By Ken Hegan for MSN

Worried that your ping pong skills will suffer while you’re on holiday in the UK this August?

No fear because England is offering 500+ outdoor ping-pong tables for you to play on free of charge. Here’s an action photo that both excites and terrifies me.


Ping pong turns you into a big fierce lobster

The ambitious country-wide initiative, entitled Ping!, supplies the tables, balls, and paddles, or ‘bats’ as they’re called in the UK. London alone offers about 100 tables from Ealing to Greenwich, but they’re chiefly found in central spots like Leicester Square, Soho Square, Regent’s Park, St Pancras Station, the Barbican and Spitalfields Market.

According to their website, Ping!’s aim is to get “as many people as possible across the whole of the UK playing – to bring about a sense of community spirit and get more people playing sport on the run up to the Olympics.”

[I assume they’re referring to last year’s summer games in London, not the suddenly odious Olympics in Russia]

If you’re absolutely mad about table tennis — and willing to turn your vacation into an insanely competitive binge battle — you can play on table after table throughout Liverpool, London, Oxford, Cambridge, Cornwall, Hampshire, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Hull, Leicester, Middlesbrough, and Sheffield. The tables are available until the end of August.


Shy photographer hides in the flowers

500+ tables is an impressive fleet of fun. Ping! also features tournaments, picnics, table tennis lessons, street parties, and lunch hour ‘beat the bartender’ contests.

To find a table near your hotel, inn, or relative’s flat, click here and enter your postal code. Once you’ve found a table (they’re marked ‘Stop and play’), just grab a ball and paddle/bat from the side of the table. Oh, and it’s considered polite to wait till the current game’s over before you start swinging your little bat around.

620x465_Ping! at the station

The last remaining LIVESTRONG wristband

For the fourth summer running, Ping! is produced by Sing London (an organization devoted to making cities happier places to live), delivered in partnership with the English Table Tennis Association, and paid for by Sport England, a.k.a. those sweet, sweet, lottery profits.


Man plays with a smaller man sitting on his shoulders

Bottom line: Ping! is a fine way to meet the locals and enjoy a lovely Liverpool afternoon. A warning, though: if your opponent’s a simple chap named Forrest who claims life is like a box of chocolates, do not play him for money.

What do you think…should other countries, airports, and train stations offer free public ping pong?

— Ken Hegan

Read all Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

Photos courtesy Ping!