Whatever your wont I love the game. The reason I chose it as the subject of this blog is because 1) I am stoned and 2) Forrest Gump is on in the background and it is where he started playing ping pong.
Now I was no Forrest, but I was good.
Damn good actually.
I took the game up at the Teen Club on Upper Heyford Air Force Base, formerly RAF Upper Heyford. I played at night during school days and all weekend long taking on every challenger and losing very rarely. I got good enough to be allowed to play GI’s in the NCO Club. I beat almost everyone, so I joined the team that the Teen Club put together to go play a British Youth Team in a small village called Bicester. It was tiny in 1967 and I do have fond memories of the Three Swans pub.
But that’s a blog for another day.
So here come the boisterous (destructive), loud (irreverent) American teens into their home turf.
We were greeted at the door of a teeny-weenie coffin of a room where we met our opponents.
They were in blazers and ties.
We had ping pong paddles.
They had their table tennis rackets in awesome crested-leather covers.
Jeans and Chuck Converse across the board of the Upper Heyford Youth Team.
I was number one player and you made lineups based on who you thought could beat whom. Against most teams I was pretty much interchangeable with any of our top three players, but this was our first match and we truly thought we were good enough to blow these guys off the table.
It came down to the #1 singles match to decide the Invitational as it was called. There was hardly room to get to any wide ball in the close quarters and we were really lucky to get a win in doubles.
So I step up to play and I draw the one pure white, blond-haired blue-eyed British lad that lived in China with missionaries growing up where he learned ping-pong.
In a lifetime of near-misses, and more often swings and misses, I got one.
We went to a fifth game in the best-of-five final to decide it all. I started out just pure overpowering him with a series of big slams with either hand. He countered with some crazy spins which I had no answer for, sending the ball in every direction except the one I wanted it to go.
It was gonna get ugly.
No earthly idea where I got a cut-curve which pinned my opponent against the wall, setting him up for real trouble in the form of a slam, which was basically target shooting practice with ping-pong balls.
The fifth game wasn’t even close. Afterwards, we had a very lovely tea ceremony which were a common occasion in competitions in England.
We should be so cool.
I thought it was also very cool that all five of us quietly acknowledged our achievement whilst not offending our gracious hosts.
The good sportsmanship, the centuries-old building, the grace of our hosts.
We learned something.