Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ice Skating

Ice skating seems to have become very popular here in the UK, with ice rinks opening in time for Christmas every year in various locations – outside the Natural History Museum in London and in the courtyard of Somerset House being two of them.  Hurrah, I say!

For me, ice skating was something I did as a child all winter long.  From the moment the first snow arrived and it was cold enough for ice to form, the skates came out of the closet (although usually they had to be traded in for a bigger pair as I’d grown over the summer).  At all the schools in my home town, the janitors would get their water hoses out and start pouring water onto the football pitch, layer upon layer which was left to freeze each night until finally we had our improvised skating rink.  We were allowed to use it during break times and many of our PE lessons were held there too.  Huge fun!

The Swedish lakes take a little longer to freeze to the right thickness – you don’t want to skate on a lake unless you’re absolutely sure you’re not going to fall through the ice!  (Although just in case, all Swedish kids are given lessons on how to get out of the hole if you should happen to fall in).  But once they freeze, it’s lovely to fly across the ice on your skates, sun shining on the huge polished expanse.  You just have to watch out for any bumps, ie little waves that have frozen in mid-lift, or you go flying in a completely different way and risk knocking your teeth out!  (I almost did once but got away with a bruised and bleeding chin).

Photo from Wikimedia
Ice skating has been around for thousands of years – Vikings, for example, strapped bits of polished bone to their shoes, a practical way of getting around quickly as you can go quite fast.  The Dutch made things easier by inventing the steel blade with sharp edges – more or less what we still use today – and ice skating came to England from the Netherlands, becoming very popular especially in the 19th century.  It’s obviously been a source of winter enjoyment for ages, as witness all the Christmas cards featuring ladies in long dresses gliding across ponds with some gallant man holding their hand (or not).

Winters in England used to be more severe so the chances of finding some suitably iced over pond must have been much greater.  And even if people couldn’t afford the metal runners to tie onto their shoes, I’m sure they found other ways of sliding on the ice.  My friends and I certainly did, the few times we’d forgotten our skates at home!

Anyone can learn, but obviously it’s not easy in the beginning.  As long as you remember to bend slightly forward though (never lean back!), you won’t fall far.  Even better, if you have a helping hand to hold onto, it’s a great way to pass an hour or two on a cold winter afternoon – I’d highly recommend it!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christina xx

PS.  Check out my latest Regency novella, Never Too Late, which is out on Kindle tomorrow!


Amanda said...

What a fun way to spend the holidays! I'm intrigued, Christina - just how do you get out of the hole if you fall through the ice?

Christina Courtenay said...

You have to come prepared with a pair of tiny ice picks to help pull yourself out - either that or you get a friend to pull you out by holding out a long branch for you to grab :-)

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

What a lovely, seasonal post, Christina. In the Museum of London they have some bone skates which were used on one of the Frost Fairs on the Thames. They don't look very efficient to me but perhaps you need to learn the knack of how to use them.

Christina said...

Sorry, Elizabeth, I had replied to your comment but my message seems to have gone into a black hole! Yes, I imagine bone skates would be quite tricky and from what I've read about them they involve a completely different technique of skating, possibly using staves/poles (a bit like skiing). Thank goodness the Dutch came up with metal ones! :-)