Confessions of an ageing figure skater: the call to ice.

I was nowt but a snowdrop when Torville and Dean graced the ice rink in Sarajevo and stole everyone’s hearts to the insistent pulse of Ravel’s Bolero. I vowed then that one day those floral bouquets, the Lycra suits, the glitz glamour and sparkle would all be mine. And if this meant dedicating my life to a pair of black shiny skates and many hours of skating around and around in pointless circles, then so be it. I had heard the vocational call to become a figure skater and would heed no other call or distraction, however intellectually seductive, financially lucrative or emotionally compelling that call might be.

Before then my sole venture onto an ice rink had been when my brother, sister and me were dropped off by our mum at Brighton Ice Rink every other weekend. This was ostensibly so that we could see our dad more frequently although in actuality all we would see more frequently was the huge glistening oval slab of ice which captured our fascination to such an extent that we could not resist its call to stumble around it on wobbly ice skates in ever decreasing pointless circles for hours on end.

This was pre-YouTube days so the only training I’d had in ice-skating was to fervently follow what Peter Purves instructed me personally to do on Blue Peter every Monday afternoon in the hope that enough of something would wash over me to enable me to take to the ice with all the grace of those speed skaters who could sweep around the rink, arms and legs perfectly synchronised, occasionally taking a dramatic leap and spin and land in such a way that they could continue at the same speed, albeit going backwards. I looked on enviously at those shiny bodies, not knowing where to start when it came to skating backwards: or for that matter, coming to a stunning theatrical stop which involved generating a huge fan of ice spraying into the frozen smiles of the bystanders at the side of the rink.

At least Purves got me started going in the right direction, albeit hesitantly and without a stopping technique which didn’t involve either falling over or slamming into the rink’s side rail at speed.

And from then on, my vocation continued to call: sometimes whispered, sometimes shouted, sometimes mysteriously uttered in a foreign language which I didn’t begin to understand, sometimes written in front of me in an indecipherable Cyrillic script. The call continued for months, for years, for decades. Sometimes it sounded like ‘let’s go down the pub’ or ‘anybody fancy a kebab?’ or ‘don’t fancy yours much’ – and it took me many years – a whole half life time in fact – to understand what the call was really telling me: ‘You SHALL wear lycra and yes, you SHALL be an ice figure skater of international renown’.

But one day the call came, in the strangest of places and the strangest of circumstances. I was to find my niche at last.

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