Where good company, keeping fit and healthy competition collide. Indoor bowls can be serious fun.
Mark Antoniewicz – everyone calls him Mark A to Z – is a big fan of bowls. “It’s an enjoyable game to watch because a lot happens in a small space,” says Mark, 55, who works for Arsenal in the Community. “Secondly, people can get very good with a certain amount of application, so if they’ve got a competitive instinct they can improve. It’s not like playing Snap, which is all about luck.”
Turns out that playing bowls at Drovers on a Friday morning (from 10am-12 noon) is also a good way to enjoy some company and get fit. “Bowl for two hours, on one mat, and you can burn 300 calories,” says Mark. “It’s deceptive because it’s better than light exercise. If you look around you’ll see that often no one is sitting down, they are all standing up, which is important for health. Even people with back problems can do it – either by bending or bowling from a chair.”
Drovers’ bowlers play for all sorts of reasons – from doctor’s orders to dates – but as wisecracks fly during the Friday battle between the white, gold and green teams it’s clear the two hour session is a lot of fun. Diane, one of the volunteers, keeps the score and helps resolve disputes. If things get ugly, or heavy equipment has to be moved, then Mark steps in.
The weekly game of bowls at Drovers has also turned out to be a recruitment ground for other sports. “Two of my bowlers found out about walking football and another has got into archery and recently won a medal,” adds Mark proudly.
With the London Games coming up in November – in 2015 Islington were unlucky to miss the gold for bowls – Mark is talking pre-match preparation to his bowlers. He suggests museli, honey, blueberries and banana, and no more than one small coffee, for breakfast. He also wants them to keep hydrated during the day.
A surprising number of Drovers’ bowlers already know about sports nutrition, after recently joining a healthy eating course at Arsenal run by Jeff the Chef. Digestives may be on offer when the green mat is down at Drovers, but it seems that the Friday game of bowls – which can be played while nursing a nice mug of tea – is always more interesting than the biscuit tin.
Come and play short mat bowls every Friday from 10am-12 noon, and Sunday fortnightly at Drovers Centre, 19 North Road, N7 9EY. It’s free. For further information call 020 7607 7701.
We caught up with two short mat players to find out why they were bowled over by one of the UK’s fastest growing sports.
Q. Are you any good at bowls?
George: No [laughs] – not bad. It’s a very nice pastime because you’ve not got to worry about the weather. I play golf on sunny days, but it’s getting too cold now it’s November.
Joan: I can be good in the right frame of mind. I come for the fun, and win or lose I enjoy it, even when my ball’s just been knocked away from the jack… But it’s nice to win, obviously.
Q. Have you always been into sport?
George: I’ve always done sport. One of my best games was badminton. And I used to have a season ticket for Arsenal – in 1947 it was about £5.50, but that was a week’s wages.
Joan: I’ve always been quite active. I was in the netball team at school, did some tennis too. The only sport I’ve never got involved with is swimming.
Q. What makes you go to bowls?
George: It gets me out of the house. I hate sitting down doing nothing. And these days if I sit down too long I just go to sleep… I keep trying to keep fit: I do the armchair physical exercise class at Drovers but that’s not enough, and the class at the Sobell, done to fast beat dance music, is a bit too much!
Joan: Bowling is very well attended. I come out because I want the company and a good laugh. You get plenty of banter at bowls and mix with all types of people, not just family. There’s a few that come who I’ve known for 30 years. If someone’s lost a partner and don’t know what to do, or are down in the doldrums, I say come bowling.
Q. What next?
George: It annoys me if I’m playing badly – I swear like a trooper, but I was a trooper! I’m going back to the game and I’m going to murder them! [laughs, in a sporting way]
Joan: I bowl twice a week (once at Drovers on a Friday and at Sotheby Mews on Wednesdays) and alternate Sundays at Drovers – which is nice because Sunday can be a lonely day – so that’s about 80 times a year. It makes you feel good mixing with a bit of company.