-By Joanna Roughton-
When someone says ‘home entertainment’ what do you think of? A home cinema perhaps? A beefy sound system? Or a flat-screen TV the size of Leonardo’s Last Supper?
What about a ping-pong table?
When our family home was a huge company-funded apartment in Brussels, I was bitten by the table tennis bug. The property was a cavernous former photographic studio, partly-furnished, and complete with a ping-pong table.
It was a great ice-breaker for visitors from the UK. And, with all the stresses of life with young children, my husband and I found that a five-minute-fix of ping-pong was a surprisingly successful stress-buster.
It worked well because the flat was so big that we never had to go to the trouble of dismantling the table to create space. It was permanently erected and, because it had to be passed to gain access to the rest of our home, it was in almost constant use and never allowed to gather dust.
But after our return to the UK, the back-hand chop, sliced serve and top-spin smash have all faded from muscle memory. British property is not cheap, and the redundant space needed to accommodate a table tennis table represented an expensive and unjustifiable luxury.
Except that all these things are relative. ‘Expensive’ is one way of describing the pastimes of the average British teenager. My 15-year-old, for instance, went ice-skating at the weekend with some friends. Just getting to the rink, 25 miles away from home, was not a cheap undertaking.
So, suddenly, the economics of ping pong begin to change! For families with teens there are two ways to curb the bills. One is to let them hole-up in their bedrooms, with their TVs and laptops, emerging – blinking in the light – at mealtimes. That may not put pressure on family finances, but it is not a recipe for a harmonious home, nor a prescription for the formation of a well-rounded and happy teenager.
The other way to avoid running up a huge bill for teen entertainment outside the home, is to provide alternative sources of interest within it – without recourse to anti-social ‘screen time’.
And here the case for table tennis becomes worthy of consideration. If only we could find a way of making a dining table double up for ping pong? This, coincidentally, was reputedly how the game started. British officers, stationed at the outposts of empire, would take a dining table, create a net from a line of books and….hey pingo!
Well, I daresay a table-tennis table might provide some overflow dining space for a children’s birthday party. But the whole point of our Brussels experience is that it worked because the ping-pong table was just that; a ping pong table.
And so, finally, we have taken the plunge. Every Christmas we choose one big gift for all our children to share. This year it was a table tennis table.
It does, theoretically, fold away to save space. It may even save us some money. Hopefully it will also help us see more of our teenaged children!