Thursday, June 24, 2010

Learn to Play - Lawn Bowls

I've always thought of lawn bowls as a quintessentially English game. A smooth lawn of emerald green, the subdued thud of the bowls, and silent men and women dressed in white, frowning over their next shot. I was unprepared by the warm welcome from Helston Bowling Club, who are celebrating their 250th anniversary. Watching them in action, the players take the game very seriously but judging by the sudden peals of laughter, enjoy every second.

Helston Bowling Club was formed in 1760, and are thought to be the oldest bowling club in Cornwall. In those days there were no other teams to compete with, so it wasn't until 1906 that athlete Archie Frazer organised what was probably the club's first match with St Austell Bowling Club.

Clifford Thomas has been a member for 52 years and originally brought along his new wife, Gloria, to help with the teas. “Women weren't interested in playing at first,” said Gloria. “It used to be the more well off people that played. I've been a member since 1963, and am one of the four founder members of the ladies section. Two of the original four became international players – two were Clifford's twin sisters. In 1966 we affiliated to the county and never looked back.”

Clifford explained, “The club was always in debt but since the women joined, they've organised the fund raising and fetes that keep it going.”

Between 1968 and 1984 the Ladies Section won every county competition, as well as national titles. Gloria was National Pairs Champion, British Isles Pairs, World Bowls in Canada, International and World Bowls Champion. I gulped. How long would it take to become a good bowler?

“If you haven't mastered it in 3 years you never will,” said Clifford stoutly. Gloria added, “Like all sports, there are layers of competence. You need a good man (or woman) behind you and you have to have the will to win. At international level you're playing for 3-4 hours so you need to be able to concentrate for that long and that's where a lot of people fall down.”

My hopes sank – how could I possibly learn enough in an hour? But Joint Chairman, Peter Heyden, led me to believe there was hope after all: “It takes about 6 hours coaching to get you to a level to enjoy yourself.”

Lawn bowls is evidently a very sociable game, and people can play at different levels. “Some play in the day for fun,” explained Peter. “The second level of people play at weekends and club matches, and the third level play at the organised leagues and national competitions.”

There are currently 31 lady members of Helston Bowling Club, and 55 men. Ages range from 40 upwards and members are taught by qualified coaches. “Most men who've played cricket or golf adapt quite well to bowls,” said Peter. But Gloria pointed out, “You can't teach the feel of the ball.” She laughed. “So many people say it's like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it!”

In addition to their ordinary fund raising, the club have one day a year for a children's charity. “One of the nicest things is how we all look after each other,” said Gloria. “It's also good exercise and it's fun!”

Lawn bowls is played from the second week in April to the second week in September outside, and short mat bowls are played inside in the winter. “For competitions, you should wear the proper non- slip bowling shoes in white or grey,” Peter said. “The outfits are in brown, with white or grey for county matches.”

So now it was time for me to have a go. First of all Peter handed me one of the bowls, a large black ball weighing 3 ¼ pounds. “We all use different size bowls according to different conditions. The balls are slightly curved on one side, and it's this shape, or bias, that makes it turn,” he explained “The basic idea is to get more of your bowls by the jack (a small yellow ball) than your opponent's. You count one shot for every one of your bowls that's nearest.”

Next I had to learn how to hold the bowl – not as easy as you might think. “Make sure you hold the ball the way you want it to bend – in your case (because I'm right handed) with the heavy side on the inside,” he said. “Take the ball in your left hand so that when you transfer it to the right hand it turns over. You try and hold it on the grips of the ball with the centre finger in the middle – this way it won't wobble.” And he manhandled my reluctant fingers into position.

It wasn't very comfortable and my first shot went wide. “Eventually people find their own way of holding the ball that's comfortable for them,” Peter reassured me. Next to us were some highly competent players, concentrating on their game amid sudden gales of laughter – not aimed at me thankfully.

