The Olympics provided an opportunity for Canada to soul-search, and to debate what really lies at the heart of being a Canadian. A sense of humour, politeness, diplomacy – all have been considered. At the end of our first stint here in Canada, I feel well-qualified to add my twopenn'orth to the debate. Ice skating lies at the centre of the Canadian psyche.
So Dave and I have been doing our best to fit in. At the end of last week, we walked about ten minutes up from our apartment to the local ice rink; there are at least eight rinks in the greater Vancouver area, and this is, apparently, unusually low. Every suburb is expected to have one, and 30 would not be an noteworthy number in a good-sized town.
The rink itself was fairly small and boasted the usual group of teenagers, entertaining themselves by hurling themselves at the barriers at speed, and spraying a fine layer of ice scrapings over the terrified adults. And there were a few terrified adults, not least me. I'm sure I remember it being easier than this, but my balance was all over the place, and perhaps most importantly, my fear of breaking something or at least hurting myself if I fell over was well-attuned.
Dave also had a steep learning curve, as his skates were ice hockey ones without the spiky points on the front. This prevented his previous (self-described) technique of 'skateboarding', i.e. pushing himself along on one foot, using the other. He sensibly adopted a hockey helmet too and you can admire it thus:
Now that you've seen what he's wearing, you can also look out for his red coat on the video:
The second thing we've done in order to assimilate more fully with our Canadian hosts is to take more of an interest in ice hockey. This peaked last night with a trip to GM Place to see the Vancouver Canucks (of whom we are now avid supporters) beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1. The fact that skating has put the fear of God into me means that my respect for the players, and their ability to accelerate rapidly, control a flying puck *and* fend off the body charges of their opponents, has risen exponentially.
As with the Olympics, at least half of the fun of the evening is the music, the Mexican waves, the mascot appearing next to your seat with an ear-splittingly loud drum and the general rowdiness which prevails while approximately half of the audience take absolutely no notice of the game itself. I did speculate on a few things that I thought Premier League football clubs could really benefit from:
1. Goal line technology. This is much debated in the football world but ice hockey demonstrates that it is do-able. A camera is suspended directly above the goal line and, with the benefit of other angles, a 'fourth official' is able to review footage rapidly and make a judgement on whether a goal should be given or not. Don't get me wrong, the fans barrack while this is going on, but it's accepted as part of the game.
2. Air horn. Because it is hard to follow the puck as it pings around the rink, the air horn is a cue to fans at the other end of the rink or up in the gods to put down their beers and hotdogs, because a goal has been scored. I love it, it really adds to the party!
3. Stadium announcers putting a bit more into it. The Canucks announcer completes his announcement of the goal scorer and assists by giving a high-pitched "Wooo!", subsequently imitated by the entire audience. I will be petitioning Jeremy to introduce this at Upton Park as I can see it becoming a real feature of football.
Here's us sitting in great seats behind the goal. Olympic hero Roberto Luongo is lurking in his goal just at the top of the picture.