Puck me into my happy place*

(* with apologies to the excellent song, ‘Rabbit F***ers’, from the brilliant Smoke & Mirrors cabaret show)

NIck Place, hockey, stick

Nicko, starting out right-handed

Empty ice.

Unheard of. A mirage. One of the greatest things I’ve seen since an empty surf break years ago.

When I was a kid (well, a teenager), I was into surfing in a bigger way than now, where I’m many years older and remain crap at it. Back then, as with many things, surfing had endless potential.

In those days, I surfed a lot with the Glasson boys, Andy and Rich. We called ourselves the Dip-Out Brothers, although that had more to do with our success, or lack thereof, in nightclubs with the opposite sex than it did surfing. But I digress. Already.

At dawn, you could find us, sleep in our eyes but in the car, Radio Birdman blaring, heading to a west coast break, hungry eyes taking in the lines on the ocean; the angle and size, as well as the wind direction and where the tide was at. Educated surfer eyes, blinking into the day, adrenalin starting to pump before we even hit the beach car park.

And every now and then, you would find it, usually in mid-winter when less insane people were still in warm beds: an empty break. A reef with waves peeling, and not a soul surfing it. This was Heaven, and would usually last about 10 minutes before other cars appeared, like wild dogs scenting blood. And you’d sigh and try to catch one more wave before the crowd paddled out.

Today I had the ice hockey equivalent of that empty surf break.

I’ve written before about the crazy crowds that pack a Sunday general session, and how annoyingly popular skating is becoming in Melbourne. Today, I found empty ice.

I need to say that, at the start of the day, I had nothing but good intentions, as far as Professional Company Director Nicko goes. I had a meeting all lined up at the Seven Network, to go through their news archive for a doco I’m directing. My hockey partner in crime, Will, being, um, between engagements, had nothing on his mind other than to take advantage of a 10.30-2.30 free pond hockey session being run at the Icehouse for Facebook-savvy hockey players. The Icehouse isn’t far from Seven’s HQ. I could park at the Icehouse, and walk to Seven. Then walk back. Maybe in time for the final hour of pond hockey, as my lunch break, if I had my act together.

See, it was a genuine and reasonable plan.

Until my phone rang as I was literally killing the engine in the Icehouse carpark, and it was Seven, saying the archive thing wasn’t happening after all.

And until Will explained he needed my iPhone to show the front desk that he was checked in on Facebook at the Icehouse, for the free session.

Which meant I had to walk in with him.

And meant I had to say hi to Will’s mate, and my other partner in hockey, Jack, who was just arriving.

And we wandered in and there it was. An empty ice hockey rink. Home of the Melbourne Ice team. About to be home to a world championships. Home to our Wednesday classes.

And completely empty. And recently cut by the Zamboni so that the ice was virgin.

Just waiting. Calling me.

Will and Jack, putting on their skates.

Will showing how it's done

And you know what happened next. Sometimes in life, to Hell with the consequences, you just have to ride your luck. Feel free to get the T-shirt made that says that. The stolen afternoon with a lover. The unexpected chance to see a band you love instead of getting an early night. The extra day at the beach, instead of fulfilling commitments back in the real world

These are the moments I say you rarely regret. In fact, I pretty much never do.

These are the moments you smile about later.

And so it was today.

By 10.30, I was not at the Seven Network or dutifully travelling to my office; I was wearing a Medicine Hat Tigers jersey and full hockey kit and skating like a maniac, with only Will and Jack for company (and a couple of other guys after a while).

And, for the first time ever, I was holding a hockey stick, and chasing a puck.

Jack and Nicko face-off

This was no small thing. All these weeks of skating, without actually handling a stick (OK, OK, step back, away from the computer, and get all the “handling a stick” jokes out of your system now, so we can all move on. You done? OK …)

In fact, handling a stick was more of an issue for me than most because there had been, umm, an incident in the pro shop a few weeks ago.

