Members Only

20 Oct

snooker

On Friday nights I lock up around six or seven and buzz round to Janine’s on the scooter for an hour before moving on to Frankie’s. Janine’s a tight little piece who thinks I look like Euan Macgregor. She squirms and  protests but we usually get somewhere in the end. Afterwards I light cigarettes for us and we talk for awhile about her dreams. She wants to be an actress  but this is Edinburgh and I tell her it’s pretty hopeless and that dreams are for losers and that she should get a job in Sainsbury’s and keep with me. She gets all tetchy when I tread on her dreams and tells me I should go – so I do, shutting the door firm.

I hop on the scooter and whip round to Frankie’s for eight or nine, cue strapped round my back in its leather case.

Frankie’s skulks in a backstreet behind a dim pub nobody goes to – if you’re not from round here it’s not likely you’ll have heard of it. I leave the scooter perched in the empty car park and cruise in. Jock the Clock puffs his fag at the entrance below the flickering sign (FRNKIS): ‘alright Jock’, people say. He appraises whoever it might be and croaks hello.

In the bar the regulars are at large. Young Cecil stoops over the fruit machine, walking stick by his side, dribbling his heavy down his chin. Fucker Burke’s at the dart board. Morningside Fats prowls in his sharp suit and crumbly suede shoes looking for a frame of straight pool – not my game. Spaz Monty, Tony the Church and Quinn the Welshman prop up the bar, waiting for punters to get a card game going with.

Round here they call me Pecker. I came through to Edinburgh a couple of years ago to go to the art college. I can’t draw, can’t paint, or sculpt or take photos or that but as I see it you don’t have to do any of those things to get by as an artist these days.  I mostly work with what they call ‘found objects’ – shit I pick up from skips and building sites. I basically do what I can get away with. I tend to throw off the odd art history reference now and then – I’ve only got a couple but I recycle them and it seems to do the trick. I tell them Van Gogh was a nobody until he died and I tell them that Picasso was a fanny but that doesn’t make him a bad artist. The boys at club think I’m some sort of Michelangelo.

I’m the best snooker player at Frankie’s too by the way, by a mile. Number 1.

Friday’s my night.  When I get to the table it’s hot and swift. I snipe and knife and cut anything in, almost unconsciously – I don’t mean to brag it’s just like that. I could give you thirty points and sink you on yellows alone. And the boys know this. And if you are at all handy as a snooker player and you reside in Edinburgh you are aware of this. And some of the geezers in Glasgow are aware of it too.

Enter the hotshots  – the poor things that slot the jazzy long ones in with a wink to their birds – and not much else. You could call them my  fish. I reel them in, net them then bash them countinually until they stop wriggling and lie prone. I’ll give you an example: Wee Davy. Aye, Wee Davy was a puffed up little bastard who thought he was the next Steve Davis. His cue action was pretty sharp and he could pot – but he had no balls. Wee Davy shouldered into Frankie’s one Friday night in a trenchcoat and placed a fifty on the bar. He ordered a coke. The boy Liam, the bartender, looked over to Table 4 – my table – and gave me the nod. Go through the back he says to Wee Davy. I wrapped things up and walked through to the Members Only room. Fab place: single table, spotless baize, leather seats round the walls and a personal hatch through to the bar for your bevs.

Davy was already practicing as I entered. ‘I’m Davy’ he says.

‘Aye?’ He knew me alright.

Wee Davy reckoned he was worth fifty quid a frame and I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I let him win the first one, and the second – and I made a pretty show of putting up a fight. I’d hooked him: hundred a frame – cash on the table. Davy had to nip off to the bank machine.

When he got back the audience had gathered.  Along the right wall it was Tony, Fucker, Young Cecil, Gettis, Jock the Clock, Big Phil and Johnny Hummingbird. Along the left sat Spaz Monty, Quinn The Welshman, Deek Chisholm and Crooked Andy the Milkman. The boy Liam had closed up early to take up scoring and refereeing duties. When Davy got back from the Cashpoint I think he nearly shat himself. But he was game, he was already conviced he would win.

‘Five frames, hundred each,’ I said. He nodded. I ordered a double Talisker and placed it down by Davy’s coke.

I won the toss in the first and let Davy break off. He made a cock of it and slapped the blue full in the face on his way back up. From there I made a forty six and it was as good as over. The second was scrappier – I made a twenty, he made thirty and so on until I beat him on the pink. I eeked out an eighty in the third and that’s when Wee Davy really started to sweat. The fourth and fifth he was all over the place and bang – seventy three and a hallmark century to finish – the lads were creasing themselves. Five hundred quid. When the shots you picture in your mind are all happening a snooker table is the best place in the world.

