The sun had clos'd the winter day, The curlers quat their roaring play, When winter muffles up his cloak, And binds the mire like a rock, Then to the loch the curlers flock Robert Burns - Tom Samson's Elegy Much to the unbridled glee of the nation's windscreen defroster salesmen, here in Scotland we are in the midst of an icy mid-winter. Even so, it would appear that it is not quite cold enough for some to judge by the conversation that ensued when the 'phone rang at the Lake Hotel in the Trossachs earlier this week...:
"How's the weather over there?" asked an anxious Trans-Atlantic voice. "Quite pleasant, really," came the response. "Clear blue skies with the temperature hovering about zero. Very invigorating..." "Doggone it. Will speak with again same time next week.. That exchange - or variations thereof - between Calgary in the Canadian Rockies and the rolling hills of Stirlingshire has been repeated at regular intervals ever since 1979. Aye, it is 29 frustrating winters now since the waters of the Lake of Menteith, Scotland's one and only lake as opposed to loch, froze over to the necessary depth of seven inches, thereby allowing the curlers of the world to descend upon this stunningly beautiful speck on the sporting atlas to do battle in the ancient Bonspiel (Grand Match).
On the last occasion the Scottish winter was suitably harsh hereabouts, they travelled from every direction: Ballantrae and Brisbane, Auchtermuchty and Auckland, Tobermory and Tokyo, Drumnadrochit and Detroit. Five hundred rinks with eight curlers curling on each, plus another 8,000 friends, relations and curious spectators milling over the ice at any given time. When the weather stayed wet and miserably mild in 1980, the Bonspiel was postponed until 1981. . .then '82. . .'83 and so on. Even yet, bless 'em, curlers the world over are out there. . .awaiting the big freeze that will warm the cockles of their hearts.
While the nation's footballers, golfers and rugby players have struggled to make a mark on the world stage of late, when it comes to the Olympic sport of curling, Scotland is a mighty superpower. (Our men's team is currently ranked No.2 in the world behind Canada while England languish in 20th place below China, Russia and Japan.) Having nurtured a long-felt want to become an Olympian - and with Scotland certain to be among the medal favourites come the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010 - I took to the ice this week in the company of Sandy McIlwham, widely regarded across the length and breadth of Scotland as the Lord of the Rink. Alas, curling is not as simple as it appears. Like a deckchair, a corkscrew or a nappy, a curling stone has that unhappy knack of knowing immediately when it has fallen into the inexpert mitts of a novice. The ensuing results, therefore, can be comic, ruinous or distinctly messy.
With a specially designed slippery sole on your left shoe (as if ice is not naturally slippy enough) curling is like trying to run on a floor of ball-bearings, while holding a broom in one hand and attempting to throw a sack of potatoes with the other. To Sandy's vast amusement, my first attempt saw stone and human shoot off at right angles to one another, colliding with two mighty wallops against the opposite walls.
Attempt No 2 flew backwards while I described an innovative revolving arabesque - perhaps my glorious sporting future lies in ice skating - while stone No 3, which remained super-glued to my fingers, accompanied me on a glacial traverse which I accomplished chin first on my stomach. Ah, well, I might have another 29 years of practice before the lake freezes over again... email@example.com