But it is croquet, skittles and bowls. In honour of today’s Chap Olympiad, Eddy Frankel rounds up the best of London’s low-intensity retro summer sports.
It may not be the most exciting sport in the world, but croquet’s damn good for innuendo. All that gripping of shafts and thwacking of balls, it’s enough to make even the most seasoned of (mallet) swingers blush. It’s also a fine way to spend an afternoon in the sun. If you fancy smacking the bejesus out of some balls with a big hammer, you’re in luck, because London has no fewer than three croquet clubs. See croquet. org.uk, which has all the info you need to get started, while Croquet East meet once a month in Victoria Park for Pimm’s and games.
Brits certainly know how to add a bit of pomp to sport. Consider the perfectly manicured lawns of Wimbledon,the crisp whites of cricket and the ability to roll an irregular sphere along some turf with grace and quiet elegance. This is the essence of lawn bowls, in which competitors aim their balls towards a jack (we’ve all been there). Whoever gets nearest wins. But quietly, and with dignity: a bit like ‘Countdown’. Also like ‘Countdown’, it’s slow and popular with the elderly, but it’s still great fun. There are many bowling greens across London, including one in Hyde Park (7262 3474). The website openplay.co.uk offers a handy guide to the rest.
‘What eez theez “bowhls”? C’est de la merde!’ is essentially how the French regard our fine game of lawn bowls, because they do things a little differently. The point of pétanque is the same as bowls: get your ‘boules’ closer to the ‘cochonnet’ than your opponent does, but there’s no lawn and certainly no oddly shaped balls. If you lose without scoring any points, it’s called ‘doing a fanny’ and you have to kiss a carving of a woman’s bum. Good work, France! If you want to risk kissing a fanny, harrowpetanque.co.uk is the home of the London association, or head to the pitch at Balls Brothers bar near Tower Bridge.
In rounders, you have to hit a small ball with a bat and then run around a series of bases in order to score points. ‘Hold on,’ you say, ‘isn’t this just a twee version of baseball?’ To which we would firmly reply: ‘Yes.’ The key difference is that rounders uses a smaller bat and that the bases are posts instead of plates, so there’s the ever-present danger of being mortally impaled. If you’d like to chance life and limb in the noble pursuit of meaningless points, roundersengland.co.uk should help, or book the rounders pitches at Parliament Hill (7332 3773) or Regent’s Park (0300 061 2323).
US ten-pin bowling is all about swanky leather shoes, perfectly starched multicoloured shirts, shiny trophies and big, glitzy air-conditioned bowling lanes. The British version? A bunch of blokes throwing a block of wood at some other wood in a pub cellar. Ah, Britain. Skittles used to be hugely popular in London, but is now confined to a single pub in Hampstead, The Freemason’s Arms. The aim is similar to ten-pin bowling, but instead of a ball, you lob a massive wooden disc called a ‘cheese’ at a bunch of pins. Head to londonskittles.co.uk for the lowdown.
The Chap Olympiad
‘It’s the taking part that counts.’ That’s not really true, but it’s a nice idea, and one that’s at the heart of this annual sporting fixture that celebrates ineptitude and etiquette over skill and competitiveness. Organised by The Chap magazine and Bourne & Hollingsworth, it sees stylish participants compete in events such as passing the port, umbrella jousting, bakewell battles and tug of hair. Guests in plimsolls, Lycra, baseball caps or other activewear will not be admitted: it’s strictly amateurs only. The Chap Olympiad Bedford Square, Sat Jul 12.
Sporty type are we? Why not take a look at London’s lidos.