Safety shot: The zen of watching snooker

PLUS tracks by Squarepusher and Bullion, reading and comedy recommendations, thoughts about borders & more.

Bullion, “We Had a Good Time,” We Had a Good Time (DEEK Recordings)

This year, I tried a Dry January, which ended up stretching through most of February, too. I was so disciplined, and it felt good, my body having a little break. No booze also meant less dining out, and less overall expenditure. But once March rolled around, I started treating myself again.

The Thursday before all this happened, perhaps in grim anticipation, I did a Bang Bang. That’s when you eat a meal in one restaurant, and then head straight to another one for a second serving. Chez Sophie was my choice for lunch. I love that place. It’s so tasteful. Everyone who works there is the right combination of friendly and professional — after all, serving food is serious business, as we’ve come to understand more and more. The menu is always simple, delicate, fresh and delicious. And the clientele is a bit on the mature side, which has the added bonus of making me feel young whenever I go there. Not like those hip new brunch places with a line-up of 19-year-olds waiting in the cold. For omelettes.

That afternoon, I got suckered into a $50 glass of Pinot Noir, and it was worth it. So worth it that I went to the SAQ directly afterwards and bought a bottle of it and poured it down my stupid throat. Then I went to Tuck Shop for dinner. I sat at the bar while the barkeep, Jeremy, plied me with more wines of his choosing. I ordered the bavette and fries, my usual whenever I go there, because they do it so impeccably every time. And I ate while watching a smarmy rich couple feeding each other oysters and smacking their lips lasciviously on a chilled Sancerre. I’d never done a Bang Bang before.It was luxurious, decadent, and I hope to do it again someday.

Orson Welles had a funny line: “My doctor tells me that I must stop having dinners for four, unless I invite three other people.”

Katherine Ashenburg, The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, (Knopf Canada, 2007)

While under voluntary lockdown, I’ve been dusting off some old books. And hand sanitizing them. One such tome is Katherine Ashenburg’s 2007 The Dirt on Clean, an excellent history of our western understanding of cleanliness, and perfect pandemic reading. Ashenburg cites the “straightforward, low-tech” council of ER doctor and Giller Prize-winning author Vincent Lam:

“Get a flu shot by all means, exercise caution with live birds and cook turkey and chicken well. But during a pandemic or even a normal flu outbreak, wash your hands often and properly, cover your face when sneezing or coughing and keep a distance of at least one metre from sick people. If you’re taking care of a sick person, wear gloves and a mask. And keep some rubber gloves and containers of hand sanitizer with your emergency supplies.”

Had the world only heeded this simple advice.

Bob Mortimer featuring Matt Berry, “Train Guy, Geoff Linton virtual F2F” (Twitter)

The only thing that has elicited genuine belly laughs of late has been the British comedian Bob Mortimer’s “Train Guy” creation. In a string of increasingly absurd self-shot shorts posted since January to Twitter, Mortimer takes the piss out of a typical upbeat office drone having a loudmouthed jargon-filled video powwow with an unseen co-worker called Carl. Mortimer’s train guy frequently makes reference to Geoff Linton, who had remained an imaginary, offscreen character. Until March 17, that is, when he made an hilarious cameo, playing an in-the-office but out-of-touch supervisor boasting of scoring meet-and-greet Phil Collins tickets. You may recognize “The Lintonator” as none other than the fabulous banana man Matt Berry, Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh’s Dixon Bainbridge.

As always, I am a lonely heron.

Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Ding Junhui, U.K. Snooker Championship, Round 4, York Barbican, York, England, Dec. 8, 2019

If you’re like me (and I hope to God you’re not), you’ve been looking for something to calm your frayed nerves; something non-committal, something that you can play in the background, paying half-attention while you’re opening another can of tuna fish. I’m pleased to report that I have found just the thing: the most calming, soothing stuff to stream on the internet. And no, it’s not guided meditation, nor ASMR, nor the chanting of Tibetan monks. What it is, rather, is two blokes playing snooker on the BBC.

Since I’m not a sportsball guy, I figured it would be in that realm. I tried watching golf (too boring) and bowling (actually obnoxious) but snooker is ideal. It’s classy, but also unpretentious, somehow. Oftentimes, two snooker world champions will be playing a frame while there’s another game going on right next to them.

Snooker matches can last for hours and hours. There are long stretches of silence sometimes punctuated by a cough from the audience, a noise that has taken on heavier resonance these days. Shouting and cheering are discouraged. There is no unnecessary commentary. One of the presenters, a retired player called Alan McManus, has the most delightful, rolling Glaswegian lilt. There is something so peaceful about the steady clack of the balls, something so satisfying about the slow-motion replays that slow down the sound, too. (I can’t think of another sport that does this, and it tickles my inner Kittler.)

Snooker is a beautiful game of strategy, skill and chance, and I went in one week from knowing almost nothing about it to being obsessed and resolute to learn. It will be the ultimate sport for social distancing, too, if and when we can ever go to a pool hall again.

Squarepusher, “Midi Sans Frontières (Avec Batterie),” Lamental (Warp Records)

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to borders. I never imagined I would live to see the day of their mass-closure. Many in the U.S. who vocally opposed Trump’s Mexican border wall are now clamouring for the complete shutdown of all international human traffic. Which means that this novel strain of Coronavirus has achieved what so many fascists never could.

We will not overcome this crisis with the prevailing binary you-me, inside-outside, my country-your country, subject-object, human-non-human brand of thinking, though. The virus isn’t alive in any regular sense, but it obviously exerts outsize agency.

In her 2010 book Vibrant Matter, political theorist Jane Bennett offers a useful way to think beyond these imaginary distinctions. “It is futile to seek a pure nature unpolluted by humanity,” Bennett argues,“and it is foolish to define the self as something purely human.”

We must learn to decentre ourselves from our own view of the world; to realize that viruses don’t respect borders, be they national or personal. It’s going to take practice. ■

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