Will was buying a stick and so I tagged along, feeling the weight of the different sticks, and the length of them (step away again if you need to), and I realised I had no idea if I was left or right-handed as a hockey player. I was stupid enough to say this out loud, at which point the entire pro shop stopped (cut to guy playing piano in the corner, suddenly freezing) and stared at me. Even the ever-polite Melbourne Ice players who work behind the counter were looking something between skeptical and straight out amused. And clearly laughing at me, not with me.

My statement wasn’t actually as ridiculous as it sounded. I am generally right-handed and left-footed (thinking footy here). But I throw a Frisbee left-handed (can’t do it right-handed for shit), and am crap kicking a footy right-foot, although I do other things leading with my right foot. I can play tennis, eight ball and darts with either hand, although better with my right because I’ve practiced more, and so on …

Today, I hit the ice armed with one of Will and jack’s old sticks, a battered right-hander, and was predictably clumsy. I’ve always had decent hand-eye so I was reasonably pleased with my opening efforts; kind of almost controlling the puck, getting used to skating and using the stick – hockey stance, where you’re low, knees bent, finally making total sense.

I had a few shots at goal but missed every one, but hey, this was my first attempt.

But then I thought I may as well explore the options and asked Shona, who was overseeing the session, if she had a left-handed stick. The same skeptical look as I explained it, but she went and got one.

nick place

Nicko, the leftie. Much better.

And within minutes I’d slammed home four goals. And was handling the puck more easily (still crap, of course, but less so).

Shona explained that in an ideal world, hockey players who are right-handed in life, do play left-handed, but most don’t – especially in Australia for some reason.

So there it was. I’m a leftie at hockey. And that’s perfect world.

As my world was today, after two and a half hours of blissful stick-and-puck hockey. So much fun, even if I ate a lot of ice, over-reaching, forgetting where my feet were as I concentrated on stick-work, or just plain got tired, messed up and crashed. I definitely shouldn’t have had such a physically demanding weekend, including that eight kilometre run yesterday … my legs tonight are trashed.

But the rest of me is pumped.

(Oh, and yes, I did spend the afternoon getting some work done. Honestly.)

Fig jam

Some Fig Jam, yesterday

A complete break with tradition today as I did some research for this blog. Not to any great extent. I just Googled “fig jam” to see if the amazing electronical interweb recognized this term merely as a tasty variation on the condiments you put on toast, or also acknowledged a traditional Australian use of the term. I needn’t have bothered. Both Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary were down with the Aussie variation. In fact, Wiki was even aware of a single, “Figjam”, right on topic, by the band, Butterfingers. (and click on the link! Good song!)

WikiLeaks? Strangely silent on the topic. Possibly because all it could offer is a pic of Julian Assange, looking mysterious. Oh, actually, that’s their front page.

So, anyway, this week’s blog topic is FIGJAM. As in: Fuck I’m Good. Just Ask Me.

In honour of one former Australan Rules footballer who, somewhat unfairly, carried the nickname for much of his decorated career, and all the other strutters who have had it muttered behind their backs or, shit, to their face over the years.

But also in honour of me. because I am FIGJAM, for this week at least.

In fact, my whole hockey class rocks, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s keep talking about me…

I had to work all weekend, including a nasty 5 am start on Sunday. So I hit Sunday night exhausted (but not so exhausted that I didn’t turn up at the Spiegeltent to see Smoke & Mirrors, a frickin’ awesome cabaret/circus/magic show with kick-arse live music, to celebrate my mate Kayt’s birthday.)

So I hit Monday really exhausted, and now hungover to go with it, and decided to wag work. This I can recommend. A slow Monday start, breakfast at an outside table at North Island, my favorite Fitzroy North cafe, an iPod-soundtracked leisurely walk of the pooch through Edinburgh Gardens, and then to the Icehouse for the 12.30-2 pm general skate.

The legion of dedicated nickdoeshockey readers (Hi Mum! … Mum? Sigh … Hi, Nick!) will know that I detest Sunday general skates, which are more like the running of the bulls on ice, with hordes of skaters just waiting to collide and get hurt.

