As Easy As Three Four Five(s)
17/12/18: The Fives players of North Oxford took on the Christmas Three Code Challenge IV yesterday, with sixteen players successfully staying the course to play Rugby Fives at Rugby, Eton Fives at Eton and Winchester Fives at Winchester all in one day.
The biennial Three Code Challenge has become a North Oxford christmas institution, with the sixteen places highly prized and sought after. With the transport and logistics side of the operation planned with military precision, a full complement of players plus timekeeper/score recorder/cheerleader Michele Shaw assembled at 0900 hours in the Bell Inn, Rugby where sixteen large fry-ups were consumed, with only Spencer disappointing with the size of his vegan sausage - an offering that looked so pathetic alongside the one poached egg also ordered that the waitress actually served it with an apology.
The Rugby courts saw two big reveals - the Lumbard gingerbread Fives court and the draw for the first round. With four Three Code Challenge four timers (Gareth Hoskins, Karen Hird, Spencer Chapman and Mandie Barnes) and only three TCC virgins (Harry Asquith, Stephen Thatcher and Faye Kerr), there was almost a danger of competence breaking out on occasions as the eight pairs battled it out across three timed games each to win the first prize of the day and also make a start on their points tally towards the overall prize. Nick Shaw & Francesca Turnbull made the early moves in the overall competition but lost out to Seb Cooley & Mandie Barnes in the Rugby semi-final, Seb going on to win the battle of the Cooleys in the final against Charlotta & Nathan Turnbull. Bespoke chocolate prizes, complete with inspirational message and personal photo from the absent Graham "Grandad" Pulsford, were handed over to the victorious pair.
More car and passenger juggling got everyone to Eton ready for the next leg of the trip, but not before the gingerbread court had been started on plus an assortment of chocolate brownies, mince pies, apple cake and spirulina (guess who) consumed in what passed for a warm up. One of the central tenets of Three Code Challenge law is that steps have to be taken to stop Seb winning everything and this was taken to extreme lengths as Seb found himself banned from hitting the buttress in the Eton leg. This opened the path up for the Old Ed combination of Pete Scholey and Stephen Thatcher to storm into the final on one side of the draw, and once there they denied Karen Hird a first ever TCC victory by defeating Karen & Harry Asquith in a triumph for Midlands Fives.
It was clear at this point that everything was going far too smoothly and according to plan and Winchester then duly delivered, even threatening at one point to turn the whole thing into a Two Code challenge. Internal communications between the lettings office, the sports centre and the school porters are clearly not a Winchester College strong point, especially on a Sunday evening in the Christmas holidays and it took a good hour, a lot of unsuccessful phone calls, a fair amount of wandering around Winchester and a good soaking as the rain decided to put in an appearance before we finally managed to make it onto the Winchester courts. There was still time for a final competition, a last chance for some chocolateware and some desperate late attempts to move up the overall standings to claim the coveted trophy and follow in the footsteps of Andy Bishop (2012), Ralph Morgan (2014) and Francesca Turnbull (2016). Seb was anxious to avoid a repeat of his Eton frustrations and - benefitting from the assured and classy contribution of partner Colin Turnbull - claimed his second title of the day with a win over Stephen Thatcher & Nathan Turnbull in the final. When the final calculations were done, however, Rule One of the Three Code Challenge did not need to be invoked as Seb had finished second overall to his paume partner Nick Shaw, who deservedly added his name to the NOEFC roll of honour. Without realising it, Gareth Hoskins & Chris Lumbard had been engaged in a final match battle for the newly instituted and frankly even more prestigious wooden spoon award, with Chris unwittingly nudging ahead of the club captain and therefore out of contention in the last few minutes of their match in the company of Mandie Barnes and Francesca Turnbull.
Providing a changing room and a shower was way beyond the capabilites of Winchester, so the Fives courts served as a temporary changing room before the NOEFC mob descended on Gandhi's for quite probably the best curry on the whole Fives circuit. There they were joined by Nigel Cox and Jeff Green, although not sadly by the NOEFC President, who was unable to make it, leaving poor Faye distraught, for a few minutes anyway.
This trip is always one of the highlights of the North Oxford calendar and is becoming more and more popular the more often we do it. We would thoroughly recommend any other club or school giving it a go (possibly not the vegan sausage and the spirulina though) and we're already looking forward to the Three Code Challenge V in 2020. Thanks to everyone who came along and made it such an enjoyable day, especially those who variously supported from the sidelines, drove, baked, provided prizes or squealed loudly at every opportunity.
Rugby: S.Cooley & M.Barnes beat C.Cooley & N.Turnbull
Eton: P.Scholey & S.Thatcher beat K.Hird & H.Asquith
Winchester: S.Cooley & C.Turnbull beat S.Thatcher & N.Turnbull