Nomads may have the best job in the world: walking, chatting, exploring, and taking photographs just for the sake of a warm sunny spring afternoon. You never know what you will stumble upon or who you will end up meeting.
Our second day in Stony Stratford turned warm, so we stowed our jackets in the closet and set out on foot to explore our immediate neighborhood. A few streets behind our house lies a large park that backs onto the noisy expressway; walk a little further away from the cars and trucks and you will find the Stony Stratford Croquet Club.
When one travels there is an unspoken vision of getting to know the locals, seeing something foreign and unknown to ones daily routine back home, and living as they do — even for an hour or two. Reflecting back on the time we spent at the Stony Stratford Croquet grounds with two older croquet players, I see how Meredith and I got to have one of those fleeting moments one hopes to encounter when traveling. The best part of these types of experiences: they are totally unexpected, utterly unplanned, and entirely free!
Croquet in Stony Stratford
The old me whispered in my ear to walk right by the croquet lawn and keep to our usual walking pace, keep to familiar ways of traveling – the safe method. Unsure of the outcome, we both struggled for a few seconds with what to do: keep walking on the concrete path laid out before us or stop and see what transpires.
We stopped and watched, intrigued by a game that neither of us had seen up close at this level. Groups of two and four with long wooden sticks hitting heavy colored balls around a neatly manicured lawn. “Looks easy,” I thought to myself.
Immediately, we were accosted by a friendly local British fellow by the name of Doug, along with his daily croquet partner Roy. Doug was beaming and asked, “Want to have a go?” Our non-threatening Canadian look and foreign accents must have delighted the small town croquet enthusiasts. Nothing breaks up daily croquet monotony like young travelers who look lost and vulnerable to learning a new game.
We watched and chatted, slowly learning how to strike the ball with the mallet along with the basic rules of the game. Then Roy handed us a mallet and said, “Common, let’s see what you can do.” Somewhat like golf, but with a heavier wooden stick is my description. Although, if I held a golf club the same way as a croquet mallet (between your legs), I imagine I would be sore in the groin in the morning!
Our short practice session was interrupted by Roy who brought us each a cup of tea with milk, and persuaded us to eat a piece of homemade cake with butter. I wondered, “How did we find ourselves in this situation?” Twenty minutes ago we were just out for a walk, and now Meredith and I are deep in a croquet match, drinking tea and eating cake with 8 or 10 older croquet players from the local club.
Travel in the Moment
We lost track of all time, simply enjoying the game, the warm sun, and getting to know our two new friends – Doug and Roy. Doug worked for the BBC Corporation in London and later Birmingham as a camera operator, then as a school teacher. Roy spent most of his 30 year career working for Volkswagon and has lived in the Stony Stratford area his entire life.
A full game to 7 points took roughly 40 minutes (I think), and then as quickly as we had entered their world, we departed. Part of me wanted to play another game of croquet, or take Roy and Doug to the pub and continue our new friendship. I wanted to get to know them more and build on the croquet relationship we had so easily established. I had greater questions about their life: what was it like growing up in small town England? What were their greatest achievements? Do they have any regrets?
But life doesn’t work that way. We were present in the moment, and now we are onto the next.
Walking along our now familiar path, Meredith and I eagerly chatted about having had ‘one of those experiences,’ the type that travels revel and yearn for day after day, knowing they can come at any moment; The type that last and imprint on your memory for a long time. When they finally arrive, your senses are heightened and each moment takes on a natural life of its own, forming with ease and growing to maturity, where the next moment takes over just as quickly.
It is hard to describe to someone that is not used to travel, someone not used to being a nomad. To see the good, trust, comfort, and sameness in others, no matter where you are in the world.Too many times we are told about the dangers and pitfalls of travel. I am certainly not blind to the fact that bad things happen while traveling and I am as cautious and aware as any seasoned traveler. However, I don’t want to become totally closed off to the good things that can come from immersing myself in a new environment or trusting others. It is a fine balance.
I may never want to stop traveling with my wife after a simple croquet game with tea and cake in Stony Stratford. I will always remember the afternoon we spent with two English gentleman – two generations apart from ourselves – laughing, teaching, and smiling just because …
(Above) I Went back the next day to snap a few photos, but the croquet grounds were empty.