A garden’s calm calls after life’s hurly-burly

Photos supplied.
Photos supplied.

Those once young took to the fields and stadiums of Dunedin this week to compete in the Masters Games. David Loughrey attended two events, and found them ripe with important lessons about life.

Association croquet is a lot like life.

To the outsider it is not clear, when watching association croquet, if a game is indeed under way.

It is not clear when a game might have started and why, or for what purpose it is being undertaken.

There are rules, but even if you are told what they are, they are impossible to understand.

All in all, something is happening, but you don't know what it is.

Like life.

At a Masters Games event at the Forbury Park Croquet Club in Victoria Rd this week players were spread out across the lawn doing incomprehensible acts, now and then showing muted signs of excitement.

"Good-oh,'' one calls as a croquet ball skips through a tight hoop.

"Oh, well done,'' cries another.

The club itself is hidden behind corrugated iron fencing surrounded by toetoe and marram grass, its entrance an easily missable driveway in a forest of hebes.

Follow that drive and you come to a wooden gate with a croquet theme, a work of suburban art with mallets crossed and balls flying on knotted wooden palings.

Enter the gate and the world quietens, the roar of the nearby ocean is muffled, the cries and screams of passing schoolchildren silenced in a grey-green sea of calm.

There, the players and those that have gone before them have created a haven supported gently in the arms of its neighbours the Forbury Park Bowling Club, the Forbury Park Raceway, the Dunedin Rugby Club and the Sir James Barnes Lookout.

They play out their opaque sporting dramas on a hot day under heavy cloud with the smell of the ocean on green grass under green hills in a green space surrounded by a green fence.

They have developed a semi-secret club with obscure rules in a little green ocean of calm only insiders can enjoy.

Here is one rule, courtesy of the impressively named World Croquet Federation: "The remedy for being wired is that the player may pick up (lift) their ball, and start their turn by playing it from either of the baulk lines.''

Here is another: "The striker does not have the option not to take a croquet stroke if another ball is roqueted.''

This rule, listed under "Errors'' shows a tree does not fall in the croquet forest if nobody sees it: "Taking croquet when you shouldn't/failing to take croquet when you should - minor errors: if no-one notices, play continues without penalty.''

This week players were happily involved in their inexplicables, members of a secret club thumping balls here and there and swinging wooden mallets with a careless glee while sticking to mysterious rules in a small garden of Eden in South Dunedin.

The players have lived lives, and know gentle activity in a secret garden where no serpent can beguile them and no thorn or thistle thrive, is one sure way to achieve happiness.

This is what we learned about croquet.

Also at the Masters Games was basketball for men who are no longer young.

Men who are no longer young are not boys.

They walk with a heavy gait; they have long trod the earth and are comfortable in their place within it; they are solid in word, deed and deportment: they generally do not dance.

They do not aspire to grace.

They did their best at the Edgar Centre to leap and bob and weave as their faded abilities would allow, not high, neither quick nor effective, however they did those things.

In the heat they took off their shirts, exposing loose flesh and grizzled chest hairs and skin stretched and well worn and a portliness any older man could be proud of.

Jowls were legion; they gave an air of substance and a sense of studied respectability.

There were men with enormous manly beards, there was a mullet, not shyly worn but proudly jutting from a thick neck and bouncing as a solid body rippled on the sprung floor.

There were bushy eyebrows and hairy arms and backs in an arena that was no place for the callow, no home to those who lacked the knowledge and the collected mass of years.

It was no place for boys.

But the men who were no longer young know that life is to be lived, lungs are built to heave and puff and legs are to be housed in short pants, no matter what age their wearer, and thighs and calves are to be strained to the limits of their endurance or until hamstrings snap and knees and hips crumble and hearts burst in exhaustion.

They know balls must be thrown and chased to the end of time itself, they must be caught and hurled at hoops or kicked at goals or passed to a man in a better position.

Because life is there to be lived, and sweat must be spilled, even blood if necessary to make it real, and bodies must be used until they wither and die.

Because life is the experience.

That's what we learned about basketball.

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