When I was a kid my grandfather (known for reasons that elude me as “Poppa”) used to play lawn bowls. In those days (just pass me my walking stick) lawn bowls was a game for old guys in white hats, and old ladies in starched linen uniforms.
Poppa and I used to play carpet bowls in his rooms downstairs in our family home, and when I won, which was implausibly often, he would give me a lolly from the Quality Streets tin that was permanently full and readily available. He also taught me to play Campdown Racetrack with one finger on the piano in the next room. He was fun.
Too young at the time to recognise that it was an “old codgers’ game”, I relished the time I spent with Poppa, and the occasional mild success in getting a bowl to tap the kitty just right on the slightly sloping floor in that room. I’ll admit that I also relished the lollies. As I got older Poppa moved into a nursing home and lost the ability to play, and I became aware that it was a game for old people and forgot the game.
Sometime over the last 30 years lawn bowls has had a makeover. Barefoot bowls is the way we celebrated our work Christmas party last year, and today we played it to celebrate a friend’s 30th. Apparently the magic ingredient that makes it a young person’s game was taking the shoes off. Or Possibly removing the white hats. Or adding alcohol. I don’t actually know what changed, but it’s no longer a massive social gaffe to be under 70 and admit to a penchant for bowls.
Sadly the carpet bowls I played in my youth failed to prepare me for lawn bowls in my 40s, and I am woefully bad at it, but in the games I have played there has been a lot more focus on being sociable (and the occasional touch of sledging) than on any competitive angle that might otherwise have crept in. Today we played with quite a lot of kids, and I was fascinated to see that the small people hurtling about the place tended to gravitate naturally towards particular adults.
When I thought about what made those particular people kid magnets, I realised that, although their physical ages varied, each of those people shared an ability to pay close attention to their own inner child. Sometimes a comment like that is code for “hopelessly immature”, but today it was clear that the kids intuitively understood what some of us fail to grasp – that our inner children are awesome to be around.
Sure, kids sometimes break things, say the wrong thing, and don’t know when to stop, but next time you are tempted to shout “Don’t be such a kid!” perhaps you should consider the upside.
Children accept others easily, whether they have different skin, religion, or income. They don’t stop to ask your salary, your address, what school you went to, or your political beliefs before they play with you. All they want to know is “are you any fun?” And they give themselves wholeheartedly to the things they enjoy.
The people the kids were gravitating to today are also the people I find myself seeking out. They make life more interesting. They bring a smile to the darkest days. They are always ready with a bad pun, or to throw something at you – but it will be something soft to make you smile, never something that might wound.
We tend to muffle our inner children with the demands of work, mortgages and social pressures, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves what kids seem to know is the important question: Are you any fun?