callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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.
Tags: art, arthur ransome, charles dickens, children’s books, edmund blunden, jane shaw, marina warner, monica edwards, noel streatfeild, philippa pearce, poetry, winter

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