Friday 25th November
It was in Paris, not that fateful time back in the seventies, but much later when I was in my forties that I saw my first city open-air Ice Rink. It was outside the Hotel de Ville and it was early February, but the rink was full of ecstatic youngsters, many little more than children, skating away. I was struck by the novelty of the thing, the whole idea seemed irrational and yet eminently sensible at the same time. I had tried ice-skating a couple of times at Queensway with friends from work, I think the rink is still there but you don’t hear about it anymore; it was subterranean and dark and damp and all a bit forlorn, with its one sad little glitter ball and a couple of blue and green spotlights. I was no good at ice-skating, barely daring to leave the safety of the wooden sides, my skates going every which way whenever I tried to actually skate, except once when I grabbed someone’s hand at the end of a chain and was whirled round for a couple of circuits without having to move my feet at all. I hadn’t even learnt to roller-skate as a child, far too dangerous an enterprise for Grandma to have considered for a moment, and though I did have a push bike in my teens I was always a sedate rider, and would keep meticulously to the paths in the park, and rarely cycled on busy roads. Consequently I have never broken any bones, and have always had a silent dread of anything that might result in such an eventuality. Edward did once suggest a winter holiday in Andermatt, but although we talked of it endlessly we never went, which was a relief as I really think I would have been hopeless at either ski-ing or skating, but I would have liked to have seen the mountains in the snow.
For several years there were no temporary outdoors ice rinks in London, and then I remember one being erected a few years back at Somerset House, I only noticed it as Edward and I were at the Courtauld institute and saw the workmen building it in the courtyard as we arrived. It was a real surprise and we went a couple of times, not to skate, but to watch and to drink hot mulled wine and eat mince pies in the big marquee where you could stand out of the biting wind and enjoy other people speeding along and occasionally falling over. It all seemed great fun and the temporary nature seemed to add to the excitement, as everyone knew it was only there for a few short weeks.
But now there are ice Rinks everywhere, at the National History Museum, the Tower of London, one in Hyde Park along with a full-blown funfair, at Canary Wharf and at both Westfields, east and west, all over the place in fact, as well as the one at Somerset House, and all over the country they are springing up, alongside those wretched ‘Christmas Markets’ where all sorts of nonsense is plied from glorified garden sheds, so that now the novelty has completely gone, and it is just another business opportunity. One wonders what the companies that own all the equipment and erect these temporary structures for a few winter weeks actually do for the rest of the year, but like firework manufacturers and Easter Egg makers it seems that they must make money or they wouldn’t bother. But like putting up the lights on cherry-pickers along Oxford Street, it is a sure sign of Christmas in the offing when they start erecting Ice Rinks everywhere.