John joined the North London Bowling Club in 1987, and for all of his 30 years of membership he was a major player both on and off the Green. Quiet, introverted, reluctant to express an opinion – none of these words describe John Howes.
John’s outgoing personality made him a great recruiter for the club – whether it was people he met socially or those who, out of curiosity, wandered in through the bowling club gate. John would enthuse about the game, give them a tour of the clubhouse, and happily serve alcohol to total strangers with cheerful disregard for the restrictions on our bar licence.
Bowlers of my vintage remember John as a great mentor – always ready to teach new bowlers, encouraging them as they got to grips with the game, and giving positive advice during a match.
And when not actually playing himself, John was a keen spectator – providing an often critical running commentary at a volume loud enough to exasperate players at both ends of a rink. Even the north London midges can only manage to irritate players at one end of the Green!
John was as generous with his time off the Green as on it. He was a notably long serving and diligent Bar Manager, clocking up long hours as mein host. The Bar is the biggest source of club income after subscriptions, and John would spend hours hunting down and collecting supplies at the best prices which would deliver the most profit for the club.
For 7 years, until November last year, John audited the club’s accounts, a vital role in maintaining its charitable status. And his lasting achievement was the creation of the Tuesday Night League with its accompanying buffet supper – a brilliantly successful combination of the Hong Kong pairs bowling format and a social event which did so much to build relationships and foster club spirit.
As for the menu devised by John, I don’t see a representative of the British Ham Industry here but they owe him a great debt of gratitude.
What of John’s own bowling achievements? The Honours Boards at North London tell their own story. John won the Mens Championship once, the handicap three times, the 2-woods three times, and the men’s pairs twice.
His greatest and most remarkable club success came in 2004 when he reach five club finals and won them all – including the Men’s championship, handicap, 2-woods, and pairs. As John said later, “at the end of that weekend they had to scrape me off the Green.”
John’s greatest representative success came in August 2009 when the North London Four of John, John Casale, Alan Harman and Jimmy Paveling – runners up in the County fours – represented Middlesex at the All England Finals held on the famous Worthing Greens.
Not much fancied by anyone, on Monday they beat Gloucester in the morning, and Cornwall in the afternoon. On Tuesday they beat Cumbria in the morning, and Kent in the afternoon. They were through to the last four.
On Wednesday morning disaster struck. John had broken his spectacles, leaving him with only one usable lens. It is not a good idea to play a national semi final with a one eyed lead bowler. The team lost to Devon 13-21, but had achieved a remarkable run.
Perhaps I can conclude with a personal recollection. If you were skipping against John you would leave the Green with perforated eardrums. As his team played their woods John would encourage every bowl. “They won’t like that!” was one of his favourites. When it was his turn to play, John’s bowl would only be halfway down the rink before he would call after it with utter confidence, “That’s the guvnor.” And if the unthinkable occurred and his bowl stopped short he would ask in disbelief, “How did that happen?”
In 2010 John’s overall contribution to the club was rightly recognised by the award of Life Membership – a rare distinction and in his case richly deserved. He was a giver rather than a taker, who derived much pleasure from the friendships at the club which he had helped to foster.
Without John, the North London bowling green will be that much quieter, but the lights in the clubhouse will be that much less bright.
Tony Kerpel MBE