Monday 12.30 pm – different story. There were maybe a dozen people on the ice. This is bliss. And it gets better. Almost everybody was either a hockey trainee like myself, or a figure skater, working on their moves. Other guys in hockey padding, trying to pivot and do crossovers or whatever skill was holding them back. And figure skaters like one I got chatting to, Bec, who was spinning effortlessly, gliding backwards, the whole figure skating thing. I was jealous as hell and asked for backward skating tips and suddenly, I was in with the figure skating crowd, learning some basic moves like the slalom, where you wiggle your arse in a very chick-dancing kind of way (no dignity in hockey training: we’ve covered this) while rolling from inside edges to outside edges to propel yourself along the ice. In figure skating, this is something you learn even before swizzles, and I loved it, for getting used to feeling my edges – especially the outside edge, which required better balance and momentum to use, and is crucial for crossovers.

Bec also told me hockey players are sneered at by her kind as “gorilla skaters”, because the standard hockey stance, which is drilled into us at every turn, is to have your knees slightly bent, your butt poking out (imagine taking a dump, basically) so your balance is in your legs and your centre of gravity is low. Figure skaters can laugh it up, but they don’t have to prepare for people trying to KO them, or at least knock them off their skates, while going about their loop de loop business.

Tuesday night, Will and I, and Jack and Mel, were all there for the 7 pm General Skate. More crowded on the ice than the queue of morning show on-air talent trying to get the first flight to a disaster zone. The usual Dick Swingers were even there, zooming through the hapless beginners. Sigh.

So I lasted less than an hour. But did some slaloms, snow ploughs, attempted a little backwards stuff, and even began to hesitantly play with the concept of a genuine two-footed hockey stop.

Which brings us to Wednesday and actual hockey school. We got straight to work. We skated fast, we had to stop dead and turn around. We attempted to pivot, we skated backwards (even me, after the two days of practice and incremental improvement), we learnt the tight turn, we did crossovers, we did a weird exercise where we skated deliberately and with exaggeration on our inside edges or our outside edges (thank you, Bec, for slaloms) and we did more crossovers.

A lot of the exercises were in the forms of relays (five lines of six) to encourage us to really hustle up and down the ice.

And here’s the thing; we collectively realized that we’re improving a lot. We’re getting good. You could see it in everybody’s faces.

Sure, those at the top end of the skating experience/talent rankings are just blitzing as they’ve always blitzed but any AFL coach can tell you a team’s success is not decided by the top six, or even the middle six, but the bottom six. And our bottom six, which would include me, I reckon, have improved out of sight.

In only four weeks (seven for me, if I include beginner skate class), some seriously non-beginner moves are now being attempted and even achieved; not all the time, obviously. I’m sure, if you were standing next to the rink, observing, I would look hesitant and barely competent, but I know where I’ve come from and in how short a time. I barely fell and sort of pulled off a lot of the moves required. Us beginners, by the end of the lesson, were grinning at one another, waiting for the next crossover run, flush with our improvement. And even among the elite, like Ray the painter who is maybe my age, maybe older, dunno, and hadn’t skated for 30 years; he was tearing up crossovers and had the best fall of the night, pushing too hard and losing an outside edge. But it was a good fall: over-extending, pushing his limits.

Next week, our coach, Lliam,  who is most notable for being the captain of Melbourne Ice and even more-so for his occasional, unexpected impersonations of Detective Mittens, the Crime-Solving Cat, said we wear full body armour. The sticks and pucks are getting closer all the time.

There’s no “I” in “inspiration”

Wings party the pivot

The Red Wings hear that Nicko completed a pivot.

