Tag Archives: Ice Skating

Ice Friends

Listening to the radio a few years ago, I heard this story recounted. I’m only sorry I didn’t take note of their names but still, I believe, it’s a story worth telling.

At the beginning of the Second World War two English children were sent to live in the USA. Their father lectured at an Oxford college and Princeton University had a scheme offering families of British academics temporary homes away from any danger of bombing raids. The children, then aged eight and eleven, arrived with their mother during the autumn of 1941.

While the older brother settled easily into a new way of life his sister struggled. She didn’t like the curriculum at her new school and she missed her English friends, but her favourite pastime was ice skating and most afternoons, after school finished, she would go skating. Her brother didn’t skate but accompanied her as chaperone and generally sat at the side of the rink doing his homework. As the weeks went by his sister befriended an elderly gentleman who also had a passion for ice skating. Gradually a friendship formed and the two would skate and chat together incessantly.

One afternoon, after their skating session ended, the girl asked the old man if he would like to come home for tea. The old man had previously informed her that he was quite good at maths and she was having a problem with her maths homework. The brother, worried by this sudden invitation to a complete stranger, raced home to warn his mother, concerned mainly that she wouldn’t have enough food prepared. Imagine the woman’s surprise when she opened the door – to Albert Einstein. After that he came to tea regularly, and helped both children with their homework.

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Just Cruising

Lazy days at sea

Lazy days at sea

It’s an entirely artificial paradise, and one that is totally, completely, utterly, unashamedly self-indulgent. On board the Navigator of the Seas every effort is made towards having fun. Hungry? Apart from five gourmet restaurants, a huge self-service area and a more sedate dining hall, food and drinks are available 24/7 in the café on Deck 5 where pizzas are made freshly to order, alongside sandwiches, cakes and cookies all temptingly lined up and ready to go. You can also help yourself to as much freshly brewed coffee you may need or any kind of tea or hot chocolate or ice cold lemon water. This luxurious cruise ship has all the trappings of a five-star hotel – twenty metres high chandeliers, carpets that absorb every step, sweeping marble staircases underlit with neon lights, brass fixtures which gleam like polished gold, glass bubble lifts flying up and down between the 15 public decks. And the hub to this floating palace is the Royal Parade, a high street of shops that runs through its heart. It’s hard to believe you are actually on board a boat.

Entertainment? Well the world is at your feet – every night a different show, a different style, a different era. The ship has a host of talented in-house musicians, skaters, singers, dancers, comedians, as well as individual performers who entertain in various bars around the boat. The Two Poets Pub (modelled on everything British) featured a musician who sang so much like Van Morrison it could have been him.  Plus, as if that wasn’t enough, each week a headline act is flown in direct from Las Vegas – we were wowed by Freddie London, a singer who mimics stars like Rod Stewart and Tom Jones to perfection.

Or perhaps the lure of competition rattles your fancy? Each morning the boat’s daily newsletter gave a list of tempting choices from ‘trivia’ in the pub to achieving the biggest belly flop in the pool. No excuse for being lost for something to do.

Deck 11 is where you swim. It contains swimming pools, several Jacuzzis, loungers and a solar room (protected from the elements but featuring another pool and Jacuzzi), alongside the requisite amount of cocktail bars and a big screen where you can watch videos while you laze in the sun. There’s an ample supply of fresh towels, rolled up like blue sausages, to keep you from dripping on the sun-loungers. The Royal Caribbean Company seems to think of everything.

Yet the thing I treasured most was meeting so many of my son David and his fiance Stacey’s new colleagues. They are currently skaters-in-residence alongside eight other professional ice performers on board Navigator. Didn’t I mention the ice rink? Deck 3, Studio B – no need to bring skates, they have plenty to lend, but you must wear a helmet and the ice show is amazing. Even before the end of the first day we were admitted into the family – when you’re working at sea fellow performers look after each other with tight-knit loyalty. It’s a truly international crew, gathered from all over the world – we met people from the Ukraine, Panama, Serbia, Poland, Wales, Italy, Iran, Norway, Canada as well as the USA. And we were treated as members of their family, and it was a true honour to be admitted into such a circle of dedicated and professional performers. The stuff of beautiful memories.

Formal night

Formal night

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Frozen Lakes

ImageWe visited Dove Cottage last month, a small damp cottage at Town End, Grasmere, world famous for being home to William and Dorothy Wordsworth. I’ve never been a fan of Romantic poetry but given his reputation, and the fact he was one of the first to promote the grandeur of Cumberland (now part of Cumbria, my home county) for its wild mountain scenery and ‘savage’ natives (I’m told it means un-contaminated) I felt it was time I learned a little more about him than his famous reflections on spring bulbs.

 

Orphaned before he reached his teens William was flailing for a profession when a small legacy meant he had money enough to support his ambition to write poetry. In late 1799 he rented the former Dove and Olive Bough public house, a native-built stone cottage set beside the main road from Keswick to Kendal, and moved in with his sister Dorothy, who he hadn’t lived with since childhood. But she shared equal aspirations for William’s genius and managed to supply all the practical support he required, which was essential because Will preferred to recite his thoughts while someone else did the writing. They lived in the tiny cottage for eight years, squeezing in with William’s new wife and her sister and then, by-turns, three children, as well as many famous and frequent visitors. When Walter Scott came he gave them one of his dogs, Pepper, whose portrait greets visitors when they first enter the cottage.

