In a week when we had our new irrigation system installed there was a certain irony in having some of the heaviest rain of the summer. There could hardly have been a bigger contrast between the weather conditions for our various games, but it wasn’t just the weather that was mixed – our results were up and down, with a couple of real downers to match the downpours.
On Tuesday, for the home game against Heaton Victoria in the Nines, the majority of the team were wearing shorts and the sun lingered almost until the final ends. The triples and fours built reasonable leads early on, though if the general wisdom worked whereby a visiting team aims to restrict the home side in the early ends, Heaton Vic should have felt pleased with being only four down on each of these rinks at the half-way point (10-6 and 9-5). However, in the next nine ends both the triples and fours almost precisely doubled their scores to 20-13 and 17-9) and that seemed to reflect the general play.
While those two rinks made 37 shots between them the pairs were determined to get some good practice for Top Club games, and racked up 37 points on their own. The game was pretty well over after nine ends (17-2), and one remarkable detail was that, apart from a single on the first end (limited to one shot anyway) there was not another end where Steve and Malcolm scored only one; there were seven threes, which at this level is pretty rare. So that meant another 8-0 win in the league, and we are now third in the table.
The next night was rather different, in that it was a first visit for many of us to the Gosforth Central club. Light rain set in late afternoon, and it was a damp evening on a green that would be heavy at the best of times. We were down on several rinks early on, but it was good to see the new bowlers in the team being able to adjust, and to keep the home team’s scores down to sensible proportions. Thus it was that Steve Bennett’s rink was 1-10 down after seven ends, but back to 10-10 after twelve and although they ultimately lost by four shots it was a great holding operation. Ken’s rink was 3-14 down after nine ends but still managed to come back, winning all the last six ends but finally wishing there had been one more as they lost 16-17.
The rinks skipped by Brian Norman (29-11) and Trevor (25-9) each managed two runs of five consecutive ends, but in a way the most important element of the night was the way that the rinks which lost kept their games so close. After six ends the aggregate shots read 12-21, and the pivot-point came on ends nine (29-32) and ten (35-33), increasing in our favour thereafter to 86-57. So that made for ten points on the night, keeping us well clear at the top. Now there is a big game on Tuesday against Innisfree, in second place, 18 shots behind us with a game in hand – since they won their match on Tuesday with only 80 shots (42-38) in a match of 84 ends, one can only assume that it was abandoned as a result of the rain.
For the rest of the week we might rather have preferred that our competitive matches had fallen prey to the weather. Even on the Wednesday the ladies had lost 0-12 to Ponteland, who clearly had a point (or 12) to prove after their defeat at Elvaston earlier in the season. Just to make things worse, league leaders Burradon lost 0-12 to lowly Chirton, so quite apart from missing a chance to get within a few points of the leaders we can now see the chasing pack in the wing mirrors. A couple more wins should be enough for safety, all the same.
In the West Tyne league we were looking to bounce back from last week’s 1-6 reverse at Prudhoe, but apart from being level on one rink with one end to go we never looked much like getting even that one point against Hexham House B. There was a tale of woe on every rink, and with some justification we could say that any wicks or rubs went the way of the visitors, but even so there was little to be cheerful about, and all four rinks lost by something between three and seven shots. So after last year’s League and Cup double, we are now languishing in fifth place of the seven teams, and that by just half a point!
It was possible to say, or at least think, that some of us had our minds elsewhere, more precisely on the Top Club match at Shap on Friday, where we were to meet Heaton Hall from Manchester, but if that was the case, it just showed that we should have been more focussed on the job in hand, as the outcome in Cumbria wasn’t very good either. The weather over there was dreadful, with buffeting gusts of wind bringing heavy squalls of rain. You can always say that it is the same for both teams, but in fact, apart from the fact that anyone from Lancashire is obviously more used to playing in the wet than we are, it’s also true that the more experienced you are at top levels, the more you will have had to play in difficult conditions.
This all became painfully clear as the night went on, with Heaton Hall boasting six internationals in their team of eleven. In four previous rounds our two singles players had lost just one match, and that on the last end. Here both lost, so we were immediately in a position of needing to win all three of the team disciplines. The pairs held up very well, and were separated by just a couple of shots for most of the game. The triples, with Darren back in action, also stayed very close, but then fell behind 11-15. However, at this point, and with the pairs now 14-12 up, it became obvious that the fours were going down to a heavy defeat. They had started well enough, scoring a four to off-set losing a five, but the turning point came at 7-11, as they were lying four shots – which was when the Heaton Hall skip played his best bowl of the night to draw the shot. From 7-12 we never got another shot and at 7-26 raised the white flag. This meant a 1-4 defeat, but we should never forget that we got to the quarter-final stage for the north of England, and had some great experiences on the way.
There were yet other games to go at advanced stages of County competitions. Jean and Shelagh won the final of the ladies’ pairs, and will be at Leamington at the same time as Northumberland’s Middleton Cup team – some vocal support from the men, no doubt! However, in the men’s semi-finals we had trouble with the number 14. First, Steve Bennett (singles) got marooned after leading Alan Stewart 14-11. On the next end he was lying two very close shots, so Alan burnt the end; then, two ends later at 14-13, Steve was again lying shot with a bowl just inches from the jack when Alan managed a trail for four shots – all of which led to a 14-21 result. Then Keith, Matthew and Philip had a really close and exciting match against a Gosforth trio led by Peter Duffy, and after finishing level on 14-all went to an extra end, where they were holding two before a riotous wick meant they lost by one shot, 14-15. Hard luck, lads, but these runs in the county championships have been a fabulous effort and have really put the club back on the map. Well done, all.