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Beating a Seven Year Old at Croquet

August 13, 2013

croquet stuff

The other day I played my first proper game of croquet with my seven year old son.  I’m pleased to say that I beat him convincingly.  I’m horrified to say that I’m pleased to say that I beat him convincingly.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve rationalised my own horror at how pleased  I was to beat him convincingly.

I first played croquet when I was about his age.  The game is part of my childhood – interwoven with my most persistent and recurring family memories.  And it’s not all good.  Croquet reminds me that I have a foul temper, that fits of incandescent rage can descend like spooky red mist in an instant and that my capacity for self control has always been limited.

Croquet is a nasty nasty game.  Much more cruel and unpleasant than golf – and all the better for it.  Of course, croquet, unlike golf, does not involve the appropriation of land on a massive scale  – a scale that will one day, in a more democratic futurity, invite the acidic commentary of a twenty-fourth century E.P. Thompson – and its resources are modest.  Golf, meanwhile, is actually a solitary sport masquerading as a contest.  Each player is on their own – their only real “enemies” are the landscape of the course, the elements, and their own ineptitude.  Golfers are not “playing one another” and their relative performance is a matter of comparing notes.  Croquet on the other hand is, in psychological terms, a contact sport.  You are driven to destroy your opponent.  Your opponent can play beautifully, assemble an exquisite set of moves that establish the basis for a lovely next turn.  And you, with one stroke, can destroy everything that they have created.  And, of course, they can do the same to you.  And, of course, everyone is armed with heavy wooden mallets.

My recollection of childhood croquet is bound up with screaming.  Howling.  Lying on the grass and pounding the turf.  And some of the others were nearly as bad as me.  Croquet made me realise quite how thin the veneer that separates supposedly civilised humanity from wolfkind actually is.

As we all reached adulthood, a new transformative element was added that greatly alleviated the experience of playing family croquet.  A bottle of fairly cheap whisky was brought with us, and placed right next to the central peg.  Whenever someone played a bad shot – they were told to “go and see Teacher”.  After a while, whoever had started to play badly, would start to deteriorate dramatically, but at least they felt better about themselves and their brothers.  My son, however and hopefully, has at least ten years of playing without this civilising influence.  And in really competitive matches, I understand that “going to see Teacher” is not really the done thing.

If croquet has ever enjoyed (among the uninitiated) the reputation of being a civilised sport, then it is because of the effort that needs to go into containing these passions.   Norbert Elias should not have wasted his time discussing fox hunting and instead focused on croquet.  If it possible to play this game in a friendly and civilised way, then it is just possible that civil society can survive, that humanity can face down its demons, break swords into ploughshares and, collectively, survive.

Or, we all just need more whisky.

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29 Comments
  1. When my son was younger and would reluctantly agree to “go outside” w/me and play a “real” game as opposed to thumb and finger control device that keeps your eyes glued to a tv, we ventured into a game of croquet. Ours was not as bloodthirsty or tempermental as yours, in fact my son found it quite boring. To offset the boring-ness, I agreed to play my a set of “rules” that he made up as we went along. It was…less than boring…involving chucking and ducking the balls as they flew to the markers, rather than rolled and the mallets were used as turf-removing shovels. “Just beat it the grass into submission. Then everything will be smooth.” But…hey…what a blast!

  2. Croquet is to my knowledge an English sport. The same English who chase the fox with hounds and armed horsemen. Then once the fox is treed, they kill it and dip their fingers in its body and place blood on their foreheads. So of course croquet is cruel and brutish.

  3. I happen to be English myself, so I probably am a very cruel and brutish person. All I can do is struggle to be slightly less cruel and brutish on a day to day basis.

  4. I just watched an episode of Midsomer Murders that featured croquet wickets prominently as a part of the murder device. If all of your siblings are still alive, you’ve done well.

  5. Definitely going to need some more whiskey.

  6. I remember playing croquet with my brother. Hadn’t thought about it in years but now feel the requirement of calling him up and giving him a mental thump on the head for all the times he made my ball go flying into the junipers with the spiders in it. There was nothing civilized about croquet. We are not English though so I am not sure where the our cruelty came from.

