A Marathon Day Of Court Sport; Fives and Fridge Ball, 4 December 1974

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What a sporty day Wednesday 4 December 1974 must have been for me. Just in case you cannot read what the day’s entry says:

11th in chemistry.

Fives lost 15-3 to Wrightson & Weber, beat Mason & Candappa 15-7 and beat Pavasi & I Goodwin 15-3, 15-0.

Fridge ball 533.

Some of this perhaps needs explaining. “11th in chemistry” is and perhaps will remain a bit of a mystery. 11th in the year would be quite good; whereas 11th in the class more predictably mediocre in that subject. It’s not well explained in the diary; much like my answers in the chemistry test, no doubt.

No, it is the fives and the fridge ball that caught my eye for further exposition.

Four Sets Of Fives 

I have already written up a bit about fives – in a piece about a so-called uneventful day the following June – click here. But if you cannot be bothered to click, you should simply be aware that, at Alleyn’s, we played Rugby Fives and you should also be aware that Alan Cooke became my regular doubles partner, so I’m sure those doubles matches were teamed with him.

Looks as though Cookie and I warmed up as the afternoon went on; perhaps this was a breakthrough afternoon for our nascent doubles pairing. Earlier references to fives in my diary seem to be singles games.

Apologies to David Pavesi – firstly for the surprising mis-spelling of his name, as we knew each other well from primary school as well as at Alleyn’s. But also apologies to him and Ian Goodwin for the drubbing. Why we played a second set against those two after a convincing first set I really cannot imagine. Perhaps they requested another chance. Perhaps we four wanted to play some more and everyone else had disappeared.

Fridge Ball

I suppose I do need to explain the magnificent and extraordinary sport of fridge ball, just in case the reader is unfamiliar with the game.

I realise at the time of writing (2016) that fridge ball has rather a lot in common with my current passion, the ancient game of real tennis – click here for one of my pieces and links on that game. 

In short, fridge ball is to table tennis what real tennis is to modern (lawn) tennis, but instead of a medieval courtyard, which is the theatre of play for real tennis, the theatre of play for fridge ball is a modern kitchen. Fridge ball is played with a ping-pong bat and a ping-pong ball.

Sadly, there are no photographs of the 3 Woodfield Avenue, London, SW16 fridge ball court as it looked in 1974, but there is a photograph of the court from 2012, when the house was being refurbished in preparation for letting – see below.

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In front of the visible wall (to the left of the picture) stood a large 1960’s-style fridge-freezer; the surface against which the ball has to be hit. The floor surface back then was linoleum of a rather insipid hue. In the photograph you can actually see a layer of blue glue awaiting some fancy modern flooring substance, the suitability of which for fridge ball was not even tested.

The game, simply, is to hit the ball against the fridge door as many times as possible, ideally getting some interesting bouncy business off the floor and/or the jauntily angled pantry door (shown open in the photo but naturally closed for play) and/or the panel doors below the sink,and/or divider doors (just out of shot at the bottom of the photo, which at the time had helpfully unobtrusive recess slots rather than potentially rally-ruining handles).

If the ball is accidentally hit to the left of the fridge (to the kitchen entrance), the ball is out and the rally is over. If the ball is hit to the the right of the fridge (an entrance that leads to a little laundry area and side door to the house), the ball is out and the rally is over. If the ball is hit above the fridge, gawd help you because the ball will probably get stuck behind the fridge and is the devil’s own job to retrieve. Needless to say the rally is over but also, almost certainly, your enjoyment for the evening, as mum and dad take matters into their own hands to terminate the game at that juncture.

If you hit the ball hard enough for it to get some action off the back surface or the cooker, the ball is still in play but that is a dangerous tactic given the strange bounces you might get back there. Aficionados of real tennis might enjoy the idea of hitting the grill/grille – a winning shot in realers but merely part of the ongoing fun/difficulty in fridgers.

Where you can see drawers at the back of the court/right hand side of the photograph, in my day there was a recess under a surface there and a stool kept in that space.  If the ball went into that recess it was out and the rally was over, making the back of the court even more treacherous than it would be today.

A second bounce does not necessarily terminate the point, although most second bounce situations tend to lead to the ball not bouncing at all and ending up dead, which thus ends the rally.

It really is a magnificent game, full of skill and playable as an addictive solo game, not entirely unlike the pinball addiction that subsequently grabbed me for some time. Indeed given the size of our family kitchen, it worked best as a solo game.

But here’s the thing.

Fridge ball 533.

Just think about that for a moment. A 533 stroke rally. That is a remarkable score.

I think there was also a playing condition that allowed for externalities (such as mum wanting to do the washing up or dad wanting a cup of tea), such that the player could catch the ball in the non-bat hand (not scoring a stroke for the catch, btw) and then continue the rally once the interruption was over. Frankly, I can’t imagine having had the run of the kitchen for long enough to score 533 without such a playing condition. Not on a midweek evening after playing four sets of fives at school.

What a marathon sporting day.

Does anyone reading this piece remember playing fridge ball with me or similar games in their own (or other people’s) homes? I’d love to hear all about it if you did.