“Balance your left hand on your right thigh,” said Gloria. “Step forward and let the ball go gently.” I did as she said and - “Look at that!” she said, as the bowl actually headed in the right direction.

From then on I began to get the gist of it, my small hands struggled to grasp this huge black canonball. But somehow it went in the right direction. I could see what Gloria meant – this really is fun! But as she said, “You do need coordination and concentration. And never bowl directly at the jack.”

The next time she eyed me critically. 'You're adjusting your weight now. Very good! Did you feel that was different then?”

I could, but I couldn't have said why or how. Half an hour later, I was really enjoying myself, but my time was up. To my delight, Gloria said, “You'd be very welcome to join the club here – you showed great promise.”

Coming from a World Champion, that was a real accolade, and I floated away with visions of myself following in Gloria's footsteps. 2012 here we come?

Bowls is a sport in which the aim is to roll slightly asymmetric balls, called bowls, closest to a smaller bowl called the "jack" or "kitty".
Bowls has been traced to the 12th century but was banned, fearing it would jeopardise archery, vitally important in battle. Bowling alleys were first established in London in 1455 but many of the alleys were connected with taversn frequented by gamesters
In 1541 a law banned the lower classes from playing bowls at any time except Christmas, and then only in their masters' house and presence. Anyone playing bowls outside his own garden was liable to a penalty of 6s 8d, but those in possession of lands worth £100 annually might obtain their own licences to play.
The (Royal) Victorian Bowling Association was formed in Austrralia in 1880 and the The Scottish Bowling Association was established in 1892, although there had been a failed attempt in 1848 by 200 Scottish clubs.Today the sport is played in over 40 countries with more than 50 member national authorities.
The average bowling green is 40 yards square
Indoor games last about 2 hours whereas outside games take 3 or 3.5 hours.
At international games take 4-4.5 hours.

Cornwall Today July 2010

Port Isaac Fisherman's Friends

“We're just a bunch of middle aged men having fun!”

There can be few people who haven't heard of the Fisherman's Friends' sudden leap to fame after Johnnie Walker's producer heard this group of friends singing while he was on holiday in Port Isaac. He later rang and offered them a £1m recording deal with Universal Records.

John Brown starts the story. “When we first got the chance to get this contract Peter (Rowe) said 'I think we should hang on a couple of years'. And I said, 'Peter you haven't got a couple of years!'”

The Fisherman's Friends consist of ten men, all connected to the sea by fishing, lifeboats or coastguard work. They range in age from 50-76; nine out of the ten met at Port Isaac primary school and have grown up together. “We're suspicious of what the others are doing so we have to stay together to find out!” says Peter Rowe, the oldest of the group at 76. There's a burst of laughter, before John Brown grins. “I'm so naïve – I thought we were friends!

The group started singing with Wadebridge Male Voice Choir years ago because “that way of singing keeps the timing and keeps us in tune. You need discipline. And yet our success comes from the complete opposite way of singing,” points out Billy Hawkins.

The tradition of singing had almost died out in Port Isaac “so we started singing to keep some of the old songs alive, then we broadened it to shanties,” says John Brown. “We sing for the love of singing,” adds John Lethbridge, “and because we're all too old to play football so we had to make an excuse to go to the pub somehow!”

These men have remained firm friends over the years, which is evident from the easy banter and roars of laughter that punctuate our conversation. “We're like a big family unit that all has little squabbles but they don't last,” says Billy cheerfully. “We're all very in touch with our feminine side now!” adds John Brown.

Their catchy sea shanties have found an incredibly diverse audience, with worldwide fans ranging from aged 2 to 90. “The thing is that we all enjoy ourselves,” explains Peter. “We're not a manufactured band, and our singing comes from our soul because we love singing. There's no point in singing songs we're not happy with – they don't mean anything to us,” adds John Brown. And they are determined that success won't change them. “That's one thing we would hate,” says Trevor Grills staunchly.

