Bowling in one form or another has always been in my life. Back in Wisconsin, USA, where I was born, I played ten-pin bowling – I was good too. Which is why, when my knees couldn’t take the strain of golf any more, my wife suggested we try indoor bowls. 

The story of how I came to be living in Harlow, and playing bowls at Tye Green, is just one part of what’s been an interesting life. I first visited England in 1952 when based at Wethersfield near Braintree while serving in the US Air Force. At the airbase was a church. Having a baritone voice, I sang in the choir. I was young, and flirting outrageously with the female organist was what any twenty-something would do in my situation. I started courting the young lady in question and then in 1955, after returning to America, I began the process of bringing her over to Wisconsin so we could marry. However, I was one of ten children born to a strong mother with matriarchal tendencies. Within two years the strain of being away from her family and clashing with my mother was too much for my wife. Upon my return from a business trip I found a letter explaining that she had gone back to England, taking our five-month-old son with her.

I followed her to England to try and talk her round. During this time I met and got chatting to an old acquaintance – the youngest of the brothers who owned Crittall Windows. He questioned why I had returned. After duly explaining, he offered me a job as a way of helping me out of the predicament I was in. My wife agreed it was a good idea. I quickly learned the trade and was soon responsible for the invention of a modular window system utilised in the wealth of new schools being built. I was promoted to chief draftsman; however, being desk-bound didn’t suit me. 

I applied for a new job, explaining in detail why I was looking for a change. Several days later the Crittall chauffeur arrived summoning me to head office. I was ushered to the office of a director who proceeded to present me with my job application letter! I’d inadvertently applied for a job at the parent company of Crittall. Luckily I got the job and was credited with designing the structure that formed the basis of the modernist west window of Coventry Cathedral. However, a project redesigning the shopfronts for all 1,027 Boots the Chemist branches – which included a site visit to each and every one – left my brain at saturation point; I needed a complete career change. 

Ten-pin bowling: a passion of mine and the latest American import, with alleys springing up all over the place. I was offered a senior management role at one such venue in Harlow. As was par for the course, the Harlow Development Corporation offered me a home. I jumped at the chance – it was a step up from our two-up two-down in Braintree. 

After a few years, as was becoming the norm, I sought out yet another occupation. This time it was lorry driving. I settled right into it and bought my own lorry. It meant time away from my wife and family, but the lucrative contracts (moving high-value cargo with police escorts all over Europe) made it worthwhile. Sadly, one journey met with a sticky end, when unbeknown to me an additional three tonnes of Sellotape was poorly loaded, the result being my lorry overturned. I spent the next nine days recovering in hospital and – since my wife insisted ‘no more lorry driving’ – contemplating my next career move. I was so impressed with what the paramedics had done for me that at the age of forty-two I joined the ambulance service. I worked all over Essex and spent my final years prior to retirement serving in Harlow.

Mentally I was too young to fully retire. So while chauffeuring members of the Magic Circle and coach-driving Muslim grooms from London’s East End to their wedding ceremonies up north, I slowly eased myself into it. This enabled me to spend more time at home, which brings me back to how I started playing bowls at Tye Green Bowls Club. Such was the popularity of bowls that when I first visited the club it had 1,800 members and a waiting list for the waiting list. In 1991 I was in the company of the Essex County President while he was playing bowls. In the midst of a game he suffered a heart attack. With my training I was able to keep him stable, saving his life, before an ambulance arrived. I promise there was no agenda when, on my next encounter with El Presidente, we chatted about Tye Green Bowls Club and how my wife and I hoped to join one day. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, he pulled some strings and got us into the club. 

 

Harlow’s been good to me and my family. My son and grandson have built a successful business for themselves in the town. I’m now eighty-five and little has held me back in life; not even the incurable lung cancer I’ve been living with for over a year, the same illness that took my dear wife five years ago. I could have treatment but it won’t change the prognosis – I reckon I’m better off as I am. I’ve had a good life; no regrets whatsoever.

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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