If I wasn’t just some dumb hockey player, I might spot life lessons in this current adventure.
As already immortalised in this blog, during last week’s action-packed (read: messy, ice-eating) hockey lesson, The Bastard That Is The Pivot had nearly killed me, or so it felt. Certainly I staggered off the ice, feeling that this was a manouevre that would never be mastered.
Plucky and ever-determined, I had nevertheless joined Will for a skate on Sunday afternoon, prepared to endure the quiet sniggers of pre-teens zooming effortlessly without padding as I lumbered around a General Skate session in protective gear. Those kids were merely hanging laps, impressing girls. I was girded for pain and suffering, in pursuit of higher hockey skating skills. But it turned out the ice was so crowded, the idea of finding a quiet space to practice skating forward and turning to backwards without losing momentum was unfeasible.
So we skated in circles in the crowd, joined by a fellow hockey school member, Renee.
During a break in skating, Renee talked about being on her second time around in hockey school and I really admire her for this. She cheerfully volunteered that she was so crap, so landmark crap, during her first attempt late last year that the idea of graduating to the next step, Intermediate Hockey Class, was ridiculous. So she dived into a hockey camp over summer and re-signed for the starter hockey class. And it’s working for her. She is a long way from being the worst in our group (and no, I’m not prepared to make the same claim about myself.)
How cool that she didn’t concede defeat and quit? Didn’t walk away, Renee (sorry, I had to). Didn’t complete 10 weeks of falling and not being as good as others and crashing and not being able to master basic hockey skills, and reasonably shrug, say this sport ain’t for me, and try something else.
No. She signed up again and ate more ice. Rock on, Renee.
So now we’re on the ice and I’m bitching that I can’t even work out the basic moves of The Pivot. How can I hope to master it if I don’t even have an idea of what I’m trying to achieve? I’ve been skating in a straight line, wobbly weight on one skate heading in the right direction. And now here comes my other foot, off the ice, heel to heel as instructed. And now my whole body has to spin 180 degrees as I swap my entire weight and balance off the skating foot onto the other foot, toe pointing the other way. So that, if done correctly, I am still moving in the same direction but facing the other way.
This is not what tends to happen. I tend to end up on my knees or side, skates everywhere.
And Renee offers one hint. Try turning that front foot to 11 o’clock, instead of pointing it dead ahead. Give your body just that one moment of turn before attempting the whole heel-to-heel transfer.
And I fall, but I felt it. Could suddenly see the move. I tell Will, who is also struggling with this one, and it makes all the difference.
And so this week’s class (number three of 10) is difficult and challenging but not overwhelming – because once or twice, I pivot. Slowly, wobbly, so far from proficiently. But I don’t always fall, and I can see the future. By approaching it from 1/12th of a different angle.
Hmmm. Seemingly impossible, daunting problem, approached from new perspective, lateral thinking, begins to unlock. Like I said, I’m sure there’s a wider meaning in this, if I could only grasp it. A hockey double rainbow, if you will.
Of course, I still can’t skate backward for shit, and late in the class I land really badly attempting crossovers (where you drive off an outside edge while stepping your other skate over the driving foot, for extra momentum … It sounds hard and is; but not as hard as I thought). That crash was a doozy. In fact, I’m typing this while wearing an elastic guard for a sprained right wrist and my neck and back are still killing me.
“You ok?” one of the instructors asked me, genuinely concerned. “Sure,” I said and kept on crossovering. Red Wings tough guy Bob Probert would have been proud of me. RIP.
It’s only now, the day after, I’m in pain. But hey, genuine hockey injuries! Cool.
And I did crossovers. And pivots. And swizzles. Baby-step versions but I did them. And paracetamol was invented for a reason.
Two weeks till they introduce sticks and pucks. What could go wrong?

Blood on the ice: a ho-hum weekend

It’s been an entertaining weekend in the world of hockey. One thing about my new sport: it ain’t boring.

The Wing celebrate v Boston. (Detroit Free Press)

The Detroit Red Wings got booed off their home arena last week, after their third sub-standard, disinterested performance in a row. Detroit fans expect better and gave it to the team. The Wings responded by belting the highly-rated Boston Bruins, 6-1, on Friday and then 4-2 overnight.

Meanwhile, at the Melbourne Icehouse, Will and I attempted to work on those pesky pivots and other difficult manoeuvres, only to discover that the rink on a Sunday afternoon was busier than the Boxing Day sales. It was impossible to do anything other than skate in circles, surrounded by hundreds of other skaters of varying abilities. There were lots of newbies, some with the skating equivalent of a zimmer-frame, which I’m secretly proud I never had to use. Plus, of course, there were five or six guys who still felt the need to skate at sub-Olympic speed-skate velocity, missing wobbling beginners by millimetres. No matter what the arena or occasion, there are dick-swingers, no? The skating was actually stopped at one point because there was blood on the ice so maybe one of the Hero Skaters miscalculated.