Wee Davy didn’t show his face in Frankie’s again. Aye, that was a special evening but on the whole most nights its all pretty elementary – twenty quid here and there; I’ve been known to play cards with the boys on a really slow night. A lot of the time I finish up around midnight and buzz round to Melanie’s who keeps her doors open late. I spend a half an hour or so saucing her up with my art banter. Afterwards, when she falls asleep, I pad out and shift round the city for a bit until I get tired and buzz home.

The days are slow at college. I sit and watch the girls most of the time. There’s this one lass Georgina who’s a proper surprising talent. Her corner’s stuffed with sketchbooks and canvases resting up against the walls. She spends full days concentrating on a shadow or a speck in her airy pastel scenes. She’s right posh and I’d love to get her in the sack. But she’s got a wee thin lover with greasy locks who flits in and out from time to time who’s most likely a poet or something. A wank essentially. Maybe I’ll invite him down to Frankie’s for a friendly. There’s a few girls I fancy a round with at the college but I suppose I can’t complain: I’ve been screwing our pottery tutor in the kiln room on a weekly basis, I think she’s having some kind of nervous breakdown or something. Hey ho.

So I’ve told you about one of my victories. Now you’ll probably want to hear about what defeat feels like.

Well, I was round at Vicky’s for a backrub one evening when I got a ring from Morningside Fats. He was all jittery so I said I’d catch him down the club poste haste. I said to Vicky that I’d pour over her novel manuscript in the coming weeks but that I had to get away swift because there was an emergency of great importance. She wasn’t happy but I thanked her anyway for the backrub and left.

I swerved round to the club on the scooter. Fats was in a tizzy. He’d got wind of a busload of English on their way up to Edinburgh looking for a war. They’d decamped from the Home Counties and rallied at Carlisle to wreak havoc in snooker and pool halls all the way up through the borders and into the Lothians. They’d made a laughing stock of the Glasgow boys he said – Gorbals Joe had snapped his lucky cue in a rage – and they wouldn’t stop, said Fats, until they’d punished every last cueman in the country. They’d just arrived in Edinburgh. Fats was sweating like a pig.

There were ten or twelve of them he said – scary buggers the lot of them. The head man was a bastard called Cutter Kim who could play with both hands. Fats was saying he was one of those chink prodigies who’d slotted his first fifty at six and his first century at nine. But you can’t trust Fats, he’s a born gambler, a liar that can’t help but exaggerate the truth. That’s not to say I wasn’t edgy about all this.

The story was they were laying siege to the New Yorker on Monday, The Ball Room on Tuesday, Diane’s on Wednesday, The Corn Exchange on Thursday and last but not least Frankie’s on the Friday. I said to Fats I’d be waiting and that they’d picked the wrong evening to mess with Pecker.

I put in some fairly serious hours at the practice table that week as you can imagine. I wasn’t about to be shown up at home, especially by the English. Straight shots, cuts, dinks, swerves, right hand side, left hand side, topspin, screw, deep screw, rest shots, massé, my safety game – I honed everything up. I made consistency a throbbing muscle – concentration, steel focus.

To relax I used to go round to Janine’s for an hour or two at the end of the day. She’d picked up a bit-part in Rebus or Taggart or something and was in a state of mild ecstasy. The sex was marvellous.

On the big day I was icy like Paul Newman and went for a late lunch with Kate. As evening drew in I wrapped myself in my good  jacket and walked through the city in a dream – appreciating the theatre of the buildings and the streetlights and the rush of people and all that. I was buzzing. Kate was talking about her first violin or something, in a ring cycle at the Playhouse that night and about how I was absolutely going to love it. She gave me a fancy ticket with a backstage stamp and told me to dress nice. She paid for the food which was sublime and I kissed her on both cheeks like the French do and didn’t bother saying I wouldn’t be there.

I got to Frankie’s at seven and hit Table 4 to get my arm going. The English were arriving at nine. The club was smack full of talk and excitement which I tried to  ignore. We were all nervous. Everybody knew what was coming. I stuck my face in the baize and eased into my rhythm. It was Pecker vs. Cutter Kim and nothing else. Me and Cutter.

