I meet up a friend to go ice skating. It’s five o’clock. We go down to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. My friend is telling me a story about rollerskating down there. We walk into what we think is the box office, but it’s actually the swop centre for footwear. A guy stops us at the door. He asks us if we’ve bought a ticket. We say we’re just about to. He tells us to go down to the box office. But then he suddenly remembers something. He tells us that everything is sold out.
Don’t worry I tell my friend. I’m disappointed and I can see my friend is too. My friend has met up with me to go even with a cold. I know another place. It’s in Somerset House. The problem is that I don’t know where Somerset House is. At first, I confuse it with the Royal Academy. We go down there and it only takes a minute to realise the mistake. Time is ticking away – it’s already seven.
I ask a guy on the street to help us out. He stares at my friend and tells us it’s down past Haymarket, at Fleet Street. We make our way down there, occasionally stopping and asking seemingly knowledgable guys where the thing is. One guy outside a pub reassures us that we’re in exactly in the right place and have only got about two more minutes to walk down there. I fear everything is going to be sold out and that we won’t be able to find it. But we do find it. It’s only half seven. The guy behind the box office, which is shining white in the light, is a chubby Asian guy with glasses. He smiles at us as he opens the sliding window. But all the tickets are sold out. My fear has been realised.
While this news sinks in and we stand in a disappointed silence – having suddenly learnt the lesson of pre-booking – a quiet voice pipes up behind us. I’ve got some tickets. I’ve been stood up. We turn around and see a very attractive and closely-shaven, very spick and span guy standing by himself. He really does look very disappointed. We learn his name later from the tickets that we purchase from him – James. He’d bought them a month ago. We wonder what could have kept the lady away? He just looks like a really nice bloke.
As we’re buying the tickets off him – my friend tries to haggle but I just give him what he asks for – I feel sorry for him – the Asian guy behind the counter tells us to get off his patch if we’re going to be making any transactions. We walk down a little and we say thanks to the guy, staring at the tickets in delight. I tell him I’m sorry to hear about him being stood up and he smiles awkwardly and then rushes off the next minute. The tickets are for nine.
We chill in the café for while, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream. It’s the first time I’ve drunk it like this. The skating is sponsored by Tiffany’s.
We go out onto the ice and I realise straight away that my friend is a million times better than me. My friend jets off at a speed, leaving me following lamely. I try to persuade them to let me lean on the railings first. They tell me I have to learn by just doing it. It’s a fitting saying – our skates are grey and green Nikes. It’s a catch up game the whole way through, although we both seem to fall over an equal number of times. My friend doesn’t know how to apply the brakes – neither do I, but I don’t go as fast.
The lights change from purple to blue, changing the way everyone looks. We stare at the beautiful architecture around us, at the colossal, beautifully lit-up Christmas tree. We both have quite spectacular falls. My friend trips up a couple by over-stepping into them and grazing the guy’s skate. I land squarely on the most delicate part of my back when I fall, bruising the place somewhat.
My friend laughs when a young woman steps out in front of me and I have to grab her hips to steady myself. I lose all balance and clutch at her frantically. She stands stock still with an exasperated look on her face and while I’m slipping about, asks if I can stand by myself now. I mumble sorry and try to get away quickly, which only makes me stumble about more and grab her more tightly.
After this, I try to skate more carefully. We keep to the middle, where there are less people.
It snows lightly while we glide across the ice. It is the only time that this has ever happened for me. My friend dances to T. Rex’s song ‘Children of the Revolution’ which comes on just before the end of the night. I download the song later to remind myself of the day we went late night skating.