I’m a friendly wee mite: over-friendly probably. As keen as a mustard-covered puppy and limpet-like in consistency. I don’t mean sociable; no, I cower in groups of more than one and a half, and am consistently the death and burial of parties. But I love people, truly love them, as though I was a dual-hearted fop with an alien-thwarting screwdriver.
Small, weedy and not exactly eye-pleasing, I’m about as threatening as a toothless piranha – and almost as useful – but my unthinking eagerness to befriend has still been known to stir up Salem-esque fear – and earn me some seriously funny looks along the way. Like the time I caused a televised traffic jam on Glasgow’s busiest stretch of motorway by waving at a particularly lonely lorry driver. Or when I told a fellow bank queuer that her hair was pretty, only to be reduced to an apologetic puddle by an over-protective boyfriend (hers, not mine). Stranger danger indeed.
People just don’t trust unsolicited friendliness at times, and I’m often left feeling like the kid who carries the coats just to be part of the gang. Being the out-reacher has its downsides then: I’ve had laughter lines since I was twelve, never quite been able to pull off cool aloofness, and even the strongest washing powder won’t lift the ventricle stains from my sleeves. But it also has one major benefit: I have family and friends who know they’re loved by the very bones of me.
Oh, there’s no ‘woe is me’ element here. I bounce back quicker than a rubber trampolinist, and the disappointment of a failed interaction normally lasts only long enough for a shoulder shrug and a kettle-boil. And although people more often than not mistake my random compliments and incessant elbow-touching for desperation, I’ll continue to poison the well with cheerfulness for the love of those times when a smile is returned and a fleeting moment brightened.
So it was with real delight that I accepted the surprise invitation of Woodend Bowling Club back in December to attend their Spring Open Day. I’d never been to the club or met any of its members; yet, over the months that followed, Woodend cheered on my sporting attempts and watched my progress, telling everyone who would listen – and many who wouldn’t – all about the silly stuff I’ve been doing. Nice, right? Unreservedly. And when the lovely Gav and I bumbled in to their beautiful clubhouse for our inaugural bowl-off, the reality of the club’s warmth undoubtedly matched our expectations.
Gav, or Gavin since he was Sunday-named the entire time, picked the techniques up like a natural and was quickly drafted into a proper match with the club pros. I, at the other end of the talent spectrum, was ushered along to the assault course, to be greeted by some of the club’s youngest members and handed the pretty pink bowls reserved for special people… okay, kids. That afternoon, I hurled bowls into paddling pools, aimed (poorly) at targets and rolled jacks into wooden archways with fellow novices. And, you know what? It was fun.
Gav and I both left the club with personal insights. Gav, that he’s a natural bowler and can spend time outdoors without imploding. Me, that I can acquire a certificate and a cool limited edition mug without displaying any aptitude whatsoever.
With generations of families competing alongside one another, each with equal opportunities to pick up the skills and excel in the matches, lawn bowls has the potential to be the friendliest sport around. And, with its welcoming members and progressive attitude, Woodend Bowling Club captures that spirit beautifully.
You see, reaching out to others, making connections – whether on a packed motorway or a perfectly-mowed green – is what fuels friendships, builds community, feeds the soul. Putting yourself out there, no matter if you’re shunned, laughed at or shot down, isn’t needy or pathetic. It’s human.
And while I’ll never be a champion of lawn bowls, I’ll forever champion that.