10th September 2013: An agitated English Tutor races down the spiral staircase to reception, for the third time, and breathlessly asks, “have you had a package for me yet?” The answer is finally, “yes” (without a smile, as is the custom of school secretaries)
Package in hand, the tutor sails through the doors, trips over her own feet twice while pounding on the pavement to get to her car, then, when safely stashed inside the metal machine, she cracks a grin, her face splits. It is skate day. After much vexation with tape bound too tightly and fingers being too feeble she gets to see them, her very own pair of roller hockey (to play roller derby) skates. Hers. Because she, at 28, is part of a team. A sports team! It was a sunny day too and the Blackbird who usually greeted her in the morning, when she pulled in, was there that afternoon to wave her off home. A good sign. Yes, her instinctive response to seeing her skates was, ‘they look a bit like clown shoes’ which, frankly, wasn’t what she’d been going for when she picked the red and black Renos; but still, she skated like a bit of clown so they would do just fine. And, did I mention? They were HERS!
Getting new skates is a game changer, because suddenly you have the potential for more control. You can loosen bits, (trucks maybe?!) have bad ass stops that you can actually rely on, (I spent 3 months without ever using the toe stops on the Arcadia skates, they are worn down and terrifying!) and they are mega responsive… So much so, you look like Bambi for at least the first day you wear them, an absent-minded tilt of the foot suddenly has the power to have you careering off in a direction you hadn’t intended to go. Basically, new skates are a thing of great beauty.
Didn’t even change out of my work clothes!
In the comfort of my home, I did not do the following things:
1. Reapply my make-up before putting my skates on for the very first time.
2. Play Avril Lavigne’s, ‘Here’s to Never Growing Up’ full blast while tying my skates (incorrectly)
3. Stay in my skates for 2 hours, while doing washing up and normal household chores, nearly falling down the stairs 5 times… Until, on Mat’s return, I was forced out of them.
4. Take photos of the skates from 5 different angles, just to immortalise their perfect newness.
Way too cool to do these things.
Since the investment in my new skates I have become a skate whore: my life, friendships and relationship revolve around skating, trips home revolve around skating. Babs’s 70th birthday (my loving mother-in-law) dared to fall on the very same Sunday I skate for 4 hours… It nearly killed me to miss it, so much so, I actually moaned to Bab’s herself… I genuinely hoped we’d have Sunday lunch rather than dinner… Just so I could skate. I know! Obsessed. Selfish. Pathetic… But, I am happy as a little girl wearing a daisy chain tiara when I walk through the doors of Arcadia on Sunday evening, it’s always a wonder to me, it transforms me. It’s become a home, the team a family, the car park a place I can always see the moon (who is definitely smiling at me). The track, somewhere, despite my nerves, I feel better in my own skin, more powerful.
However, new passion + new skills + new friends + all the good will in the world, doesn’t = ability to play roller derby well. Not. At. All.
Sunday November 18th 2013: I bundle into a car with Charmless at the wheel (know I’m a tribe member by now as I picked Charlie’s derby name for her, over riding Gareth’s claim it’s self-deprecating and usurping her ‘almost heart set on’ choice of Bird O’Prey) and we head off to the Wirral to our first mixed scrim. Charmless and I are bricking it. Lawless and Kim are buoyant, they re both stupidly talented when they put their mind to it and Georgia is somewhere in between; it’s different for her, she’s ended up coaching us for the last few weeks out of circumstance rather than choice and she wants us to enjoy ourselves but is worried.
She was right to be. DIS-AS-TER!
Unfortunate things to befall Arcadia Roller Derby Ladies:
1. A player got banned from the venue for berating the ref. Comments about his dick were made, there was screeching, staring and storming out. Most of us were too confused to really understand what had happened and why and felt useless and uneasy.
2. Lawless, later admitting it was in a state of defiance for being thrashed so badly, randomly skated the wrong way on the track. Jaws dropped. She was sent off.
3. My first attempt to jam was HIDEOUS. It was, by far, the worst thing to be seen during the whole event! I got a kind of stage fright and didn’t want to move, then when I did I slipped (weird gym floor that I hadn’t expected, only having ever skated on concrete) slammed my coccyx and thought I was going to die. Literally, had no previous understanding that I had a bone there and that little fucker let me know that was an oversight! (and would keep reminding me for weeks)
4. Charmless won’t admit it but her skating style was great and she did some really nice collaborative pack work, which is hard to do with strangers, but she spent a lot of time in the box. Both her and I hit 6, meaning one more time and, ‘adios bitchachos!’ Charlie is a proud lady and this bruised her ego; (For a first time, I think it was ok!) but more importantly, it made our team look bad, with her, Lawless and I being sent to the box all the time we were letting down the others and it was embarrassing for us. Georgia had her head in her hands. (The walk back to the changing rooms after was glum and Georgia literally could barely keep her, “”you lost your shit!” to a camaraderie tone)
However, none of this captures the severity of my misdemeanour. Not even close.
I went to the Wirral, inexperienced and eager (shirts hand-painted, with my name and number, the night before!) because I wanted to test my skills… I showed that I had none! Five months and NADA. I didn’t just eat humble pie, I got smacked-down with some cringe, shame, shock and humiliation pies too… If these metaphors had been real that day I would have suffocated from the volume of pies. Drowned.
I jammed, “for the experience” my line-up manager insisted; But I didn’t use the opportunity to learn, because like a fool all I could think was, “jamming means it’s all on me, I have to defeat everyone myself” and herein lies the problem… I do not cope well with pressure. Ever. In that moment on the jammer line, wearing my little starry hotpants (with leggings underneath!) I felt vulnerable and then angry that I was vulnerable and then panicked and then the whistle had gone, no tactics to be recalled, no plan, just fear and anger and 8 wheels and top speed and arms out in front of me… I did not even try to get through the wall of blockers from the opposing team. Not in any way, didn’t try to trick them by swooping from side-to-side, didn’t try and use my shoulder to force open a wider gap. I just hit them, with my arms. The line-fell, I fell. I hear, “F8, back block major! Off!”
Reputation matters in roller derby. Why did I go to the Wirral and show myself as being unsporting? That shit sticks. I was devastated. One of the penalty timers actually told me later that they’d felt sorry for me, could see how much I was just in auto-pilot panic mode. Seems like roller derby might not be the best sport to play when I suffer with an anxiety problem… But wait, I was terrible, our side lost, I fouled horribly and within 5 minutes of the end of the game an opposing team member is consoling me? Maybe I just need to practise? Harder. With more conviction? Yes, I’ll do that.
Anyway, the drive home could have been tense, silent and full of regret, but instead we went to the beach in the dark, balanced on the walls, wrote our derby names in the sand, piggy backed each other into the sea and laughed. We get to be on this planet for a lot longer than one day, we get to skate another day, redeem ourselves, progress, we get to do all of it! There’s a lot of ego in sport, there was none on the beach, just people happy to be alive. Best way to end the day.
Oh, and Charmless made me an absolutely stunning birthday cake. DAIRY FREE. (The owl even travelled in the car with us because she was so pretty) and Kinders made us cakes with our team names on. because even when you Fale, you win if you’ve got friends. We might have been a shambolic team that day, but we were a team none-the-less and that’s when it really matters!