Monday 4 July 2022

Bowled Over by Janet Howson, builders' tea,


Thomas Tucker, Robert Brocklehurst, Clive Woolescroft and Nathaniel Potter had known each other for eighty two years. Their mothers had met at a baby clinic during their weigh ins and exchanged information on their own babies development, their husbands and the state of the world in general, which wasn’t very complimentary as it was 1940 and England was at war with Germany.

‘We are all war babies you know’, one of them would say at any given opportunity, ‘rationing, gas masks and bomb shelters for us.’

‘We were six before we got to know our fathers as they were in the forces, all four of ‘em’, another would chip in.

‘You don’t know you’re born,’ a third would add, ‘I was the man of the house as an infant. I had responsibilities from very young.’

‘My mum was working in an ammunition factory and my sister and I were on our own most of the time.’ The fourth would comment, ‘We’d make our mum her tea for when she got home but there was never enough food. She would go without so we could eat.’

Not that anybody asked them about their history but they would tell anyone willing to listen.

Today the four of them were sitting round a table at the bowls club. They all had a pint of bottled ale each and a pile of newspapers lay in the centre of the table. At one time they would have had an open packet of cigarettes in front of them and several packets of crisps, either ready to be eaten or already consumed.

‘I’ve got to give up the fags,’ Nathaniel announced one day. ‘Doctor says they’re killing me. I don’t like them pictures they put on the packet either, blackened lungs don’t exactly encourage you to light up.”

‘Can’t do the cheese and onion crisps anymore,’ Thomas said mournfully one afternoon. ‘My doctor said I’m diabetic, type two, whatever that means. He said I had to take more exercise and eat a healthier diet. I told him I get plenty of exercise walking from the car park to the club house and lifting a heavy pint glass.’

They all obligingly laughed.

Then there was the hearing. ‘What?’  ‘Sorry can’t hear you.’ ‘Speak up.’ ‘Did you say something?’ would take up a great deal of their conversation.  Clive in particular found it difficult to keep up. He now sported hearing aids in both ears and hated it when they whistled or the batteries ran out. ‘They make them short lived so you’ll spend more.’

‘At least you can see further than the end of your nose,’ said Robert, ‘my eyes are getting worse. I can’t get on with my bifocals. Marion says I’ve got to persevere and I’ll get used to them.’

The other three had hummed and nodded at this. They had known Marion since they were teenagers together and she wasn’t  to be ignored. She had been Ladies Bowls Captain for years and only gave up when she had suffered a minor stroke which left her unable to bowl. She had now joined the U 3A and was out every day doing, book clubs, a History Group, Scrabble, a film club and so it went on. ‘She’s never in. I end up getting my own dinner sometimes.’ They had all shaken their heads at that in sympathy.

So here they were, without  their crisps or fags, with dodgy hearing and poor eyesight, but here never the less, enjoying  their  one pleasure in life, a pint and a catch up with friends.

The topic of conversation had drifted on to the club’s new logo. They had amalgamated with another club as their numbers had been dwindling, owing to members being too old to put a bowl up convincingly or had inconveniently died.  Clive was selected for the odd game if the captain couldn’t find anyone else and they all turned up for the roll ups or internal club competitions.

‘What’s wrong with the logo we’ve got now? It’s on all the club shirts, jackets, waterproofs, stationery and the rest.’ 

‘Because, Tommy, the committee have made their decision. I for one voted against the amalgamation at the start. We have been Burntwood Bowling Club for decades. When we joined it was an all men’s club.  It should have stayed like that as well. Something else I voted against.’

‘Don’t let my Marion hear you say that, Nat, she’d have your guts for garters.’

‘It’s true though, Robert. They’re always falling out with each other. Anyway, I think it’s good for a marriage to have separate hobbies.’

‘Yes, where Pauline can’t see how much ale you pour down your neck.’

‘Here speaks the man who refuses to bowl with his wife because they always end up arguing’ Clive added.

The others laugh.

‘Talking of ale, isn’t it your round Nat?’

Nat got up rather tentatively as the arthritis in his hips was playing up. He made his way to the bar where Basil, in a weak moment had agreed to be barman every Tuesday and Wednesday . He was trying to read an old Film Quiz Book but couldn’t concentrate as the four friends spoke so loudly on account of Clive’s deafness.

Nat looked at what Percy was reading. ‘Here’s one for you, Percy, what was Mae West’s first film?’

There was a chorus from the friend’s table ‘Night After Night’.

‘1942’ added Thomas. Clive said nothing as he hadn’t heard the question.

‘I was just about to say that’, said Percy, looking miffed.

‘Four of the same, Percy, and one for yourself.’

Robert got up to help carry the drinks but managed to bump into the edge of a table as his eyes were not what they used to be. Retuning with one of the drinks he managed to do it again so the rest of them said that would have to be his as he had spilt half of it on the floor. Which Robert had to agree was fair.

‘I hear the new club shirts are going to be pricey,’ Clive said.

‘You can’t take it with you, Clive, much as you’d like to, so spend your kids inheritance while you can.’

‘It’s all right for you to say that, Thomas, you’re not playing anymore, I’m the only one able to put a jack up. Social members don’t need a new shirt.’

‘They’re not going to select an 82 year old if they’ve got younger members to choose from.’

‘Not to mention one who can’t hear the skip’s instructions. Remember last season when your skip shouted down put one behind and you thought he said he didn’t mind and you put a blocker in and you lost the end. He never forgave you,’ Robert added, unable to see that Clive was hurt. Nat chose the moment to have a bought of coughing so the subject changed to long waiting queues for hospital appointments and how the country was going down the drain.

Basil joined in as he was getting bored with his quiz book and anyway it was about time the four friends drank up so he could lock up and go home. Beryl had promised him a Shepherd’s Pie with baked beans, his favourite.

‘I’ve been waiting for months for an appointment about my knees. The last thing my doctor told me was he thought I was going to have a replacement knee cap. I reckon I’ll be dead by the time I get an appointment.’

‘Go private, Bas. As I said to Clive, you can’t take it with you.’

The other four all turned to Thomas who was happily draining the last dregs of his ale.

‘You keep telling us that Tommy, but we haven’t forgotten the fact you still have free private insurance from the company you worked with,’ said Nat who was getting his two pence worth in before the coughing restarted. as his hearing aids were whistling.

‘Drink up, gentlemen,  I’ll be locking up in ten minutes.’

‘I never know what the time is. It’s a shame they got rid of that clock on the wall.’

‘Robert, put your glasses on, it’s still where it always was.’

‘What was that?’ This was from Clive who hadn’t heard much of the conversation.

‘A bit like us really. Permanent fixtures’

Basil rang a bell his daughter had found in a charity shop. ‘Time gentlemen please.’

The four friends got up, picked up their coats, car keys and in Nat’s case a Sainsbury’s carrier bag as Pauline had asked him to pick up a carton of milk as she needed it for custard.

‘Same time next week?’ Clive asked.

‘If I live that long,’ Robert said.

‘And there are no earthquakes, volcano eruptions or…’


The others laugh, except for Clive whose hearing aids were whistling.

About the auhtor 

 Janet Howson taught English and Drama for thirty five years and didn't take up writing until she retired. She has had two novellas published, Charitable Thoughts and 'Dramatic Episodes' as well as having short stories published in anthologies, including Best of CafeLit 8,9 and 10, Nativity and Mulling it Over. 

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