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My Diary

Sculpting Penguins

I had overslept. The London Ice Sculpting Festival was already in full swing when I got up. I quickly put myself together and walked off at a brisk pace back to my house from my Grandmother’s. To book onto the masterclasses you’d had to wait until the day. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

As I sat down to breakfast, it emerged that my little nephew had sprained his knee. My overanxious Mother made his father, my younger brother, take him down to hospital. She had put mustard oil onto it and massaged his knee, but she could not bear the sight of it seeing it all swollen up. And he was really crying in a quite wretched kind of way..

I finished eating and went off. I banged into an old friend from work on the way. The last I had seen him, I was making arrangements for my Grandfather’s funeral. Everytime I see him, I’ve got a big rude beard, look like a slob. He was the same as ever, with his right wing political opinions and business talk, the same old clothes, encouragement for my studies. He seemed to be concerned about getting old and about the future of his six year old son, university fees. It was his wife’s birthday so he was going into town. I changed at West Ham so said my goodbyes.

I went to the wrong station first. There was nothing at Canada Square station and it was already raining quite heavily and quite cold. So I went back down to Canary Wharf. I was still disorientated when I got there. I saw a woman and her son there that also looked lost and asked them if they were going down to the ice sculpting. They were. I asked if I could follow them about since I was lost. She said yes, but that she was also lost. I already knew this, but figured that people would more likely help her out than me if I asked. She was a blonde woman and her son was also blonde.

We stood staring at the doorway to the shopping mall. I suggested the way was through there, so we went in. I was tagging along behind a few paces as I didn’t want to intrude between her and the kid. She went up to a store assistant and asked her. She was probably the best looking Asian woman I had ever seen up close. She gave us the directions and we went down. I accidentally kicked the kid’s shoe a couple of times as we went down. I walked more to his left after that. I hoped he didn’t think I was doing it on purpose. I just wasn’t used to how slowly other people walked. At the elevator up to Canada Park, the lady told me she had to go to the bathroom, so I said thanks and bye.

It was still raining pretty hard outside the ice rink as I walked down. The contest was at the back and it was a very small space on the turf with too many people there. The ground was all muddy and slippery and it was hard to see the ice sculpture in any case, but the raindrops on my spectacles made it worse. I eventually took them off. As soon as I got there, my camera ran out of juice, too, annoyingly. Another astonishingly beautiful woman stood before the entrance, blocking my way in. She was posing for a photograph. Why was everyone here so good-looking? It was weird.

I walked about, slipped around on the mud a little while. They had put these planks up on the ground which everyone else took over, so I just took the mud. People were sawing blocks of ice, staring at their compositions. There were a lot of kids around, everyone clicking their cameras, although I wasn’t sure they were all really looking.

I asked a posh looking guy with a lady if he knew where we could sign up. He ignored me. So I asked him again. He said he really didn’t know.

Then, I noticed the crowd for the masterclasses at the back. This was what it was all about. I knew I was late and there was a low chance of getting in, but it was also raining. I also have pretty good luck with this last-minute sort of stuff – sometimes better than when I prepare beforehand. So I went down there. I asked an old guy with his kids what the situation was and he told me that it was all booked out, but if I hung around I might get a slot that someone else had given up.

So I walked down there. And talked to Missy. Missy was a woman somewhat shorter than me wearing one of those snug-looking woollen caps and a black raincoat, with a sort of angular face and tanned skin. She was a brunette and had what seemed to be some quite strong looking legs underneath her jeans and boots. When I first saw her, she was attempting to shout out the time for the next twenty minute slot. But she was so soft-spoken that her voice just sputtered and failed to get going, like the ignition was having problems.

I waited patiently for everyone to get in. It was all booked out, but there seemed to be a lot of people that weren’t turning up. I waited patiently. After everyone had gone in and Missy had freed up some slots for people that hadn’t booked, two German-speaking women with their children asked her about the arrangements. The German woman had some English accent and some nose. It was one of the most shapely noses I had ever seen. I couldn’t imagine how she could look like that and be real. Missy told them that if she recognised people that had been waiting and there were people that hadn’t turned up, she would let them in. It was now raining very heavily. I signified my interest to Missy and then stood by around her, looking over at the scene of people making sculptures. Missy looked bored and kept on turning around once every while to see what I was doing. Maybe I looked suspicious.

