“Pool and snooker table maintenance,” announced the strapline on the side of the white van. Times being what they are, it is hard to imagine that the driver is finding much work.
Snooker tables used to be commonplace. “Billiard tables,” they were called when I was young. Snooker halls, working men’s clubs, games rooms in big houses and student facilities, pubs, even youth clubs, the green baize was something approached with seriousness, and treated with care.
Snooker halls were places filled with a concentrated silence, the kiss of the white ball against a red or a colour, a puff on a cigarette, a sip from a pint of beer, an occasional word of congratulation to an opponent. Muzak and constant background television noise were still things of the future.
While played with just three balls, billiards seemed a more difficult and a more complicated game. Playing it only once, with a friend at his university’s snooker room, it seemed a game without hiding places, a game where the failings of a bad player like myself were quickly exposed.
Attending theological college in the 1980s, the snooker table was an opportunity to escape from the lessons on Greek and philosophy and Biblical literature. An evening never seemed complete without at least a frame. Later, more serious academic minds, deemed the snooker table and the adjacent table tennis table to be superfluous to the requirements of those preparing for ordination and they were removed to make way for an additional seminar room.
Pool always seemed a less formal game, although the skill demanded to be a good player seemed to be just as great. Pool tables could be fitted into a smaller space, the games could be played more quickly, the capacity for income generation was greater.
Now, all three games seem to be in decline. In the 1980s, the snooker champions were household names, now the viewing figures for the championships are a fraction of what they were. With the decline in public popularity, perhaps there has been a corresponding disappearance of many snooker tables. It is a long time since I heard of anyone playing billiards, perhaps there are still gentlemen’s clubs where the gentle art is still practised. Even pool tables seem not to have the popularity they once enjoyed, are there still places where people put piles of coins on the side of the table to reserve the next game?
With lockdown and the decline of licensed premises, the van driver may need to find other uses for his vehicle.