Is there something missing in your life? Get a set of mini carpet bowls

New Statesman

I am walking past the charity shop when I see something in the window. I shop here regularly: the Aquascutum jacket that made A Certain Person furious ("Someone's doing well for himself." "But I got it from Sue Ryder for fifteen quid!" "Another one of your lies", etc.); a pair of apparently brand-new ladies' boots for, well, a lady; an overcoat; a few shirts; a Titian that someone had dropped off thinking it was something from Athena . . . Anyway, I pop in often enough for them to happily offer me a discount for cash, assuming the right lady is at the till. You may question the ethics of taking a cash discount from a charity shop but having twigged that they're in W1, not Bethnal Green, they've hoiked their prices higher and higher to the extent that I begin to wonder whether it might not be cheaper to buy some of the stuff new.

Borstal boy

Anyway, they do a nice line in jokey tat, which they put in the front window. This is the kind of stuff that comes their way after Person A has bought Person B a pair of bookends in the shape of matching porcelain Pekinese dogs either because Person A is borderline certifiable, or loathes Person B with a subtle passion and looks forward to seeing B's face when B opens the package and then looks into the blank, abysmal depths of the porcelain Peke's eyes.

On the next shopping day after Boxing Day, B hotfoots it down to the charity shop and the whole dismal merry-go-round begins again. (For my own part, if I despised someone so much that I was prepared to spend money upsetting them, I think I'd rather pay someone down the pub a few quid to brain them with a sock stuffed with batteries. But that's just the borstal boy in me coming out.)

Yet, what is sitting in the window now is nothing disgusting or twee. My eye lasers past the Marmite jar teapot, the flying-V twin-necked electric ukuleles, the Alcoholics' Anonymous Twelve-Step Monopoly board and the Bernard Ingham cruet set, and lights instead on a small racing-green cardboard box, with gilt lettering on it proudly proclaiming the imprimatur of Townsend Croquet Limited of Frinton-on-Sea; and within a set of mini carpet bowls: eight scaled-down versions of lawn bowls and a white jack.

I do not need to think about this. The ancient Persians, it is said, never made an important decision when drunk without reconsidering it when sober, and, by the same token, never made an important decision sober without thinking about it drunk later on; but I do not have time to get drunk and then see if the temulent decision matches the clear-headed one. Bitter experience has taught me that if I dither about the purchase of something possibly desirable from the charity shop, someone else will snap it up. I have only a fiver in my pocket, but I have a hunch that this is going to be the best fiver I have ever spent.

Actually, it turns out that they cost a tenner and the assistant makes a joke about the look on my face, but I fossick around in my pockets and manage to make up the shortfall.

Reader, if there is something you feel that is missing in your life, if, like Neo in The Matrix, you can sense that there is a deeper purpose being withheld from us, look no further: buy a set of carpet bowls the instant you see one. (I have since discovered you can get them for as depressingly little as 99p on eBay.)

Slippery slope

Now the thought of the good people of Frinton-on-Sea, that haven for the superannuated that only allowed its first pub to be built in AD 2000, whiling away the rainy afternoons playing games of mini carpet bowls does have something of it that recalls Dudley Moore's Aunt Dolly playing snap, making Peter Cook think of suicide; but under the right conditions mini carpet bowls is - and I do not use the word lightly - addictive.

The bowls themselves are properly biased, so tactics come into play. There is also the peculiar challenge caused by the Hovel Slope - I like to think of it as a continuation of the famous Lord's Slope a mile or so up the road - and the nature of the carpet. Perhaps one should more properly compare the game to crown-green bowling, which is played on undulating or uneven greens, and is popular in Scotland, Wales and Shropshire, where nowhere is flat enough.

Contests so far have been between myself and various women, and the disturbing thing is that they are all better at it than me. I have simplified the rules somewhat, but as games don't tend to start until after closing time for some reason, this is just as well. It is endlessly thrilling and I am negotiating TV rights. Hovel Bowls. You read it here first.