Their CD came out in April 2010, and became an instant success, being the first ever folk song to be in the Top Ten. “The songs are very catchy and now we've put music to them I think it's broadened the appeal to different age groups,” explains John Brown.

Part of the appeal of the Fisherman's Friends must lie in the fact that they are a tight knit group whose lives are not ruled by material possessions. “We're pretty much lucky people,” says Billy. “We enjoy what we do and we manage to make a living out of it.”

“A bit of money would be handy I suppose, but we've got everything we want, and we live in a beautiful place,” says John Brown. “Cornwall is right behind us and it's much appreciated.”

Cornwall could have no better ambassadors than these quick witted men with their wholehearted appreciation of the community in which they live. To say nothing of their stirring voices.

Cornwall Today July 2010

Anyone for tea?

In 1841, Duchess Anna Maria, the wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford, started drinking tea with a snack mid afternoon, to keep her going between lunch, at 1pm, and dinner at 7pm. She began inviting others to join her, and it soon developed into a social occasion. By the 1860s the fashion for high tea was very popular, with tea drunk from the best china and bite sized morsels arranged on small china plates. Bread and butter, scones, finger sandwiches and cakes were among the foods on offer.

Charlotte Lean, 41, wasn't satisfied with running her own business organising corporate events, so she set up another one, specialising in promoting Cornwall as a destination for visitors from all over the world. Then came the opportunity to use her organising skills in a different capacity – planning weddings. On top of that came the idea to hire out vintage china. “Apparently it's called a Portfolio career!” she laughs as her husband makes tea for us in their kitchen (in mugs, not vintage china cups).

She started collecting vintage china in May 2009 because she saw a gap in the market. “Someone put an email out on Network Cornwall asking if anyone knew where she could get hold of vintage china in Cornwall,” explains Charlotte. “I said I'd find out for her so I did some research and the girl who had hired out china had moved away. There was a company in Dartmoor but no one in Cornwall, and I thought - I could do that!”

Charlotte's drive and enthusiasm are evident, as is her flair for business. “It ate away at me for about 24 hours and I thought - I've got to do that! So I did.” She was helped by the fact that her mother used to be an antiques dealer. “I've always had a bit of a rummage thing going on! I like jumble sales, car boots, charity shops – I love finding a bargain.” She smiles. “I didn't have an inherent love of china at first but I do now!”

Unlike many collectors, Charlotte doesn't collect sets of china, but simply buys what she likes, so nothing matches. “It's all unique with different designs,” she says. “I've got some Doulton, Staffordshire, Spode - some really expensive pieces - but I choose my pieces because I like them and I think someone else is also going to like them.” And evidently her taste is just right.

At the time of interviewing, Charlotte had enough china for 220 people “and counting!” which is kept at home, though she is looking for a more secure lock up place where the whole collection can be displayed. It's no wonder her shed is bursting given all that she has collected. “I've got pretty cups & saucers, gorgeous cake stands & plates, table linens & runners, candles, candlesticks, bon bon dishes, glass cake stands, lace edged doylies, big china platters, sugar bowls, tongs, milk jugs and teapots,” she says, proudly showing me examples from the collection, stacked in huge plastic boxes.

Given that she is rightly proud of this fabulous collection, I was intrigued to know how she cleans it. “I ask for it not to be washed at all so it comes back as is, covered in cake and cream,” says Charlotte. She talks quickly, as I suspect she does everything, and you can almost see her ideas brimming up and over. “I do all the cleaning and hand wash everything except the cutlery (which is the only stuff that's new). Now I know how to do it properly to avoid breakages.” She has learned this system through trial and error. “The thing is the pieces become very fragile when they're warm,” she explains. “So everything's hand washed and air dried – no towels as that smears and streaks the china. It also gives me the opportunity to check it over for cracks and chips before I put it away again.”

