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Sport 42: 2014

Darwin’s Billiard Table

page 55

Darwin’s Billiard Table

Full-sized, with the latest slate bed technology
sourced from Hopkins and Stephens, Covent Garden
for fifty-three pounds eighteen shillings,
which is reasonable considering the quality,
and he covers the cost with funds
from the sale of his father’s gold watch
and a few bas-relief Greek figures,
oh and a Wedgwood Barberini vase that,
as he points out to Emma, has only been
gathering dust on the drawing room shelf.

It arrives, broken into its component parts,
having rolled the twenty miles from London
strapped to the back of a cart. He shouts
at the gardener’s boy behind the greenhouse
to help unload, and after an hour
the long limbs are laid out sequentially on the carpet,
like a gigantic mahogany skeleton
some other giant has torn apart.
Two more hours, and the eight-legged framework
stands upright, only slightly unsteady.

Wriggling into a prone position beneath,
he sketches a detailed underside view
of the complex screw levelling mechanism
to send to his son George, away at school,
so he too can admire the design and fine craftsmanship.

Once his wool-baize-clad beauty is stable,
feet precisely levelled to the lifts and falls
of uneven oak floorboards, he starts in on
his new, full-colour book, also delivered from London,
the one with the detailed diagrams of various cue strokes.
He enjoys spending his free hours practicing his moves,
page 56 delighting in every carefully judged carom,
the satisfaction of the well rounded click, clunk, plop
of a strike and rebound into a corner pocket.

Nightly after dinner comes the new ritual,
the lighting of the lamps to shine on coloured balls,
on the small brown heads of his younger sons,
the grey of Parslow the butler,
the sometimes balding ones of visiting scientists,
and so it goes,

until the morning he has another idea
and, dragging a heavy sheet from the linen press,
throws it over the baize, carries in
box after box and carefully unwraps
his collection of boiled rabbit bones, dozens
of small femurs and scapula, chopstick thin ribs,
ovate skulls, arranging each small, creamy fragment
precisely, so they almost touch, in five size-graduated
rows, stretching from one end rail to the other.