Sunday, August 13, 2006

Who's for Swish? 

On Saturday I set off for my first go at Swish, a game similar to table tennis and that can be played by blind and sighted people alike.

The balls are plastic, have holes in them, and - most importantly - contain bells. The wooden bats are flat and rectangular.

Two swish bats and a ball

The table has raised sides. Instead of a net, there's a high wooden panel and the aim is to get the ball under this panel and off the other end of the table. The blocking and attacking, plus the need to keep the ball close to the surface, reminds me of air hockey.

A wooden swish table

Each player uses the bats, their forearms, elbows and hands to sweep the ball back to the other side. Some players wear gloves and elbow pads. I came along in a t-shirt and took off my watch. Even so, I only have the faintest hint of table rash to show for my efforts.

We played doubles. The winners are the first to eleven points, provided they are two points in front. Before you serve, you ask if the opposition are ready, then you call play. The panel is high enough that I couldn't see over it while playing. When I stood straight I could look across to catch the expression of an opponent.

I expected to hear the ball jingling on its way but the most fun comes from belting the ball and hearing the bat slam across the table surface. Sometimes there's a curse, but mostly there are laughs and wisecracks. I started out a very vocal player, I kept surprising myself, but by the end I could hit the ball without letting out an 'ooh' or an 'aaggh' - and that's not a bad thing.

One player explained that it's okay to cheat so long as no one hears you. Cheating would involve having a second go at the ball with your arm or bat so that it travels all the way under the panel. If the ball makes it under the panel but isn't within reach of your opponents, it's a dead ball. If it doesn't go under the panel, it's their point. If you mis-time your hit, or there's spin on the ball, or you have funny Mr Burns-like arms, then you might not get the ball back under.

I played three games, after a short demonstration by a teammate. You have to hold the bats longwise and so that the bottom edge is closer towards you than the top, otherwise you flick the ball into the air and off the table or into the wood panel. I hold the bat in my right hand and hit backhand, with my elbow to the right and my hand in front of the bat to close the gap (you don't want any gaps or the ball will end up on the floor and you'll have lost a point). For the first two games I played with my elbow up against the side and couldn't get much oomph behind the ball if it came to that side. I didn't want to get it whacked. For the third game I changed places, so that my elbow sat at the centre of the table, and I think I played better.

Some people might find it difficult to play a game without having sight of the opposition. I think Megan would go nuts! For me, it's great not to worry about what I can't see.

So, even though my arm's sore now I'm keen to have another go next month. I've been encouraged to bring friends along, so everyone's welcome!

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