Ways of seeing: Croquet offers new diversion

This past year I got a croquet set for Christmas. I know, I know, croquet? The name conjures up images of British aristocrats playing on manicured lawns and upper class gentry at exclusive garden parties. While I am neither of these things, I was excited about my croquet set. As December is not an ideal time to play lawn games it had been languishing beside the couch for more than four months. While waiting for the snow to melt I looked up a little about croquet because I had never in fact played before.

From the vast resources I scoured (Wikipedia) I gathered that it emerged in its modern form in England (which I had already guessed), but there are rival theories as to where and from what game it evolved, as there are many ancient games with “balls and mallets.” It had its heyday in the 1800’s — croquet clubs abounded, and it travelled as most things did back then to all the British colonies. While it is not a hugely popular sport, or even what most people would consider a competitive sport, did you know croquet was played in two Olympic Games? It also has regular world championships and international matches. Armed with the knowledge that I could someday join a competitive croquet club if I proved myself, I was ready to play my first ever croquet game.

For Mother’s Day this year I bullied everyone into setting it up and playing a game with me. My set came with a thin pamphlet with the rules on it, but we deferred to my Dad who had played when he was a kid and apparently was “pretty good.” We did refer to the chart that showed how to set up the wickets. I had no idea there was a set way to do this, laid out like a show jumping course with a set route to follow. I was going to go at it more like a steeplechase. After re-arranging the wickets at least ten times we were finally ready to start. First question — who starts the game? Fear not! The clever croquet equipment makers have painted lines in descending bands on the two wooden stakes in the order of play. We were astounded by this discovery.

Perhaps I should have prepared by mowing the lawn. Our lawn is nothing to gloat over at any time, but this spring it looks like a mangy dog re-growing patches of fur. There were lots of bald patches where the grass still hasn’t greened up, as well as large tufts of luxurious healthy grass waving happily in the breeze. In addition there are large roots running just under and over the surface of much of the lawn from an old Silver Maple that used to grow nearby. Our croquet lawn was far from the ideal 100- x 50-foot smooth rectangular lawn specified in the directions, however I feel it added to our game. Well, it added challenges, but I think it evened out the gaps in skill. A perfect lawn would have meant missing wickets was entirely the fault of one’s aim, while on our lawn it could easily be blamed on a tuft of grass, a tree root, or a divot. My daughter’s strategy was to tamp down all the tufts in the way of her shots. 

In the end we may not have known all the rules or played correctly, but we certainly had fun. At least I did … but maybe that’s because I won. 

Claire Corkins grew up and lives in Bristol and studied Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine. After college she worked abroad teaching English as a second language. She currently works with her father in such various endeavors as painting houses, tiling bathrooms, building porches, and fixing old windows. She hikes, reads, plays ice hockey, travels, and wishes she could wear flip flops all year round.


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