I’ve traced the dip back further, to the weekend.
My wife and daughter are away on a joint sleepover the other side of town and I’m in a West London pool bar. Smoke swirls in the air. The windows in the roof show that it is still light outside, but in here it is dark. Men stand around pool tables with cigarettes dangling from their teeth; a few women with big belts and small t-shirts bend over tables unsteadily, inexpertly prodding cues.
It’s a place I used to come to a lot ten years ago. I was pretty good at pool in those days. But more importantly I walked around like I was a regular and went to the gym and had a career with prospects and a life stretching away into the future. Now it’s a terrain as unfamiliar to me as Saturday mornings in the playground. I stand with friends, gripping a pool cue in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other, trying to remember the rules of the game. Have I been here since my daughter was born? I’m not sure. Probably not. I’ve walked past a lot. Around me men pad purposefully and look like they have plans. It’s all so familiar, but so unfamiliar. Like looking through someone else’s glasses. I’m not experiencing what I expected to.
I vaguely suspected that I was somewhere past my peak. But I wasn’t as painfully aware that the rot had set in. I’m worried about bumping into the players at the neighbouring tables and skip away trailing apologies. “Don’t hit me, I’ve got a daughter!” Is it because I’m more aware of mortality nowadays? Of risk? The truth, I’m coming to realize, is that I’m just not used to men anymore. Men in the office, men in bars. Men shouting above the music and jostling and guffawing and pouring drinks down their throats. Childcare doesn’t have much of that to it. In fact it’s mostly the opposite. It’s helping and responding and standing back and watching. I think I’m only just beginning to understand the full implication of taking it on.
As it happens I play quite well, pulling off some shots I can’t remember being able to play in the first place. Then it's back to my place for poker and pizzas. I seem to be getting the hang of it.