I love me a good game of pool. Or ten.
I’m not as good at it as I used to be; when I went to university to do my undergraduate degree, we had a free table in the student halls’ bar so naturally I’d go in there before lunch, after lunch, of an evening – whenever.
I wanted to get better at it. I did.
Pool isn’t one of those things people, as parents, tend to take their daughters to learn. To be fair, I did get karate, but my dad and his friends would go to the “Conservative Club” to play snooker; something entirely unsuitable for children on many levels, and I still can’t do it.
I had to make do with Jimmy White’s Whilrwind Snooker on the Amiga 500.
The real thing feels like trying to roll a football into bins at the corner of a pitch. I’m too short.
In 2004/5 we set up a pool tournament for a bunch of us who liked to play but didn’t even finish it because the first year was too short and playing everyone off against each other took too long. It was still fun. I held my own.
All in your head
Why do I love this game? It’s a challenge. It’s an equaliser – like chess (but with much less intellectual content) everyone is the same on the table. Except for the fact that pub pool cues are of course very much variable in quality, as is the playing area.
Once you have the basics down – spread-foot stance, bend to see level with the baize, slide the cue under the centre of your face, a sturdy hand bridge, checking angles and eventually learning placement – it’s accessible; something anyone can pick up and even after not playing for a long time, you can still have a go – unlike something like golf or tennis.
It’s an escape. Concentrating on something, dealing with the barriers that come up along the way, celebrating small victories and believing in yourself.
A kicker in pool is self-confidence. Almost always, if you line up and think I’ll miss this, you will. You have to be confident, you have to be positive, or it doesn’t go well. This is a direct challenge for those of us who struggle with confidence and anxiety (very little to worry about in this situation, worst that happens is you lose, possibly in a slightly embarrassing manner), and I genuinely think it’s a useful, fun and low-stakes way to work on it.
It’s also (hopefully) spending time with friends, and I enjoy pub atmospheres, for the most part.
Not all fun and games
What I don’t like is the attitude of potential-friends in the past and now more often strangers; that it isn’t for me to be there, that I am obviously incompetent. Having to prove myself because apparently lacking a Y chromosome means you’re not allowed to participate in some activities.
At university, there’s often some culture clash going on – many grew up with far less progressive views on women and our capabilities than “natives”, at least of the higher education group. But now, if some guys – regardless of their own ability – are playing and they see visibly-female people approach, it’s as if they think they’re gatekeepers.
It reminds me of primary school. The kids used to shout “NO GIRLS ON THE PITCH!” unless you were one of the special few who’d passed the lower limit skill test for girls – obviously much higher than that for boys, who were “allowed” to practice and get better. Needless to say I did not bother.
Keep your drinks and ovaries off the table
Last year I had to haggle to play with a friend, without going through some winner-stays-on with the guys already there first. After we had a game, I was then accused of
Flouncing in, acting all innocent, pretending to be no good
When in fact literally all that happened was we walked (I don’t flounce, ever, to my knowledge) in, got drinks and asked if they’d mind relinquishing the table a while so we could play.
Apparently the mere fact of boob-ownership means you are actively lying about having any proficiency in a game and must apologise for deceiving the poor men who assumed you must be shite and in need of tutelage. The pathetic strutting performance they put on was so absurd, but it’s certainly not an isolated incident.
We used to get challengers coming to halls, seeing The Girls play and assuming they’d win. To be fair sometimes they did – but then of course you have to agree it’s because Girls Suck At Pool, and not because sometimes you have a bad game or that person making comments about you was distracting.
Frequently it’s a case of putting a lot of mental energy into ignoring people perving on you as you play – generally older men – but perhaps that’s why a lot of women, if they do dare to have a go, won’t bother adopting anything like a proper stance and never persist.
The more you bend over, the more eyes you feel lock on you. It’s extremely unpleasant, and can really drain the joy from something I otherwise derive great pleasure from.
Random men will tend to ask who won after I’ve played a male friend and the comments, as above, range from surprise if I win to unwanted consolation if I haven’t. I suspect men playing their male friends do not experience this and are generally left to their devices free from gaze or comment.
I still love this game, but as with many things in life, the layers of sexism I have to try my best to ignore, or maybe have the energy to point out then face the inevitable backlash of excuses for the men whose feelings must be eversohurt because they’ve been accused of perhaps having some sexist biases (worst thing in the world to deal with, y’know) – all of this just makes it less fun.
I hope I never get too tired to overcome it, because pool is brilliant, and you should play too. Let’s play. Find a table!