When I was little, all I wanted was a little brother. I got a little sister instead (and, eventually, a little brother too, but by that time I had moved on to wanting a Baby-G watch), but I never saw any reason why, just because my parents had once again failed to listen to instructions, I shouldn't have a little brother.
My sister and I had huge, sobbing temper tantrums if we were forced into dresses, huge, violent physical rows over our 'shared' toys, and spent most of our childhood encouraging one another to attempt ever-more life threatening 'challenges' behind our parents' backs. To this day, my little sister only has one natural front tooth- the other being a fake to replace the one she knocked out, diving into a half-emptied swimming-pool. We have matching scars (hers on her forehead, mine on my chin) from the 'wastepaper bin' game (the only aim of the game was to throw a metal bin as brutally as possible at the other person), and continue, to this day, to compete for the title of 'strongest, fastest, best' wherever possible.
We have fairly well-defined independent areas of excellence, notably highlighted in a recent yoga class, where her brute strength was set against my balance and flexibility.
(We mark on a curve, naturally. To the rest of the class, we were the two idiots falling over at the back)
. I am the better runner, she is a far more accomplished swimmer. She is taller, I ski better. (She probably has several other things going for her, but I don't want her to get big-headed). Although she is much, much better at games with a ball, I easily outstrip her when a bat is required.
I am a decent tennis player, an OK squash player and reasonably handy on a badminton court. But it's ping-pong that's really my sport. When my parents divorced I was bought a ping-pong table, which I practised on endlessly, Forrest Gump-style, alone. (Obviously it was boring to play with my little sister, who was so much worse at it than I was).
I am still not sure, if pressed, if I would give that ping pong table back and have my parents have stayed together.
There's a new restaurant/ bar in London, which is called Ping.
It serves cocktails, pizzas and ping pong. It is tremendous. The cocktails are delicious, the pizza is absurdly good, and there's music and ping pong. It has everything one would need for an excellently fun night out. The only thing there doesn't seem to be (and I have been several times) is women playing ping pong seriously. There are lots of people playing ping pong, and beer pong, and champagne pong (for those of us who just have too much money), but the only ones playing properly- playing to win- are the men.
I have been there each time with a chap, and each time we began to play they were visibly taken aback that I too, wanted to win. Which sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't- but at least I was there, fully engaged and competing. It's London 2012- we've spent all Summer watching extraordinary females re-define the limits of what's possible for women. Please tell me we are not going to return to watching on the sidelines. If there's to be any Games legacy let it be this- that women go out, engage and compete. We are more than the cheerleaders. As I said to my friend, as I took the ping pong match in straight sets, despite far too many strawberry daquiris-
'Whoever said last man standing wins, didn't ask the girl to play.
' (Unless it's my little sister- she's terrible at racquet sports).