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November 2017


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The Innerleven Boolin Club – 5


There aren’t many things in life, of which you can be certain. The list is short. Benjamin Franklin mentions death and taxes. You could probably add another; if you are unemployed, and on the dole, the employment manager will insist that you take any job on offer. You know it’ll be the worst job going! The one that nobody else wants. Like working twelve hour shifts at the local spinning mill.
Refuse, and he will cut your benefit.

One more certainty. If you are a bowling club member, and you wish to hold your head high in bowling society circles, the green must be perfect. Not just smooth, like a snooker table. Perfect! It really must be perfect. This demands a really good green keeper. A man who commands respect.
Innerleven had Roman. Roman Cecielski.

Roman was Polish (no prizes for having guessed!). Like most of that generation of his countrymen, he came over to Scotland during the war, pledged to fight for his country against the Nazis. Having won the war, they found that they had lost their country. Somebody else had stolen it. As a result, many Polish exiles became Scots. Married into the local community and let their families give schoolteachers a hard time with their names. Roman himself had never married. Some said that his entire family was still in Warsaw, and after the war, there they would always remain.
With the exception of a sister who lived in America, Roman was alone.

Roman lived for his bowling green, and it was beautiful. He talked to it, cared for and nourished it, and as a result, it grew like a well loved child. It flourished. Grass can surely understand Polish. Which is more than the schoolteachers could.

Do you know how you can recognise the perfect green? Let me tell you. Go out in the morning, early. It has to be in the autumn, and before the sun comes up. Choose a seat beside the bowling green. One facing the sunrise. It will be the seat that the green keeper always chooses.
Now, just wait for the sun.

The dew will be on the grass. When the sun is low in the sky, it’ll reach out and gently brush the grass. Every drop of dew will light up, and if you hold your head just so, you will see a rainbow. If the green is perfect, you will see only the one.
But if there are any little dips or rises, any tiny imperfections, even a single blade of grass out of place, then the green will be ringed with rainbows. It’s as if the angels were telling you where you could make improvement. I think that the angels were quietly pleased with Roman’s grass, and spent their time, dropping hints up in Lochgelly. (If you have ever played there, then you’ll know that it’s the Lochgelly green, and not the bowls, that has the bias!).

You may well be thinking that Roman was a sad, unimportant little man, not much to look at. You would be wrong! Roman was over six foot in height, blonde, and with the wild look that some Poles have. The one that made the women tremble, just a bit, when they were trying to put a bowl up the length of Roman’s rink. A slight nod from Roman could make a woman’s day. Even Big Mary Hennan would soften her voice when Roman was around.

Not everybody liked Roman.
Mrs Jeffrey had never forgiven him for that day. The day Roman had ordered her off the green. Not wearing the correct footwear.
And Jimmy Dalrymple. He had it in for Roman. For darker reasons. Jimmy was assistant green keeper, and thought that he should be the top man.

Which is where Cathy Fairfull comes into the story.

Jimmy fancied Cathy. He followed her around like a child with no money follows the last ice cream van of the season. Forlorn hope.
Cathy had no interest in him, but Jimmy was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he’d get his hands on a free ice cream cone.

Cathy and Roman were both single, and there was nothing to stop them. Roman would smile at Cathy, and she’d smile back. Just occasionally. I don’t think anybody ever expected it to amount to anything. Roman never took up any of the offers that came his way at the annual dances. Cathy was quiet, and never one to push herself forward.

Jimmy could never understand Cathy’s reluctance to accept his advances. As the Innerleven Bowling Club prepared for the end of the season, and the Annual Dance, he was scheming to win Cathy, and to see Roman driven out of Innerleven! ‘Put out to pasture’. That phrase had Jimmy cackling to himself, every time he thought of it.
The grass paid no attention. It spoke Polish.

