Snooker with George



Every Wednesday morning I walked across the road and played snooker with George. On Saturdays I watched the local cricket …

George lives with his sister in a sparse weatherboard home. The front fence is high and the gate is hard to open. Every room has different carpet, different wallpaper. Nothing matches.

George didn’t worry about his eyesight or his medication or the voices in his head when we played snooker. His trembling hands sunk those balls while I stood changing the scores in the corner of the dark front room and watched, enviously, his lead increasing shot by shot.

Some of those early games were simply exhibition events. I would play a few shots, of course, but that was only to keep the game within a formal structure. George understood the angles and the spaces, the dimensions of the game, much better than me.

You hear stories of course and you never know what to make of them. You try not to jump to conclusions. I’d heard of George’s story; a few sentences from a neighbour or two.

When we first met we’d just chat about the weather.  Sometimes it would take George a while to get the words out. His right hand would rise a little stiffly and his index finger would point in the air at the words he was about to say. I tended to keep the conversations short. I didn’t want to know too much. I didn’t want my cocoon to be broken.

But then George offered me a weekly fix of sport, a fix that was free of the usual requirements if a man wants to play games: join a club, drink beer, buy raffle tickets, drink more beer, and swear.

With George, though, it was just a simple, albeit one-sided, sporting contest.

During our games, we would usually talk about George’s past. Footy and Elvis and fishing in the railyards dam when he was a kid. Cricket and ‘Get Smart’ and the day the shark came into the bay. Not all the pieces of the jigsaw would fit, but he gave me images of his childhood, of what the suburb was like before interlopers like me moved here and pretended, with our neat gardens and Edwardian paint schemes, that we’d been here forever.

There were lighter moments. When George laughed it was as if you could almost hear the missing parts. It was a full-bodied laugh and it scared the hell out of you if you were just standing there, lining up a red ball, hoping that you would at least, at last,  sink something.

Occasionally I asked George about his own sporting career. He’d been a pretty fair teenage cricketer, apparently. And then we would set up the snooker balls again and I would watch him go red-black-red-black-red-black …

On sunny days George sits on the porch behind the high fence and listens to his transistor. He wears an old cricket hat and cradles a cup of tea. ‘I like … the ethnic … radio station,’ he told me. ‘It’s good music … and the Vietnamese presenter is really … friendly.’

Some days he listens to classical music. Other days he watches Oprah. Or the cricket. He waits for his meals-on-wheels. He goes for his walks. But if he hasn’t taken his tablets the hands start shaking even more and the eyes start darting to and fro and the brain starts hearing voices. His mind is like a maze, but all the corridors have different wallpaper, different carpet. Nothing matches.

The first time I saw him like this I was at the playground with the kids and I was caught between caring and fearing. For all of us.

‘I think you should head home, George,’ I said, over and over. ‘See your sister and have a cup of tea.’

He finally left, but kept turning to tell me about the voices in his head. The Russians, the aliens.

So I thought it was schizophrenia of a kind. Paranoid delusions. A breakdown somewhere, sometime …

For a while I was jealous of George winning so easily. The annoyance that came with each inevitable defeat was smallminded, but losing is an unwanted trophy.

Slowly, with George’s help, my game improved. I called him Coach sometimes and we joked about getting him a tracksuit with the word printed across the back. He still won. Most of the time.

And then one Wednesday, before our snooker, he showed me his teenage cricket trophies and told me his story. You hear stories of course and you never know what to make of them. I’d heard of George’s story. But now I was getting it straight from him. Well, as straight as I could hope for.

He had been a good cricketer, thirty years ago. A top teenage bowler. Too good, maybe.

It was the club’s presentation night. There had been some  drinking, some swearing. A blue broke out. A fight, a scuffle of some sort.

‘They … were jealous, they … were jealous.’

A smashed bottle, a bloodied head and that was it.

‘A nerve … in my brain … came … loose.’

The surgeons said, ‘We can operate but it’s risky’. His parents didn’t take the chance and now here he is. Invalid pension, meals on wheels, medication. Trophies on the mantelpiece. The transistor on the porch …

I kept playing snooker with George until my Wednesdays were taken up with other matters. And then some family members moved into his house. They needed the dark front room, so the snooker table had to go.

On Wednesday mornings I go to work. On Saturdays I watch the local cricketers.


This non-fiction story is part of Jacaranda Avenue , vignettes of family life (Greasy Pole Publishing, 2003.) Copies available from the author.


About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.


  1. Tony Robb says

    Good stuff Vin The Georges of the world make it kind nice to part of it
    Cheers TR

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