Across the country’s precincts, they’re skating away like crazy – the blade runners, as it were, of the malls. It’s something that requires either balance or a well-upholstered bum. I don’t have the latter, and I am fundamentally imbalanced. Or so the shrinks tell me.
When I was a teenager, there were three possible options (hanging about on corners wasn’t much of an option, whatever The Four Lads were crooning at the time). The choices were a) the pictures, b) ten-pin bowling, and c) ice-skating (indoor). A short analysis of these three dating activities reveals that b) and c) require a degree of physical, even, God help me, sporting prowess. Option a) on the other hand required the ability to sit still, until you’d built up enough steam to test the right shoulder of the girl on your right with your right hand (or, left, left, left). That was my option of choice.
So the first time I actually went to the phone, trembling from the scalp to the intestines, to actually ask a girl out, I had option a) very much in mind. The object of my attention was a girl called Kate Meikle, whose surname attracted me as much as her curly hair. Ring, ring, ring. Ah hello, would you like to go to see [insert here whatever film was showing in Sunderland at that time]? The answer was pretty definitive, and disarmingly instant.
‘No,’ she said. And then, after a pause, ‘My friends and I going skating next Saturday. Would you like to come?’ Would I? Would I? I had a Yes out of my lips and along that line before my brain had fully engaged. I was given a time and place. The call ended.
There were two ice rinks in the area – at Whitley Bay and at Durham, both of them requiring a bus ride of about twelve miles. I had been to neither (Whitley Bay, it transpired in later years, was rather better, but the invitation on this occasion was to Durham.) I had a notion of what was involved. It was not hard to get one’s head round it. It was about not falling down. Almost anything else was an added and extremely unlikely extra. There was only one thing to do. I would have to practise. I didn’t mind being seen to be a fool, and still don’t, but the idea of seeming a fool while lying, possibly with fractured limbs, on some artificially frozen water, held a certain unappeal. I was on that bus to Durham the very next day.
You hired the boots. They stuck to your feet very snugly, mainly because of the nails which stuck up through the very worn soles. I tiptoed out to the rink, and took a few tentative steps towards the shiny stuff, gripping the worn wooden wall. One, two, I was flat out on my back. Doubtless a serious bruise was already spreading over the injured bits of my back. Thank goodness I had had the foresight to get a some training in. This was going to take some doing.
After about an hour, I had managed to let go of the wall, and move with elegance, my blades clinging to the ice, at least three feet into the rink. At this point, I was chopped down by a gang of other incompetents who were risking a circuit. The whole place was echoing (it was cavernous, with a dodgy sound system playing year-old hit songs). So was my head.
Wet-kneed, not a little shivery, I made it back to the wall, and steadied my nerves for another attempt. And then I saw them: a group of girls, wearing what were obviously their own, nail-free boots, swanning out on to the ice, and gaily swerving wherever they pleased, and laughing with all the energy that attractive thirteen-year-olds could muster. It looked hard to me. And I looked hard at them.
Very hard, because, central in their happy-go-lucky group was none other than Kate Meikle herself. These were the the people with whom I had made my first date.
I stumbled to the exit, and, hiding my face, got to the bootroom as fast I could. ‘Your time’s not up,’ said the boot-issuer, encouragingly. By that time I was halfway to the bus-stop.
Ring, ring, ring. ‘Er, Kate? I’m afraid I won’t be able to come on Saturday, I’ve twisted and sprained my ankle.’ She did not sound remotely disappointed, I was disappointed to hear.
To conclude with a tangent, in the year of my birth, the Winter Olympics were held in Helsinki. I dare say there were triple axels on the rink. I do know this. They were skating on Finn ice.