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Everyone seemed to enjoy the bowling

Opinion Piece

Ten-pin bowling can tell us a lot about human behaviour, especially at meal breaks.

York — famed for its Roman, Viking and old English history — is not the sort of place you'd immediately associate with ten-pin bowling, but our Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) group had a smashing time there. We were in York for two weeks, billeted with Rotarians for two, three or four nights at a time. During the days and many of the evenings, our hosts showed us as much as they could of the place where my mother and I were born.

I grew up hearing about York Minster, The Shambles, Bootham Bar and the other gatehouses in the city walls, York Rep, Rowntree's and Terry's confectionery, the railway, the Flying Scotsman (it stopped in York, and we boarded it), the Appleby family backyard air-raid shelter, the River Ouse, floods, York City's 1950s FA Cup run, the De Grey Rooms, St Wilfrid's Catholic Church, the sayings of Mum's favourite teacher Mr Varley, the York Castle Museum and the fact I could play cricket for Yorkshire if they picked me (in the days when you had to be born there).

Mum and I came here in 1959, on the last voyage of the immigrant ship Captain Cook, to join Dad. In two visits to Britain since then — in 1978 and 2009 — I had made only fleeting visits to York.

A two-week stay in one city is almost unheard of for an RFE. Normally, teams visit several cities in one Rotary district, staying two or three nights in each. Two weeks in the city of my birth, being hosted and shown around by people who live there, was too good an opportunity to miss.

I recruited my sister Elaine, the only one of six Gillies siblings not to have visited Britain, to be my travel companion, and we were set.

Elaine and I were billeted separately, but we paired up on excursions. One such outing was an evening of ten-pin bowling in the suburb of Clifton Moor.

Our RFE group was 10-strong and with our hosts we made up a party of somewhere between 15 and 20. Included in the cost — and brought to us and laid out on tables — was food . . . chips, sandwiches and four hamburgers. Four.

“Will they be bringing out more food?” I asked one of our hosts.

“Oh yes.”

The other hamburgers should be out soon, I thought, and took one of the four.

I bit off a mouthful . . . mmm.

Then I noticed that people were cutting the other hamburgers in half.

Thinking as I chewed, I offered Elaine half of the burger I was holding. My hunch was that only family would share a burger with a bite out of it, even if I took the bitten half.

She didn't want it.

I sat as inconspicuously as I could and consumed the rest of the world's most delicious burger, hating every mouthful.

Bowling alley staff brought out more food — chips, sandwiches and the like — but no hamburgers.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the bowling. Attendants had walled off the gutters so that wayward balls zigzagged down the lanes to clatter into the pins. But for me, my thoughtless act of gluttony cast a pall over the evening. A word bubble could have hung over my head, comic-strip style: “I'm not a bad person; I'm just inconsiderate”.

The following day we travelled in cars to the old market town of Pickering to catch a North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train to Whitby. At the Pickering station cafeteria, I salved my conscience by giving a slice of apple shortcake to one of our group who had missed out on a piece of hamburger, and she was delighted . . . although she later unobtrusively gave it back to me because she couldn't eat it — I don't know why — and I enjoyed it with a clear conscience.

At Whitby, I visited the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, housed in the building where Cook was lodged as an apprentice seaman, and the Whitby Abbey ruins.

But a more sensory highlight was the fish-and-chip meal, deep-fried in beef dripping fat, I bought at a shop called Hadley's. Whitby has more famous fish-and-chip places but this had the feel of an everyman's establishment. It was busy, the service was quick and the chips and the huge piece of haddock were — how should I say this — perfect.

Food was a recurring theme in our month-long stay in the UK. Traditional English and Scottish breakfasts were a treat, and regional specialities made meals a cultural experience.

Wensleydale cheese takes on a mystical quality when you scoff it down in a toasted sandwich at a pub in Hawes, the village that's home to the Wensleydale Creamery. And who would have thought Derbyshire oatcakes from the restaurant at Kedleston Hall near Derby would have such a scrumptious mushroom-and-bacon filling.

We had an interesting culinary experience in Penzance. With whitebait fritters in mind, Elaine ordered a plate of deep-fried crumbed whitebait. They were more like sardines than the New Zealand version.

My favourite shop sign had a dietary angle, too. It was in a Penzance barbers' window and said simply: Gluten-free haircuts.