So far Charlotte has hired out her china for weddings, charity events and for Kneehigh Theatre three times. “We did a Brief Encounter tea party once as a thank you to the Friends of the Hall for Cornwall and that looked amazing,” she says. “I'd also like to do special occasions: 60th birthday tea parties or Golden Wedding anniversaries – anything with a nostalgia look.” She stops and grins, as we've both just seen Alice inWonderland. “I also thought about doing Mad Hatter Tea Parties!”

So far she is fortunate in not having had any breakages, although “I do have on every quote that breakages, losses and damages are payable at replacement value.” Charlotte can cover the whole of Cornwall, and transports the china in insulation wrapping, either in large plastic containers, or wicker baskets.

When it comes to cost, Charlotte is prepared to be negotiable. “The prices are on my website but I would hate to think that on someone's special day, they can't afford what they want. I have 20% off at the moment as a summer discount.” The reason why it's difficult for Charlotte to quote a price is because everyone has different requirements. “I had a phone call last week for a wedding on the Sunday and her mother in law came the day before and picked it all up! Literally, if I have the day free, I don't need much time to set it all up.”

Charlotte is flexible enough to provide a DIY service if people want, or she can set everything up. “Every event is completely different and special to those people,” she explains. She provides a free initial consultation and can also find venues, visit on site, organise a florist, catering and suggest themes.

Witnessing her enthusiasm, it's evident that Charlotte has found her niche here. “What I most enjoy is having that initial contact and seeing it through to completion,” she says. And what does she hope other people get from her tea parties? “Something that's organised and is there for just them. When people need you the most, being there for them.”

Given this kind of work, there must have been times when things have gone wrong. So how does Charlotte cope? “I've likened it to having the most calm exterior and just have a back up plan for absolutely everything!” She grins, and it's easy to see why she is so successful. “I'm solution based rather than problem based so there can be the most horrendous disaster going on but 1) don't look like there is, 2) don't react and 3) think it through logically without panicking.”

By this time we have explored just about all of her lovely collection of china, in perfect condition, lovingly washed and wrapped and stored. She shuts the shed door and we return to the house to check over the bargains she bought at the weekend. “Vintage is the ultimate recycling,” she says holding up a beautiful china teacup. “It's all being used for what it was made for.”

Charlotte Lean
Wedding and Special Occasion Services

01726 71520 / 07737 712770

Emily Barr - an author well known for running away

Emily Barr's latest novel, The Perfect Lie, is about secrets, lies and escaping. “As in all of my books there's a lot of running away,” says Emily. “I don't know where that comes from, but the idea behind it is that you can't run away from your problems. You have to face up to things and the fear is worse than the actual confrontation. Not that I'd like to leave my life behind but part of me is living the idea of that freedom.”
Ten years ago Emily took a year out of journalism to backpack around the world and wrote a diary column for The Guardian. “Part of me felt I'd done a bit of career stuff and it was the time to do it,” she explains. “The world was out there and I had no responsibilities - it seemed like a now or never kind of thing. But it was a very impulsive decision.” When she returned she began writing bestselling fiction, set in exotic locations.

Now with three children, her travelling time is severely reduced. “I researched my first book, Backpack, for a year and now I'm down to a week if I'm lucky,” she says. “The last one was set in India and I managed 10 days away.” She looks out of the window. “There's a feeling of freedom about having all your stuff in a bag. Maybe we could do that again when the children have left home because I really do miss it.” She laughs. “My eldest is always asking when he can come along too – he's 8!”

In The Perfect Life, when a stranger records Lucy rescuing a child from the cliffs, the footage ends up on television, and Lucy's 'perfect' life begins to unravel. She flees to Venice, desperate to stay one step ahead of an evil figure from her past.
Emily's books all have a sinister twist, but she's not sure where that comes from. “I think my dark side comes out in the novels, but I do think that makes the characters more interesting,” she says. And Emily's main characters tend to have dependency issues with alcohol or drugs, Emily doesn't write from personal experience. “I don't think I could be addicted to anything no matter how hard I tried, but I do know someone who's an alcoholic and is estranged from the family. I find it fascinating that someone can be ruled by a substance to the extent of dropping everything else.”

