Though last night brought the first proper rain in the last six weeks, the Trinity term has begun and that means croquet. The college rule that forbids sports on the quad lawns – except for croquet, in Trinity – was the reason I moved here.
So, suitably wooed with the promise of Pimm’s on the green, but without any functioning knowledge of the sport (and, let’s get this straight, it is a sport), I joined a college team. Our first practice was on Thursday afternoon in the University Parks, with our first match against Somerville on Friday afternoon, leaving the team, all relatively inexperienced, with little promise of success.
O Croquet: the idiosyncrasies of your handbook, the polite but anguished repression of your players (and instructors) upon the fertile grounds of flirtation, the pun-ability of nearly all your terminology. One is required to know when to roquet, when to croquet, and how to do a rush, a stop-shot, and a stab. This is no easy clipping of the ball through the hoop (which is only marginally, the size of a pound coin on its side, larger than the balls) with flamingos, but a ‘tactical struggle’ for mastery of the course. When the instructor told us to make sure to ‘stalk’ over to the ball so as to properly align, I heard ‘stork’ and subsequently spent the rest of the session swinging my mallet between my legs in the manner of a wading water fowl.
So it was with great trepidation and no knowledge of the rules or how the game operated that we arrived at Somerville yesterday to play two hour-long games two-by-two. And the intensity; the insidiousness debate over whether lifting the hoop was cheating or not; the contributed opinions of nearly every passer-by; A’s grave face pale with anxiety when it appeared we might lose. Our last-minute breaking success ensured that we remain in the Cuppers tournament, that Somerville has been annihilated, and demanded an instant and ostentatious celebration.
Croquet may look like a blasé hobby of horse-faced aristocrats, but it’s a cold-blooded exercise in precision. I may have a new obsession. A game tonight on the quad to perfect the roquet, croquet, continuation! It’s like pool, but better. (There’s infinitely more room for sabotage.)