In the ways of life, wickedness can always find an ally. Mrs Jeffrey would take on board any gossip that would bring Roman down.
The innocent, as often happens, would carry the knife that would do the deed. Roman’s sister, in America, had sent him a letter, saying ‘Why not come and stay with my family in Michigan?’
She had addressed it ‘care of Innerleven Bowling Club’. Grubby hands had got to it first and opened it. By the time Jimmy and Mrs Jeffrey had twisted its meaning, it began to look as if Roman would be walking out on Innerleven without so much as a by-your-leave. The green would be neglected, and at the worst possible time. The Club Finals were coming up. The weather was doubtful (as usual).
And Roman! He would be gallivanting off to America, leaving Jimmy to carry the burden, all by himself!

That was it! Roman was ordered up in front of the committee (egged on by the grey powers of the Ladies Committee), and told that the Club firmly disapproved of such behaviour. He was to surrender his barrow, and his broom. He must leave the green in more considerate hands. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they would permit Roman to stay for the Annual Dance. That way, it wouldn’t look quite so much like a drumhead court-martial.

Roman never spoke. Just smiled. Jimmy sniggered into his half-pint of shandy.

Come the Annual Dance, everybody wondered if Roman would turn up. Especially Cathy. She had been badly hurt by the way dirt had been flung at Roman. She wore an attractive little dress for the dance. Pale lemon, with long sleeves. Very fetching. It was a simple dress, but that night, on Cathy, it was beautiful. Jimmy ogled her, but one fiery look from Cathy sent him running for a drink to extinguish the flames.
He would bide his time. With Roman gone, it would only be a matter of waiting. He was certain that Roman wouldn’t have the effrontery to show up at the Dance.

The annual Prize Giving was held. Insincere expressions and practised handshakes were exchanged. Trophies large and small. Smiles to match. And still no sign of Roman.

It was getting late. I think Cathy was starting to have a tiny dab at her eyes, when, in came Roman. In a suit, and looking every inch the man! He walked straight across to Cathy. The next dance was his. And the next. If Jimmy had made any plans, then they would have to wait till the morning. The night was for Cathy and Roman.

When twelve o’clock chimed, Cathy and Roman were gone from the dance. No one noticed. Jimmy, by this time, was snoring away in a corner and his wife was considering calling for a taxi to get them home. (Jimmy’s wife, a tiny detail that Jimmy didn’t think was important).

The Bowling Club Finals were to be held the next day. Quite why the finals should be on the day after the Dance and the handing out of the trophies, I couldn’t say. I tend to believe that it was arranged this way, in order to prevent the Dance being spoiled by one smug grin and a lot of sour faces. When it comes to being champion, there can only be one. With everybody sporting a hangover, it meant that anybody might win. It’s my own personal theory, and it may well be the right one. Who knows?

It was the usual ratty, bad tempered set of rinks. Roman made no appearance. Neither did Cathy.
As the new Head Green Keeper, Jimmy became the obvious target for all the ill temper and frustration when the match for the Club Women’s Championship deteriorated into a slanging and a swearing session. Somehow, no matter how hard Big Mary Hennan and Mrs Jeffrey tried to play a bowl on the centre rink, it would wobble in mid run, and head off in some unpredictable direction. Nobody had ever seen a match like it. It was as if the bias on the bowls changed with every end.
By the time somebody had won, nobody cared. As for Jimmy Dalrymple, he would surely have his turn, up in front of the committee. Everybody blamed the green keeper. Nobody would dare blame the players!

If only Jimmy had been up early that morning, and had sat himself down in the seat that Roman favoured. He would have seen, just as the sun rose, that the dew was on the grass, and the centre rink was a riot of rainbows. What looked like a broad, shallow depression, could be seen, with a couple of smaller, deeper dents in the rink, one on each side. If it were not for the rainbows, you would never know that they were there. Plays havoc with bowls, does a dent.

Where did the dents come from? Roman would know. But he wasn’t there. And he was too much of a gentleman to say.

Another letter from America came to the club a few weeks later. All it contained was Cathy’s locker key and a note to say that ‘Mr and Mrs Roman Cecielski would be joining another bowling club. In Michigan.’

I have no proof of this, but I was told that when they opened Cathy’s locker, they found a plain lemon dress in it. With grass stains. On the back. You know how it is with some materials. You just can not get grass stains out without boiling. And boiling ruins the material.

And Roman was a gentleman!

Coming next … Edward & Mrs Simpson

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