They had two types of blocks of ice that they were giving people. One had a matt finish and one was high polish. The blocks came in a rough approximation of the shape of a penguin. Before Missy, there was a finished example of what it could all look like, six penguins. It shone and was beautifully transparent. People kept on taking photographs of it. Missy would watch them take the photograph when she knew they couldn’t see she was looking. I was doing the same thing.

I watched one lady chisel the matt block to my right. She was wearing these ugly goggles and sickly yellow leather gloves and she wasn’t getting anywhere with it. She was giving the block these ineffectual little stabs. I made a note to myself to be really aggressive with it if I got a chance.

Behind me a schoolgirl that was a foot taller than me and an even taller guy came up. They were holding an umbrella, so I slyly took a step back to shelter from the rain. They didn’t notice. The schoolgirl was saying that if she didn’t get to have a go she would be really really disappointed. The guy was trying to make some jokes and failing rather miserably to draw any kind of laugh. I wondered idly what his relationship was with the girl.

The twenty minutes actually passed really quickly. For the next slot, no-one showed up. There were about six empty places for us hangers on. Missy looked around. She noticed a short, plump Asian girl in a white coat first. But Missy was a bit of a comedienne. She asked the girl if she was alone. She was. Her name was Neha. Missy looked at me cheekily and told me to come over. She handed us both a pair of those tight white doctor’s gloves. She almost dropped mine when she gave them to me. She said that I could go with Neha and we could share a penguin together. Missy said to the crowd that she wasn’t just a door person, she was a match-maker as well! I trudged silently behind an embarrassed Neha to the table. We stood around uncomfortably. How were we going to share a penguin?

One of the guys behind me had come with a friend and he seemed to notice our dillemma, so he offered me his own penguin. He said that he’d share with his friend. I thanked him. I was actually quite relieved. So was Neha I could see.

I contemplated the shiny ice template of a penguin before me. I had preferred this type from the start. Neha had got the matt block, although I couldn’t tell whether she had preferred that one or not. The guy told us to put our gloves and goggles on. And then we got going on the ice. I gave it a savage sweeping kind of stab. It cut off quite cleanly. It literally flew off. The penguin shape already looked quite deformed.

Happily, I stabbed away at the penguin. One of the attendants was staring at me. I was giving it more energy than everyone else apparently. The amount of ice I was chissellling off was phenomenal. I grapped the head of the penguin as I did it. I must have looked like a serial killer with a baby. Still, better to murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires…

There were great scars in the flesh of the penguin now. Cruelly, I hacked off its beak and then gouged out its eyes. The guy told me it looked very ‘art deco’. I thanked him. I experimented with the smaller chisel, but I noticed it wouldn’t strip off as much skin. So I went back to the bigger blade. The children of the German supermodel were attempting to encourage their mother, telling her she had great technique. I could hear her telling them to never mind that they had an inartistic mother.

I had now gone to making horizontal lunges at the poor penguin, taking off his face, his cheekbones. He was glistening all over like a cut diamond because I had been so intense with him. I gave him some breast reduction surgery and then curved about his hips and back, attempting to make a spiral formation, give the piece a bit of originality. I was dancing with the blade and writhing around.

As we finished up with two minutes to go, the Asian attendant came over. He looked over at my work. I said I was finished. He told me that I could get rid of the chisel marks still. But I like the chisel marks, I said. They show that someone’s done something to the thing.

This was when the radio presenter came over from www.nusoundradio.com – an Indian radio station. He began with Neha and then he started asking me all the standard questions, beginning with the one where he asked me if I had ever done this before. He wanted to record the sound of me hacking away at the penguin. He gave me a flyer at the end and said that I could listen to myself on Thursday if I wanted to. He was actually from my same area.

I was quite pleased with my effort at the end. I took a photo of Neha with her one for her. She hadn’t managed to get too much into the ice (maybe it was harder with the matt block). She smiled bravely for the photo. My hands smarted with great cold I would notice later. A blonde lady behind the cordons patted me on my shoulder as I was going and told me that I had made a very beautiful ice sculpture. She had the greenest eyes in the whole world.

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