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REVIEWING
"THE LIGHTER SIDE
OF SERIOUS CROQUET"
A new anthology by David Appleton,
cartoons by Jack Shotton
Book review by Bob Alman


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David Appleton is a medical statistician who also happens to be chairman of the Scottish Croquet Association. Soon after taking up croquet in the early eighties, he conceived the idea of writing this book, organized around the cartoons of Jack Shotton. As a well-educated man, Appleton has mined the richest veins of our common Anglo-Saxon heritage to produce numerous gems glittering with parody and set firmly into the world of croquet.

It is not just the game which Appleton loves, but everything that surrounds it. As he comments in his Foreword, "I may not have played at the very top level, but I have played in the very best company.....Competition is all very well, but my real enjoyment comes from the occasions (in and out of matches) when the balls really obey me, and from my interaction with other players."

In the most social of sports, it is not surprising, then, that a player of Appleton's diverse interests would people it, in his imagination, with the likes of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and the Jeeves and Wooster of Wodehouse. These sometimes exquisitely fashioned parodies are creations of a number of authors. (One of the best and most prolific is "Dorothy Rush," the non de plume, reputedly, of a Welshman whose true identity Appleton will not reveal.)

By now, the reader will have guessed that this is not a book of knee-slapping one-liners. The wit and wisdom of this volume, precisely as the author declares, is a LIGHT view of serious croquet. In the Preface, Rod Williams, himself a former president of the Scottish Croquet Association, issues just such a disclaimer: "Be warned," he says, "We are talking about the editor of the Scottish Croquet Association BULLETIN whose caption to a picture of himself in national dress at the world championships was 'The Kilt of the Personality'."

In this book, there are croquet quizzes, croquet poems, croquet crosswords, croquet puzzles, designs for croquet gadgets, "A Croquet Player's Lament" for three parts in an "early music" setting (sonore ma con dolore), and even a section of croquet epitaphs:

A CRUSH SHOT
Dolly Rush, alas, is dead
A mallet struck her on the head.
She acted as a referee
When all the others were at tea.
They should have told her not to view
so carefully the follow-through.

American players, of course, do not often interrupt their time-bound games for tea, but at least the reference is understandable. Many other references in this book will be mysterious to Americans, and others can be figured out with difficulty. This, I think, is the best reason of all for Americans to enjoy - and even study - this unique book. It is a kind of "rosetta stone" revealing the ways of our antecedents in our favorite sport. Though this might not have been Appleton's intention, he offers us hundreds of intimate glimpses into the croquet culture of Britain (and by extension, the Commonwealth) which has evolved in all its complexity for more than 100 years before croquet was organized as a serious sport in the United States.

Add to that the quite serious (but lightly presented) articles on tactics and coaching throughout the book, and you have an engaging collection of croquet lore which will reside happily on the croquet shelf of your library beside your Prichard, your Solomon, your Lamb, your Wylie, your Sloan, and bound volumes of the GAZETTE.

As for the Shotton cartoons which started the whole project, I estimate that about a quarter of them will be totally mysterious to American readers, referenced to obscure British idioms or locally-known icons. For the rest, however, more than 70 in all, they bind together the volume and reflect all-too-human attitudes and values common to fanatics of all sports, everywhere.

Cartoonist Jack Shotton is a designer in plastics and a dedicated bridge player who is still producing cartoons for THE CROQUET GAZETTE and other publications.

 
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In granting permission to CROQUET WORLD for excerpting the book, Appleton acknoweldged to me, "I take your point about the differences between our nations and our croquet games. If you have never played our 'advanced' game the point of the P.G. Wodehouse story is completely lost. If you haven't read Agatha Christie (or at least seen the Miss Marple stories on TV - a very English "Murder She Wrote" sort of thing) then Dorothy Rush's parody is wasted. Even the cartoons are sometimes a problem. One which is regarded as very funny over here is on page 61, but if you are not familiar with the phrase 'It was like watching paint dry' to express complete boredom, then it isn't funny. Maybe the Shakespeare is as good a bet as any; at least it might flatter people to assume they have a working knowledge of the plays!"

Appleton need not worry. Real croquet players everywhere love a challenge as much as a laugh, and they will treasure this book - if only they know where and how to get it. Because our readers span the globe, Appleton advises, "People who read your Web pages will probably find it easiest to E-mail me an order. I can 'talk' to each potential buyer about the easiest and least expensive way to order." In the United Kingdom, the cost, including postage, is 7.10 stg., with discounts for larger orders; add a couple of pounds for postage overseas orders.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF SERIOUS CROQUET, by David Appleton. Cartoons by Jack Shotton. 93 pages, paperback. Published 1996 by David Appleton. Proceeds after expenses to the Scottish Croquet Association.

For orders and inquiries, E-Mail David Appleton at: David.Appleton@ncl.ac.uk.


 
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