Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel



As far as Pat was concerned, lawn bowls, like golf and chess, was not a sport. Lawn bowls was a non-sport that he didn’t know how to play.

“It’s easy, or we wouldn’t be here playing it,” said Johnny, indicating Stevie with a jab of his elbow. “You have to roll your ball, or bowl, so it goes as close to that little bowl, the jack, as possible without knocking it off its cross. And if I get my ball in closer, you have to try and nudge my ball away with yours. Make sense?”

“Yeah,” said Pat, taking off his jacket and putting it over a chair.

“You go with Wally,” said Johnny.

“Why do I have to go with him?” Wally took a loud, slurping sip of his coke.

“Cause neither of you are wearing whites.”

“He looks like a hospital orderly,” said Pat, indicating Stevie, “And you look like you’re wearing the shroud of Turin.” This was a reference to the yellow water-marks all over Johnny’s whites, which made them appear as if they had been washed in a mug of tea.

“Any other insults you want to throw at me at my bowls club while you’re here as my guest?” Johnny fixed him with a look that, even while levelled from beneath the floppy brim of a Greg Chappel cricket hat, was chastening.


“Good – now get off the fuckin’ pitch.” Johnny kicked Pat’s crumpled ticket off the green and returned to the line. He stooped, stepped and loosed the bowl at the extension of a smooth unravelling of his arm.

The deftness of the movement surprised Pat, but seemed oddly in-character; subtle and controlled. Johnny’s bowl ambled along the grass, the small red circle in the side of it making the thing look like a cocktail olive as it moved along. It stopped just above the little ball and once it ran out of momentum, fell to one side to obscure the jack from view.

“Good bowl, dad,” said Stevie.

Wally took up his bowl and stood, feet together, holding it in front of his chest, like a prayer.

“Jesus – it’s Shane Warne.”

“I’ll be Sanchin Tandulkar in a moment,” Wally retorted. He took a few small steps and then bowled. It crawled feebly along the pitch, stopping half-way. Pat gave him a few claps that slapped loudly through the conversations of other players at other pitches. Wally gave him a dirty look.

Stevie discharged his bowl along the pitch in a manner similar to his father’s. It coasted smoothly along before coming to rest just behind Johnny’s, tipping forward to rest against it with a barely audible click.

“Good bowl, son,” said Johnny.

“Like a pair of testicles,” Pat said, reaching for a bowl of his own.

On his way to the line, he threw the bowl up in the air and caught it. He was trying look relaxed, but both his anxiety and competitive instinct began to emerge.

Pat had been ten-pin bowling before and found that if he threw the bowling ball hard enough, he could overcome the prejudice of the weight and rocket it through the pins. The unfortunate thing about this game was that the bowl had to decelerate before it smashed the jack out of the way.

Pat drew a breath, drew back his arm and rolled his bowl down the green. He’d succeeded in investing it with greater momentum than Wally’s and it rolled true, just outside the cluster of Johnny and Stevie’s balls.

“That’s how you do it, son,” said Pat to Wally, walking back to the table. He leaned against it, his back to the glasses of alcohol in order to block them out.

“Nice bowl, Patty,” said Stevie.

“Fuckin’ oath,” he replied. “We’ll play together next.”

“Nah,” Stevie said, “I want to stick with Dad.”


Predictably, Johnny and Stevie won the first game. They didn’t have much to say; they remained aloof with an air of superior grace. Over the next few games, Pat began to develop a feel for the weight of the bowls and the resistance of the green, and even Wally had managed to bowl all the way to the end.

Four games in, they won their first. Pat distinguished himself with a particularly smooth bowl, and Wally succeeded in shunting away Johnny’s bowl to make way for it. They high-fived and Pat even did a little rooster strut along the line, to Johnny’s evident irritation. Wally did a Chuck Berry duckwalk of his own.

“Getting fuckin’ hot,” he said, taking off his jacket and putting it over the chair back, covering Pat’s.

“I’m going to get a drink,” said Johnny, striking off towards the clubhouse. When he returned, he was clutching four pots of beer. He sat them on the table, took a sip of one and, licking the foam off his lips, said, “Let’s play.” Pat shot a look at Wally; Wally lit a smoke. Ignoring the beer, he stepped forward, cradling his bowl.

“Hold it like a man,” said Pat. He also ignored the beer, adopting the age-old strategy of ignoring it in the hope it would go away.

“You have to hold it gently, like you’re holding your Granny’s breast,” Wally replied. He drew back his arm, took a few steps and cast it forward, finishing in a rickety arabesque. The bowl arced smoothly down the green and came to rest above the jack. “My kind of sport,” he said, flicking the column of ash from the end of his cigarette.

“Come on son, focus,” said Johnny, encouraging Stevie as he composed himself to bowl. Stevie smoothly loosed his bowl and it stopped just short of the jack, an inch outside of Wally’s.

Pat stepped to the line. He attempted to look calm, but felt the pressure. And overdid it. His bowl rolled right through the cluster, touching nothing until it hit the concrete wall at the end of the green.

“FUCK IT!” said Pat. He lashed out with a kick, punting the scrunched-up jaywalking ticket across the club and onto someone else’s pitch. One of the other players stood and fixed him with a look of disapproval. Johnny stood by the table, sipping his pot and watching.

“Have a beer, Pat,” said Johnny. “It’ll calm you down.”

“No thanks.”

“Come on – have one.”

“Can’t drink in the middle of the day, mate,” said Pat.

“Since when?”

“It gives me a headache.”

“Me too,” said Wally.

“That’s why you didn’t wear whites,” said Johnny, “because you should be wearing fuckin’ skirts. Come and drink your beer, son, before it gets hot.”

“Yes dad,” said Stevie, jogging to the table and reaching for the pot closest to him. Wally looked at Pat, and Pat looked away.

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