Chaos on Ice

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Last week I had decided that much as I’d like to be able to jump, twirl and triple toe-loop (whatever that actually is) on the ice it would probably be sensible to try and master the basics first. Like being able to stop without having to a) crash into the barrier or b) wait almost an entire circuit and hope to slow down naturally by the exit. So, in preparation for my skate this week I watched a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating how to come to a timely standstill. When on more stable ground, for example whilst waiting for the kettle to boil for one of my ten cups of tea of the day, I would take the opportunity to practice the footwork I’d seen in the videos.

This week is school holidays in Geneva so I was a bit concerned that the rink would be overrun with kids. It’s not that I’m violently opposed to children or even peacefully resistant to them it’s just that I like skating best when I have a bit of space to do my own thing, so that I can practice stopping and starting and turning without worrying that I’m going to collide with someone.

But my trepidations about too many children on the ice initially seemed unfounded, when I turned up there were only a handful of people already skating and although there were maybe more family groups than usual, the holidays didn’t seem to be having much of an impact on numbers. I did a few warm-up laps and then set about trying to practice stopping. What had seemed easy in the kitchen was a lot harder to master on the ice but I noticed some improvement after twenty minutes or so of putting in the practice.

The decision to work on my stopping abilities proved fortuitous as just as I was thinking I’d put in enough training for the day and should just enjoy my last ten minutes or so whizzing and slaloming about the rink, suddenly all the kids in Geneva turned up.

Kids entering the ice - bp imageAt first I noticed a line of bobble hatted heads snaking their way towards the rink entrance and then a steady stream of children of about seven or eight tumbled onto the ice and bedlam ensued. Bunched up at the one entry point they jostled and stumbled their way on and then fanned out in a widening arc of absolute madness.

If there aren’t many people on the ice you can do what you like and skate in any direction but if it’s a little bit busy everyone is meant to go in an anti-clockwise direction to minimise risk of injury. However, the guys supervising that session didn’t even bother to try and enforce this rule; sensibly concluding no doubt that trying to direct that many people would be like herding cats.

So when I said all the kids in Geneva that may have been a tiny exaggeration but there were about 200 hundred of them slipping and sliding in every direction as the rink transformed into an obstacle course. (Thus providing an excellent opportunity to practice my turning skills and new-found ability to stop.)

It’s hard to convey exactly what the effect of this sudden influx of little humans was like but I’ll try. Imagine that you were pleasantly enjoying the calm environment of an art gallery, or shopping or any activity you like where you are on your feet in an enclosed space and suddenly 200 cats in roller skates all emerge through the front door.

These little furry balls of insanity are suddenly everywhere and loudly caterwauling their surprise at the unfamiliar setting they have suddenly found themselves in. They are not moving in a coordinated fashion, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to why they would go in a certain direction, some of them move tentatively because of the little shoes with wheels someone has taken the time to attach to their feet, some more eager to get away than others and with slightly better balance manage to speed along pretty quickly, they fall over themselves and others frequently.

You might think well I was here first and I can still enjoy my art/shopping/whatever if I just move at a sedate person and take care not to step on all the little creatures. After a brief time you will reasonably conclude it is slightly less fun and slightly more dangerous than before and think maybe you will just leave. However, as you try to make your way to the exit you discover you can’t actually get out because these critters with wheels are still bursting through the opening. You will be forced to pretend you didn’t actually want to leave just yet anyway and take a few more turns about the building until you can spot enough of a gap to force your way through.

I was glad that the kids didn’t arrive until towards the end of my session so that rather than being frustrated by the inconvenience I could actually take a detached view of the scene and enjoy the sensation of that sudden and unexpected transition from carefree skating to hopscotching over living hurdles. I thought that this could make a really lovely painting: rosy-cheeked, lively children in brightly-coloured padded winter wear, making their arms and legs stick out at unnatural angles, enjoying themselves on the ice. A real artist could capture the vibrancy and chaos of the scene, but you’ll have to make do with my computer art.

Magic in the Mundane

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I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, magic is all around us and so the feeling grows…” (if Love Actually can adapt Wet Wet Wet’s song for their own purposes I don’t see why I can’t).

