Sunday, September 27, 2009


Or.... The elements of a really miserable session of pool
1)  Lousy weather
The third straight day of sunless murk, thoroughly depressing.  And clammily humid as well: my shirt was soaked through by the time I'd walked the three miles to the pool hall.
2)  Insufficient sleep
After a couple of days of restorative lie-ins which had finally started to top up my sleep-health account again, I ended up staying up way too late on Friday night (and being unable to sleep in the next morning because of building work going on in one of the apartments downstairs).
3)  A touch of loose bowel
Not that I was troubled by a need for bathroom breaks while playing, but it was probably rendering me a tad physically frail, just a little shaky.
4)  Shaggy hair
I am well overdue for a trim, and my fringe is starting to hang in front of my eyes - that's always a bit distracting when lining up a shot.  This is one of my oldest excuses for a dip in pool form.... but it is quite true, honestly.
5)  Aches & pains
The 'arthritic' pains I've been suffering in my left elbow and right shoulder (the result, I suppose, of carrying heavy bags around with me on holiday in July and August) are finally easing, after 6 or 7 weeks.  But they're still a slight - and very unwelcome - distraction.
6)  Depression
Health problems, poor sleeping, the foul, gloomy weather, ongoing vexations with employers, and the mounting lunacy of oppressive 'security' measures prior to next week's 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China have all been dragging my spirits down into the mire over the past week.  Usually I find that my pool form is a sensitive predictor of an approaching crash in my mood.  When I'm already glum - and this is somewhere beyond, beneath glum - I really should stay way from the game: I just don't have the emotional resilience to bounce back from setbacks.
7)  No air-conditioning
Or none that was very effective, anyway.  And it took several minutes of wrangling with the fuwuyuan to get him to turn it on at all.  With the level of humidity yesterday, the pool hall was stifling.
8)  An unfamilar table, with exceptionally niggardly pockets
Actually, I had played on that table a few times before; but not recently enough for it to seem at all familiar.  And the cut of the pockets - of the middle pockets, especially - was quite savage.  Ordinarily, I am a big middle bag potter - fine cuts and doubles into the middle are one of the big strengths of my game.  I scarcely made a single shot of this kind all afternoon yesterday - although I did miss narrowly, grazing one or the other or both pocket jaws time and time again.  I would judge that the jaws of the middle pockets were at least a quarter of an inch more prominent than usual - and that's a lot.  This was really not the kind of table I needed to be playing on when I'm out of practice and short of confidence.  It's pretty remarkable, really, that given this almost complete inability to make a shot in the middle bags, I managed to win any games at all.
9)  A less than ideal cue
I shouldn't complain too much, really.  It had an OK tip, and a nice solid feel to it.  But it wasn't quite perfectly straight, and it didn't have much weight to it.  Again, not a confidence-builder!
10)  A new and 'tufty' surface
Our table appeared to have been fairly recently re-covered, and so the baize was thick and a little fluffy.  This kind of surface more readily absorbs moisture in the air, emphasising - in increasingly unpredictable ways - the tendency of the balls to drift off a 'true' line.  (The balls will tend to curve very slightly towards or away from the sides of the table, depending on whether they are rolling with or against 'the nap', the natural grain of the cloth surface.  This effect tends to be exaggerated with new cloth, and/or with very damp air, such as we suffered yesterday.  And it becomes far more inconsistent or random where the cloth has not been brushed regularly, or has not been been brushed in a uniform direction - which, alas, we almost always have to suffer in China.)
11)  The most appalling run of 'bad luck'
Really.  Now, I try not to believe in 'luck'; I do try to convince myself that there is a reason - an ultimately controllable reason - for everything that happens on a pool table, and that a bad 'run of the balls' is down to me at the end of the day, perhaps some kind of unconscious self-sabotage.  But even my opponent had to laugh in sympathy at some of the wretchedly unlikely bad breaks I got yesterday.  [From one of my break-off shots, a ball split from the pack heading directly for the centre of the left middle pocket; but it was travelling just a little too fast to drop over the lip, hit the far jaw, bounced across the lip of the pocket, hit the near jaw, and bounced across the lip again, bounced off the far jaw a second time and came to rest in the middle of the pocket, hanging so precarious over the edge that it seemed certain to drop after just another second or two of hesitation; another ball had bounced around all the cushions and was approaching this middle pocket ball from behind, on a perfect line to hit it and nudge it into the pocket; this contact occurred exactly as anticipated, except that the dratted ball again wobbled to and fro along the lip of the pocket, ricocheting off both jaws without dropping in.  I cried.  Whether with laughter or self-pity, it is hard to say.]
12)  A too good opponent
I was playing New Dad, my pool nemesis.  I would like to think that, at my best, I have the beating of him.  In fact, in the Pool Bar, I have managed a pretty good record against him - maybe even slightly better than 50-50.  But in this pool hall, the stats are running badly against me.  In a typical two or two-and-a-half hour session, I think I usually win 4 or 5 of the games, and manage another 4 or 5 in which I run him very close (and possibly should win, but don't!); and the other 7 or 8 (or 9 or 10 or...) he just thwoops me.  Yep, I'm struggling to make one game in three against him lately, and that's just pitiful.  Yesterday, I think I may have been even worse than that, perhaps not taking more than one in four.  Throwing away the last game of the session when I was well in front seemed an almost inevitable final insult in the afternoon's catalogue of woes, a bitterly apposite salting of the wounds.
No, in the circumstances I probably should have called an early halt to that dismal humiliation.  Indeed, I perhaps should have ducked out of the rendezvous altogether.
But you know, sometimes, as our American friends have it, you've just got to suck it up.  My feeling about my pool form is so low at the moment that I can see myself quite easily running away from the game for a period of months.  Perhaps even forever.
I can't let that happen.  I've got to keep plugging away.  I've got to learn to deal with the frustration and disappointment.  I've got to rediscover the mojo, however long and painful the search may be.

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