Newsletter 2021/2 (February)

Dear Everyone
With the courts closed, this has to be a time for planning ahead for when we are set free again. Maybe around Easter for competitive play? Your guesses will be as good as mine – I dare say even better. But with great optimism, we have now put together a complete programme for season 2021. We just need to check a few points, then hopefully we can give you the outline in the next Newsletter. As I reported last month, we’d like to kick off on Saturday 24th April with the Charity One-Ball in aid of the British Heart Foundation.

Our principal open tournaments are shown in the Croquet Association’s online Fixtures Calendar, and you can find them at the foot of our club details page which gives their short titles, dates, and key dates for entering (allocation dates and closing dates), though entries aren’t open yet. The tournaments flagged with a knife and fork are those where we offer simple lunches, and you’ll have seen June’s appeal yesterday for volunteers to join the catering team – please don’t be shy!

One last thing I want to report in this newsletter is the funeral of Jolyon Kay, the first cause and founder of this club, without whom it would never have come into being, two days ago [Note: 15th February] at St Michael’s in Blewbury, with the limited and distanced attendance demanded these days. Fellow club members and friends of Jolyon who able to be there were Deirdre and Malcom Cochrane and Avril Rangoni-Machiavelli, as well as myself, representing all of the club.

Finally, I want to include the obituary of Jolyon that Minty Clinch has written, which should appear in the next Croquet Gazette after I’ve added one more item, which is that in 2003, the year our new courts were opened, he was awarded a CA Diploma for outstanding services to croquet. Minty was fortunate to have been able to interview Jolyon early last month while researching the history of this club for our web site.

Jolyon Kay, September 1930-January 2021

Croquet said goodbye to one of its most endearing globe trotters when Jolyon Kay died on 27th January, 2021. He is buried in the cemetery alongside Blewbury Croquet Club (BCC), his passion since he founded it in 1992. He was at school at Charterhouse, then graduated with honours in chemical engineering from St John’s College, Cambridge. Shirley, his wife of 64 years, was a modern languages student at the same time.

Jolyon spent a decade in the UK chemical engineering industry. In 1958, he started working at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment (Harwell Science and Innovation Campus from 2006), a job that introduced him to neighbouring Blewbury; the Kays bought Treble House, the first of five homes they owned in the village, and settled down to raise their four children. With his colleague, the late Mike Duck, he established the Harwell Croquet Club.

In the early 1960s, he joined the Foreign Office. His first assignment was at MECAS (Middle East Centre for Arab Studies) in Lebanon where he learned Arabic and studied regional affairs. One of his early postings in a 30-year ‘striped trouser’ career was Economic Counsellor in Saudi Arabia (1974-1977). He enjoyed the variety of his new life: a visit to the King one day, helping a British tourist with a lost passport the next, prepping a businessman for a big contract, telling him who and how much he’d need to bribe to win it. Wherever he went, the genial diplomat with the mallet established impromptu croquet courts: colleagues and locals loved the games he devised in Jeddah, Casablanca and Dubai.

In England for summer breaks, he revisited Blewbury, competing in croquet tournaments until he became ‘one of the better players in the region’. Why not a club of his own? Once committed, Jolyon was not a man to be denied. From small beginnings in 1993, when he announced his project in the Blewbury Bulletin, to the grand opening of two expertly laid courts and a clubhouse on Tickers Folly Field on 31st May, 2003, he worked tirelessly to raise funds and sustain momentum. By using professionals to pitch to Sport England, BCC received £42,000 under the Capital Grant Scheme, the largest award to any croquet organisation in recognition of a start up’s value to the community. ‘Not bad for a Victorian pastime with a somewhat crusty image’, he mused.

With BCC up and running, Jolyon promoted the game on the Croquet Association (CA) Council from 2001-2006, serving as Chairman of the CA International Committee from 2003-2004. After time as Chairman of the Southern Croquet Federation (SCF), he became Coaching Officer and SCF Regional Representative on the CA Council, using his Grade 1 coaching qualification to run courses for club members and juniors.

Over the last 30 years, he spent much of his time in Anogyra near Limassol in Cyprus. Shirley was a Middle Eastern archaeologist and a prolific writer: the latest of 16 books, Olives and Lemons, analysed the changes in the village over those decades. In September, Jolyon enjoyed his 90th birthday celebrations with his wife and their granddaughter, Saffron, but returned to Blewbury after Shirley was buried under Cypriot skies two months later.

Perhaps remembering his production of T.S.Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral for the Blewbury Players in St Michael’s Church, he rented the house across the road. On warmer December days, the nonagenarian sat outside at noon, mulled wine in hand, to catch up with old friends.

Now, in the words of his daughter, Gigi, ‘we are all pleased to think of him buried beside the Blewbury Croquet Club, smiling benignly whenever he sees the residents enjoying the club into which he put so much love and passion and energy’.

Thanks, Minty. And now best wishes to you all –

Paul Wolff