Speaking of blood on the ice, the weekend’s real action happened in New York. A bit over a week ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders had a particularly spiteful match that went close to getting out of hand. Hockey is pretty much unique, aside from boxing, in that a fight can break out and everybody, including the referees, just stands back and watches, until somebody hits the ice.

Sunday traffic jam at the Icehouse.

In the match nine days ago, things came to a head when the Penguins’ Max Talbot landed a questionable blow to injure Islander Blake Comeau  and then Pittsburgh’s second goalie, Brent Johnson, charged down the ice and with one punch caved the face of rival goalie Rick DiPietro. And the Penguins won 3-0.

So the Islanders turned up for this weekend’s match in New York in, umm, a mood.

The result?

A total of 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.

Known Penguins’ heavy Eric Godard received an automatic 10 game suspension for leaping off the bench to get involved in a third period fight.

Islander Trevor Gillies got nine games, and Matt Martin got four. The Islanders, as a club, had a $100,000 tap on the wrist for being untoward in their approach to the sport.

Incredibly, one Islander, Micheal Haley, who is normally known as an enforcer (read: professional thug) for the Islanders’ feeder team, the magnificently-named Sound Tigers, was brought into the match specifically because there was going to be trouble. He took out Talbot, who was the target from the earlier match, then charged down the ice to take on the goalie, Johnson, leading to the all-in brawl that got Godard suspended. Haley was hit with an instigator penalty, two fighting majors and two game misconducts but, as far as I can tell, wasn’t suspended afterwards for any games.

The Penguins and Islanders go at it. (Detroit News)

Clearly repentant and full of remorse afterwards, Haley told the press: “It was a pretty entertaining, emotional game. I was glad to be a part of it.”

The Islanders won, 9-3. The teams meet again on April 8.

Oh, and here’s where things get truly magical. The morning after this bloodbath, on Saturday, the Penguins stayed in New York because they were playing the Rangers the next day at Madison Square Gardens.

The team was heading to an outdoor practice at Central Park’s rink and were travelling in a team bus, dressed in full playing kit, minus skates, when the bus tangled with a car. (I’m not making this up by the way: look)

Picture your typical clichéd New Yorker leaping out of his car, full of bluster and waving arms. “Whaddayadoing?” to the bus driver. Only to see the entire Penguins team emerge, in uniform, fresh from the previous night’s carnage.

“It was quite a sight,” Penguins coach Dan Dylsma said. “I think the gentleman involved with the accident backed off a little bit when he saw a whole hockey team get out with sticks and gloves in their hands. If he had known anything about last night, maybe that’s why he backed off.”

The players hailed cabs, still in full kit, to Central Park.

Just another weekend in hockey.

The bastard that is The Pivot

Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk impersonates me attempting The Pivot.

Man, it was all going so well, until The Pivot.

In fact, I wish this blog was audio so I could drop my voice a notch and say those words in a menacing, ominous tone. Do it for me: “The Pivot”.

That bastard.

I want this blog to tell it like it is, no prisoners, so I’ll confess to having a hard week, in my life and in my head and heart. I won’t go into details but I’ve had happier weeks. I did have a fun night seeing a band and True Grit (pretty good but not in my Coen Bros top 5), and had a weekend of respite and walking dogs and hanging out in country air. A missing Castlemaine chook miraculously turned up alive and my work is good so, you know, it’s not all bad…

But, on Tuesday evening, I was ready for some ice time. Will and I checked into the Icehouse and I found myself thinking about how battered I felt, and how unsure of myself I had been feeling on my skates – see last week’s blog about how I was sick of being crap.

