‘The Virtual Chequers’ Goes Barging

When Lockdown started to ease slightly, and we first allowed to meet friends outdoors, the ‘Virtual Chequers’ was established – June 13th 2020. The ‘patrons’ were the stalwart six who used the Real Chequers Inn in Bulkington after Practice on a Tuesday night, Gerald & Sue Trevor, Steve Colley, Geoff Pratt, Chris Worley and myself.

The inaugural meet was in Wolvey in the garden of Sue and Gerald Trevor at 7pm. Looking back, it was all quite alien and surreal to us all, particularly since this was the first place some of us had ‘escaped’ to other than to the ‘old and vulnerable’ Supermarket slot, once a week, to do our shopping. Protocols were high on the list – social distancing, own drinks and drinking vessels, hand sanitiser, disposable gloves, ‘bar snacks’ suitably untouched by human hand and encased in Clingfilm.

Apart from the Social chat, we needed something more to fill the evening. Enter new skills! Gerald had set out a ‘Clock Golf’ course on his lawn and a fierce team competition ensued, with a knock-out at the end. Geoff had also brought the hand bells and we tried to ring rounds and call changes with a modicum of success. A lot of fun, and a wonderful way to start to spread our wings.

The second week saw us in Nuneaton in the garden of Joy Pluckrose. Same rules applied, but this week we dusted off the Petanque set and pretended we were in France. The slope of the lawn was the downfall of some. We had another go at change ringing on hand bells, and then someone had the bright idea that we might be more successful ringing tunes! Out came the music, but the only suitable pieces for beginners were Christmas Carols, so we serenaded the neighbours in June with a hint of Christmas!

Over the following weeks we have alternated between the two gardens, learning to play 301 darts, killer darts, killer skittles, croquet, quoits, held a beetle drive, a quiz and celebrated St James’ Day with a beautiful Santiago cake made by Sue Chapman. A splinter group, meeting half an hour earlier, have honed their skills in change ringing on hand bells. We have also widened the group to include Janice & Ray Sheasby on a regular basis, and welcomed Sue Chapman, Keith Chambers and David & Hazel Allen on occasions.

Gerald Trevor, in a reckless moment, thought it would be a good idea to hire a barge on the canal for the day, so ‘The Virtual Chequers’ went afloat to explore the Ashby Canal from Stoke Golding to Shakerstone with a ‘posh picnic’ and cream teas on board - of course washed down with grog. Unfortunately the day he chose coincided with Storm Frances! Not to be put off we all turned up with waterproofs, fleeces, and beanie hats. Did the weather deter us? Not a bit, even exploring the more eccentric of our ‘activities’ – Bob Minor rung on dessert spoons, two in hand: of course, silent and non-conducted!!

We had a wonderful day and when we got wet we dried off in front of the wood burner that had been lit on board for us!

The weather has been very mixed over the Summer: thunderstorms rattling round us, gale force winds forcing us to wrap up warmly, the threat of rain ever present. Sadly now the nights are beginning to draw in and the garden lights have to go on. I am not sure how many more weeks we can continue, but we will all be very sad when ‘The Virtual Chequers’ has to close for the winter. The Real Chequers……….? Perhaps one day