I put a spin on you

10th January 2014 at 00:00

I love retirement, but I miss a lot about school: the children, the camaraderie, the challenges of working in a tough inner-city area. And I miss the table tennis.

Until a few years ago, I hadn't played seriously since my teenage years, when all my leisure hours were spent chasing young ladies, going to the pictures and playing table tennis. I was the youth club champion, beaten only occasionally by the local vicar, who could put a vicious sideways spin on the ball. There was a table at teacher training college, but it was in great demand and gradually I stopped playing.

Then, during my last years as a headteacher, a local church asked if we would like their unused table. After a bit of DIY to stop it sagging, we were in business - and I discovered that I could still play. We bought more tables and organised an after-school club on Fridays for the older children. Several quickly revealed their skill, and because one or two had spotted me playing, the cry went up: "I never knew you played, Sir. Can I face you?"

It was fun for a while, because even the children who played well couldn't understand why, when they returned my serve, the ball shot sideways off the table. They were unaware that I had spent much of my youth studying the vicar's spin.

Then, when I appointed Alex as a class teacher, I had to work much harder. He had spotted the tables on his first visit and asked who played. "The older children," I replied. "I play a bit, too."

His face lit up. "I really enjoy table tennis," he said. "Any chance of a game?"

Alex played very well, and after the children's Friday sessions we enjoyed some energetic sets - so energetic that we were soon turning up to our games in suitable tops, shorts and trainers. I usually won, but it was often very close. Then Alex and his family moved to Kent.

What to do? For a while it was back to playing the children, who huddled in corners discussing tactics that might defeat me. I heard one boy whisper: "He's old, so he can't move too fast. Get him running from side to side." But my longer reach meant that they still lost, even though the most skilful children scored a few more points than usual.

Occasionally, one staff member's partner would visit on Friday afternoons. He was skilled at any ball game and we played some furiously fast table tennis, but it wasn't until John came along that I had a regular opponent again. He had volunteered to mentor challenging children but had always loved the game. One afternoon he beat me by one point. He was so delighted that he ran around the staffroom waving his arms with joy. Then he married and moved away.

So I played Sue, one of our teaching assistants. Her sister was great at the game and Sue often played her; she was sure she could beat me. She lost.

And now, in retirement, I haven't had a game for many months. But my daughter and her partner are looking for a house with a garage big enough to house a table tennis table. He plays and he's certain he can beat me. I can't wait ...

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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