Personal reminiscence

Dave Nick: a Personal Reminiscence

I joined the Crake Valley club in about 2005, so the first half of Dave’s playing career is something I know only by hearsay. I know he wandered into the club out of curiosity because he lived half a mile away. I know he showed an instant aptitude for croquet: so great an aptitude that Gail Curry (at that time a leading figure in the women’s game) would come over from the North East on her motor bike, on a regular basis, in order to coach him. And I know he took part in the 24-hour game between Crake and Southport, floodlit through the night by car headlights, and won by Crake.

By the time I joined Crake, Dave was long established as its best player, and one of a handful of top players in the North West. I had played croquet for 20 years before coming to live in Cumbria, and with a handicap of 0 or thereabouts thought I understood the game, and was quite good at it. Playing A class doubles as Dave’s partner quickly taught me two things: the first was that I knew far less about the game than I had thought I knew. At the end of an opponent’s turn he would walk on to the lawn, take a quick glance at the balls, and immediately suggest two or three or half a dozen lines of play, none of which would have occurred to me in half a lifetime.

The showman enjoying pointing at all four clips having peeled 3 balls.

The second thing he taught me was how enjoyable croquet can be. ‘A’ class tournaments, where you don’t know very many of the participants, can be intimidating. Enjoyable if you are playing well, but otherwise pretty lonely. I never really enjoyed the game before I came to Crake. In my experience, and a lot of people in the North West would say the same, a tournament where Dave was playing was a whole lot more fun than one where he wasn’t; and that was even more true of a tournament where he was managing. I’ve watched him managing tournaments at Crake, and it was clear that for him, there was a whole lot more to it than getting all the games played in the time available. He really wanted everyone taking part to go away feeling they had had an enjoyable weekend.

My guess is Dave left school at 14, and had no formal education after that. But he was probably the most intelligent and quick-witted person I have known. Quicker and sharper than other people when it came to seeing possibilities in play, and equally quick and sharp when it came to possibilities for humour. I remember an end-of-season Crake do, when he was chairman of the club (a job he hated). He was drawing the raffle prizes, and it turned out I had the winning ticket for the last prize. ‘Oh good,’ he said without hesitation, ‘I’m glad he’s won something.’ Fractional pause. ‘He hasn’t won anything else this year.’

He was also one of the strongest people I have known. Powerfully built, he spent most of his working life at the Burlington slate quarry, which no doubt accounted for the power of his croquet strokes. On a waterlogged lawn after hours of rain, he could roll both balls from corner 4 to corner 2 in conditions where most of us wouldn’t get a single ball much past the peg. I also remember one time putting up a couple of fence posts with him. It’s the only time I have ever seen someone take a fence post in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other, and knock the post into the ground like a nail into a plank of wood. He said once he would have liked to try highland sports, tossing the caber for example. I don’t know what the caber equivalent of a triple peel is, but I have no doubt he would have quickly mastered it.

How good a player was he? Hard to assess, beyond saying very good indeed. He played with a light touch, with great finesse, possibly sometimes making errors through carelessness which a cruder player might have avoided. He was a wonderful player to watch, making difficult lines of play look easy, and doing things the point of which became clear only some considerable while later. The very top players in the UK probably made fewer errors, but I don’t think they ever regarded him as an easy player to beat. One year he played for the North West in a warm-up match against the visiting Australian test team. It was early in their tour, and maybe the Aussies were short of match practice, but Dave in the course of a weekend won two out of three best-of-threes against them.

I have mentioned a number of Dave’s qualities and characteristics. But I have left the most important until last. It wasn’t just that he was sharp, clever, funny, and a brilliant croquet player; he was also one of the kindest people I have ever known. I have seen him, against someone playing in his first tournament who had quickly lost his first game, make a deliberate mistake (disguising that it was deliberate) because he didn’t want his opponent to lose his first two tournament games without having taken croquet. He is the only person I have seen do such a thing in a serious competitive game.

Tom Griffith