Sunday, 9 December 2007

Pieces not accepted by Sunday Miscellany #5

Croquet and Cribbage

The sounds of summer this year are interspersed with the yells of kids piling outside to make the most of any sunny spell. Then piling back in again as the skies open up and the rain pours down. In my family, the sound of summer always included the clack of croquet balls on mallets.
Croquet was apparently invented in Ireland in the 1830’s. It has the image of a delightfully serene and well-mannered lawn game, played by elegant ladies and gentlemen in blazers and boater hats. In practise, it is the most vicious and malevolent game you can imagine. There is no elegance in roqueting your son’s ball into the dahlias for the third time. There is no sophistication in whacking your ball the full length of the lawn, to get your mother back for the inadvertent peel through the hoop.
When I was small, my family would make the long cross-country journey every few months, to stay with my grandparents. They had retired to a bungalow in the country. Every spring, Granddad brought out the croquet set from the shed, with a great sense of occasion. My grandparents were keen gardeners and their large, sandy beds were bursting with vegetables and scented flowers. The wide lawn was regularly rollered and kept as smooth my granddad’s Brylcreamed hair in anticipation of the game. We spaced out the hoops around the edges and whacked the final peg in the middle. We played singly or paired up to hit our balls around the lawn. Old scores were settled, new ones were raised and many dahlias gave up their lives in the interest of sporting fun. The first person to hit the peg at the end wins; this is called pegging out.
When the croquet set was put away from the winter, we would light the fire and take out the cards. Granddad was a bit of a card shark; he could deal as smoothly as a croupier and sometimes winked at me for no apparent reason as he dealt my hand. Grandma never had that impulse to let a child a down gently and went full out to win, whatever it took.
My favourite two-handed game, Granddad taught me was Cribbage. This seventeenth century game is the only card game I know that was invented by a poet. Sir John Suckling, was also a soldier, handsome and generous and independently wealthy to boot. This most unusual combination of attributes took its toll on him, and he committed suicide with poison in 1642. I don’t know how good he was as a poet, but you certainly need to keep your wits about you, playing his card game. Cribbage is scored by moving pegs around the holes in a special board. The associated vocabulary is poetic. Scoring is called pegging, the spare hand is called the crib. If my card skills and luck ever combined to let me beat my grandfather decisively, it is called a lurch. I was more often the one being lurched. Another rule gives an extra point for a Jack of the dealer’s suit; this is called one for his nobs. If you overlook a score, your opponent has to say ‘muggins’ and then takes the score for himself. The winner is the first to get his or her peg around the board twice and is said to have pegged out, just like in croquet.
Over the years, the card games at my grandparents diminished and eventually were put away. My dad became the one to bring out the croquet set from the shed in the spring. Granddad took to sitting on a shooting stick, to rest between turns and my mallet skills improved considerably. Granddad was the first to peg out. He died at the end of the croquet season, when I was eighteen. My grandmother pegged out herself a few years ago. My parents now have the croquet set and the cribbage board. Last summer, we rollered the lawn and introduced my husband and kids to the perfidious game of croquet. Next winter, I’m planning to brush up on the rules of cribbage.


leatherdykeuk said...

Lovely memories :)

Unknown said...

But you'll keep on trying won't you? Had you considered 'Quiet Quarter' on RTE Lyric? I believe if you crack them first, you can get on SM a bit easier. Submit 5 pieces, linked by theme, of 600 words each. Easy. ;)

Emerging Writer said...

I had some pieces on the Quiet Quarter a couple of years ago - great experience. But they didn't take my next set. And it doesn't seem to have influenced Sunday Miscellany...!