Larry Ryan: Demise of the toy snooker table underlines the fragility of all we hold sacred

There are no snooker tables in Smyths Toys.
Larry Ryan: Demise of the toy snooker table underlines the fragility of all we hold sacred
Larry Ryan eyes up a plant, to the alarm of his sister Siobhán
Larry Ryan eyes up a plant, to the alarm of his sister Siobhán

There are no snooker tables in Smyths Toys.

Let that sink in.

File that one alongside the nine million bicycles in Beijing and other startling cultural statistics of our time.

Thankfully, we have space to reflect on these important developments and what they mean. Since many of us remain in a holding pattern.

In this fast-paced social media age, the Premier League title is long forgotten, judging by Kloppo’s humour the other night. And as Martin Tyler reminded us, the conclusion of that other little competition Sky no longer has rights to is a while away yet: “This season’s Champions League, if you have been following it, will resume in August.”

The wait may be even longer for the most eagerly anticipated sporting entertainment of the year — the inside story of Spurs’ season on Amazon.

There’s nothing either for the diehards who turn up to watch the county train. GAA training sessions have become the most illicit contraband in the state.

If anything hastens the end of WhatsApp and the migration to unbreachable messaging systems like Signal and Threema, it will surely be the organisation of get-togethers for county men. Weren’t they simpler times when the greatest logistical challenge was how to quietly pay the manager?

The rugby lads, at least, have started to talk again, though there are no learnings yet, whatever about work-ons. Many of them seem to have settled on the same party line, that this merciful small break will extend their careers.

Though you wonder about this realisation that not playing rugby is the best means of staying fit to play rugby, and what it says about the future of the sport.

We have paid tribute here before to snooker’s brave resistance to change in the face of constant fretting about its future. The grand old game remains the same as in its pomp. When there was a wide range of snooker tables available in any reputable toy shop.

Even as it slipped from our TV screens, snooker countenanced no figarys with the core product, no bonus points for getting out the double extension, no black card for cynically incessant cleaning of the cue ball.

If this was Gaelic football, they’d have been ruing lost skills and contriving rule changes to restore them, perhaps installed a chicane around the black spot to encourage swerving the cue ball.

But snooker stuck to its guns and sadly has not been rewarded for its conviction. Today’s central lament bears repeating — there are currently no snooker tables in Smyths Toys. And it’s not that they are out of stock, the snooker table appears to have been scrubbed from our culture.

Recall, if you were so lucky, the arrival of your first 30-inch table. You mightn’t have held for the black too often, but there was still pure joy in poking those plastic marbles around with knitting needle cues.

Maybe you enjoyed the life-changing graduation to four feet by two, or even the expansive acreage of six by three. And discovered the perfect girth of a Reader’s Digest, for slipping under a leg to eliminate roll.

With birthday season looming for the youngsters in this house, naturally attempts were being made to steer the conversation down certain channels, out of earshot of ‘er indoors.

Only to discover the tragic truth.

I tell a small lie. There is a tiny 40cm ‘pool table’ in Smyths, for a tenner. You know yourself, the reviews are not kind. It might even be a bum steer, planted by some well-meaning agency to discourage misspent youths.

Of course, there are all the options in the world if you favour the crude business of air hockey — snooker as played by Tony Pulis’ Stoke.

Granted, you can still buy snooker tables from many reputable stockists across the land. But it was a jolt to see the beautiful game banished from the mainstream, underlining the fragility of all we hold sacred.

You feel a certain responsibility to future anthropologists to leave behind clues to our lost civilisation. And to celebrate the place those first snooker tables played in our lives.

To many, it is the single most meaningful metric of wealth — your snooker table and its size. No property can justifiably be described as ‘lavish’ unless it holds at least one. When The Sun last week profiled Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges’ ‘amazing Glasgow home’, what got top billing? Of course it was the ‘full-sized’ snooker table.

There must have been a time when it ranked high among the answers supplied to career guidance counsellors — ‘whatever you think will get me enough money for a full-sized snooker table one day’.

That was the dream. But sadly, as we weigh our first world problems, there invariably comes a time in so many lives and careers where childhood dreams are scaled down, and the vow becomes to do up the attic one day — and get in a pool table.

For some of us, even that proves elusive. And there must be a life lesson there somewhere, that we can toil day after day in the rat race while still failing to make this one meaningful change we know will improve the quality of our lives — a pool table, with a slate bed and ball return system.

It probably says it all about the fundamentally flawed human condition that our homes become filled with the kinds of things that make it impossible to fit in a pool table. Such as wives.

But the human spirit is resilient and this is the season when we go again. Planting seeds and dreaming childhood dreams. Old gambits are recycled and we have one more look online at that beautiful 7x4 table crafted from the finest hardwoods and Italian slate. The one that converts into a dining table, for emergencies.

And yet, even as she hears you say those reasonable words, it’s as if she doesn’t really hear you at all.

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