Raise your hand if the thought of balancing atop razor-thin blades as you skate around in a circle on slippery ice with a hundred other people makes you break out in a heavy sweat. Just me? If the hordes of people who flock to the ice skating rinks in London every November and December are any indication, I’m thinking I might be the only one (at least in this city) with my hand in the air. Growing up in Tennessee and Singapore, two places where bodies of water rarely ever freeze (or never, in the case of Singapore), I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to practice skating on ice. In fact, I believe until this winter, I had only ever been ice skating once, and that was two decades ago. I think I liked it, but I can’t really remember much except skating hand-in-hand with two or three of my friends, each of us regularly falling down on purpose just because it was funny to bring our friends down with us. That was back when, if I fell, nothing broke. Today, with my old-lady-osteoporosis-bones, falling is a totally different story, but I was willing to risk it for the sake of taking part in one of the holiday traditions that our new city finds so endearing.
We’re spoiled for choice here in London when it comes to choosing a place to ice skate during the holidays. We ultimately decided to go ice skating at Somerset House because we had never been there before, and it’s generally regarded as being one of the best places to skate in the city. At almost £40 for the three of us to skate for an hour, I was really hoping everyone was right and that we’d love it.
It was on the ride over when my imagination really started to get away from me. Before then, I’d only been worried about falling and breaking something. A tragedy, for sure, but my imagination knew it could get worse. I generally don’t embarrass very easily, but on the ice, there are like a hundred ways to fall that could make me a viral sensation faster than you can say cats playing keyboards. What if I fell and created a domino effect? Or what if I fell and (sometimes my mind goes a little Quentin Tarantino) some speed skater races by at the same time and slices all the fingers off my right hand? I mean, they don’t make left-handed cameras. What would I do with the rest of my life? I’d just about talked myself out of the whole thing when we made it to the rink and I saw that there was, indeed, a wall I could cling to for 60 minutes and I calmed down enough to notice that the rink at Somerset House actually was quite pretty. At least I’d done that right.
After watching the other skaters for a bit, we made our way into the prep room to get our boots on and wait for our prearranged time slot to get on the ice. There was a short video playing on a loop with instructions and tips on how to skate. I don’t think I’ve ever watched anything so intently in my life. I was all, nobody talk to me while I watch this video 237 times. And then it was time.
I cautiously took my first step onto the ice, first one foot and then the other, and then promptly slipped, saved only by my white-knuckled grip with both hands on the wall. I looked up at Cory like, why is it so slippery? And then he gives me a look that says, because it’s ice, you idiot, as he skates off laughing. (I kid. He actually stayed right by my side for the entire first go around the rink.) My first go-around, I didn’t let go of the wall once, even if there were people standing there. I practically gave them all hugs if they were in my way, just so I could keep my grip on the ledge. An awkward, but essential maneuver.
It took a little time, but I gradually increased my distance from the wall. First, I started letting go just when we came up to folks that were bound and determined to hold their spot on the wall. I’d waddle around them, my arms out ready to grab onto their coats if I fell. Then I saw Lex get brave enough to leave the wall entirely and skate just far enough from the ledge that she couldn’t touch it, and I thought, just maybe, I could try that, too. Bad decision. Much too scary. Baby steps first.
Pretty soon I figured out I could leave the wall without hyperventilating if someone was there to hold my hand. Cory took one for the team on that one because someone else didn’t enjoy being burdened down by her ungraceful mother. It’s possible there were people at the rink who thought Cory and I were holding hands to be romantic, but no. The death grip I had on his hand would have broken the bones of a weaker man. But after awhile of that, skating actually started to get fun. Knowing Cory wouldn’t let me lose my fingers to a nearby speed skater gave me the freedom to actually start enjoying myself. And Lexie did, too – little thing was skating like a pro by the end of the hour. And would you believe it, I finally grew bold enough to let go and make a few rounds on my own, too. No joke. Not very fast ones, mind you, but hey – going from stage-five-wall-clinger to middle-of-the-rink-solo-skater in under an hour is a pretty big leap.
The hour we were allowed in the rink that had previously seemed like an eternity, actually passed much quicker than we would have liked. Lexie was already begging to go again next weekend, and were it not for the bank-busting prices, I’d probably have said yes. At the very least, we’ll definitely be doing this again next year. (Alright, London, I get what all the fuss is about now.)
This was such a fun night, and while I can’t speak for the other ice rinks in London, I can say with certainty that ice skating at Somerset House is a great experience. Maybe they all do this, but I really liked how they kept a very reasonable amount of skaters on the ice at one time at Somerset House. We weren’t the least bit crowded. Which means those nightmares I had of creating a human domino effect probably couldn’t have happened here. Whatever you do to celebrate the holidays this week, I hope you’re spending them surrounded by the people you love! A very happy Christmas to you all!
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