By Pete Trimmer - Issue 19 (2001)
I’d had two months of hearing about ‘The Croquet Club’ my dad had joined. We could play Croquet at home on our back lawn. But no. Dad had joined a club half an hour’s drive away. To choose an hour’s drive over walking outside to the garden was either sheer madness or a sudden rush of senility; I wasn’t sure which.
On the way to the sea, Dad had realised that he wanted to check on something at ‘The Club’. Oh joy; I’d even have to see it. As we rolled into the driveway, I cursed myself for a twinge of curiosity. I knew what Croquet was all about; hoops, balls, mallets and plenty of luck. There was just enough skill involved that my brother would usually beat me if we played in the summer.
Down the drive and ... what's that? One, two, three; six hoops, and a peg in the middle. But it couldn't be one lawn; it was too big. I turned my head to see it all. It was SO flat! The grass was SO short! Here was something that I had to have a go at.
As Dad reversed the car to park, my eyes widened. This lawn was one of several. “Blimey”. We walked to the club-house. There were players on a couple of the lawns. The balls seemed to roll endlessly before coming to a gentle stop. Surely I would be able to have a go without becoming a member. But not that day, it turned out. Dad wanted to get to the sea.
I could have had six free lessons before joining, but only needed two to be persuaded. The other members were old. I didn’t mind; they were all very nice and kept telling me how well I was doing. I didn’t need to be told though; everything was measured against Dad’s ability and after three trips to the club, I had caught him up. Not a great deal left to learn, I felt; but it was good fun.
A fifty year old sauntered over and introduced himself as William. I'd heard of ‘William’; apparently an expert. He offered to give me a few tips. This should be interesting, I thought. “Now, could you hit this ball with that, could you?”, he asked politely. A trivial test; I did as I was bid. “Ah, well done,” he congratulated warmly. “Could you do that again, could you?” Perhaps this would not be so helpful. I nearly missed it the second time, but was still congratulated. “Now, what about when we've two balls together, like this?” he asked. It looked easier than it turned out to be. “Very good, very good.”
I was becoming impatient to see the expert play. He didn’t even have his mallet with him. “Now, what about a bigger shot? Could you send that ball to that hoop and this ball to that hoop?” he pointed. Now that really was a big shot. I wondered briefly if it was a trick; he must know it would be nearly impossible to send both balls 20 yards in different directions. I set them up and slugged the balls. Not bad, I thought, only a few yards out with each ball. “Very well done,” he congratulated. He explained something about angles, which meant that I would be able to play it better next time. “Would you like to try that again, would you?”
My patience had run out; it was like asking for miracles to improve on my last shot. “I’d like to see you play.” He looked thoroughly abashed, not at all eager to display these hidden talents that others talked about. Suspicions up, I stood my ground nervously as he assessed me thoughtfully. “You’d like to see me play that shot; would you?” I could see in his eyes that he would prefer not to. “Yes, please.” This would test him. If he did any better than my effort, I would listen to him. If not, it was all bluff.
He took my mallet and weighed it in his hands before knocking two balls to the starting position. It looked like a very awkward style, with the mallet off-vertical. There was no way that he would be able to play accurately like that. After a final few words about the angle that he was pointing the mallet, William took his shot. ‘Good direction’, I thought; the balls seemed to be on rails. Slower and slower they rolled as my head scanned back and forth between the two balls and their intended destinations. They stopped. So did I. Each ball was inch perfect.