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Wednesday, December 10

Misspent Youth

This crumbling den of inequity was where my brother and I often gravitated on Saturdays just a few years before the snooker boom really took off in the UK. Snooker halls were a strong attraction for teenagers throughout most of the 20th century and we were as vulnerable as any others.

My late father had a similarly misspent youth in Dundee snooker halls and we grew up with his tales of the characters who used to frequent these establishments, some of whom sounded a bit dangerous to us at the time, and which halls to avoid - mainly those with wooden floors. A concrete floor was necessary for a level table, you see, so only ground floor establishments were to be trusted - and only after we'd confirmed the floor was solid.

My dad was a good snooker player and passed on his knowledge to us so that we developed a reasonable level of skill at the game as well. For sports mad brothers, snooker was great during the winter when bad weather stopped us playing as much football, rugby or golf as we would have liked.

The problem was that there were just a few snooker halls in the city by this time and these were usually packed throughout most of the day. The Maryfield Snooker Hall in Mains Loan, run by a guy called Bill Brown, was one of the larger ones with around a dozen tables. Still, by the time we'd got up on Saturday morning and taken the 15 minute bus ride to the hall, the tables were usually all occupied.

It wasn't uncommon for us to wait 45 mins to an hour just to play an hour's snooker. I could count on one hand the number of times we turned up and found an empty table. It felt like Christmas. But we didn't have computers in those days so what else were we to do on a winter's day at the weekend? Many of the characters in the Maryfield were jack-the-lad-types and it wouldn't have been a good idea to cross some of them. My brother and I kept ourselves pretty much to ourselves as we were only there for the snooker.

On one occasion, when I was there with a friend, we got a table after the usual wait. Just as we were setting up, two threatening-looking lads, presumably fed-up waiting, came over and one offered to play me for the table. If he won, he'd get our table and if I won he'd pay for our snooker. It didn't seem like a good idea to refuse so I played him and beat him handily. True to his word, he coughed up the cash and my pal and I enjoyed some free snooker that day!

The hall, I remember, was a low-ceilinged, dark establishment and had a constant and regularly replenished fug hanging over the tables, courtesy of the chain smokers who were probably the rule in those days rather then exception. It all made for a very atmospheric experience and one I'm glad I had. As far as misspent youths go, it was much better than today's usual fare of chasing a bunch of pixels around a screen and firing other collections of pixels in their direction.

Sadly, the hall closed about 15 years ago and is now on the Buildings at Risk Register, a sure sign that it's on its way out unless someone steps in to rescue it. Planning permission was granted a few years ago to knock it down and build a couple of houses but nothing has come of it. Here's a picture on the register taken in 2010 which shows how much the building has weathered in just a few years:

I'd wanted to photograph the building for a while but, as you can see from the colour pic, there are usually cars parked outside it and I hadn't passed it on a day when the street was clear. However, last week I happened to drive past when I had the F100 and a roll of TMax 400 in the car and, lo and behold, the facade was car free.

The light on the hall was just perfect and I loved the strong tree shadow being cast on the gable end of an adjacent house and echoing the peeling paint - but how best to capture it? I'd parked opposite the hall and was leaning against the side of my car with a 35mm lens on the camera but a straight-on photograph looked a bit dull in the viewfinder. Then I caught sight of a little bit of reflection on the car's roof and reached for a 24mm lens to make the most of it.

Cath sometimes moans that I don't clean the car often enough but it looks pretty shiny to me in this photograph even thought it hadn't seen a bucket and sponge for a month or two! I think I'll be making some inquiries this week to see if it would be possible to get inside to photograph the hall. Obviously, the tables will all be gone and the windows appear to be boarded up so unless there are some windows in the roof it will be difficult to do very much but I'd still like to record what's there for posterity.

I had a look on the internet to see if there was much about Maryfield Snooker Hall but it seems that no-one has given it a second thought, a strange situation for a recreational facility that was frequented by so many people over so many years.

Still, this post ensures that there is at least some record of the business and I'll add to if I manage to get inside the hall. And the next time Cath chides me about the condition of the car I can always point her to this post and say, "How clean does it need to be?"


Doug H said...

Great image and good story too.
If you do get in, you might try Delta 3200; and dev it 1-2 stops higher.

Herman Sheephouse said...

It would be great if you could get inside Bruce - I've a mind to do similar things with a number of the other derelict buildings in Dundee, but don't know where to start!
From your locality I am surprised you didn't frequent the Snooker Hall on Lorne Street . . just along from the market . . bet you'd forgotten about that.
Oh and if anyone is interested in why Dundee can be considered one of the most unknown cultured places in Britain, please take a look here:

It mostly deals with youth culture, but man the place was buzzing . . .

Richard Sintchak said...

Great story. I hope you can access inside.