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May 2019



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Skating in books

The weather is foul: day after day of rain, wind and darkness that mean lights on all day. My thoughts turn to bright, frosty days and skating.

I’ve always loved this painting by Raeburn. It’s usually known as ‘The Skating Minister’ but it’s proper title is The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. The image was used on a British postage stamp in 1973.

Jane Shaw’s Susan was less proficient. This is a late reprint and quite different from the first editions but it is a great sixties image.

Considering how seldom ice is likely to bear skaters in the UK, there is a surprising amount of outdoor skating in children’s books. I immediately think of the wonderful night time skating scene in Tom’s Midnight Garden, which is so atmospheric. Then there’s Winter Holiday, in which Dick and Dorothea’s skating prowess (thanks to regular visits to a London rink), shows the Swallows and Amazons that they shouldn’t underestimate them. Tamzin and Meryon go skating in No Going Back. In Sussex? That must have been a hard winter.

The exception to all this outdoor fun is in Streatfeild’s White Boots, where the girls skate indoors and work for exams.

So many ice rinks have now closed that people have less opportunity these days to skate. This no doubt accounts for the pop-up rinks which appear at Christmas, the most famous being the one in front of Somerset House. Adult books with skating in? Off the top of my head I can only think of Marina Warner’s The Skating Party and The Pickwick Papers. There must be many more skating scenes in books: please remind me of them!

These days, Edmund Blunden is better known for his First World War memoir Undertones of War (recommended), than for his poetry but I’ve always liked this poem.

The Midnight Skaters, Edmund Blunden

The hop-poles stand in cones,
The icy pond lurks under,
The pole-tops steeple to the thrones
Of stars, sound gulfs of wonder;
But not the tallest there, ’tis said,
Could fathom to this pond’s black bed.

Then is not death at watch
Within those secret waters ?
What wants he but to catch
Earth’s heedless sons and daughters ?
With but a crystal parapet
Between, he has his engines set.

Then on, blood shouts, on, on,
Twirl, wheel and whip above him,
Dance on this ball-floor thin and wan,
Use him as though you love him;
Court him, elude him, reel and pass,
And let him hate you through the glass.


It's become too warm most years for the traditional winter's skating and racing. Welney, 10 miles from me, has a Fen skaters club and they did manage to race on parts of the Welney Washes during the Beast From The East last year. It caused quite a bit of excitement :)
Skating on the fens always sounds so romantic, if cold!


Trebizon and skating

One of Anne Digby's Trebizon books has a lot of skating in it, I think it's 'Into the Fourth at Trebizon'. Since the school's in Cornwall I always thought that kind of cold weather was most unlikely but it's a nice backdrop to the story!

Re: Trebizon and skating

It's so long since I read any Trebizon books that I'd forgotten that. Thanks!
Susan Pulls the Strings was one of the few books I had when young and ice skating was the subject of my post the other day!
I also had Susan Pulls the Strings when I was young and it's still a great favourite.

Great minds :-)
Lovely topic! Little Women of course has a dramatic skating scene. And I love the one in The Bishop’s Wife (film, not book though!).
Of course! Should have remembered that.

I love the skating scene in The Bishop's Wife! BBC4 is showing the film this evening.
There's one in John & Mary somewhere - and Hans Brinker is about little else (I'd like to read that again).

Adult books - On Her Majesty's Secret Service has a dramatic one.
Are you thinking of The Adventures of John and Mary, where visiting Sophia and John fall through the ice and Mary is the heroine of the day? I love that book.

Haven't read Hans Brinker for years and have never read OHMSS. I'm not sure I still have a copy of Hans Brinker. Isn't it subtitled 'or The Silver Skates'?


Hans Brinker

I was going to leave a note and say I had read Hans Brinker in the past few years, but I checked and it was 15!! years ago. I did so love it. I wrote that it could have been called Holland because it was so much about the country and its customs. I also wrote it was warm and optimistic in its views of life and people. And yes, that is the rest of the title.

Re: Hans Brinker

Time speeds up like that for me, too, these days!

Now you've made me want to find the book, if I have it.
Yes to both questions! I abandoned Hans for a long time because there was a trepanning scene and I was pretty sure things wouldn't go well for the recipient, but eventually I was brave enough to pick it up again.

Re OHMSS, you might remember Diana Rigg being a vision of loveliness on the ice in the film version.
I always think of The Peppermint Pig, with Pol pushing a chair around, and then the slide the children make.
Sounds lovely!