I’m proud to say I never lost a game of ping for a full three months. That’s definitely a record for me. Of course, I must reluctantly add, that due to lockdown restrictions, I didn’t actually play for those three months. Not inside, not outside, not nowhere. Schools were shut, clubs were shut and even the outdoor tables were generally no go areas. But all that changed in the summer.
There were a couple of great sessions up at the London Academy where I was duly beaten by a high flying eleven year old. And there was a wonderful birthday party where two mini tables were in constant use by children and parents alike. I even managed to get myself back into action in three West London schools. Tournaments were out of the question of course, but coaching and after school clubs with the ever popular ‘top table’ were given the green light. West London Ping was back in business. But the real highlight of the lockdown era has been outdoor ping. And don’t let anyone tell you that the weather is an impediment. As our friends from the North would say, "there’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing."
It all started when an old friend and former London Progress star, set about organising a clothes and sleeping bag collection for a homeless encampment at Marble Arch – a site that just so happened to host two outdoor tables. The twenty new sleeping bags that had been purchased and the mountains of second hand clothes that had been voluntarily collected, were duly delivered, with much enthusiasm from the recipients. Then, the ‘serious’ business of outdoor ping began. Yes, it was windy and yes it was difficult. But being veterans from London Progress we had learnt how to ‘adapt, improvise and overcome’. Of course, it didn’t take long for talent to overcome tenacity and pretty soon I found myself on the loosing side of a best of seven. Every game was like playing two opponents; the player and the elements. A couple of passers-by stopped for a few games and then they were on their way. Then my punishment resumed. But it did prove to be a damn fine workout. And after a well deserve lunch break we moved on to Paddington Basin, where three outdoor tables were strategically placed in an amphitheatre type space. Same story. Another drubbing for me but another great workout, and a whole lot of fun. I had suddenly rediscovered my love of outdoor ping.
A few weeks later, we reconvened at the Paddington Basin site. This time there were five of us. But in the excitement of the moment four of the five had forgotten to bring their bats. We had in fact, just one bat between the five of us. Not to be deterred, out came the mobile phones and for the best part of two hours we plied our trade without a hint of irony or hesitation. Ping is ping no matter how it is played. And the result? Yes, you guessed it. Another drubbing for me, but yet another great workout with a bunch of ex London Progress players.
From Paddington it is but a short cycle to the Greenhouse Sports Centre where battle resumed – this time with bats.
The very next day, I met up with an ex-Chelsea player and fellow London Ping enthusiast. This time the destination was Church Street Market in Lisson Grove, a wonderfully cosmopolitan Arab quarter, just a stone’s throw from Marylebone. There were two outdoor tables in the market square and plenty of locals to do battle with. And not just any old locals. Some of these guys that had come from international destinations far and wide, knew how to play. They knew their tables, they knew their surrounding conditions, and above all, they knew the right tactics for wind and rain. We lost a couple of early matches but pretty soon we made the necessary adaptations and sure enough, victory was ours. It turned out that these guys play there every afternoon and we were warmly invited to return. I think, despite their losses, they actually enjoyed the challenge of fresh talent.
So even with the drizzle and the swirling wind, which made things unbelievably tricky, armed with the right attitude, playing outdoors can be quite magical and the best way of staying sane throughout the on-again off-again lockdowns. I’m not entirely sure whether we contravened any lockdown regulations but being outdoors and two metres apart, I think we erred on the side of safety.
The moral of this story is simple. Whatever grim situations arise throughout the ongoing pandemic, ping can be played in virtually any conditions and with any equipment. In fact, regulation tables and bats are mere optional extras. What is really required is imagination and an insatiable thirst for fun. Play in your local park, check out a nearby ping pong parlour or seek out your nearest outdoor table. They seem to be cropping up everywhere. Play on the kitchen table with frying pans if necessary. And don’t forget to send a short blog to londonping.co.uk and share your story. But whatever you do, don’t dare allow the external circumstances to defeat you. Lockdowns come and lockdowns go but ping is for life.