I have always loved ice-skating. I am not particularly good at it, but I have always loved it. Not the twirly, fussy stuff of Olympic awe, but the fast, playful, adventurous stuff of storytelling. My mother read me Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates when I was little. Oh how I loved that story. That was the kind of skating I wanted to do. Action packed. One of the very few regrets I have of my 5 years in Holland was that I didn’t learn to speed skate. The Dutch excel at this sport, and I should have taken it up. But instead I had a couple of babies, neither of whom I would trade for all the ability on ice a person could have. Yet the dream is still there. And my beloved London makes sure I get a little taste each winter-time. London has a surprising number of permanent, indoor, ice rinks. A hold over from the GIs. There are even plenty of local hockey teams, most named for American Football teams, for the same reason. And while I have spent many a birthday party grabbing small, wet children out of the way of older, aggressive packs of teens, it isn’t quite that same flying along canals experience I had dreamed about. For that I must wait til Christmas time. When London landmarks flood and freeze themselves and offer glorious, beautiful, magical moments on ice. We have gone every year, to many locations including Marble Arch and the Tower of London. But the two best, year in year out, remain the Natural History Museum and Somerset House.
Somerset House skating used to be sponsored by Tiffany & Co., and a great tree stood in the courtyard festooned with ribbons of the trademark light blue. A luxurious tent alongside offered appropriately elegant coffees and cakes and a perfect view of the skating excitement. More recently Fortnum & Mason has taken over the sponsorship and has continued the glamour. In the evenings the tent turns into a bit of a warm disco, mimicking the on-ice action. A friend and I wandered in one night after a gallery party. We were much too old for the “scene,” unfortunately and didn’t stay long. Years ago, still in the Tiffany years, I took a group of young girls to skate in the afternoon at Somerset House and continued on into the Courtald Gallery afterwards. We ignored the priceless Impressionist paintings to gaze out at the skaters below in the now-enveloping dusk. They all seemed to be couples. Young, very much in love couples. “It is the romance hour,” one of the girls said with a sigh. She was right.
We once witnessed a proposal of marriage on the ice at the Natural History Museum. At sunset. In front of the tree. She said yes. We on-lookers went crazy. So romantic. Of course, most of the skates aren’t romantic so much as stoic. Whizzing round and round surrounded by the inexperienced and the seriously wobbly. Dodging crashes and whining girlfriends and frustrated children and the idiotic selfie addicts. It is a popular last-day-of-term treat and I took my youngest and her friends to the NHM last week. It was pre-teen on ice heaven, complete with photo booth. But the landmarks. Oh the landmarks. Skating under the skyline of London, well, what can I say. It is more beautiful than I can properly express. London never looks more regal than from the vantage point of a skating boots.
So this is how I have come to be spending very early Christmas Eve morning skating. At Somerset House. It is still early enough for frosty mist. Romantic and magical. 2016 has been a grim year. No one seems to be sorry it is almost over. The world seems to be rushing ever faster into madness. We need to grab happiness where we can. And here I am, flying through the London landscape, like Hans Brinker in pursuit of the life-changing skates….and just for a few moments, the world is perfect.