Day 1: It was Ibrahim's ninth birthday and what a birthday he was having. His flight to Saudi Arabia had been delayed for a whopping 12 hours but he was not to be defeated. When we located the table at Heathrow's Terminal 3 he was already in full flow. By the time we left three hours later, he was still playing and very much in control. That wasn't so surprising given that he was already fluent in three languages; English, French and Arabic. During those three hours we taught him some basic shots and he proved to be a quick learner. By the time we left him, feet, arms and brain were all moving more or less in coordination. But more than that, he proved to be a natural born organiser. Mimicking what he had seen us do with all the other passing participants, he took over the role as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His mother and sister were fairly phlegmatic about his performance as if they expected nothing less. I wish his flight could be delayed for a whole month because I'm certain it would have a massive impact at the Ping Heathrow table.


One hour into the session and the golden period began. First came the Jordanian on route back to his homeland after completing a leadership course as part of the Prince's Trust programme. He was useful on the table. Then came an Eritrean father of two who also knew how to hit a ball. Next up was a BAA baggage handler, formerly of the West Indies, and he was a good match for the other two. Almost immediately two young brothers of Indian origin arrived, both professing their inability, but the older proved quite useful. Finally an older gentleman from Pakistan joined in and he was both competent and highly competitive. With a little prompt from yours truly, the five of them started a winner-stays- on battle. As the games proceeded, so too did the number of great shots. Heathrow Ping had come alive on its first official day.

After three pulsating hours we said our farewells and left confident that young Ibrahim had everything under control.


I should also mention that during the session a film crew from American CBS Television turned up to do some filming and I interviewing. We were now international sports stars.


Day 2: Day two belonged to Vietnam and Pakistan. The first four or five families that I encountered on day two were all Vietnamese and their collective love of table tennis was palpable. To find themselves playing at the airport was joy enough, but to be receiving a free ping lesson on route to their homeland was totally off the barometer. Vietnam looms large in my consciousness, the Vietnam War being a defining factor in my youthful development. I felt a strong urge to quiz them on the state of Vietnam today but I resisted. I kept the agenda strictly to table tennis and that in the end seemed the most appropriate.


The steady flow of Vietnamese participants to the table finally started to dry up indicating that their flight was imminent. The next substantial group of players were of Pakistani origin, most living in England and heading  back home for the summer holidays. One in particular was quite proficient and as his time on the table progressed, his rallies became more intense and purposeful. His adoring girlfriend looked on in wonder.


In between the two main groups were some interesting individuals, one a huge Egyptian man who could really hit a ball. At first his gigantic forehand drives would go smashing into the steel mesh net making a massive crashing sound. It was a wonder that airport security did not investigate. After a while his shots found the appropriate length and shape but with no surrender to the original power. Towards the end he got it all together and two or three blistering forehand drives went flying past me. There was a sense of satisfaction all round. 


For a change of pace, a young New Zealand couple arrived and they seemed content to enjoy a simple game between themselves. I left them to their own devices.


Finally, as we were preparing to leave for the day, two airport workers arrived. We induced them to have a game, which they hesitantly agreed to; they were a little fearful that they might lose their jobs. If there are any senior BAA staff reading this blog, please show a little compassion over the coming weeks. Ping Heathrow must take priority over all else!


Day 3. The name of the game on day 3 was winner-stays-on, and what a competitive tournament it proved to be. Everyone seemed happy playing the old rules of 21 up and five serves each because they were totally unaware that the rules had changed and I saw no real need to disabuse them of their error. One of the leading lights was a Polish chef from one of the nearby airport eateries and he proved a cut above the other contestants. I have to confess that he was getting so entrenched on the table, with an air of cockiness, that I was forced to enter the fray and remind him that every sport has many levels. 


Heathrow provided the expected international range of contestants but one couple stood out not by their playing ability but because of their personal misfortune. Booked on a standby Air Canada ticket, they were on their fifth day of waiting with no sign of a seat being imminent. You could tell by the tone of their voices that they were getting a little desperate. Apart from anything, the evening hotel bills were starting to mount up. Anyway they enjoyed the table tennis table, which they had made much use of over the past five days and they told us that the table is always busy, morning, noon and night. That was heartening to hear.


The highlight of the session came with the arrival of 25 raucous young Gaelic footballers on route to New York to represent London in the Continental Youth Championships. And would you believe it, one of them recognised me from his school where I had been providing some table tennis coaching. They swamped the table in the nicest possible way, but none of them were to able to de-thrown the Polish chef. Other airport workers and passengers arrived but they too had to play second fiddle to the all conquering chef. We expect to see more of him tomorrow.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 May 2018 16:33 )