(Wherein I re-publish old columns I used to write for our local paper many years ago)
Croquet. Such a genteel game. The word conjures up images of English country gardens, vast green spaces shaded by verdant trees. The tinkle of ice cubes in glasses of lemonade playing counterpoint to murmured conversations of polite players who laugh melodiously as they bat a ball around the grass. Elegant, restrained, civilized.
This vision inspired me one day to purchase this game for my husband for Father’s Day.
The game was, literally, an instant hit.
We had set up on a sunny Saturday afternoon on our own verdant lawn, carefully stepping out the distant between wickets, avoiding the holes the dog dug and patiently explaining the rules of the game to our children. They caught on quickly and worked their way through the course. I was so pleased. Finally a game that didn’t require running, body contact, projectiles, explosions or triggers. It was slow and quiet. I was happy.
Monday, however, everything changed. The game that day differed vastly from the one of my vision and the one of Sunday. I was washing dishes and looked benignly out of the kitchen window at the croquet course my children were playing on only to see my five year old son chasing his oldest sister, murder in his eyes, mallet poised over his head, ready to strike said sister who was running away, laughing hysterically, clutching two balls.
“Children,” I admonish in surprise, hoping that my well-modulated voice would pour oil on troubled waters. “Surely that is not how the game is played?”
“She moved her ball closer to the wicket with her foot,” calls out the youngest. “I saw her.”
“He moved his first.”
I look from one injured party to the other and try to settle the dispute by suggesting they start over.
The balls are returned to earth and after a few gentle explanations as to how the game is played, they begin again. I return to peeling potatoes only to be startled by a blood curdling scream. My second daughter this time. Her face is a frightening shade of purple. I didn’t know such an intense colour was possible. She is stamping her feet and waving her arms. Now what is wrong? I go out to referee.
“I promised him I wouldn’t knock his ball but he knocked mine by purpose.”
“She didn’t have to believe me,” taunts the eldest son.
This time I am not so gentle. My voice grows firmer as I admonish.
The third time I am called to yard it is to the accompaniment of chilling shriek. The oldest was swinging his mallet in a circle in the air, the other three throwing their balls and mallets at him, calling out the eternal words of siblings to one another, “It’s not fair.” It was one cacophony of misery and noise.
This time I wasn’t so patient. I stormed out and snatched croquet mallets, hauled up wickets and kicked errant balls to the centre of the field.
Four astonished faces stared at me as I dumped everything into the box.
“We were having fun,” they insisted.
I don’t believe them but as I haul it away I hear the youngest say, “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”
“Sure thing,” says the oldest daughter, “But this time we won’t bother with the wickets.”