Monday, 7 May 2012
The Headless Umpire
But table tennis “on the move” required much more dexterity than it’s earth-bound brother, as valuable points – sets, even - were often won or lost as the train rattled over a set of points. And then there was the question of where to seat the umpire. Because the ceiling of the coach being too low for the umpire’s elevated seat, holes were cut in the roof. But the through draft this created caused havoc with flight of the ball. This, coupled with the problem of low bridges (The Headless Umpire – lovely pub sign - still serves decent pint if you like your beer without much of a head), led to the invention of the Mobile Umpire’s Chair. This strange contraption ran on the train track parallel to that of the tournament train, thus enabling the umpire to track the play through the window of the coach. The umpire would communicate his rulings through a hosepipe, connecting his chair to a loudspeaker in the players’ coach.
Those were the days. Gone is the “Ping Pong Coach” (nowadays it’s designated as the “quiet coach”), although Tennis Coaches are still working for an hourly rate on the tennis courts in our city parks and leisure centres. But sadly there are very few example of the Mobile Umpire’s Chair left. Post-Beeching most were converted into wheelchairs (in anticipation of the Paralympics? Pure 'Pataphysics). But occasionally you can still spot one of their vital appendages - their portable yellow ramps – leaning up against the wall on station concourses. These were once used to transport the umpire across the tracks - into the players’ coach - for the presentation of the “Winner’s Trophy”.