Emily counts herself as lucky – all the unhappy things in her novels are made up. “I got quite alarmed when I was writing The Perfect Lie, thinking 'where is this coming from?' It was horrible.” She flips back her hair, a habitual gesture when she's thinking. “But my parents split up when I was 6 and I spent my whole childhood trying to keep both parents happy.” She smiles apologetically. “I'm almost glad now, because I think if you've had a totally happy and secure childhood, maybe you don't have much to write about.”

All writers have different ways of working, but Emily needs activity around her. “I can't sit at home and write,” she explains, so she writes in a cafe. “I work much better if there's something going on around me.” And being a writer fits in well with motherhood. “It's good discipline for me to stop and get the children from school which I think is nice for them.” She pauses. “Though sometimes that can be deeply frustrating! I love spending time with my children but it would drive me crazy to do it all the time.”

Emily and her family moved from France to Falmouth last year and she feels it's a wonderful place for children to grow up in. “I'd always thought that we couldn't move to Cornwall because everyone would hate us for being English rather than Cornish, but it's so not the case. Children's lives can be so restricted now and I try and let mine have more freedom but it's hard. James takes them climbing at Maenporth up the rocks and through the caves and I have to restrain myself from looking!”

Cornwall has even given her some ideas for the future. “In addition to my novels, I am interested in branching out a little bit. I feel there's a gap in the market for easy children's chapter books for age 5 and 6 and I'd like to have a go at that.” She smiles. “I have half an idea for a children's book already – a kind of Swallows and Amazons adventure set in the creeks.”

If her adult books are anything to go by, the children are in for a real treat.
The Perfect Lie is published by Headline in May 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Leader of the Pack


Dr Uwe Gerecke, 44, has a quiet steadiness that animals – and humans - respond to. He came to Britain from Germany 12 years ago, met the lady who is now his wife and moved down to Hayle to be with her. Since then he has combined his work as a veterinary surgeon with that of an animal behaviourist. “It's always so intriguing to get behind the cause of a problem,” he says in his calm voice. “It's like detective work: trying to find what has caused it, what triggers it and how you can go about changing that.”

It was Uwe's interest in animal behaviour that led him to becoming a vet. “A vet practice is set up mostly for small animals and the vet has an average of 15 minutes for a consultation, clinical examination and conclusion, so that's not enough time for behaviour cases,” he says. “Now I work part time as a clinical vet two, three or four days a week and the rest is animal behaviourism.”

Uwe has found that if a dog has a problem, it can often be traced back to how a dog sees his place in the 'pack'. “A pack is a family so you have the parents - the leaders, the 'alphas'. The others are the followers, usually females,” he explains. “Dogs in general are happy followers which makes them well sorted domestic animals if you get it right. But quite often the dog doesn't understand what his place is and that's when the trouble comes in. If a dog has a problem they like to rely on the family to help them.”

Another very important aspect is that dogs regularly check whether the leaders are doing a good job. “If the leaders are too old or ill they can't do the job any more so it is a natural thing for dogs to check them. We might see them as being naughty but that is just how they are.”

This observation of pack behaviour led Uwe to set up pack walks near his home for animals with behavioural problems. “A pack walk is a very natural thing for a dog – it's an activity that the pack does when they migrate, forage for food, or check boundaries,” he says. “The leaders have to keep the order and signal to everyone not to stray too far, especially to the young ones, and there has to be a certain discipline for it all to work.” He smiles. “For us dog owners we have to take on that role. It's always a bit of a balance. The dogs can't just do what they want and think they are the leaders.”

