It's not too unusual, I suppose, for a manager to send a player away with a flea in his ear, but on the fourth day of East Dorset's June tournament manager Bill Lamb got a ladybird in his ear. The fourteen-spot variety, to be precise. Bill was approaching hoop 2 on lawn 3 when a number of us chatting in front of the club-house were surprised to see him put his head on one side and start banging his ear. "Too much sun", we thought, "or maybe all this management has got on top of him" but a couple more bangs released the poor insect and Bill came almost proudly down the lawn to present it to us. After identifying it as the aforementioned 14-spotter we most of us lost interest in it, mainly because our attention had been drawn to a large stag beetle strolling in front of us, but also because he seemed to have survived the incident without any permanent damage being done. Bill was OK too.
I hope I don't give the impression that there wasn't enough croquet to hold our attention. Quite the reverse was true. The six-day competition comprised no less than seven separate competitions: knockout handicap singles and doubles, each with a flexible Swiss consolation event, and American blocks for A, B, and C class singles (the first two level advanced play, the third handicap play). All this meant a great many games to be played; most of us had played three games for each of the first three days, with the lawns still occupied beyond 8 o'clock in the evening. Hence, we were all suffering from Croquet Exhaustion by the Thursday which is probably why the entomological escapade proved to be so entertaining.
The tournament had started at 9:30 on Monday under blazing sunshine on Parkstone's well-manicured lawns (too well-manicured for some: the combination of fast courts and unforgiving hoops meant that most games were going to time). It continued, still in blazing sunshine, and still with most games going to time, for all of Tuesday and Wednesday and up until tea-time on Thursday. We then had our first rain of the week, but there was no interruption to the evening's games. Friday was a different story, however. It dawned wet. Very wet. The lawns were unplayable at the start, and the forecast was for more rain. When play eventually did get under way, the manager decreed that all games from then on would be 14-points with 1 1/2 hour time limits. A prudent decision, but one which caused a fair bit of head-scratching when the shortened games came to be entered on handicap cards under the then-new 5-points-for-a-win system. In the event, Parkstone's local ecosystem defied the national trend and the rain cleared in the afternoon allowing some of the last block games to be played full-length leaving the Saturday for the finals of the knockout and consolation events, and the play-off between the two "C" blocks.
The "A" block , and the Dorset Salver, had already been won by David Harrison-Wood, who won all his games and Colin Hemming had won the closely-fought "B" block and the Weldon Trophy, amid (good-natured) complaints from the holder, Roy Edwards, that he had been unable to defend his title, having been promoted to the "A" block despite his handicap having risen by half a point!
Overnight rain had left all of the courts flooded, but Saturday was initially dry though dull. Play was able to start shortly after the scheduled time, but after half an hour the rain returned, the courts turned into duck ponds and it looked as though no further play would be possible. Amongst much talk of "Could you come back next week?" we took an early lunch to see if a miracle would happen. Regrettably, two of the competitions had to be decided by default because the opponents had to leave at this time; the "C" level competition, and the Cope Cup, went to Tony Tizard, and the consolation doubles was won by Alan Linton and Jean Powell. The end of the consolation handicap singles was declared, and it was won by Esther Jones, who received the Evans Rose Bowl. Presentations were made of the trophies that had been decided (but no mention, unfortunately, of Nigel Gardner's Bronze Award, with a magnificent 11-hoop break without bisques), and we all thought that that was that for the week.
Patience and perseverance paid off, however, for a miracle did happen. Not only did the rain stop but two of the lawns dried sufficiently for the two remaining finals to start by mid afternoon. Both proved to be interesting and close matches. David Harrison-Wood and Jane Matthews beat holders Roy Edwards and Eric Butt +1 on time to win the Summer Doubles Cup, and Alan Linton beat John Lonsdale +2 on time to take the Handicap Singles and the splendid solid-gold Cripps Memorial Trophy.
With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it is a shame that the finals were all held over for the traditional "Grandstand Finish" on the Saturday. If the final of each event were played as soon as possible (the main doubles final could have been played on Wednesday) then not only would the threat from the weather be minimised, but also we would reduce the risk of complications arising from one player appearing in two or even three of the finals. But perhaps I complain too much. It was a thoroughly enjoyable week, thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants. I shall be returning next year.