Ninety-five-year-old Kathleen Cummins is the team captain.
At least, that’s what her teammates say, though she’s reluctant to claim the title for herself.
“She is, yeah,” says Nuala McEneff, rising from her seat.
“You are,” McEneff says, rushing off to the far end of the long, green lane and picking up a ball about the size of a grapefruit.
Cummins sits on a chair by the wall today, next to the scoreboard. She almost didn’t come in – she wasn’t feeling well – but her daughter convinced her.
“Think of all the fun you would have missed, Kathleen,” says Lillie Minto, another teammate, sitting beside her.
They’ve been doing this every Monday afternoon for 14 years.
The game they’re playing is bowls. Sometimes it’s played outside, on a lawn, but the Rialto crowd play indoors, in a big gymnasium with a wooden floor, on lanes they roll up after every practice.
There are two teams of four people. Each team has a colour: brown or black. They take turns rolling the bowls towards a small white ball, called a jack, placed on a white line at the far end of the lane.
The closer the bowls drift to the white ball, the better. “I don’t want to be overcomplicating it, but actually, if you touch it, it’s a bonus,” says Michael Delamere, one of the team’s long-time players.
McEneff is up next. “I always liked a bit of sport,” she says, but didn’t have time for it while raising her children.
The Monday bowlers are all members of the Rialto branch of Active Retirement, a national voluntary organisation for older people.
There’s only one requirement to join, says Michael Kelly, chairperson of the Rialto branch. “We’re all over 55. Only just!”
Lillie Minto is up next. She steps onto the black mat at the end of the lane, crouches down, and takes a step forward with her left foot. She gently lets the ball go, and it arcs down the lane.
“Kathleen, two brown,” someone calls from across the room, a few minutes later.
Cummins rises from her chair and picks up a nub of white chalk with her pink manicured fingers. She hunches over the scoreboard.
Cummins, along with a few others, started up the team in 2005. They’ve had a few different venues over the years. But for the last five or so, they’ve played here, at the F2, a family resource centre in Rialto.
They play friendly matches with other groups. The next one is coming up on 9 October. They have proper jerseys now, sponsored by a Centra shop nearby.
“We have old time dancing, and we also have line dancing on a Thursday. We have day trips and annual holidays, so there’s lots going on all the time,” says Therese Ryan, secretary of Active Retirement Rialto.
“It’s a very active area, actually. I don’t think people realise just how active it is,” Ryan says.
Cummins, the scorekeeper, says she does something every day, for at least an hour or two. “I play here of a Monday, and I go to the sewing class of a Tuesday.”
Then there’s armchair aerobics and line dancing. “I love the dancing,” Cummins says.
Ryan bustles down to the scoreboard side of the room, after taking a turn.
“Black is looking very sad at the moment … I’ve never seen it so bad. What are we? Three nil, three nothing.”
Overall, though, it’s really good, she says. “It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your legs. It’s good socially. It’s good for everything, as far as I’m concerned,” she says.
“Anything you do, if you do it in a group, is good. Especially at our age now.”
Ryan says there are a few widows on the team. Her partner died last year.
She kept going, making sure to do something every day, she says. “Actually, I did more last year than I’ve ever done before, and it just got me over the hill.”
Ryan says she’s met a lot of neighbours she never knew she had.
“Ooh, nice one, Pat!” she says, over the sound of applause. “Toucher! That’s called a toucher, and it’s very exciting.”
Towards the end of the afternoon, Cummins rolls a few bowls, filling in for someone. There’s a debate over whether it’s her turn again.
“That’s enough, we don’t want you falling over. Isn’t that right,” Ryan says.
“Where’s your water?” Ryan asks.
“And they’re telling me I’m the boss?”
Ryan asks again where her water is.
“I ran out of vodka.”
They laugh and chat about who’s getting a lift with whom as they make their way out of the gym and towards the front doors, breaking into groups as they walk through the drizzle to waiting cars.