The first time I ever went tenpin bowling was in 1963 at the Top Rank Lanes on Kirkstall Road, which had just opened. I remember it well as I was 13 years old and more studious than athletic, so ended up being stiff for days afterwards.
The last time I went bowling was last night and guess what, I am aching in places I didn’t even know were there. It is reassuring to realise that I still have muscles to ache, but I wish they wouldn’t. When I say that my first visit was on Kirkstall Road, we are not talking about the bowling centre currently situated in Cardigan Fields but the one whose premises are now occupied by Yorkshire Television. The next time you go out of Leeds towards Kirkstall Abbey, just take a look to your right and you’ll see that there’s a small square building belonging to YTV just before you get to the huge main studios. That was the very first bowling alley in Leeds and one of the first in the country. Downstairs was the Top Rank Bowl and upstairs Silver Blades Ice Rink.
Pretty soon more bowling alleys opened. The second one was Excel Bowl in the Merrion Centre, closely followed by Headingley – I wonder how many people shopping at Sainsbury’s realise that the floor above them used to thunder to the sound of pins being scattered in all directions – and Seacroft.
In those early days, a visit to the Merrion Centre Bowl was an awe-inspiring thing as it comprised 42 lanes all on one level, making it feel like a huge underground cavern full of noise. For some reason, I remember that every time I went there in the early days I would hear the string introduction to ‘You’re My World’ by Cilla Black floating up the steps to meet me.
In the mid sixties I discovered girls and coffee bars, so I took a sabbatical from my bowling career to concentrate on wasting my youth in other directions. Great decision! Fast forward to the eighties and a work colleague asked me if I would like to play for his bowling team as one of the other members had been taken ill. This led to eight or nine years of playing three times a week in various leagues and in competitions at weekends. The Excel Bowl had by now become AMF Bowling and the number of lanes had shrunk from 42 to 30. In 1990 I retired for a second time and, unlike Frank Sinatra, this one was permanent, until I was asked by Leeds Living if I would like to go to review my old stomping ground, which has now been rebranded as Tenpin. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
When I reached the bottom of the staircase leading down to the lanes I was struck – pardon the pun – by two things; the absence of Cilla, and a familiar smell which took me straight back to my youth. Aromas can be so evocative and the scent of the oil used to dress the lanes was far more appealing than anything Chanel could knock out. At this point I began to grow scales and walk on all fours, realising that I had instantly morphed into a dinosaur. I was a bit early so had a wander around the place to look for the notice board with the league tables and scores displayed so that I could see if anyone was as good as I used to be, in my dreams.
The manager, a really nice chap called Christian, said that there were no leagues anymore except for a senior citizens’ one on Friday mornings. I felt too old even for that. As I took in more of the surroundings I noticed that the number of lanes has now been reduced even further to 26, four of them having been replaced by a football game with a goal being used for target practice. There were several other hi-tech arcade games, along with a couple of air hockey boards and two pool tables. There was also a bar and restaurant to keep your strength up.
The food on offer is just what you want for a night out challenging your friends and colleagues to one of the above mentioned activities. It wasn’t fine dining but the sharing platters have everything you need with burgers, onions, chicken bites, garlic bread fries and lattice fries on the Lanes Classic Menu. There is a Lanes Vegetarian option with spicy bean burger replacing the meat one and breaded mushrooms instead of the chicken. The Lanes Ultimate caters for diners of both persuasions. There are several other options, as you would expect, all of which are finger food to enable you to keep striking, potting or scoring whilst refuelling. The bar has a good selection of beers, ciders, bottles and soft drinks.
I have to say that I was far more efficient at demolishing the beer and sharing plate items than I was at destroying the pins. Sadly, on the lanes my mind was making promises that my body couldn’t keep. I still had a great time and I soon remembered why I love this game and so, as I couldn’t be competitive, I was able to provide a bit of coaching to those who wanted it and it was great to see their improvement. Were I younger, or even just fitter, I would like to bowl a bit more often but I doubt that my competitive instinct could be suppressed enough to allow me to play for fun, rather than to take it much more seriously.
Should you wish to experience the fun and games at Tenpin, it is situated in the Merrion Centre opposite the Leeds Arena and is open from 11.00am each day (10.00am on Friday and Saturday) until Midnight (11.00pm Sunday and Monday)
Check out the website for more details and a booking form. https://www.tenpin.co.uk/our-locations/leeds/
Now, if you will excuse me I’ll get out the lineament and work out how to rub it into my back when my arms aren’t yet working.
Unless otherwise stated, photographs are by Stan Graham.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.