Outside everything is grey, inside not so much. I’m sitting wet hair and woolly socks on my made bed, the curtain is open, the window is closed. I can see my breath. I’m holding a cup of coffee, I can see his breath too, we’re pals. Good music struggles out of shitty computer speakers. It’s Sunday morning and that means it’s Sunday afternoon. Last night was Saturday night. Yesterday afternoon was Saturday afternoon, yesterday afternoon I skated on ice, on skates, at the foot of a castle.
The Tower of London is a grim and stirring place, old and huge and brimming with bones - sort of. Inches above it, the sky sags low and heavy, barely able to hold itself upright. It’s the weight, the chill, the wait, the rain; it leans on the tower for balance the way a drunk does a bouncer’s shoulder. It’s bleak and it’s weary and reminds me where I’m headed; it clashes with the fairy-lit skating rink at its feet like bourbon in apple juice.
The hour kicks off happily enough, couples hold hands and kids hold the railing and for every seasoned skater there’s five or six first-timers. People laugh and wobble, cameras flash, rain dribbles, elevator music fills in the spaces and the herd ambles along. Everyone wears blue skates, everyone is constantly close to calamity, and it builds a subtle sense of togetherness. Strangers grinning at strangers, everyone is in on the joke. Our little patch of ice has effectively thawed some of that famous London spirit.
A blonde little boy is falling over again and again, and what at first appeared as an innocent case of clumsy bad luck slowly recasts itself as some sort of an offering. A sacrifice; the ice takes this boy scrape by scrape so that the rest of us might be spared. It’s ok; our lamb continually finds his feet and laughs it off.
The herd slopes along, and time is difficult to mark; neither light or music seem to change at all. The scenery (the castle, then cafe, then steps, then bridge, then castle, then cafe, then steps, then bridge, then castle...) begins to pin you down. Couples continue to hold hands, slow lap after slow lap. A father and son are awkwardly walking the perimeter, desperately clinging to the railing like the mast of a sinking ship. They sweat and stagger and walk past the exit and around the rink again and again. A soaking wet blonde boy falls for the thousandth time, he’s not laughing anymore, he hides his face in his mittens and lets it cry. The herd rattles around him. This jolly circuit has become a war of attrition. Lap after lap, fall after fall.
Skating, for me, turns out to be a rickety game of gravity, of probability and of providence; played out with the lumbering grace of some dazed dog clipped by a car. I stop for a breather by the railing. I’ve got very cheap scotch in my hipflask - It’s delicious. My friends find me and I point out a guy who doesn’t look like Dawson Leary, but certainly has his aura. It is, aparantly, an indisputable truth. We make plans that hinge on the promise of mulled wine, then disperse. I sketch out another speculative lap, it’s really fun. I grin at a wobbly stranger, he looks away. I think maybe there’s something in all of this. I don’t know what.