Now here’s the rub. The kick. This is where it all goes mental. The English arrived on time right in a tight little huddle and everybody was just staring, just trying to pin Cutter Kim. Now, Cutter Kim’s a scary bastard right? Plays with his eyes closed right? Wrong. Aye, that’s where you’d be wrong. Cutter Kim, ladies and gentleman, was a bird. No jokes. I shit you not. A female cueman. She played with both hands, she had a reputed high break of 132 and she’d scared two shades of shite out of Scotland’s snooker fraternity. Nobody could believe it. And I’ll tell you what – I laughed in her face. I couldn’t help it.

She didn’t move a muscle, didn’t flinch. Everything went silent and everybody was throwing glances about like nobody’s business.

I broke the silence. ‘Right then,’ I said – ‘let’s go’.

The boy Liam shut the doors and served about fifty drinks. Everybody flocked into the members only room. Screw the Playhouse, this was the only place to be in Edinburgh that Friday. All eyes were on Cutter Kim as she knocked in a few practice shots. I tell you she was some player. She moved like a pro.

‘OK,’ she says, ‘I’m ready to play, who’s first?’ She went a few frames with Gettis whose a tight safety man. He’s an intimidating presence round the table is Gettis, stands right behind your back and that, breathes down your neck. And sure enough he put it her in all sorts of trouble but she matched him shot for shot and when he let her in she cleared up every time. She was no chump. I’ll tell you what as well she looked really good, I mean physically. Stout arse, silky skin and those eyes – you could get lost in those and never find your way out.

Once she’d finished with Gettis she went to the bar and slurped down a Malibu & Lemonade. Some of the boys went a few rounds with the other Englishmen and it was all sort of fifty-fifty come midnight. Cutter Kim was just sitting there straight faced, polishing off the bevs. It was pretty impressive. I walked over. ‘You and me darling,’ I said. She stood up and wiped her mouth.

Best of seven. No money involved between me and her; she wanted it that way. But the punters were going bonkers – I reckon there must have been over five grand changed hands that night.

I chalked up a storm and broke off in the first and left the white up against the top rail. But I’d stuck a red in the open which she could see. Silence. She didn’t take it on but she hit the safety sweet as a nut. I returned the compliment and so on and vice versa for five minutes or so until she pinned me right in behind the brown. Bit lucky I felt. I nudged off the pack on the return and left a cut in the middle which she sank and then she was off like a firework – up to the blue smack into the reds and in for a sixty or a seventy. The English were clapping away. I spotted Fats in the corner chewing his hand.

The second was mine. I took it carefully, resisting my natural game, lining everything up with my cue.

In the third she let me in after a brutal kick. But it didn’t seem to phase her. My clearance was textbook.

Two-one. In the next she spotted a mad plant and finished up plum on the black. Ten reds ten blacks and everybody was thinking she might do the business but she missed a stinker into the middle against the nap. Everybody was behind her on that shot, maybe even me.

We shared the fifth and sixth. The match was going all the way.

It was two in the morning. I felt the press of a nation on my shoulders. I felt the back-slap of men everywhere. I felt the wee boy in me. It was a twitcher from the off. The walls were closing in and I knew I was gripping my cue too tight. I broke too hard with far too much side and was lucky to bop the green and finish near the pocket. So tense. So tense. She dumped the white down the other end and sent a red up to baulk. There was a cut on to the left corner but I turned it down in favour of the safety. And this was the right shot. But I clipped it thick and left it for the middle. Tragedy. She made a difficult thirty and left me in a tight little spot behind the yellow. And what do you know, I butchered it and fluked a red. It wasn’t pretty. I waved my hand up like a good boy but inside I was dancing. The English boys were in turmoil thinking it was all over. Far from it. The table was a labyrinth, a cryptic crossword puzzle. Every shot felt like the 147 black. But I silenced everything and got to frame ball. Jabbed it. Choked.

Cutter Kim made a noble clearance.

I don’t want to talk about the boys’ faces, the English cheers, the scraps in the carpark. I just don’t.

Outside in the rain, I sat on my scooter and played that frame ball in my mind perfectly twenty or thirty times. You shouldn’t do that, you should just forget about it and get on with your life. Anyway I was just about to buzz round to Tracy’s for a midnight snack when I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Cutter Kim. ‘You’re talented Pecker’, she says, ‘but you found it hard playing against a woman.’

‘Did I fuck,’ I said.

She asked if I would buzz her back to her hotel on the scooter.

We spent the night together – it was pretty wild – and I as I drifted off to sleep I asked her if she’d stick around for awhile. But when I woke up she was gone. She’d left me to deal with her hotel bill and all. Last I heard she was in Dundee teaching some other uppety bastard a lesson.

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One Response to “Members Only”

  1. eddienisbet November 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Tony the Church – best seedy nickname i’ve heard in a while

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