Everyone loves a visit to Tenterden… I was here, only two weeks ago, with my grandson, for a ride on the steam railway. On match day, the Blind Bowling Group all arrive early to wander around and have a snack (nothing too substantial, as there is a lovely tea to look forward to). When Bruce, who hadn’t started to bowl this time last year, said he wanted to buy some carrot seeds, Ann and Peter B told him there was a great shop (at the steam train end of the high street) – of course there is, Webb, the Ironmonger, per the sign, and my family never visits Tenterden without going in there. An Aladdin’s cave – I am no gardener, but I could be - if I was allowed to buy some of those impressive tools, hanging on the wall as you enter the shop. We all made purchases, you have to, something will always catch your eye!

I digress. The town itself is an attraction, but as soon as we neared the green, there were Tenterden and RBBG members arriving and, at once, it was like meeting old friends - which is what it is. And only too pleased to be able to help Sue and Sylvia carrying the raw materials of that tea from the car to the clubhouse!

We were stretched, this year, for players, with a number of regulars sidelined for a variety of reasons, mainly health issues (including Maurice’s late injury at his allotment)! We wish all our casualties a speedy return to the fold. I had advised Tenterden’s Captain, Ray, on the phone that we might be a player short , but his response was that we would work around whatever number we turned up with. Which was eleven and a half players! Ray said we would play the four triples as planned, with our ’half’ in place for the first half till tea, then readjust, as necessary. It made sense.

Hans, Bruce and Barbara made a near perfect start, on rink 1, mainly single shot wins - but 6-1 up, after six ends. Doug, Mary and Andrea came back with five shots in the next two ends, so that the match was tied, 6-6, at tea. Another two tight ends and our hosts led 8-7… then the hammer blow as they took eight shots in the eleventh end. From 7-8, we were suddenly trailing 7-16. The rest of the match was tight, but with Tenterden still picking up shots - they took victory at 22-8. In several ends, RBBG made the home side work hard, with good bowling, but our good positioning was rarely close enough to holding the jack and, in Andrea, the hosts had an expert skip, who was just too good for us. A game that had looked so close, and was for all but one end.
Rink 4 was also tied at the halfway point, 5-5, and RBBG even took the lead in the next end at 6-5, but Peter, Jill and David had the better of the second half to lead 14-9 with one end to play. As they were the last to finish, I was able to watch RBBG try to pull a big end out of the bag, on the last, and in an impressively grouped head we were holding three till David threaded a great wood through into second, and we were not able to change that. So it was a victory at 14-10, for our hosts, but it was still a very decent performance from Trudy, Chris, Peter B and Penny.

Rink 2 was even tighter, another tied match at half way at 8-8, then 10-10 after twelve ends, 11-11, after fourteen ends, single shot wins for eight ends in a row. Jenny, Joy and Carol made the decisive move in the penultimate end, securing two shots to lead 13-11. Geoff, Marian and Tom could only pull back one in the final end, to lose 12-13, but it was a fantastic match. I had looked across quickly coming up to the interval and saw a couple of Marian’s, woods close to the jack, plus another couple of woods with markings I recognised and I thought we were building a cricket score. At the interval I discovered those ‘familiar’ woods were Marian’s old set of 00s which Tom had fetched from the car when Jenny had discovered she had left her own woods at home. Jenny’s sight was beginning to fail last year and Hans had left a string for her to use. She said she has been struggling, but it didn’t look like it to me! Those little woods were sitting pretty, close to the jack pretty often when I looked! Well done, Jenny! Even if you were scoring against us, the members of RBBG are familiar with the road you are treading now.

Which leaves the Captain’s rink, the only match that was not tied at halfway with Tenterden leading 7-4. Bizarrely, it proved to be the only winning RBBG match so the day’s RBBG rink honours went to Bella, David and Brian. There was a lot of good bowling from Bella, David, Anne, Bill and in particular, Captain Ray, but the luckiest bowling was from RBBG’s Captain Brian. Very much more by luck than judgement shots that might have gone terribly wrong had a favourable outcome, through wicks or promotions, and they helped RBBG achieve a rather flattering 14-10 win.

But the actual result was never the most important thing, all the matches were played in the most generous of spirits, and none so than the goodwill towards Bella. After all her trial, she had been determined to play a full match and how fitting that it should be at Tenterden, where the Blind Bowlers had played their first ever match in 1990, and Bella was playing that day, as well. Whilst we were down to our bare bones on the day, and it was planned that Bella would stop playing after half a match, Brian would never have allowed her to continue had she been giving any indication of distress, but she was looking in good shape, determined (as always) to bowl through. What looked to be a tired first wood, in the fourteenth end, was followed by two delightfully played woods, no way could we talk her off the green there. Bella’s broadest of all smiles at the end, said it all – she had done it and how could we have ever doubted her! The Tenterden players shared her pleasure, too, a lovely finish to the day, reflecting the warmth and generosity we enjoy on our visits. (And a check the next morning confirmed she had no physical problems as a result of her exertions, and you could still hear her purring down the line!)

We had hugely enjoyed our visit (and that tea, thank you, Sue and Sylvia) and to think that when we reformed as RBBG, in 2008, my first inclinations were to wonder if I really needed the bother of matches with other clubs! The roll-ups, the internal competitions, the group’s social life, would all be great still, I am sure, but these matches with sighted clubs are the final pieces in the jigsaw that makes this group the fantastic unit it is, and we really appreciate the lovely people who turn out to play us.