My wife wants me to take up bowls and I want her to take up golf. She dismisses my idea with the statement that there are women who play golf and there are women who do craft, and I ask if she's noticed that women golfers manage to hold off frumpiness for a little longer. What!
Oh not for long, nothing to worry about too much, I reassure her, maybe just 20 years, and she goes back huffily to soaking hundreds of stamps torn from envelopes.
When they're dry she'll spend a couple of hours arranging them on a big sheet of fabric, and when her back is turned I'll rearrange them. Later I'll tell her how good it looks and she'll tell me she's very pleased with it. She should get me to help next time, I'll suggest, and she wouldn't dream, she'll tell me, of letting me anywhere near it.
This has happened more than a few times when she's laying out little squares of fabric for a quilt, so I know how it goes.
Anyway, she's decided I should play bowls since a reader responded last weekend to my column about missing out on team sport with the statement that it was not too late for lawn bowls. It was not late enough, I replied, ungraciously as my wife points out.
I think she has in mind me heading off on foot mid morning spotless in my creased creams and spiffy little hat and returning late afternoon with the usual few spills down my shirt and just enough booze on board to ensure that I fall asleep before dinner. I wouldn't dare suggest she take up bowls because I don't want her falling asleep before dinner.
Reworking her line about women who golf, I tell her there are old men who play bowls and there are old men who have things to do. And what could I say when I ask myself at the end of the day what I have achieved that day? That I have rolled a few balls along a lawn?
That's more than I could say on most days of the week, she says, and so she took to asking me at different times on the following days what I was doing. Secretly, slyly, like a snake in long grass, she kept a record of my responses, and I didn't realise what she was about for the first few days.
What, she asked full of innocent curiosity, was I doing? I'm wondering whether I should remove the tallest branches from the two lemon trees, I told her in genuine innocence. Later she asked again, and I told her I had decided to cut the highest branches out and I was wondering whether to do it one day soon or at the end of winter.
What, the next morning, was I doing? I was trying to work out whether we could go through Quilpie if we managed to get enough time off grandchild-sitting to go caravanning to Queensland this winter. I could, she told me, have a roll up at the Quilpie bowling club. Quilpie wouldn't have a bowling club, I told her. It does, she told me a few minutes later. Early afternoon: I was looking for recommendations for a handyman to do a few jobs around the house. Oh good, she said, that would give me more time for bowls. Mid afternoon: I was thinking about what we could cook for dinner, which brought her concocted sweetness to a sharp end: Don't say WE!
I tell her there are old men who play bowls and there are old men who have things to do.
I have nothing against lawn bowls. Bowlers have never caused me any grief, with the occasional exception of women bowlers who are still driving, and I've had a few beers in the cavernous clubhouse of bowling clubs throughout NSW. Most recently I've had drinks with friends in two Newcastle bowling clubs that are breaking the boring bowling club mould, at Carrington and Mayfield.
And I have two good friends who have become passionate about bowling in the past few years, to my great surprise. I'd seen them as busy in retirement, and now they're busy playing bowls. You never know what's around the corner!
Both in their salad days rebelled against rules and now they're sticklers for a rulebook that could be compiled by only haughty old women and po-faced old men with little to do, and to get a taste of that I've googled it.
Try this from the Guidelines to Etiquette in the Sport of Lawn Bowls: "If you are with someone who is beginning to behave in an inappropriate manner take them aside and calmly remind them of their obligation to display good sportsmanship." Yeah, that'll work. And this: "At the completion of the game the graceful loser should congratulate the modest winner." And this: "Refrain from showing disappointment or enjoyment at bad bowls played by anyone." Bowling would be more lively if bowlers could borrow a few lines from the cricketers' book of sledges, and you could begin by asking your opposition as he stoops to bowl if he knows why his wife is so fat.
These rules are from the women's division but given the declining difference between bowlers of both sexes I'd imagine they're common in at least spirit. Bowlers of the two sexes start to look alike too, you will have noticed.
I'm surprised bowlers aren't promoting their guidelines as a blueprint for all. Here's a ripper: "Often as a result of excessive drinking, bad or offensive language becomes exaggerated. If this situation occurs and you are told to settle down, do not take it personally, simply accept."
I definitely wouldn't want my wife mixing with the people who wrote those rules.
For decades bowlers surrounded by black bowls on a background of green have seemed to be from another universe as I've seen them through the window of a passing car or train, and so have old men, I have to say. I was never going to be one of them, and it may be that staying off the bowling green helps me preserve that illusion.
Jeff Corbett is a former Newcastle Herald journalist. He contributes regular opinion columns to the pages of the Herald each week on Saturday.