Joining the cue

Believe it or not, Clive had never played pool, preferring instead the more traditional English sports. But the opening of a new club in Hastings and the chance to hustle like Paul Newman in The Color of Money was too much for our adventurer to re...

MINE was a 'spent' as opposed to 'misspent' youth. Does that make sense? Would you understand it better if I were to explain that while my friends - Alfie, Pete and Sid - were playing truant, scrawling graffiti, loitering with no real intent whatsoever and staying out way past midnight, I was agonising over my Latin so that, in the unlikely event of a Roman centurion inadvertently straying from Watling Street into our neighbourhood, I could direct him to Verulamium in his native tongue.

All the time I was behaving so nicely my parents assured me that I would reap the rewards in later life and that my feckless friends would "never amount to anything." Alfie runs a Mercedes car dealership in Essex and lives in a seven-bedroom mansion; Pete's double-glazing business was recently bought by a competitor for a sum in excess of £25m; and Sid, who manages rock groups, plays polo and drives a Porsche, recently bought a villa in Barbados. Me? I'm saving up for a new rear tyre for my W- reg Fiat. Were all those years of self-sacrifice worth it, I wonder?

Most of those who have suffered such an ascetic upbringing rebel in their late teens and often turn to drugs, alcohol or sudoku. As I enter my 60th year, I feel it's time to embark upon a misspent dotage. Although it is my understanding that snooker halls are an ideal facility in which to misspend a fair chunk of time - either playing or, better still, leaning lazily on a cue - I am advised that pool is the more modern vice and that the mean streets of Hastings should be able to provide a suitably shifty location. Vagez, a recently-opened club in Queens Road, is precisely the sort of venue that, were she still alive, would have horrified my mother. Suitably dark and with an entrance cunningly concealed, there is a modest whiff of menace as I ring the bell. Darren Marwick, who runs it, has agreed to show me how to shoot some pool.To my considerable relief, he's a cheery, friendly fellow who was born in Hastings and, apart from a spell in Australia and another, intriguingly, in Las Vegas, has lived all his life here. The name Vagez, he explains, is a combination of Vegas and his nickname, Geez. If I'm to establish myself as a major player in the twilight world of pool, I may have to come up with a suitable nickname. 'The Sussex Hustler' sounds good ...Before we get down to business, Darren shows me around. There are green baize tables without any pockets. Where on earth do the balls go? Spotting my quizzical look, Darren explains: "They're for poker." Wow, have I stumbled upon a gambling den? Apparently there are friendly poker sessions but the stakes are minimal and the house doesn't take a cut. Would I like to come to one? I have to explain that, because of my sheltered upbringing I've never played poker. The nearest I came was watching Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid. In a very spacious, warehouse-like room, there's a giant television screen, a smart bar, numerous video games, table football and, of course, a pool table. It's very much smarter and more comfortable than I imagined 'these places' to be and I can quite easily see myself spending many a happy evening here. But do I have what it takes to ruthlessly crush every opponent reckless enough to take me on or would I be the sad, old, bald bloke in the corner who never wins?Darren explains that there are 15 balls, seven red, seven yellow and one black, which are all racked up in a triangle just as the reds are in snooker. There's a bit more to it than just plonking them all in higgledy-piggledy but to describe the correct configuration would both take up too much space and test your powers of comprehension to the limit...


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