The man appeared to understand and nodded his head. Clay wondered if giving the appearance of understanding was actually understanding, in some sense, and if duplicity of this sort was necessary for a society’s existence, maybe even at its basis or center, and not the ancient totem Emile Durkheim theorized. People regularly don’t understand each other, but if that were constantly apparent, rather than gestures of tacit agreement and recognition, a stasis, punctuated by violent acts everywhere, would stall everyone for eternity”
Clay from ‘The Recipe’ in Lynne Tillman’s collection of short stories, ‘Someday this will be funny’.
The game of marbles has an extensive vocabulary to define the illicit act of contriving a better position for yourself by leaning or stretching inwards; an act considered to be against the rules. Fulking, which joins ranks with these terms in Steve Roud’s The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide to the Nation’s Customs and Festivals, from May-Day to Mischief Night is also frequently used describe the basic technique of holding the marble on the index finger and flicking it forward with the thumb. So, the legitimate technique and the means by which to cheat are difficult to distinguish and the thing hinges on a sense of decorum. For our purposes, let’s say that fulking describes the action of players’ bodies as they adapt either legitimately or illegitimately to a spatial game.
Once entered in to, not consenting to the rules of a game would make you a bore: what was the point of playing if you do not accept the specific system of comportment that is the game? The rules are an implicit part of being involved and you must enter in to a pact. Yet still, some degree of fudging, that is ‘dealing with something in a vague or inadequate manner’, is a necessary part of a ritual by which the game is enacted. The rules are abstract and only really become sport when they are cast against a contingent reality in which physical things present perceptual ambiguity and, more simply, are not perfect. Fudging is perhaps less evident in professional games, but quite crucial to imaginative play and the developing game of amateurs, particular when skills don’t meet the requirements of certain rules (the learner golfer who starts with a lower score, the young tennis player who can’t serve and so simply passes the ball to an opponent so the game can at least commence). But vigilance may also spot fudging at higher levels, whenver a ‘blind eye’ is turned, the wishful thinking of a team, the wilful ignorance at a bad call or inadequate set-up.
Snooker appears as a delimited game of marbles in which reality is heavily designed to match the abstraction of the game’s principals. The fulking fingers are removed, to be replaced by a cue which can impart a single strike without the cue ball being prematurely moved or shifted. The cue ball is the only ball a player is permitted to strike. The slate bed of the table provides a level surface, the green baize a sufficient friction to allow the polished, cast resin balls to move over a restrained distance, silently, under their own weight. The auditorium in which the game is played is specially conditioned, with even lighting and a particular etiquette amongst spectators. Far from the playground or street with quirks and unpredictable obstacles, the chipped but beloved marbles with their personal histories and idiosyncrasies, the snooker table and auditorium give a sense of timeless repeatability (A mouse was said to have caused ‘absolute chaos’ by making an appearance at a recent match).
Snooker is one of the last sports to maintain a gentleman’s formal regalia. In 2011 a Chinese player caused consternation for playing a frame without his bow tie and ‘Ireland’s’ Ken Doherty commented, “The referee didn’t realise it at first and Liang just [got] a letter and fine for a dress code violation but he should’ve been docked a frame.” He continued:
A player forgot his chalk once and was docked a frame. I also forgot my waistcoat once and was told I wasn’t allowed to play. Waistcoat, dicky-bow, they’re all part of the dress code. It makes it easier on the neck to not wear it and there’s no strain on your neck. If you play in the final of the World Championship and take your bow tie off in the last frame you’ll have a better chance and all you’ll get is a letter or £250 fine – I know what I would rather have.
The referee is also formally dressed and their white gloves represent the attempt to remove the physical body. Where the players are only allowed to make contact from the distance of a cue, the referee handles the balls regularly when they are replaced, using the gloves to polish off any traces of the chalk the players use to ensure a ‘clean’ contact between cue and cue ball.
