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A Winter Address
BY REGINALD BAKELEY
EXCERPTED FROM PHOOKA NO.428

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When winter’s chill begins to creep around the glens and crags of Wales, the country King Arthur once called home, it is time for me to fulfil one of my more pleasurable duties as chapter president—the maintenance of the Monmouthshire Lodge. Here I play host to hearty club members who spend the coldest days of the year diligently working at the true sport of croquet. There are beds and facilities to house a dozen players, but most men aren’t able to stay long, so I often find myself alone at the lodge. It’s a good time to work on writing and other projects I’ve put off throughout the year. In recent winters I’ve spent days designing and turning out some of the best mallets of my modest woodworking career.

Last year I assigned myself the task of clearing the monstrous lodge attic, hoping to find some new ideas for Phooka hidden in the room’s secret, venerable corners. I was handing over the journal to Wonderella Printed after many years with Watermark. It was the end of an era, and it would be good to discover some fresh material for the Americans.

The excavation yielded many treasures, among them a lodge mallet used by the chapter during the first half of this century. It was a full stone in weight and had narrow brass plaques affixed about its head, each one chronicling in turn the name and years of service of the presidents of Team Wales. I mounted the hammer (for hammer it is, an oaken object rivaling Thor’s Mjollnir) above the main fireplace downstairs, and I’m still puzzling whether or not I should update the roster.

A few invaluable photo albums surfaced from beneath a crumbling stack of Phooka issues from the 1930s, back when the journal was printed in newspaper form. And below these, cozy in an old whisky crate, a long lost manuscript so fantastic that I had no choice but to reprint it in its entirety in this issue of the journal. The story appears directly after this letter, a testament to one man’s fulfilment of a higher calling in the world of sport. The manuscript was from the hand of Morris Dwight.

For those unfamiliar with the life of Morris Dwight, an introduction is in order. Simply put, the man is one of the most obscure and undercelebrated overland croquet players of the early twentieth century. He invented the pass-strike—or so the general thought has been. I will leave your own decision up to yourself, after you read his story, "Winter Wickets." Nonetheless, Dwight made an art of solo overland croquet and led Team Wales through two decades worth of successful seasons.

Soon after stepping down from his post as president, Dwight retired to the north of Ireland, a place where some of his many roots sought sustenance. It was then that Dwight became uncharacteristically distant in his friendships as well. Before long he disappeared from public life altogether and began turning out fantastic tales of his dealings with all manner of odd creatures—Black Dogs, ghosts, and Moon Men among their number.

Despite the strange end to his career, the effect of Dwight’s active years in the Overland Mallet Club is impressive. His legacy includes the conversion of Monmouthshire from the abandoned meeting house it once was to the lodge it is today, as well as a family consistently involved in the O.M.C. My colleague, Percival Dwight, is Morris’s grandnephew.

Percival declined the privilege of writing this introduction to his ancestor’s work, noting sheepishly that I possessed the greater body of knowledge of the man. I wouldn’t expect family members to harbour a fanatical obsession like I have, so here, Morris, is your introduction:

Winter wicketing is perhaps the most demanding of all the overland croquet variants. The cold air frosts the walls of one’s lungs, the sunlight reflects off icy ponds and into the eyes, and balls rout themselves into banks of snow, some not to be found until the eventual thaw. None of these observations registers as a complaint, however, much the opposite. For it is the sheer difficulty of winter wicketing that makes the sport so rewarding. A long day spent afield is that much sweeter when recollected that evening over a warm drink back home.

Perhaps no player understood this better than Morris Dwight. The manuscript I reprint in this issue of Phooka is a recount of Dwight’s 1911 winter campaign, which starts out as an ordinary game but becomes something much more fantastic. One can never tell, but I’m fairly sure that if modest old Dwight knew we were celebrating his life with this issue of Phooka he would laugh at us all and accuse us of having nothing better to do. I’m also as sure as I can be that he would smile to know there are those who put as much of themselves into the game of winter croquet as he once did, and that’s a thing of which we can all be proud.

Reginald Bakeley
ABERGAVENNY

Note: We hope to one day post Morris Dwight’s “Winter Wickets” to this website. Until then, a photocopy of this delightful tale can be had by sending $1 to Clint Marsh, in care of Wonderella Printed, Post Office Box 10146, Berkeley, Calif. 94709.

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