It is the latest craze in our house. It has relegated Mastermind and Monopoly to a poor second place, the draughts and Chinese Chequers gather dust on the shelf, and noone has so much as shuffled the playing cards for
You can't even get a decent game of dominoes these days.
tennis is the name of the game - though perhaps that is too grand a title: ping pong mght be a more accurate description. Indeed, when my partner tries out his cunning top-spin service, devastating smash or devilish forehand, his daughters are wont to fling
down their bats in petulant disgust. If he won't play properly, they tell him, they won't let him play at all.
And when he kept beating them to love, they made him play sitting down "to even things
up". Daughters, as every father knows, are crafty creatures.
Even without the restrictions thus placed on him, there are other, purely physical limitations which affect us all. Our dining room table,
when fully extended, is still only about half the size of a normal table tennis table. Nevertheless, when set up for action, it does take up most of our rather small dining room.
So, if you are
foolish enough to lunge to your right to pick up a wide ball, you end up half in and half out of the sideboard; step smartly to the left and you wrap yourself round the radiator; make an ill-advised retreat and you could find yourself crashing through the
back window and into the flower bed.
Under the circumstances, any tendency to play with a flourish has to be swiftly checked. A tight - not to say cramped - style is all-important.
Despite all that, the game has caught the family's imagination in these dark, winter days. There is an ever-present queue waiting a turn with the bat - so much so that I have to make a very good case before I am allowed use
of the table for meals. In fact, we have had to draw up a rota. It is Sellotaped onto the cupboard door and sets out who plays whom and in what order. Its purpose is not so much to ensure that everyone gets a fair share of the play, but that noone wriggles
out of playing young Steven - a prospect nobody relishes.
Without a rota he wouldn't get a game, poor lad. The distinct lack of enthusiasm displayed by his successive opponents has not, happily, dulled
his own keeness to master the difficult art of perfect ping-pong. Steven does not just play off the floor - he plays off the ceiling, the lamp-shades, the window sill, the book shelves and once, in a never-to-be-forgotten moment of sheer brilliance, managed
to get the ball into the goldfish bowl from a distance of some three yards.
The occupants, Tom, Dick and Harry, were pulverised with fright; indeed they still have not recovered properly. I am sure
it is not a figment of my imagination that they appear a shade or two paler since their nasty experience.
When Steven plays Little Nan - his most gracious opponent - the ball rarely manages to get
from one end of the table to the other and back again. They play incredibly high-scoring games - possibly because Steven gets muddled when he gets into the teens and twenties and thinks nothing of jumping from fourteen to twenty-five to thirty-six in the space
of three wild-swinging serves from his youngest sister.
"Who won?" I am duty bound to ask them as they retire from the table, leavng Anne and Hilary to take up eager possession. "We did!" they say
and "Good game!" adds Steven, shaking his head sagely in a passable imitation of Bruce Forsyth.
Visitors, beware. We will politely turn off the televison when you call, and offer you coffee (even if
only the instant variety) but if you really want to communicate, you will have to join the table tennis set.
We don't have too many rules. Just keep clear of the sideboard, go easy near the window
- and please mind the goldfish...
Kent Messenger, December 1976