Is skiing worth dying for?

I was looking whimsically at my Rollerblades the other day.

Battered, well-worn but dusty, they are sitting in the loft unloved and abandoned.

I have made one of those promises, you know the sort, where in a moment of duress and weakness, you say that you will never do something again.

Well, I have promised never to go Rollerblading again but I never promised not to go inline skating, is that a loop-hole? If you didn’t know this, inline skating is the posh term for Rollerblading.

It is this business with my head. One brain haemorrhage is unfortunate, as Oscar Wilde would have said, but two brain haemorrhages is carelessness.

I fell for these much derided skates one day in Minnesota when I saw a man on these marvelous inventions beating all the road traffic with his speed and ease of maneuvering. Over the next few days, I found out that he was not unique and that I had arrived in the birthplace of inline skating. It was originally invented for ice-hockey players to train with in the summer months but that was of less interest to me, someone who has never had any ice-hockey ambitions.

I loved the anarchy of these glorified roller skates which let you reach excitingly fast speeds with no need for the internal combustion engine. It must be the same for surfers too, I assume as someone who has only ever managed to stand up on an incoming surfboard once in my life.

I never thought I would actually do it myself but I did fantasise about it in public and, much to my surprize, ended up receiving a handsome pair of Rollerblades as a present.

I couldn’t stand up wearing them and didn’t know how I was ever going to master them without serious injury. It isn’t something you can practise in your bedroom either – so all the humiliation has to occur in the sneering public eye.

Well, I did it.

I fell over a lot of course and I ran perilously out of control several times before I worked out how to stop in them. I also had to endure a lot of ridicule from passers-by who, I think, were just scared that I was going to take them with me to that place above the clouds.

I loved it though.

It was very exciting reaching speeds which I could never have reached just by running but it had all the physical sensations of self-propulsion.

I assume it was the adrenalin that got me hooked.

I never liked the helmets that you were supposed to wear though, they are even sillier than those cycling hats, and I decided I would never wear one.

Luckily, in all my falls, I never hit my head; not even on those late night speedy journeys back from the pub.

My incomplete knowledge of how to stop led me to find an expert, a Rollerblade teacher who would train me up to, in my imagination, Olympics standard.

His name was Hugh and he was a revelation in those weekly lessons in London’s Hyde Park. He soon showed me not only how to stop but how to weave in and out of traffic cones, accelerate beyond my wildest dreams and to build up a technique which enabled me to go on marathon journeys.

I was so hooked on it that I even packed them for a trip to New York and, to my delight, I even managed to Rollerblade round Central Park. During my stay that became an early morning routine sufficiently for some of the other fellow enthusiasts to start saying Hi when we met.

Sadly, I moved to a house in the country where there was nowhere I could practise and soon they became a distant but happy memory.

So, for a new type of adrenalin rush, I decided to take up Kung Fu instead. Now, after moving back to town, I was just beginning to think I should get them out again when illness got in the way.

Post brain haemorrhage, I am told I may not be able to do full-contact Kung Fu sparring any more and also, that dread promise was extracted, that I should never go Rollerblading again.

As teenage boys so often say: It’s so unfair!

We will see.

Then Natasha Richardson has that terrible accident whilst learning to ski in Canada. It was too close for comfort as it was how I could so easily have gone.

I had always thought skiing was easy. Easy but boring.

Hugh, my Rollerblade instructor, once said that if you can Rollerblade then you can definitely ski because you can only fall two ways in skiing because the long blades won’t let you fall backwards or forwards.

Well, I was never tempted.

I always found Austria and Switzerland dull countries and, when they are covered in snow, even duller.

The snow, I always thought, acted like dust sheets covering up beautiful antique furniture, all you can see is the white.

Skiing holidays didn’t’ tempt me either: hanging around in characterless chalets or hotels with a load of tedious people dressed as Michelin men. They seldom improved with alcohol either.

I was always secretly pleased when they came home with legs in plaster. No, I don’t really mean it, honestly. Well, some of those skiing bores who are always telling you how you really should try it, do deserve a morsel of retribution.

Nothing like the terrible death of Natasha Richardson though. Which was made all the more tragic as it happened in such a pointless way – as a beginner, in a minor fall, on the nursery slopes.

The deaths of celebrities, taken before their time, always shocks. We don’t know them but we think we do and their fame gives us, just for a moment, an insight into how vulnerable our lives really are.

She died and I lived. Nothing to gloat about, for sure, but I cannot deny that it has made me stop and think.

After all the time and effort put into keeping me alive, it would be ridiculous, even frivolous, to now die in a Rollerblading accident. I feel that I owe it to those professionals who saved my life not to just throw it away on a whimsical self-dare.

And yet…..

Life is more than just staying alive. That rush of adrenalin released when you defy Nature at speed, that has its value too. Some people say that it is only when you take death-defying risks that you fully feel alive.

I have made that promise though – dammit.

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