The Croquet World Championships have been on in Adelaide. Lots of flags were waved around at the opening, and the Governor, Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, bravely endured a fair bit of speeches and then Aboriginal dancing. I always feel sorry for the Queen on these sorts of occasions – how can she stand having to watch umpteen squillion native dances (lovely as they are) every year? Poor dear.
80 of the best players from around the world turned up; a fair few of them (but not nearly enough) brandishing my croquet mallets (see www.insearchoftheperfectmallet.com). There were few surprises during the block stage, reducing the field to 32 players, then a few seeds got surprisingly knocked out in the first round of the knockout. At this level, there is very little margin for error. The good players plan in advance pretty much every one of the 150 or so strokes needed for each perfect game, and the game often turns on whether the other player hits the lift, which means hitting a ball about 20 yards away. After that bit, one player or the other does a “triple” which is about as easy as riding a bicycle with a football balanced on your head. The real heroes make their opponent have to hit a tea lady, which means hitting a ball about 30 yards away. Then they do a “sextuple” which is about as easy as riding a bicycle with one football balanced on top of another football balanced on top of your head. Dull as ditchwater if you watch it without knowing what they are doing, but hugely impressive if you are good enough to have tried it, but failed miserably (which is the case for most enthusiasts).
I would have like to have stayed to watch the final rounds, but had to head off to Sydney, thence Melbourne, for a series of law conferences. Coincidently, the Governor was right behind me as I boarded the plane. I am too old now to sit in the back; my limit these days is 1 hour of economy seat per day. But to my surprise, the Governor walked on passed the curtain of doom. I did mention to the cabin crew that the Governor-General was on the plane (I promoted him from Governor to Governor-General for this purpose; after all, the state’s Attorney is known as the Attorney-General, so why not the Governor likewise? Especially since South Australia is only Australian State never to have been a penal colony), and maybe they would like to invite him back up to one of the several empty seats in Business Class? Upgrade: no. Times of austerity evidently rule at Qantas. I did mention to the Governor later whilst were waiting for our bags to come through the baggage reclaim that I had tried on his behalf, but he was gracefully philosophical about this. As he was, indeed about the dancing. It does make you wonder whether maybe being Governor is not quite so much fun as you might think. Good, I suppose, if you are a particularly clubbable sort of a bod. But hard work.
Talking of clubs, Jeanie and I were invited recently to what turned out to be a really great dinner at the Queen Adelaide Club, which I had never been to before. Like the Adelaide Club (which is for the chaps), it is just opposite the Governor’s Residence in Adelaide, but turned out to be really much nicer: decent, comfortable furniture – not dowdy at all – and with good modern art on the walls. One up to the girls, I say. And the dinner was particularly good for an innovation I had not seen before. Our hostess’ husband set up a tasting table, with several good South Australian wines, so that instead of just unthinkingly glurping down whatever the waiter poured into one’s glass, one got up, went to tasting table, thought about what was there, tasted, poured whichever one most perfectly hit the spot, and enjoyed it all the more. And also, with people frequently getting out of their seats, there was a lot more opportunity to catch up with other old friends (this was quite a substantial dinner party). Brilliant.
I never really got into the club thing. I belonged to a club in London for years, and hardly ever used it. But when I was an articled clerk in Norwich, I belonged to the Norfolk Club, which I loved. The old boys used to wear brown tweed suits, but always black shoes, because they thought brown shoes vulgar. We used to play squash there, which was fun, especially on those very rare occasions when we had had a bit too much claret (no tasting tables then) we sometimes played our post-prandial squash with tennis racquets and a golf ball. That was actually a bit dangerous: we were terrified lest it dislodged the plaster from the walls, in which case we would have been in deep, deep trouble.
I heard that, in the end, the Championship was won being the reigning champion, Reg Bamford. I had not met him before, but he turns out to be a very good egg. What they used to call “officer material”. Or, in Reg’s case, “staff officer material”. But it is was a close run thing in the final; he was nearly beaten by a young Australian, Robert Fletcher, who is still in his teens.