Summer may be on the wane, but there are still plenty of warm, sunshiny days to get outside and play. And one activity that’s fun for everyone from young children to Grandma is croquet (crow-KAY), provided you have a level, well mowed lawn to play on. (Alas, I don’t. I live on a mountain slope and the balls would go a-tumbling down. Although I understand there is an all-terrain version called Extreme Croquet, which seems like rather an oxymoron, but looks like a lot of fun. )
The more genteel sort of croquet dates back to the mid-nineteenth century in Ireland and England, and it quickly spread to North America. The Victorians went for it in a big way, both men and women, probably because it’s fun and challenging and lets you hold a conversation and stretch your legs, without being overly strenuous. In the olden days it also let wealthy people show off their manicured lawns, as short grass is required if you want the balls to move easily and not get lost. However, in England it was eventually eclipsed by the more popular lawn tennis (did you know Wimbledon was originally a croquet club?). Still, it remains a popular summer pastime.
A typical croquet set contains six or nine wickets (hoops that stick in the ground), short sticks (mallets) and a number of brightly colored balls, plus often a rack to hold the equipment when not in use. Most sets are pretty straightforward and widely available, but some vintage sets are highly decorated and elaborately carved, with prices to match. I was even delighted to find a tiny replica of a set meant for a fairy garden.
Rules for the game can be found with a new game set or at Oxford Croquet. Among the more amusing rules of croquet etiquette: “You must not tell an opponent that he is about to strike the wrong ball” and “Do not leave the lawn for lunch if any of the balls are in a critical position.”