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.
At 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.