I am off to Cardiff this morning to take my five year old to a US style ten pin bowling alley and this has started me wondering about skittles. It is a game I remember fondly as I used to get bribed with lemonade and crisps to set up the pins when people played after rugby on Saturday afternoons when there was an alley at the old "Old Illt's" club.
It turns out that Skittles or Nine Pins is indeed the forerunner of 10 pin bowling and all forms of Skittles feature projectiles being propelled from one end of an alley in an effort to knock down nine pins stood in a square at the other end. I have been delighted to learn though that that is about all that many of the games do have in common, though, and over the years, Skittles developed regional variations in skittle size and shape, skittle alley length, use of a kingpin, size and shape of the balls and the rules began to vary quite radically.
Old English Skittles or London Skittles is a majestic sounding game in which the alley is around 21 feet, the bomb-shaped pins are 14 1/2 inches high, 6 1/2 inches across the middle (3 inches diameter at either end) and weigh 9 pounds. The discus-shaped cheese, which is used instead of a ball, is enormous varying from 8 1/2 to 12 inches in diameter and weighs between nine and twelve pounds. None-the-less, the cheeses are hurled with the objective of hitting the skittles directly without touching the floor first. The game is now very rare but can still be played at the Freemasons Arms in Hampstead and at the Powerleague Norbury. Norbury SW16 5QN ought to be in striking distance for me I think.
The Welsh version is more sedate and apparently conventional, but there is plenty of variation in Wales as well. Welsh players tend to use thinner pins than those used in England. The styles can vary but often they are thin with a nobble on top. 10 inch pins tend to be used in the Glamorgan while 8 inch pins are often found in the Rhonda and 9 inch pins are popular around Newport. How's that for bloody mindedness?
You can buy your Welsh skittle supplies here. Better than that American rubbish any day I say. Skittles for the cousins next time. It is their heritage. I wonder if there is an EC grant available.