An invitation to play:
On Sunday mornings, the narrow bike track through the park that connects North Fitzroy, North Carlton and down into Parkville is busy; a contrast to the weekday mornings when I often have to myself, or myself and one or two random dogs with their walkers.
This morning, the first day of spring, there are small packs of wobbly middleaged ladies on bikes; elderly locals shouting at each other in friendly tones as they stroll; couples with massive baby strollers walking two abreast, blocking the path; driven-looking young women jogging with very young babies in custom-made jogging prams. For months it’s been chilly in the early mornings, sometimes even with frost on the grass, but today the air is warm with the promise of a thaw; I’m in bike shorts instead of long track pants, and I only notice after ten minutes that I’ve left my warm gloves off; I don’t need them this morning.
At Lygon Street, where the makers of roads have recently given in to the unspoken pressure of the people’s will and converted a muddy shortcut into a proper bitumen path that carves a more direct line to the pedestrian crossing, I sail across the wide road without having to stop and wait for crawling commuter cars; one of the upsides of weekend mornings. Beyond Lygon Street, the park opens out in a kind of widening triangle as if emboldened by the larger spaces of Princes Park and Royal Park a few hundred metres down the track. And in the middle of this open green space, there is a pool table.
There is also a three-seater vinyl couch in baby-poo yellow, a timber cue stand with four cues and a cue rest, a couple of frames for shaping the balls, a box of billiard * balls and an abandoned game in progress. On the table is another cue, a white cue ball and a few red and coloured balls, the coloured ones with numbers on them. It’s been a while since my pub pool days, but I’m fairly sure this means two different games have been mixed up.
The table is old, with square frames of wood for legs; these probably fold up. The string pockets are dirty-grey and bulging with billiard balls; they look like they might burst. The playing surface is not smooth felt, but a kind of close-weave green hessian. It rained last night, and I imagine that the table is probably damp. I also imagine that the table is heavy, and it would have taken at least four people – young men, I guess – to bring it out here, 30 metres from the nearest house. There are no bottles, cans or other leavings scattered around to give a clue to last night’s activities, but it was Saturday night; a game of pool in the park at midnight must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Just now, there is no one else on the track. I lie my bike down in the damp grass and pick up the cue on the table. Its tip is missing, but I don’t think to look for another. I line up the pockmarked cue ball with a yellow ball and take a shot at a corner pocket. I miss, put the cue back on the table and continue with my ride.
After I turn for home, down near the zoo, where the bike track runs through the golf course, a group of uncertain Japanese golfers veer about in front of me, walking on the wrong side of the path, though I’m certain that in Japan, as in Australia, the rule is to keep to the left.
I have a tailwind now and climb the hill back into Carlton easily, swiftly. The pool table is still unattended, but someone else has taken a shot; the balls have moved. So I drop my bike again, line up the cue ball and hit the green ball, number *14?, straight into the edge of the table. I’m not having much luck this morning; I could blame the dodgy cue, the unevenly situated table, the chipped cue ball or the wet surface, but I think it’s just me; I never was much good at pool unless I’d had a beer.
I’ve had my turn at the table. So I get back on my bike and continue, saying to the world in general: your shot.