28 May 2014

divorcing my shoe

I'm filing for divorce from Madame Saucony. When we first met in 2010, my arches were at an all time low and I fell hard for her undoubted charms, in particular her stabilizing influence. We became comfortable and were soon inseparable. 'Sole' mates.
But, four years later there is disharmony. Her rigid ways are a bone of contention. My 'sole' is worn; the smooth outer edge a testament to her dismissive way of throwing my feet to the outside. I confess, I have been straying in search of more understanding company.
Lately I have been 'stepping out' with Miss ASICS. Our relationship is young and we are still learning each other's foibles but so far she seems plush and supportive in every department. She's neutral on the thorny subject of pronation and lets my foot roll where it should. A smooth ride, you might say.
Time will tell if our affair develops to the next level. Who knows, I might find Miss ASICS too flighty, too skittish. There will be many pitfalls (and potholes) to try us but, for now, we are pounding the sidewalks of Charlottetown together and running the Confederation Trail in silent companionship.

20 May 2014

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

This is an intoxicating story of loss, of love, of addiction and obsession. It follows the turbulent life of Theo Decker, picking up when he is caught in a terrorist bombing which takes the life of his mother. From there it's a rollercoaster ride of arrivals and departures, of greetings and farewells. Whenever Theo is beginning to settle, he is whisked away to another new start.
The Goldfinch of the title is a tiny but immensely valuable painting, oil on wood. Theo has it in his possession and its very presence shapes his life.
Donna Tartt's style is rich with description and observation; her language sharp and evocative. The novel is exciting and brim full with real people with real aspirations, faults and successes, doing real things. It's a long read and all the more satisfying for that.

02 May 2014

snooker, the art and the act

As I watch the snooker World Championship, half a day behind, on the BBC iPlayer, my mind drifts back to the dozens of long evenings I spent with my brother at Claude Falkiner's Snooker Club in Bournemouth in the late 1970s. The annual World Championship event had just moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, an aptly-named, claustrophobically small venue (still to this day the spiritual home of this high-precision sport) and was enthralling television audiences the length and breadth of England, and beyond.

My brother and I, inspired by the hushed TV spectacle, quickly learned the rules, bought (nearly straight) cues and took out membership at a dingy, smoke-filled hall, housing twelve full size tables. The beauty of close-up TV cameras is that we had pretty much mastered the stance, the grip, the bridge, the cue action, and the all-important mannerisms before even leaving our armchairs.
In fact, before I struck the cue ball you could be forgiven for assessing in me a good degree of experience. Striding around the table with an air of confidence, I would eye up potential chances and occasionally pause to take a pace or two back, as if I had almost overlooked a distinct opportunity. I picked invisible fluff from the table, checked the scoreboard and ground chalk onto the tip of my cue before settling into a convincing stance and addressing the cue ball.
This was the point at which the illusion was shattered. Frequent mis-cues saw the white speared off the table to go skittering across the floor under table after table. I won't dwell on the embarrassment of retrieving the cue ball from a distant corner of the hall.
It's clear from my modern perspective that as much as we wanted to achieve some modicum of expertise at snooker, my brother and I, we wanted to emulate the consummate professionals we saw on screen, to play the game with integrity, sportsmanship and above all style. Despite missing four out of every five pots we attempted, we would shake our heads every time in mock confusion, as if surely some external force had caused the miss. Often we would turn with a pained expression to address an invisible but clearly sympathetic crowd, just like the pros did.
Our standard improved with practice and we began to learn the potting angles on those gigantic twelve foot tables with the slim pockets, lightning fast cloths and super-responsive cushions. We added top-spin or a 'dab of side', and attempted deep screw shots. Nonetheless we could seldom pot more than two reds and two colours before finishing tucked up on a side rail, hopelessly out of position. But, following the example of our idols, we let our frustration show with only a barely perceptible wince, a purse of the lips; more perplexion than irritation.
The exuberant rehearsals of our late teens and early twenties gave way to manhood, and responsibilities; grown-up commitments reduced our snooker sessions to occasional outings. Nonetheless the sport has held my fascination over three decades.
The mannerisms and the etiquette are still entrenched in the modern game and it's one of the very few sports where players will call their own fouls; so small are the margins for error that referees can't always detect them. Dress code and demeanour are as exemplary as ever. The psychological pressure and the mental stamina required for thirty-five frame, two-day matches, relentless. The whiskey glasses and overflowing ashtrays are long gone; replaced by iced Perrier.
The standard of play continues to soar. In the 1970s we saw the very first televised maximum break, 147 points: fifteen reds, fifteen blacks and the six colours in sequence. Now there are several players who have achieved this several times over. In the 1970s few professional players had scored more than fifty breaks in excess of one hundred points in their entire careers. In 2014 the world number one has just achieved one hundred centuries, in the current season alone.