I have to win at table tennis
You’d have thought that spending more time with your family would be a positive thing – and for many of us it is. But it’s amazing how small things can cause domestic discord. According to reports from home and other countries, lockdown will see a huge increase in cases of domestic abuse and many of us are already planning to divorce our partners: ‘when this is over’.
If you’ve not read Italian novelist Francesca Melandri’s piece in last weekend’s Guardian: ‘Letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future’, it’s worth a look. It’s a raw insight into the emotions and actions of a lockdown society. And the foibles and contradictions of human nature under duress.
Our table tennis table made the journey when we moved from north London to Berwick-upon-Tweed 10 years ago. During the spring and summer months, ping pong became a tea- and coffee-break activity for the Husband and I when we paused our desk-based work activities. The battle of the table continues to be as epic as the battle of the skies: as soon as we wipe the table down a marauding flock of screeching herring gulls craps on it. And the Husband’s out with his hose cursing and fist-waving. One day, the gulls got him twice in a row – the second when he was fresh from the shower after the first. Once, three of us were chatting on the lawn and a gull scored a simultaneous bullseye in all our cups of tea.
The Husband has now retired and taken up activities such as badminton. He has become fleeter of foot and, as if blossoming back into the primary school child he once was, improved his hand-eye coordination. I’m not saying I’m not pleased about this turn of affairs. But I’m happiest when he’s fighting the losing battle of the gulls and I am maintaining my rightful place as Queen of the Table.
We bought the table as a family bonding exercise – specifically for our then teenager (now 32) to enjoy. Purchase day was fraught: Finsbury Park in north London to Surrey Quays south of the river is not a jolly journey at the best of times and, what with the toddler and the teenager in the back of the car, it definitely wasn’t jolly that day. But good things do come from inauspicious beginnings. Once home, that table tennis table delivered above and beyond. It took over most of the garden and was the centre of gatherings: from baptisms to birthdays. It was played on and under; it was eaten off; and, on one memorable occasion, became a racing track for snails. It’s not something I’m proud of: the snail thing took place when we were in a South Korean reality TV show about families coping with no TV for a couple of weeks. A screen lockdown if you will. And, let’s face it, it’s amazing what you resort to to fill in the gaps. In our defence, we put the snails back on the ground when we’d finished.
Nowadays, the table tennis table is a firm feature at our Open Garden event here in Berwick (beginning of June but postponed this year). Children often enjoy a game while their parents peruse the garden. Then the parents wander back, grab a bat and thrash the kids – a là Competitive Dad from ‘The Fast Show’ – just to show them who’s boss. Or perhaps to remind themselves they’ve still got it in them. Anyway, there’s usually tears involved.
For us, it’s still a daily routine to grab a game or two of table tennis to distract us from whatever we’re meant to be doing. Or whatever’s going on in the world. But something’s shifted. The Husband’s upped his game. And I’m feeling the strain. It’s like a rainy day versus a sunny day. Beating him makes me happy. Losing to him makes me grumpy. And if I’m grumpy, family wellbeing could be at risk. I know some of you will be thinking this is overt competitiveness or even sour grapes. But it’s all about domestic harmony. I have to win at table tennis.