I fire up my set-top box.

Things that have kept me away from the computer – #3 in a series of 945722572.

I feel that this is some sort of watershed in my life. Once, when I was little and ‘the kids’ was not spelt with a ‘z’, I was abreast of all the new technologies that humanity was embracing.

Now, I am hopelessly out of touch. I think it was when the QL took over from the ZX Spectrum. Gradually, I lost touch with technology and the zeitgeist an’ stuff and discovered beer and music and chickens and girls, or at least pictures of them, on the internet.

But I have Sky TV!!! Sky TV!!! Who says that I am not down with ze kids now???

I settle down to watch the bowls.

Barry Hearn, legendary snooker and boxing promoter, has discovered bowls, and has put it on Sky TV. He is astute, and knows that it will be the next big thing – he has even got sponsorship from a racy poker website. I lean forward on my sofa as the chap draws gently in on the backhand. The bowls is indoors, in an arena, but is otherwise proper bowls, with extra commentary.

Suddenly the lights go out in the auditorium. ‘Power play!!!’ booms a pre-recorded voice over the tannoy. ‘Power play!!!’. Immense spotlights machine-gun crazy zig-zag patterns on the mat.

There is a momentary pause, before a spontaneous ‘oooooh!!!’ erupts from the audience. I have never heard such an ‘oooooh’ before. It is voluminous, and laced with irony, but is somehow not unkind – as if a particularly shiny and high-wattage jug kettle had been revealed as top prize on a remake of ‘Sale of the Century’ presented by Jonathan Ross as a prelude to the categories being announced at the Magazine Display Media Sales Awards 2008.

“He’s taking his power play!” announces the commentator, excitedly.

I am strangely happy about all this. It is reassuring that such a quintessentially English tinkering to such a quintessentially English sport gets such a quintessentially English reaction. I hope the organisers are happy too. You can love something and still take the piss out of it, in fact that sometimes means that you actually really really DO love it, or that is what I tell the LTLP anyway.

I watch the rest of the bowls. It is gripping. We are playing tonight, and I will suggest to the club captain, who has a beard, that we should get some strobe lighting.

I take a deep breath of fresh air.

The evening is unexpectedly beautiful; I smile contentedly as I slam the car door. Lugging my bag with me, I step through the gap in the fence and into the arena.

“You’re looking fat this year,” are the words with which I am greeted. I take this with cheery good heart. It is a competitive environment after all – people will take any advantage that they can.

The chickens have taken over my life a bit recently. This is fine, as they are chickens, but I have been getting a bit concerned that it might be getting boring for the readers of my Private Secret internet diary. Fortunately, just in the nick of time, the bowls season has started up once more, bringing with it an injection of fresh excitement.

The pre-season roll-up is sparsely attended; worryingly so. I join Ned, who has a beard, in playing a friendly against Big A and his mate, but if we are to get a strong team out to challenge for the title this year then we may have to recruit new blood. I am hoping that what with all the excitement in the region about the Olympics being held in London in years and years time, I will be able to persuade some more hopefuls to join us.

“Evening!” – a couple more players have arrived. “You’re looking a bit porky!” they call across.

It is worrying. I put on a lot of weight anyway over the winter, as I do not really do any exercise during the bowls close season. Also I am having two dinners a day – one with the Toddler and one with the LTLP. We play a few gentle ends, but I do not find myself out of breath at all, which is encouraging. Maybe I am fitter than I thought. AND there is a slight slope on our green.

The competitive season begins in earnest on Friday. I hope to write up full match reports here, which I know will cause some interest worldwide. For too long the followers of bowls have been starved of information about their favourite passion; web 2.0 will change all that.

It is good to be back in the saddle (which is a metaphor for ‘on the mat’ as you do not use a saddle for bowls, the expression is from riding horses).

We go to the bowls club fun day.

The LTLP, Mrs Short Tony and Mrs Eddie have been told to make sandwiches etc; later on they will get a chance to have a go at bowls!!! It will be funny to watch the LTLP try it in the all-comers event – she is not as naturally athletic as I am, but I am keen to give her every opportunity to realise her potential. Meanwhile, I enjoy a relaxing pint whilst I show them around.

“This is the TOMBOLA,” I explain to Baby Servalan. It is important to increase her vocabulary and get her to know useful words.

“It’s one pound for five goes,” says the nice lady who is running the attraction. Across the trestle table there are a selection of soft toys, games and foodstuffs. I point the Baby towards the box of tickets and she grabs one in a sticky fist.

“130,” reads the lady. “That’s a prize… here… it’s some… mint travel sweets. Would you like to swap those for a little toy?”

“No, I quite like those,” I insist.

The Baby draws another ticket.

“85! Another prize! It’s over here… it’s a… bottle of vodka. Would…?”

“Brilliant!” I say, putting the vodka in the Baby’s little bag.

I am in a good mood all day, and acquire from the raffle an additional bottle of wine and an eight-inch high china model of some cute Victorian urchin children with red rosy cheeks. I plan to give it to the Short Tonies for their new lavatory.

Right at the end, the LTLP is presented with her prize for winning the bowls. She always has to spoil things for me, always, ever.

The bowls is off.

“It’s off.”

“It’s off.”


“It’s off.”

A succession of players pass us with the news that it is off. This is not entirely unexpected.

“What now?” asks Big Andy, leaning on the door that leads in to the bar.

“Don’t know really,” I reply, looking through the glass at the welcoming pumps and optics.

“We could pop in for a pint while we’re here?” offers Eddie. Nobody likes to say ‘no’ to him. We should not have let him join our gang. He is a bad influence.

Three pints later and we are still gazing out onto the monsoon swamping down upon the bowling green. There is a nagging sense unease coming from somewhere. The rain drives and flurries, it sweeps down, it churns. It pounds away like an Abi Titmuss, wet, relentless and everywhere.

“There will come a point,” I observe, “when the LTLP will cease to believe that we have been playing bowls.”

The others nod worriedly. We order a fourth pint to consider this.

After a while I realise what is bothering me. We are sat in a busy Social Club, and nobody is smoking. It seems all wrong. And I haven’t smoked for years, since when it was cool.

Big Andy is twice his normal immense size, due to all the patches he has on under his shirt. Eddie, meanwhile, looks just weird without his cigar. He has the air of a man who has gone to the pub without his trousers on, and fidgets like one who’s just sat on a colony of beetles.

Short Tony gamely drinks coca cola, having given up alcohol in solidarity.

Across the room, other people look odd; out of place. An immense social change has taken place, and one day Baby Servalan will ask me what it was like.

The rain pours down. And pours. And pours.