Introduced to Britain last autumn, the game is demonstrating a surprising flexibility. Ridiculous enough to appeal to drunken students, it has also proved useful on management training courses. It has a permanent home at Newport's Kingsway Snooker Centre and Arena, where three large human bowling lanes have already been built. At Blackpool's Pleasure Beach Complex you can even play it on ice. Now, there's the Human Bowling Roadshow, organised by Bass Leisure Entertainment and touring all their Hollywood Bowl venues.
Bracknell's Hollywood Bowl provides a distinctly un-American backdrop for the Human Bowling launch. A group of pasty-looking teenagers stare impassively at the large round cage. Eventually, one young boy volunteers and four men help him climb inside the ball. Seated and spread-eagled, his ankles and wrists are strapped tightly to the sides with Velcro. Eight pairs of hands launch him towards the inflated plastic pins 15 ft away. He manages to knock over two.
Uneasy in the knowledge that I have recently consumed a Hollywood Bowl burger and thick shake, I am selected as the next human ball. Velcro-ed into the contraption, I am bowled towards the blow-up pins. Once in motion the course of the ball is unpredictable. I miss the pins completely and instead find myself heading for a large Pepsi machine in the corner. A security guard and two press officers catch me just in time. It feels like a cross between bumper cars and a waltzer, only upside down.
Yet unlike most fairground rides, human bowling doesn't make you feel sick or even slightly dizzy. 'That's because your stomach is the point of gravity so it moves round slowly, even if the ball is travelling fast,' explains Bill Brown, managing director of 4 Leisure Ltd who import the cages and pins. People appear to feel fine, he maintains, even under the influence of alcohol. The main frustration is that, pinned helplessly to the inside of a round object travelling at speed, the participant has very little control. Brown disagrees. 'In America they've got so skilled, they move the top half of their body to steer themselves. By sliding your bottom one way or another you can veer yourself left and right.' Apparently the slimmer you are the better. 'If you're big it's more difficult to wriggle around.' Also, to obtain more speed and a balanced push, the ball should be bowled by two people, one on either side.
Although the Americans believe it's a sport that demands co-ordination and agility, the English are more sceptical. 'Only the Yanks could think up something this daft,' says one onlooker.
Ron Wood, who introduced it to his Newport Snooker Centre last autumn, is about to form the first human bowling league. More and more people are coming each week to play on the 10 x 30 ft lanes, which have a special ramp at one end to increase momentum. 'Although the people in the ball do it more for enjoyment,' he says, 'I think the actual bowlers realise there is a bit of skill involved.'
Just another example of Britain blindly following every bizarre American craze? 'Well, they had a dwarf bowling phase a few years ago,' says Bass Entertainment's Derek Avington. 'But we would never follow that. You have to draw the line somewhere.'
Human Bowling Roadshow dates (0602 240333); Kingsway Snooker Centre and Arena, Newport (0633 264682); Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ice Arena (0253 345248). To buy human bowling cage and pins, 4 Leisure Ltd (0203 221931)
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