It would be fair to say that Madang is the home of one of the world’s more peculiar sports. The game of Pétanque is played around the world. The rules and regulations are established by a couple of governing bodies, one of which is F. I. P. J. P. (or Fipjip, as it is fondly known). Here in Madang we dispense with most of that and keep it simple. Our speciality is Bush Pétanque.
The rules are fairly simple. You have to stand in the circle, which is drawn by the first player wherever seems to be the most fun. That player throws the “jack” (a special little white ball or a golf ball, in a pinch) wherever whim dictates, except in the water or down a crab hole. Each player in turn tosses the heavy steel boule at the jack, trying to get as close as possible. The score is determined for each round (until no players have any boules remaining) by counting the number of boules of one team which are closest to the jack. One starts at the jack with the closest boule and counts each boule further from the jack until a boule of the other team is found. It’s that simple.
I may have forgotten a couple of rules, but they probably don’t matter. What does matter is form.
Here we see “Master Mike” Cassell demonstrating the epitome of Bush Pétanque style and elegance:
The shot shows Mike in mid-toss.
And this is the “release”, or the “toss-off” as we call it. Note the position of the fingers which allow the boule to glide smoothly from the hand (the underhand toss is the most elegant and effective) and impart the ever so necessary back-spin to prevent the boule from rolling upon impact with the sand, mud or tree stump or whatever it lands on:
Executed to impart sufficient back-spin, the toss should result in the boule landing ker-plunk and not rolling so much as a centimetre. This is, of course, supposing flat ground, of which there is none. This complicates matters considerably.
Nevertheless, Mike’s form is superb. His pièce de résistance is the amazing “levitating release” during which both of his feet leave the surface planet momentarily. Though he demonstrated it several times on Saturday, I was not able to capture it digitally:
The shot above is as close as I got.
Michaela was in excellent form also. Here she approaches the circle with a knowing smile:
Mental preparation is the key.
In the Chinese practice of Pétanque this stance and release is called “The twittering bird of joy lofting from the firm foundation of reality”. It’s characterised by the open-handed release and the firm planting of both feet flat in the circle:
Leaning at a seemingly impossible angle without actually falling down is impressive but hazardous. Some people are just fun to watch when they are having fun.
My approach to Pétanque is very straightforward. A brief prayer of thanksgiving for the game and a fervent request that I not appear too foolish prepares me for my turn:
Really, it only takes a couple of seconds. Geneviève toasts my sincerity while Trevor stifles a giggle.
Now spiritually prepared, my back-swing is relaxed and confident:
My slightly bent knees act as shock absorbers and aid balance. Falling down during the back-swing is very poor form.
My release is casual and sans souci:
And my boule goes straight down a crab hole.
Fortunately, nobody cares who wins.
Note the Orang Utan like length of my ridiculous arms. Really, they are positively simian. Curious about that this morning, I got out a tape measure. Sure enough, my arms are nearly five centimetres longer than my legs. This is not mormal. What’s going on here?
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I’m happy to report that my “run” at the Country Club with Geneviève and Michaela and some other nice, young ladies seems to have done me no damage. I could not find my running shoes, which was no surprise, since I have not seen them for years. I had to make do with some funky old sandals. That was my excuse for poor performance. I knew that I had zero chance of keeping up with these very fit and well toned women, who quite frankly appear to be children to me.
I propelled myself possibly four or five kilometres in total, maybe one kilometre running (okay, okay, jogging) and the rest walking as fast as my stubby legs could carry me. I kept thinking to myself that I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning to feed Sheba. “What am I doing to my dog? I have to stop this right now!”
I’m amazed and profoundly touched by the kindnesses, warmth and caring which has been lavished upon me by these ladies. I think there is some kind of “be nice to your kindly grandfather” thing going on here.
All I know is that I’m not asking any questions.