 

Men such as Coleridge, Southey and de Quincey, would call for afternoon tea and emerge weeks later bowled over by the Wordsworth’s hospitality. And when the Wordsworth clan moved to Allan Bank in 1808 De Quincey became the tenant of Dove Cottage, a tenancy he held for the next twenty-eight years. It seems strange the Wordsworth’s eight years trumped poor De Quincey but he failed to be respectable after publishing his Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The publicity machine which drove Wordsworth’s popularity meant the former public house was bought by the Wordsworth Trust in 1890 and opened to the public the following year as Dove Cottage.

 

It was during his very first stay in Grasmere that De Quincey noted, when the lake froze over, how William embarked on his other great passion, ice skating. William was particularly proud of his great skill on the ice but his friend was less impressed and wrote in his diary, ‘he sprawled upon the ice like a cow dancing a cotilion’.

 

Taken from ‘The Prelude’ by William Wordsworth

 

And in the frosty season, when the sun

Was set, and visible for many a mile

The cottage windows through the twilight blaz’d,

I heeded not the summons:—happy time

It was, indeed, for all of us; to me

It was a time of rapture: clear and loud

The village clock toll’d six; I wheel’d about,

Proud and exulting, like an untired horse,

That cares not for its home.—All shod with steel,

We hiss’d along the polish’d ice, in games

Confederate, imitative of the chase

And woodland pleasures, the resounding horn,

The Pack loud bellowing, and the hunted hare.

So through the darkness and the cold we flew,

And not a voice was idle; with the din,

Meanwhile, the precipices rang aloud,

The leafless trees, and every icy crag

Tinkled like iron, while the distant hills

Into the tumult sent an alien sound

Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,

Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west

The orange sky of evening died away.

 

 

Next-door to Dove Cottage a dedicated museum displays artefacts relating to William’s life

and times. While I truly hope he didn’t actually use the cock-spurs the basket full of  

pace-eggs was a delight. At Easter many children (and adults) still go pace-egging in this part of the world and it was interesting such beautifully-decorated (and very delicate) hard-boiled eggs had survived. But what really caught my attention were William’s ice skates. Not one pair but several! The man really did love to skate, as illustrated by his words. And I share his passion.

 

Taken From The Prelude, Memories of Ice Skating on EsthwaiteLake

 

Not seldom from the uproar I retired

Into a silent bay, or sportively

Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,

To cut across the image of a star

That gleam’d upon the ice: and oftentimes

When we had given our bodies to the wind,

And all the shadowy banks, on either side,

Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still

The rapid line of motion; then at once

Have I, reclining back upon my heels,

Stopp’d short, yet still the solitary Cliffs

Wheeled by me, even as if the earth had roll’d

With visible motion her diurnal round;

Behind me did they stretch in solemn train

Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watch’d

Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.

 

William’s giddy words define the peculiar exuberance of ice skating – as pertinent now as when he composed them, and obviously based on first-hand experience of skating by star-light on a frozen lake. But I wonder if Dorothy was skating right behind him with her notebook and pencil?

 

 

 

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Resolution

ImageOne of the things that strikes me about the USA is how graciously they celebrate success at every level. Going into the foyer of Ellenton Ice Arena (where my son and his partner currently train) the first thing you see is a huge banner strung across the wall with the names of club skaters listed alongside their achievements. At the other end of the foyer there is a smaller notice board which contains photographs of club members, coaches and auxiliaries in action during the year with written articles on recent events. Inspirational and interesting reading for an outsider like me. In contrast I went to Dumfries Ice Bowl last Friday and the club notice board was devoid of anything except a bland list of officials. Yet both their synchro skating teams medaled at the recent British Championships – at the very least I’d expect to see photographs of the successful teams.

 

Success is very much a state of mind. But during his recent lecture to students at Harvard University Sir Alex Ferguson put his success down to sunshine. Being that Manchester isn’t noted for its Mediterranean climate the manager of the most successful football team on the planet arranges for his players to soak up the rays artificially. So while my lucky son reaps the bonus of blue Florida skies I am morose at the prospect of yet another wet and windy day in grey old England. And don’t let anyone say the lack of bright sunny days doesn’t have a huge bearing on how much we enjoy life. Up here in northern England we’ve suffered so much wet weather in 2012 we are in danger of becoming Eeyores with perpetually gloomy outlooks.

 

Well, just for once, the sun actually took a peep at Cumbria this morning, so before it changed its mind we wrapped ourselves in warm clothes and applied wellies, sat the grandsons in ‘big red’ (neither possesses the attitude for a pushchair) and set off ‘round the block’ for our first outing outside all holiday. Yes we were windswept and weather beaten but judging by the bevy of neighbours encountered along the way we were not alone in seeking sunshine.

 

So back to where I began, with resolutions. The New Year kind I gave up on years ago, no point in starting February with regrets, but I’ll work hard on my optimism and try to celebrate and encourage more, and criticise and condemn less. Obviously that will require a good dose of sunshine so I’ll have to seek out the sun. We can make 2013 wonderful.

 

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The British Skating Championships 2012

The British Skating Championships 2012

Dr Zhivago as skated by Stacey Kemp and David King, A photograph taken by Graham Taylor of Digital Photo Events

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December 11, 2012 · 6:42 pm