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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Pool: a love letter

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SeattlePool

Wonky-against-wall cueing in a Seattle bar

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.

XKCD

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!

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

6 thoughts on “Pool: a love letter

  1. Yes! Let’s go play pool – I used to work in pubs & got quite good. Haven’t played for too many years (because of this ^^^^) & I miss it.

    I used to play pinball & experienced the same thing. Patriarchy 😒

  2. I was just reading this, which I’ve read before http://www.alternet.org/gender/10-words-every-girl-should-learn

    and remembered another thing about the group who accused me of deceiving them by hiding my talent under layers of girliness.

    We did play a doubles game with them afterwards – they insisted, I said I’d rather not. But nope, gotta display the manly manliness. Fine.

    They beat us by 1 or maybe 2 balls I think. We shook their hands before we left, as one does – one guy WOULD NOT LOOK EITHER OF US IN THE EYE.

    Both flabbergasted by that – I mean really? Apparently grown men, but they couldn’t even display basic politeness. Ridiculous.

  3. Has very much made me want to go and play pool. Thanks!

    For me at least, one of the things I enjoy most about playing pool are mind games, especially with friends and with strangers who think too highly of themselves. The most satisfying victory is the one that you’ve spent 60 minutes grinding out – to the point where you opponent would clearly rather be anywhere else.

    I hope this doesn’t make me an evil sexist, but I have expressed surprise at seeing women in pool halls before – at least in the ones I’ve frequented it’s not a particularly common thing. My first reaction is usually – “They’re probably pretty handy if they’ve come along to a pool hall to play”.

    Anyway – I’m off to commute home and fantasise about having a house big enough to put a pool table in – on which I intend to teach my daughter how to hussle.

    (In a completely unrelated point – have you seen Pool Hall Junkies?!)

  4. Adventures in Pool, cont.
    Last night, a trip to a near-work pub. Table free!
    Rubbish table; uneven, balls spread naturally to the sides, next to a table with lots of city blokes drinking so frequent danger of bashing them (because they refused to move).
    Not playing brilliantly but not terribly.

    One guy exits bathroom. Stops right in front of my face as friend is lining up and says “Are you losing??” with a grin

    I just stared disapprovingly at him. I’m not answering that. What are the likely response options?

    a) “Yeah” oooohhh the widdle wady can’t play the big game, oh well, what did you expect, playing boys, tsk!
    b) “Nope” Oh get you all kicking his backside eh bet he likes it
    Or similar variant thereof. So screw that.

    Later someone else walks past, watching me very closely, and stops to talk to friend, making comments “she’s very good isn’t she” or something to that effect, I was trying to concentrate.
    NO MAN will ever stop and talk to THE MAN WHO IS PLAYING at the same time as me, about his performance, or ask him questions. No. It’s me, it’s presuming I’m either a helpless silly woman or a shark out to emasculate them.

    It’s fucking pathetic.
    I just want to play a game.

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