Fubbing, which has the contemporary meaning of putting one’s finger up a partner’s anus during sex, either with or without their permission, may seem far from this civil arena; The more conventional meaning of ‘fub’, ‘to put off by trickery’. However, Snooker’s history is full of infamous characters whose conduct must have distracted from the game at hand, Alex Higgin’s head-butting an official perhaps being the most sensational. With the game being turn based and professionals scrutinised by TV cameras, fubbing can only really take place by the transference of ‘vibes’. Within the rules however, it is perfectly acceptable to make an opponent’s shot difficult by leaving the cue ball resting against a cushion or next to a ball. These ‘tricks’ use skills learnt practically from playing with the physical reality of the game, they are not – we might suspect – pre-imagined by a concept of snooker. It is worth noting here that ‘snooker’ was used initially by Neville Chamberlain, who was commenting on someone who missed a shot. The term was a military term for a novice or cadet.
The apparent abstraction of Snooker may be partly responsible for the slow recognition of the role of fitness in the sport, with large quantities of alcohol being consumed by some players during earlier tournaments. Bill Werbeniuk reputedly drank 76 cans of lager in a match against John Spencer (Wikipedia continues: ‘[…] 43 pints of lager in a snooker match/drinking contest against Scotsman Eddie Sinclair in which, after Sinclair had passed out following his 42nd pint, Werbeniuk was reported to say “I’m away to the bar now for a proper drink”‘.) In the mid to late 90s it became news when John Higgins talked about his fitness regime, including cycling, leading to his win in the 1998 World Championship. Talent may be important, but as the game became more professional at that time, being healthy meant having greater concentration over long periods.
Despite the excesses of early players, fudging, fubbing, fulking and fullocking seem, on the surface, to be expunged from the game of Snooker. But as we might now reflect, this is really an effect of the elaborate set-up of the game. In many ways the success of many of the top players relies on their abilities to manipulate the physical reality of the table and circumstances using ‘fulking’ techniques. Pete Williams, an expert in the game writes:
Why do players like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Efren Reyes and Gareth Potts make it to the top off their respective games?Quite simply because they understand what effect spin has and how best to use that spin to their own advantage in a match.By spin I am talking about sidespin, what the Americans call ‘English’. Using this type of spin to good effect can vastly improve your game and your success but used incorrectly it will cause you no end of trouble. Sidespin causes the cue ball to ‘squirt’ or ‘deflect’ from it’s true path, if you test this with a straight in pot you will notice that this results in a missed ball. The ball will deflect to the opposite side that you are applying spin, so if playing right hand spin the cue ball will deflect to the left. Once you know this you can use the knowledge to make adjustments to your aim point.
Part of a successful game is in fact the ability to contrive good positions (In recent times there has also discussion about whether adding ‘english’ to the cue ball could in fact also impart spin to the object ball the ball you aim for thereby allowing players to manipulate different contacts). Then, outside the professional arena, club tables will all have their own little quirks and variances. Some may have slight tilts, oversized pockets, curves through the baize.
(A snooker club in Cleckheaton installed fans to the low ceiling in an attempt to combat the then huge problem of smokers’ immobile clouds. The fans did little to improve the air quality but would act to viciously destroy the cues of the uninitiated as they stood back to observe the table. The sound of cues rasping against the fans was quite sublime.)
Fullocking is more difficult to define due to it being little referenced outside Roud’s brief mention of it. Therefore, perhaps it is within this short post’s power, with a spash of fudging a little fubbing, to appropriate the term and bend us back to the opening citation. The observations of Tillman’s character was the catalyst for this post and opens out a broader field of language and social conduct. In our looping narrative we have a sense that although the terms discussed are used to describe things that happen out-with the rules of a game, they by necessity happen within it; It just so happens that the fudging and the fubbing and the fulking, that happen within the rules are much more invisible because accepting them is part of the contract of the game. Fullocking, let us say, is this process-invisible. Fullocking brings our ideals, abstract notions, theories and aspirations in to a clumsy and often bungled relationship with reality. We fudge, and fubb and fulk our way into the material world, and then we ignore that fact and pretend we are elegant, conscious beings because we are quite profound at fullocking.