“A pint of Carlsberg and two Cokes and crisps for the boys. Cheese and onion and salt and vinegar. And some change for the pool table. Thanks.”
That’s how they started, our trips to the pub with Dad.
“Here you go.”
We took our drinks and crisps and sat by the pool table. We didn’t need telling.
Then the coins came out. Three tens. He put them in the slot, then pushed it in and out.
The coins disappeared into the belly of the table and it released a host of red and yellow balls and one black. The white was already on the table.
Dad racked them up. His fingers picking, placing and swapping the balls to make the correct alternating pattern inside the black plastic triangle. It was automatic for him. Done a thousand times a year since he was sixteen.
When he took the triangle away, the balls stayed still. The removal was just as much an act of precision as the positioning. He was arming a bomb.
Satisfied everything was set correctly, he walked to the other end of the table, running a hand over the surface as he went.
The green felt was dusty and rough. The baulk line wasn’t a crisp, clean white. It was grey and worn away in the places where fingers rested.
He rolled the white ball to the centre spot on the baulk line. He bent down, pulled back the cue and smacked the white with every ounce of fury he could muster.
Red and yellow atoms flew in all directions. A red disappeared down a corner pocket. The rest settled. He struck again. Nothing sank.
“Your turn,” he said.
My brother rubbed blue chalk on the cue tip and stepped up to hit a yellow.
They took it in turns till Dad sank the black.
Then it was my turn.
He slipped another three tens into the slot, but the coins jammed. He swore and called the barman over.
“You really need to get this thing fixed you know.”
The barman did know.
The customer was always right.
He inserted a key into a panel on the side of the table and pulled a switch. The balls rolled out.
“There you go. Should be fine now. Another pint of Carlsberg and some Cokes for the boys was it?”
“Er… Yeah. Thanks.”
After beating me, he gave us a handful of tens to play each other.
And that’s how they went, our trips to the pub with Dad.
Except for one thing, which happened only once.
During a game, while my brother was lining up a shot, Dad walked over to the Jukebox.
He stood there looking into it, his finger tracing its way down the list of songs. A moment later it stopped. He slipped a coin into the machine, tapped two buttons and out came a melodic but haunting song.
Seasons in the sun.
The first song I can remember.
And the first song I remember liking.
That moment is gone forever. It can never be repeated or replaced.
Like someone who dies.
Which is what the song is about.
Accepting that is hard, but its singularity makes the song all the more beautiful, and each person too.