And then it happened. I stepped onto the ice and somehow just felt right. The exact opposite of last week. The general rink wasn’t very crowded, so we had room to move, and suddenly I was flying. Stepping confidently, going faster than I ever had, with some kind of surety, and snow-ploughing for brakes, as required.

I even got so cocky I started trying swizzles (a bizarre edge-control and balancing manouevre, where you V your feet, push out with your legs then bring them back in, like the ice equivalent of breaststroke.) I can’t do it and fell over a couple of times but then started to actually occasionally land one. I rule the world.

Youth being youth, as I concentrated on this technical stuff, Will just tried to go as fast as he could, terrorising the beginners.

We went home and tuned into a recorded hi-def game from that day, where the Detroit Red Wings hung on to beat the New York Rangers at the Joe (Joe Louis Arena, Detroit’s home rink … Hockeytown!); Pavel Datsyuk back at last from a broken hand (his goal here; so much more fun with Russian commentary), and a 3-2 scoreline our way. Scrappy but sweet.

So skating life was rosy again, until Wednesday’s lesson.

Even that initially went well – after sympathizing with the guy who’d crashed last time, and ended up needing three stitches in his chin; our class’s first genuine hockey injury. I was skating okay, balanced, occasionally swizzling, falling gently when we tried backward swizzles. I was confused too because everybody else seemed fine with them, even those I would regard as slightly behind me on skates. Turns out a lot of our class come from an inline skating background and the movements are the same for backward skating and pivots.

Yes, which brings us to The Pivot.

In hockey, The Pivot is a crucial move. It is how you switch in one move from skating forward to backward, without losing momentum. In other words, you’re charging in one direction, chasing the puck and then play heads the other way and you’re immediately in defensive mode. Which means you need to skate backwards, and hopefully quickly.

In the NHL, is is something I have found astonishing. I recently watched one of the Red Wings’ lesser lights, Ruslan Salei, find himself one-out against an opposition breakaway. There’s an opponent with the puck, at full pace, charging down the ice, and Salei all alone, apart from Jimmy Howard in goal. Salei skated backwards as fast as the other guy was skating forward, calmly, effortlessly, stick balanced. At the crucial moment, the opponent tries to change direction, take the puck off to the left, and Salei neatly taps it with his stick, totally pickpockets him, and the moment is over. He’s now skating forward again, with the puck. A commentator on Tuesday, in the Rangers game, called a similar defensive steal “a nice magic wand defence.”

When you see it, it’s fantastic.

I’m no Salei.

And so Lliam, our instructor, effortlessly showed us pivots, and then everybody started going forward to back, back to forward, with maybe the occasional wobble, and I ate so much ice, trying and failing, that I thought I might crack the surface. Landed hard, and often, but had a crack, dammnit. All you can do.

One issue we’re going to have is that there’s no way to practice stuff like pivots in full protective hockey gear outside of class. I badly need to spend time on this, and padded so it doesn’t matter when I crash.

But the only options are to skate in general sessions, where they frown on us wearing our full kit, or at stick-and-puck hockey sessions, where pucks a flying and much better players are practicing. I’m not sure you can suit up and then crash, crash, crash in the middle of an actual hockey session. I might write to the Icehouse about it.

The session finished with a relay, individually pushing a hockey goal down the ice. I went okay, had fun. Good session. And then caught up with friends at RocketClock, the storytelling slam I went in last time. A couple of magic crowd mates had a crack; one – Australia’s Honest Conman, Nicholas J Johnson – even won.

Life is never boring.

Staring down the crapness

Nicko on the bow of the HMAS Canberra, 20 metres down.

Nicko on the bow of the HMAS Canberra, not working on his skating. Pic: Sam Tanner

The observant blog reader may have noticed that the picture attached to this post is not of me or anybody else playing hockey. In fact, it’s me, sitting on the bow (that’s the pointy bit at the front for the less-nautical) of the HMAS Canberra, roughly 20 metres below the surface in the waters off Ocean Grove.