Uwe first noticed the benefits of pack walking when taking out clients' dogs. “I introduced other people with dogs with behaviour issues and I found the clients were very happy to find other people who know about dogs with behaviour problems,” he explains. “A lot of dog owners get very hostile looks from people if their dogs have problems. They get very awkward and embarrassed but here in the pack environment, it doesn't matter because we can talk about it.”

Uwe likes to have a consultation with a dog and its owner in their own home before they come on a pack walk. “I need to assess the dog, and see how it is likely to respond to other dogs,” he says. “For instance, I can't have a very aggressive dog for safety reasons, and if the dog is very anxious then I would keep it in the background during the walk.”

Uwe can take up to 8 dogs on a pack walk including his own two lurchers. “Usually people come for several pack walks, but we have our regulars who just love it. Owners and dogs gain confidence at the same time.”

As my editor had suggested I take part in a pack walk, Uwe first came to my house to visit myself, my husband and Mollie. Mollie is renowned for providing an exuberant welcome, but to my astonishment, she bounced up to him, sat down for a pat and then took herself off for a snooze while I interviewed him. Star quality. I wasn't quite so sure how she'd fare on the pack walk, however. She has a tendency to either be bossy with other small dogs, or go to the other extreme and cower behind my legs.

So we arrived at Uwe's house on a damp and windy Tuesday morning and met the other walkers. Today there were 9 dogs, including Uwe's 2 lurchers, for the benefit of myself and the photographer. We set off with the dogs barking at full volume, but by the time we reached Trencrom Hill, the dogs had calmed down and were let off the lead. Being the smallest, Mollie found all these huge dogs a little intimidating, so we loitered at the back.

One of the walkers was Steve, whose dog Wes, is half Beagle, half Labrador. “We've only been on one pack walk, but we've never had a dog before and we have two small children,” he said. “Wes just had small problems like pulling on the lead. He was starting to bark at us a lot and we didn't want him to get aggressive but Uwe says he's just being playful, so we're doing the right thing.” He smiles down at Wes, cheerfully chasing his new mates. “We came last week and it was good exercise and good discipline and has definitely helped.”

Juliet is a regular on the pack walks with her Jack Russell Hal and Bracken the Border Terrier. “Hal doesn't like other dogs and he can be quite aggressive,” she says. “Hal has a lot of issues but here he's mixing with other dogs and is more relaxed because Uwe's in charge. I think a lot of it's to do with me because if I go out and I'm fearful, he picks up on it whereas here I'm much more relaxed.”
Her sentiments were echoed by many of the pack walkers.

Led by Uwe, we walked round Trencrom Hill until we reached the top, where the dogs had a wonderful chase round the rocks. We then headed back down the hill, nearly losing Bracken in the bracken, and at the bottom, the bigger dogs started scrapping. Instantly Uwe was there, calm and quiet. He parted the trouble makers and order was reinstated – in minutes.

Many of Uwe's cases are rescue dogs, as are several of the dogs present on this day. “Some dogs develop problems if they have to move homes,” explains Uwe, “or they have issues with their first owner and when they can't cope, they pass the animal on so the next owner has to deal with issues dating back to the first owner.”

Thankfully Uwe is on hand to give these dogs and their owners the advice and help they need. Too often we dog lovers treat our animals as children, when of course they're not. “Many people see their pets through human eyes and humanise them,” says Uwe. “When I tell them just a few basic things about how dogs think, that's a real eye opener.”

By this stage of the walk we're in the field outside his house and the dogs are having another play session, bounding through the grass, tails wagging. “This work teaches me to look at both the dog and the owner,” Uwe says. “Not only to look but to talk and to listen. What do they say? What do they think? How do they feel about their dog?” He smiles thoughtfully. “In the process you meet a lot of nice dogs – and people. Oh – and cats!”

Dr Uwe Gerecke
Gonew View, Lelant Downs, Hayle TR27 6NH
01736 337076
07779 035131

Consultations available by appointment via email, by phone or at home.

Cornwall Today June 2010