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February 2002 - Spare Skittler

Now, I ought really to be out ten pin bowling instead of sitting here writing this month's exciting edition of Comment. I was invited to go, but thought I'd better do my duty to all you loyal readers and make sure you had another of my fascinating insights to the world to be enthralled by.

In any case, my bowling seems to have very much gone down hill recently.

I think the same argument as applies to snooker and billiards players must apply to bowlers and skittles players.

They always say, don't they, that if you're good at snooker you shouldn't get involved in billiards and vice versa. Over the last few months I seem to have come to the conclusion that the same applies to the games with pins and balls.

I always used to be a most excellent ten pin bowler. Indeed, I believe that one or two of you loyal readers out there may have even witnessed my excellence on the odd occasion, so I know you'll be able to vouch for the truth of that statement.

But over recent seasons I've been conned into taking part in that other pursuit; where the balls don't have holes in, and you have to stick your own pins back up.

Well, I use the term stick your own pins up, rather loosely. In fact, you don't actually end up sticking your own pins up, you usually stick somebody else's up; that's unless you can bribe the steward's young daughter to do it for the whole evening for both teams.

The going rate for steward's daughters at the moment seems to be one bottle of Seven Up for each leg. No, no, no madam, that wasn't intended to be the slightest bit smutty; it's the way you're reading it!

You really would think that they would have devised some automatic system for putting the pins back up in a game of skittles by now, wouldn't you?

Oh, thinking about it further, I suppose they have really. Trouble is, it would turn the game into ten pin bowling wouldn't it? Or would it? Surely if they can devise a machine to put ten back up, they ought to be able to do nine as well.

I wonder why it is that all the automation seems to only go with the ten pin game, but the nine pin version seems to have been totally left behind, with no automation whatsoever?

All the development costs for the pin-sticking-up machine must have been paid off long ago, so why not devise a minor modification for pub skittle alleys?

And while I'm wandering round the differences between the two versions of what is, essentially, the same game; why aren't there any holes in the balls you get in the pub and club alternative?

Down here in the West Country, there are lots of places where the balls are at least as heavy as the ten pin variety, but never a hole to be seen in any of them.

Do I seem to have I wandered away from the subject again? I'm sure I never intended to ramble on at such length about the differences between the two versions. In fact, I don't seem to have properly introduced any of what I'm on about in this edition, do I?

I always used to have this Comment business planned out wonderfully; start at the beginning, work through the middle, then end at the end; but everything seems to have gone a bit haywire this time round for some reason.

Perhaps I ought to stop, seriously consider the situation, then carry on in a more orderly fashion. Yes, that sounds like a very good idea.

Right, I was about to explain about why my ten pin game has gone down hill wasn't I? That was the purpose of this edition of Comment, and can be said to be the subject for in-depth analysis in this particular epistle.

So, having got the introduction out of the way at last, I can continue to the middle, knowing that at least you know what's going on.

Yes, I used to play ten pin bowling on a regular basis and had got very good at it. Then I was asked to play a few games of skittles, and that's when my ten pin bowling went to pot.

The first problem came in my first skittles game when I sent a ball down at my regular ten pin speed and almost beheaded the poor girl doing the sticking up.

The second ball wasn't much better either. I hurtled it down, managed to demolish most of the pins, but then the spare energy I'd introduced into it made it bounce up in the air and disappear through a hole in the false ceiling which it made with ease on its way through.

It was at about this point that I realised the steward wasn't awfully happy with me!

I endeavoured to launch the third ball with a little less force, but that made it weave about on the way down and fail to collide with any of the remaining pins.

After my go, they decided to take the beer and sandwich break, while the steward went to find a pair of steps to put under the trap door to get up above the ceiling to retrieve my second ball.

During the remaining legs of the evening's event, I tried my hardest to develop a ball speed fast enough to do the necessary damage to the pins at the other end, but slow enough to minimise any unnecessary damage to the fixtures and fittings surrounding the alley.

Although my own confidence grew as the evening progressed, that of the other players present didn't!

Every time I stepped up to take my turn, everyone at the pin end of the alley scattered out of the way  with shouts of "Watch out, here comes Bomber!"

The name has stuck ever since, to the point that they now write "Bomber" in the team list on the blackboard, instead of my real name.

Anyway, to cut a very long story short, and to avoid too much boredom for all you happy readers, the end result of all this skittling is that my ball speed has been drastically reduced over the seasons.

Which brings us to the point I was making right back in the first paragraph, about me not really wanting to go out ten pin bowling.

And you can all stop shouting "about time too" as well! I don't know, you can't get the well-behaved readers any more!

So I now have this problem with my ten pin balls you see.

Having got myself accustomed to the gentle deliveries needed for the nine pin variety of the game; when I release one of the balls with the holes, it trickles out of my hand, meanders for a little while towards the pins, but then sort-of topples off the crown of the lane and straight to the side and into the gutter.

And that only happens on the now rare occasions when I actually remember that the damn thing's got holes in, and that at the point of release it is a good policy to extract fingers and thumb from said orifices.

Most of the time at present, the ball either goes backwards into the not very appreciative crowd, or remains attached to me as it leaves.

This last option leaves me flat on my stomach, looking like the cartoon characters you see trying to follow the ball down the lane. Until it actually happened to me, I always thought that films were the only places where that method of travelling down the lane was possible.

It certainly gets a good laugh from the crowd behind you!

So I expect you now understand why I've gone off the idea of ten pin bowling for the moment. I think the answer is to make a definite and final decision over whether I'm a ten pin bowler or a skittler, and stick to just the one game.

I'm amazed at how two games which are so similar, can require such differing skills to achieve any level of greatness at them.

As there are still a few games of the skittles season left, I suppose I'd better stick to that for the moment; then I can spend the summer in quiet contemplation over where my true niche lies.

By the time we get to next autumn, I should have come to my decision on whether to follow the manual or the automatic version of the game. I'll keep you posted on the outcome.

I shall now go off and start my contemplation of that, and what might be a good subject to enthral you with in the next edition of Comment at the beginning of March.

Until then, I hope you have better luck at whatever game you choose to play. Right, I'm off, where's me set of spherical projectiles?

Comment this month is dedicated to the memory of Nicky Steele, who signed off at the end of last year, and from whom I learnt an awful lot about radio presentation all those years ago. Sadly, I don't think he had time to use, what was originally HIS phrase, "Right, where's me 'andbag, I'm off", before he left us so suddenly.

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