - reference to the famous antique statues, the so-called "upright Discobolos" and "stooping Discobolos", which represent discus throwers in action.)

Now a second player, with the same ceremonious address, has dispatched his bowl to join the first, which it does most discreetly. A third approaches, a fourth goes wide. Soon there is a whole constellation of black on green as deific arms send more worlds spinning. The trees whisper, a remote traffic growls, I have long ago relapsed on a public bench at the other end of which sits an owl-eyed woman knitting. The faster click of her needles is a reprimand to us all.

Nothing much - to the uncritical onlooker - may appear to be happening; or should happen. It is a ceremony, like Chinese tea-drinking. But while the disposition of cups may be infallible, here mistakes will creep in: a bowl which I suspect should be termed "wood" - will err staying out instead of in, and the performers from time to time will be unable to refrain from a tick-tack of joy or scorn. Away, beautifully if uneventfully, they go; back, nowise disturbed, they come. They bring out their little mats, their little jokes, they strip to waistcoats, but never to braces.

It is surprising, when you think of it, that the bowling green shouldn't have provided a school of proverbs. One might suggest:

Empires may rise and fall, but Bowls will roll on for ever;

It's a wise wood that knows its own bias.

I enjoy the ceremony - that's why I'm here. I may not feel myself so powerfully drawn to the English game, but I like to know it is there: beside it croquet is fearsome, cricket (my own favourite idleness) a pursuit for bounders.

There is violence of a kind, even on the immaculate green. Some pattern sacred to the performers is all but complete when along comes an intruder a shade faster than the others to disturb it, to cannon perfection out of shape. Hands are flung up, there are hard laughs, looks wry or resigned.

"Swine!" says the woman knitting; and goes on knitting faster than ever.

Good heavens, I never expected her disapproval to take this turn. But no doubt she is right. The man who could stoop so low would beat children or wear a tie with Diana Dors* on it.

* (Diana Dors - an English-born film star who was most popular in the 1950s.)

Sooner or later even bowls must come to an end, and I overtake several players walking away past the lake which boaters have left to ducks. Off their pitch' they look much smaller, older, shabbier, rather flat-footed, with dependent hands in one of which is grasped a small heavy bag or net. They look sad; but whether it's sadness that has driven them to bowls, or sadness that for twenty-one hours out of twenty-four they can't be playing it, who can say?

The park bell has rung, and an old-fashioned keeper stands at the gate.

The world roars by for a while.

It grows dark, hushed. Stars come out, first a few, then so many, many! Look, there's one shooting! Another! Heavenly bowls!


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