“Faith was a choice. So it followed, was wonder” – Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold

I recently underwent a family rite of passage; not marriage, having children or enduring yet another mass family event without my eardrums exploding as twenty different discussions compete for volume within a confined space. No, this was very specific to my immediate family, something my parents and brothers had gone through before me. I was tasked with reading ‘Carter Beats the Devil’ and either enjoying the book or never darkening the doorstep of the family homestead ever again.

I read the book, loved it and passed the test. In summary, it’s a fictional tale that begins with the death of the President of the USA, who died shortly after participating in a magic show, and unravels from there. ‘Magic’ is central to the book and whilst there is no pretence that this is real, it doesn’t stop you from being drawn into the mystical narrative and creating a great yearning to be amazed.

However, I’ve stumbled across some texts recently suggesting that as we get older we lose the sense of magical wonder at the world easily experienced as a child. In something I recently read, but have forgotten the source, the author said nothing was magical any more, even things such as a new birth and falling in love, whilst capable of bringing happiness, lacked that sense of wonder he remembered as a child. Another well-written blog I found recently said the “greatest and saddest life lesson to learn, is that we only know true wonderment once it is lost”

Those thoughts on the dearth of wonder prompted me to think about when I last experienced a magical moment. My mind drew a blank and I started to panic. Perhaps it’s true, I lost my sense of enchantment and what’s worse I hadn’t even noticed.

Certainly as we gain experience in life we tend to trust our own instincts more and develop a certain level of scepticism. It isn’t that we tend to question the world around us more as we age, if anything as an adult I think we often fail to question things as much as when we were children. (Great blog about the difficult questions children ask)

Have you ever played a game of ‘but why’ with a child where you try to explain something and everything you say results in another ‘but why?’ response? After an hour or so of going round and round you realise you no longer know the answer you were sure of when you started.

I was that child with the endless ‘but why?’ and I still have an annoying tendency to question much around me. A few years ago I visited a friend who’d built a kitchen table with her partner. It was a fine table but I wasn’t content to sit-back and admire their handiwork, no, I had to get on the floor and look underneath the table to figure out the how.

I now question those blatant untruths I once accepted so readily. I no longer believe my uncle has a tiny invisible horse called Dobby. I will question the reality of Derren Brown’s latest antics, although that won’t necessarily detract from my amazement. If I’m interested in something curiosity overcomes me and I like to know how it has been achieved, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of the magical.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 12.01.44 PMAs part of my 2015 resolutions, I’ve started ice-skating on a regular basis and every time I skate it’s the same story. At first I start off very tentatively, unsteady and unsure on my feet. After a time I gain my confidence, pick up speed and my fear of falling over and having someone sever my fingers with their skates wanes (although I always wear leather gloves as a precaution).

Once I’ve let go of my fears and start to enjoy myself I experience what I can best describe as pure freedom, which is magical, and I’m not sure can be expounded upon better than that. Gliding along the ice is inexplicably wonderful to me and perhaps that is so because I allow it to be. I don’t eagerly anticipate those magnificent moments and I don’t try to hold onto the unique sensation beyond it’s natural duration.

Ice-skating regularly brings a bit of magic into my life although I recognise on the surface it is essentially a rather meaningless act that cannot be transcribed and shared with others.

Frequent walks through the beautiful countryside around Geneva and experiencing the light hitting the canopy above, illuminating the woods in a certain way, have also brought about that same sense of unadulterated joy. I try to savour the uniqueness of such moments that cannot be recorded for posterity (no matter how hard I might try with the camera) and will never be exactly the same again for myself or anyone else. If that isn’t magic then I don’t know what is.Those are just a couple of examples.

I know that what I find magical may be mundane to others and what is wonderful to you may seem woeful to me. But I think the trick to maintaining a sense of wonderment, whatever this means to you, is just to be open to it and to appreciate it when it arrives, without drowning it in over-analysis or crushing it in a too-tight embrace.

If in twelve months I write a post about wonder being dead then we’ll know those other authors were right, but in the meantime I’ll press on in the belief that magic is and always will be all around me. Maybe that makes me a fool, but I’ll take a pinch of naivety over a bucket of cynicism any day.