This is exactly the point where I could read over my columns without cringing and hiding in the cupboard. As ever, it's mostly true.
Recently, we’ve been in Chicago with with my wife’s sister and her husband. And their kids. Luckily we have kids of our own, so we won that Top Trumps round. One thing that you footloose and fancy free disco kids will no doubt be incredibly bored of hearing by now is that parents can’t go out like what they used to when they were knee high to a grasshopper, etc, etc. One of the other things about being a parent is that you have an inexhaustible desire to inflict this knowledge on all your friends, so don’t expect to be any less bored anytime soon.
Eventually, our wives tired of our sparkling conversation and decided, being reasonable adults, it was time to go to bed. Equally, my brother in law and I decided that it was the perfect excuse to go to the pub, us having already had far too much to drink. That is how I found myself propping up an Irish bar, drinking something terrible masquerading as beer.
We spy a pool table in the corner. “Let’s play pool”, he says.
A very brief montage of embarrassing pool & snooker moments, starring me flashes before my eyes. I demur. “No, I’m not really any good”, I say, starting with an understatement.
“Don’t worry”, he says. “Neither am I”.
We play. He wins, of course, but not without me making the odd useful shot. The alcohol is making me believe in my ability to play, that I am in fact demonstrating an innate ability with the cue that I have previously been unaware of. I grow increasingly confident. There may even be swagger, although that could be a general wobble. At no point do I think of the old maxim ‘even a stopped clock is right twice a day’.
I am becoming very pleased with myself. I am Paul Newman in The Sting, or Hurricane Higgins, even Steve Davis (my following of snooker having ended a long time ago). I continue to swagger. I find the awful beer to be actually quite nice, invigorating, in fact. I wonder how I never realised that alcohol could bring me such focus. A woman comes up to us to play the next game and do we want to play doubles. My brother in law, clearly impressed by my skills, agrees. I go to the bar for further concentration juice. Hooray, I think, and wish I had a camera so I could personally show everyone who’s ever beat me (all of them) my hidden talent.
The game starts well. My brother in law breaks and shows some surprising skill. I chuckle inwardly, pleased to have inspired him. Inevitably, he misses a ball and it’s their turn. Very quickly, I realise that they might know their way around a pool table. They do that thing where they point to a pocket and then put a ball in it. They smoke while they do this and I begin to wonder if the cigarettes are their radioactive spider. I go and get another pint. Then it’s my turn. It’s a difficult shot, a tricky angle. Real skill and concentration are required. I take a long drink. I nod to my opponents (little do they know), I grin at my brother in law. I take the shot. It’s brilliant. A winner. “Yes!” I say, laughing. Behind me, the couple laugh. Strange, I think. I turn, expecting my due congratulations from my brother in law.
“Dude. That was their ball.”
“Ah.” I finish my drink. After we lose, I decide never to play pool again. Later, I will decide never to drink again.
(Note from January 2009: I did not remember to keep this resolution. I am a fool)
Breakfast of Champions, Adam Hillman
5 hours ago