Croquet in 1864Here in Britain the weather forecasters are promising us a 'barbeque summer', which instantly conjures up long afternoons and evening spent in the garden. So what could be more quintessentially English than a sedate game of croquet on the lawn on a lazy summer afternoon? But as quaintly English as it may sound, it might surprise you to know that, in its earliest form croquet originated not in England, but in France, from where it was introduced to Britain during the reign of Charles II (in the seventeenth century). It bore the name paille maille, from the Latin for 'ball and mallet', which was anglicised to pall mall. The name 'croquet' was not actually coined until the nineteenth century.

Despite its grand associations, you don't have to have an enormous lawn on which to play croquet. It's a great, informal game for the family and you can create your pitch to suit your own back garden and start with a simplified course and basic game rules. For family play, it's an excellent educational game for teaching colours, numeracy, teamwork skills and hand-to-eye coordination toyoung children. It can be made as fun or competitive as families or friends choose. As you get more proficient at it, you can then progress to some of the strategies of professional tournaments (which I don't intend to cover here!)

The aim of the game is quite simple: two teams race against each other to get their coloured balls through a series of 6 hoops and back, using wooden mallets. They then hit a peg in the centre of the circuit in order to be 'pegged out' and the game finished for the successful ball.

The two teams are decided and a coin flipped for the choice of balls. The blue and black balls play against the red and yellow balls, with the blue ball playing first, followed by the red, black and finally the yellow ball. Once all four balls have been played onto the field, the teams then decide which of their two balls they will play off. This then becomes the striker's ball and is the only one the team can strike until it reaches the end.

Each player takes one stroke at their striker's ball. If it passes through the lawn croquetnext hoop from the correct direction, it scores a hoop point and a second (or continuation) stroke is allowed. Alternatively if it hits another ball, the player again wins further strokes. Hitting another ball is called a 'roquet' and gains two extra strokes - one against the roqueted ball, and one against the player's own ball. However, roquets against the other three balls are only allowed once in between sets of hoops. If neither of these events happens, the turn passes to the next player.

Once all the hoops have been cleared, this is called a rover. The ball can then go on to strike the central peg and be 'pegged out' and removed from play. It is also possible for it to hit another 'rover' and cause that to be pegged out as well. The rover ball does not have to be pegged out immediately, but can be left until the partner ball catches up so that they can help each other and peg out together.

Points are therefore scored by hoop points - providing the ball has passed completely through the hoop; and roquests - providing the roquet causes another ball to run a hoop. Ultimately it is a race to the finish and great fun can be had without the complications of score sheets and collecting points. Once you become more adept, there are all manner of rules and tricks that can be employed to spice up the game and make it more competitive and/or (dare I say?) dirty!

A basic facroquetmily croquet set can be bought for under £30.00 (approximately $45.00), although it might be worth paying a little more for a more study and substantial set to ensure years or summer fun. That is, of course, providing those weather forecasters get it right this year, and the next, and... But, failing that, indoor carpet croquet sets are also available! So, anyone for croquet?