I don’t remember the miseries of the winter of 1963 (no running water in the house for several weeks, among other things, I’m told). I just remember the fun. I was fourteen, home from boarding school, and Perthshire was a winter playground.
There was endless tobogganing. The best, at Ochtertyre, just outside Crieff, was down a long, very steep field and straight out across several hundred yards of frozen loch, dodging skaters, a motorbike (how it stayed upright I have no idea) and even a couple of cars. It was surely the dream toboggan run, the best thing outside the Cresta.
Then there was ice hockey. Ten minutes from home, a neighbour had flooded a field to make a flight pond. Set in a hollow between two hills, it was shallow and froze very quickly. That winter it was a couple of acres of pure glass. We played with walking sticks and a shoe polish tin filled with sand to give it weight. God, could we skate – flat out across the ice, whacking the puck and occasionally each other, twisting and turning on sixpences until the surface was scored and powdered by our blades and our cheeks were crimson and burning in the cold. Late in the afternoon the sky would turn pink and fill with skeins of geese heading down to the River Earn to roost. I remember feelings of extreme exhilaration at the sport and the speed of it, combined with something approaching ecstasy at the beauty of our surroundings.
But the thing I remember best, and last week’s Imagination Club outing to that great empty ballroom put me in mind of it, was skating backwards. I got very good at it, skating forward as fast as I could, then pivoting on one toe to whip round into the backward movement with almost no loss of speed. Skating backwards involved making a snakelike movement of the hips as you transferred your weight from one ankle to the other, and more even than forward skating it seemed to depend on a good rhythm. If you got it right it was almost like flying (if you didn’t you were liable to trip and crack your skull).
So much of what we do works best when we get into a rhythm. I’m just back from the pub where for, obvious reasons, it was a quiet night. But there were three other musicians there, all good players, and after half an hour or so of warming up we spontaneously hit a groove. It was exciting, like skating backwards, and we kept it going for a good long time. We could tell that it was infectious from the way the audience reacted, nodding, smiling, tapping feet.
Another rhythm has me in its grasp at the moment, too. John Simmons and I have been commissioned to write a book about business writing and language which takes the form of a conversation between our two blogs. With meetings cancelled because of the weather this week, we’ve hit a groove in our exchanges, batting back and forth new blog posts almost every day. Again there’s something exhilarating about it, and I’m sure we’re both writing well at the moment.
It’s easy to forget that from the moment we first hear the thud-thud of our mother’s heartbeats, we are creatures of rhythm. Last week’s dancing reminded me of it, and so, oddly enough, has being in the grip of the coldest November on record.
Indeed it's been an exchange with momentum this week. I'm sure we're both skating on thin ice, backwards and forwards, as we respond to each other's thoughts and set up the next contribution. We have a plan but there's also an element of skating in the dark.Better get on with the next piece.
I always loved skating backwards. It is a major accomplishment, like tying shoes, or learning to ride a bike– on of the big markers we have as children that lets us know we are getting bigger, getting older. Enjoy being on form musically and in your writerly way.