Strikes and spares . . .

No, this isn’t a commentary on the current state of industrial relations in the United Kingdom, nor a review of Prince Harry’s book that was released a few days ago.

I’m referring to ten pin bowling, of course. I have this trophy proudly displayed in my office. It always brings back so many pleasant memories of my time in Peru.

Not long after I joined the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru in January 1973, the Director General, Richard Sawyer (right) invited me to join the bowling team that the CIP was fielding in the league run by the US mission to Peru.

Unlike the USA, ten pin bowling only took off in the UK from about 1960. Before 1973 I had been bowling on just a handful of occasions. It wasn’t a sport I was particularly interested in. But it was fun.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I readily joined the CIP team whose membership varied from week to week depending on who was in town or traveling. Since much of my own research took me to Huancayo in the central Andes (at 3100 m or just over 10,000 feet above sea level), where CIP was building its highland field station, my active membership of the bowling team was sporadic to say the least.

I’d found an apartment in the Lima suburb of Miraflores, just a stone’s throw from the bowling alley. Very convenient. So on bowling nights, I’d wander down to the alley, and maybe play one or more games, depending on who else had turned up.

It was a mixed league. Richard was the captain (obviously) of the CIP team, and other members included his wife Norma, CIP comptroller Oscar Gil, visiting entomologist from Cornell University, Maurie Semel, British plant pathologist John Vessey (and his wife Marian if my memory serves me well), myself, and perhaps one of two others whose names I do not recall.

It was all very relaxed and enjoyable, and was the first time that I had mixed socially with a group of Americans. They made me feel very welcome. But they were competitive!

At the end of the season we held a dinner and trophies were handed out. Now, my bowling was not particularly accurate or consistent, but somehow I ended up with the trophy for 2nd high game. Remarkable! And it’s the only trophy I have ever won.


When I joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines in 1991, as head of the Genetic Resources Center (GRC), my staff invited me to join them on Saturday afternoons at the local bowling alley where they had grouped themselves into several teams. Yes, it was ten pin bowling but not as I knew it. Wooden bowls and wooden pins that you had to set up manually. But it was great fun, helped along with several San Miguel beers. Here I am in action – on both fronts.

It was also a great opportunity for me to get to know many of my staff away from the office.

Now this reminds of another story. The first weekend after I arrived in the Philippines, and at a loose end, I decided to drive down to the IRRI research center, and check a few things in my office. To my surprise I found almost all the staff working, and essentially waiting for me to show up. Why were they were working at the weekend, I asked. Apparently my predecessor, Dr TT Chang, expected them in every weekend, and they assumed I would want the same. No way! I told them to go home. Weekends were for family, for relaxation, charging batteries, and if, on any occasion, I needed them to come into the office at the weekend, I’d could ask and hope they would reciprocate. (Which they always did, I hasten to add).

Well, a few weeks later (after we’d started the bowling competition) I received a phone call from one of my colleagues, Dr Kwanchai Gomez (a rather difficult character to say the least), former head of IRRI’s statistics unit, and currently assistant to the Director General. She told me that some visitors from Manila would be at IRRI the following Saturday afternoon, and she expected the genebank to be open to show them around. I politely told her the genebank would be closed, and no staff would be available. She was dumbfounded. This was unheard of at IRRI. No-one took Saturdays off. But I wasn’t going to tell her we would be at the bowling alley enjoying ourselves.

The weekend working spell in GRC had been broken, once and for all.


I’ve never been a sporty type – even though I like winning. I’ve never relished competitive team games like football, rugby, and the like. Sports at school were a nightmare. At university I played squash for a couple of years, and a little badminton. But just for the exercise. I even took up badminton once again at IRRI from about 2005 until my retirement in 2010. And tennis in the early days, but didn’t keep that up.

On the badminton court with (L-R) Corinta, Vhel, and Yeyet from the DPPC office at IRRI.

I don’t know why I didn’t take more advantage of the swimming pool at IRRI Staff Housing pool (below), like Steph did almost every weekday throughout the 19 years we lived there. I guess I must have used the pool regularly for only the last five or six years.

I continued to swim regularly after we returned to the UK until the Covid pandemic struck in 2020 and the local pool in Bromsgrove was closed. Then we moved to the northeast, and there’s no pool conveniently local.

But the sport (if you can call it a sport) I did take to with relish was scuba diving. And the Philippines was just the place to do so. Starting in 1993 until retirement, I made 356 dives, all at Anilao, some 95 km south from IRRI.

Diving at Anilao.

Now that we are living just east of Newcastle upon Tyne, we are only 5 miles at most, and not more than about 10 minutes from the North Sea coast. At various locations along the coast there are reportedly some impressive diving sites. But having been spoiled by diving in warm tropical seas, the cold North Sea holds no allure for me. In any case I would also have to re-certify as a dry suit diver.

So now my regular exercise is a daily walk, weather permitting, and at a pace that’s appropriate for my age and level of fitness. I’m not out to break any records. It’s never a race.


 

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