  7. Reblogged this on Fort Pelham Farm and commented:
    My family can certainly relate to many aspects of this post.

  8. A hilariously awesome post! Now I know that the game of croquet is definitely not correctly depicted on Downtown Abbey! 🙂

  9. maggieannthoeni permalink

    I’ve ‘played’ croquet strictly as a curiosity and not often. But I much appreciate your story of ‘the real thing’! It was your post title that drew me to your story. The last time I ‘played’ croquet regularly was with my very young (at the time) daughter – indoors – during cold Canadian winters we shared in our homestead cabin. Chairs, stools, etc. were our ‘layout’ (I don’t even know the right terms!). Too exploratory for us to ever get into a competitive mode. (We played an invented golf game in summer in the pasture with ski poles as ‘targets’ and called it “holf” for “hay field golf”. Had to have at least 3 poles set up to avoid possibility of players being in line of ball flight.) Reading your story makes me want to get into a ‘real’ game of croquet at least once!

  10. Reblogged this on Asia Blog.

  11. or more, if it’s a croquet day.

  12. Hah, very entertaining. My friends and I used to play combat croquet. It involved the family pool. On cold days if one was knocked into the pool they had to retrieve their ball. It was amazing. Never thought of the whiskey

  13. staggeredhermit permalink

    I have happy memories of playing croquet at home in Hampshire, and then having my eyes opened to the malevolence of the sport watching friends play it in later years. Nice piece.

  14. Ha! I can relate. Many a summer’s night I used to play crouquet with a group of friends. We’d crack open a bunch of beers and get down to croquet-business. Being that 100% of this group was HIGHLY competitive, it brought out the worst in all of us and rarely turned out well. Yet, we’d continue to play every time we got together…

  15. Two points, Remember how croquet was used by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, and in our family the game that brought out the worst in all of us was the board game Risk.

  16. Fun! Thanks for the memories. I, too, hold croquet as one of my favorite childhood memories. The sound of the whack of wooden mallet on ball still brings it back. I think that the plastic ones should be outlawed.
    I introduced my great nieces and nephew to the game last summer. Within an hour, the youngest, an eight-year-old girl, had come inside crying and sporting an already-blue lump on her forehead. Her ten-year-old brother was right behind, calling, “I didn’t do it on purpose!” The brutishness of my British mother lives on in the next generation!
    Some things never change.
    Congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

  17. Oh, and of course, congrats on beating your son at croquet…

  18. thanks so much for this … and yes it is good and bad that you are so pleased you beat a seven year old … I would be too … and ashamed and gleeful at the same time … so wing that bat and hit those balls and next time use a hip flask

  19. Good thoughts. The whole “launching your opponent’s ball” part is pretty intense with all ages!

  20. aymiebarton permalink

    I’ve never actually played croquet but I’ve always wanted to give it a go… Then again, I’m terrible at sports. Mini-golf for me is disasterous, I’ve just started a blog could you check it out and maybe share it? http://aymiebarton.wordpress.com/ xx

  21. Haha! Funny read! I’ve always enjoyed croquet, but I’m also good at it =-)

    Congrats on gettin’ pressed!!

  22. androidbethy permalink

    Reblogged this on Android Bethy.

  23. cristyparkersmith permalink

    Brutality was “cool” back in the 90’s. Hate and negativity were in fashion back then. Self-loathing and contempt for others were hot commodities during that time and every angst-ridden teenager and hormonally-charged young adult in our society had something to sell.

    That mindset changed on 9/11. Our teenaged innocence was taken from us on the day the very living rooms in which we viewed our music television-based gods were bombarded with images of something we’d never encountered.

    Real hatred.

    Apparently you missed the lesson that day. Apparently you weren’t on the planet at the moment we collectively found out what it really means to hate another human being and how that hatred can lead to real, true brutality. And apparently you missed the irony in the fact that it was devotion to and “love” for something that gave rise to that reality.

    Games like this are for children. All they can do is mimic brutality. If you want to inflict real brutality on someone, if you want to leave scars that won’t heal, and if you really want to beat someone at an adult game, act like you care about your opponent. Pretend to be on their side. And then after they believe you, tell them the truth.

    Don’t feel bad about beating your little boy. It was just a meaningless game. Nothing important was at stake. Even a seven year old would know that.

    • This was intended a fairly light hearted post about croquet, combined with some childhood recollections. For some reason, you have taken an intense dislike to me and have somehow extrapolated from my post that I failed to care about the events of 9/11. I don’t really know how how managed to perform this extrapolation since you really know nothing about me.

      May I offer you some honest and heartfelt advice? Try not to assume the very worst about people based on the flimsiest scraps of evidence. You’ll live a happier and more sociable life as a consequence.

  24. funny. croquet does suck.

  25. This is really funny. Even though croquet can be a cruel sport, it is still interesting.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Beating a Seven Year Old at Croquet | handmadebyjo
  2. Freshly Riffed 48: Despite My Better Efforts, It’s All For You | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

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