I’d been planning to dive the Canberra for a while. My then-girlfriend and I had sat on the beach at Ocean Grove on the day the Canberra was scuttled, both wishing we had surfboards to attack the small but inviting waves, eating pizza while sitting on a road curb to show how glamorous our relationship was and then watching the Canberra disappear with a pathetically small puff of smoke in what turned out to be a very non-dramatic goodbye. At the time, I didn’t realise how symbolic this was for us, watching a once mighty vessel sink slowly to a watery grave.

So, last weekend, I finally did it. Went with diving buddies Sam, Sabrina and Marie through the Heads on a Dive Victoria boat and descended to the Canberra, which is fast becoming an artificial reef as the marine life moves in on the decaying wreck. We had a couple of great dives, including sneaking into the bridge to have photos taken, and so Sabrina could sit in the captain’s chair. I tried a DeCaprio a la Titanic, arms spread, at the bow. I never worry about sharks when I’m diving but I did find myself envisaging, as we mucked around, a couple of great whites just out of visibility, shaking their heads at these clowns playing on a warship, deep enough that the sun was struggling to light the scene. “You think they’re worth eating?” one shark says to the other.

Anyway, what does this have to do with nickdoeshockey? Not much except that the obvious point is I wasn’t skating. And that cost me dearly once I returned to Melbourne.

This week was all about my first lesson of hockey school (as against pre-hockey-school skating-school, which is what I have been enduring up until now). But I also went skating on Tuesday with Will and one of the magician crowd, David McLeod, and a mate of his.  This turned out to be a bad mistake. David and his mate have been skating since last October, except that David had a nasty fall and broke his wrist, keeping him off the ice for the best part of a month and a half. By comparison, Will started skating in November and has been working hard on his skating ever since.

And these guys were skating rings around us, literally in my case as I wobbled along the ice and they sped past like The Flash. They were hockey-stopping and doing crossovers and basically looking like they’d been born on skates.

And I couldn’t help but feel deflated at how crap I continue to be. Yes, I can skate now without falling over mostly and I can snow-plough stop more often than not, but I remain barely adequate and still at risk of falling most of the time. I know I’ve only been on skates for a whole four weeks, with maybe two sessions a week so, realistically, I’m going pretty well.

But I’m ready to be Less Crap now. Ready to actually start to feel good on skates. I want to step it up.

Last night’s first class was actually not too bad. It’s a good crew of people – 30-odd in the class, including quite a few women and with less testosterone among most of the guys.The funniest moment (in a macabre way) was during Red Rover tag at the end, when one newbie skated far too fast, remembered he didn’t know how to stop and slammed hard into the wall at the end of the rink, splitting open his chin. Blood pouring, he was helped from the ice … as the 8 pm class of Lesson One rookies watched in horror while waiting to take to the ice. I said to him in the locker-room after, as he clutched a tissue to the bleeding skin: “You do realise you just killed the potential careers of 30 hockey players right there?”

Melanie, another of the magic crowd, is in the class, which is awesome; except that she, too, skated happily off in better shape than I in the first drill, having proclaimed to be a hack. (She redeemed herself by inviting Will and I out for dinner to celebrate Chinese New Year.) I was mostly able to keep up with the most basic skating drills and was snow-ploughing okay as others hit the ice to the left and right.

But I remain so far from being a decent skater. This week was the one where I could become discouraged and wonder how badly I want this, and tuck the skates away in a cupboard. I know this moment: from running, when you hit that mid-training wall, and the gym, where you can’t seem to lift any more weight, even though you know you can, and from surfing. God, I know it in surfing.

It’s all why I’m glad I spent so much money on the hockey equipment and have told everyone about it, and made other artificial hurdles so that quitting would be humiliating and sad. Instead, I need to commit to pushing myself harder and falling more, until I don’t.

Roll on more practice. Roll on next week’s lesson. Roll on that moment where I suddenly realise I’m at a new level on my skates. It will happen. Just got more pain between here and there.

(Postscript: I’ve sadly informed my scuba mates that I’m unavailable for more diving shenanigans in the immediate future, until I master this thing.

See: that’s commitment. Right there.

And now off to Castlemaine for a weekend of chooks, dogs, creativity and maybe a mountain bike ride through the bush …)