LIFE IN LONDON #08

Shortly after moving to London, two friends of mine from the deep South-East (a.k.a Gippsland), also made the move to the cloudy city. When we lived in Australia, the three of us would routinely catch up and swap stories over dinner, and we saw no reason to change that habit now we had relocated in England. These friends happen to read my blog and subtly suggested that, given they were part of my life in London, they get a mention in a post. Over the weeks, this suggestion changed from soft promptings to an aggressive:

“So, I noticed we’re still not in the blog. What’s up with what?”

Their charming tact worked its magic and what follows in an extract from one of our exploits.

Quick aside: The two friends in question are Jess, who I recently learned stands at a little less than five feet, and Jen, who stands at a little more than five feet. Their height is in no way relevant, I just wanted to share how short Jess is.

After moving to London, Jess and Jen decided they were going to get the most out of their time overseas and downloaded an app called yplan that offers a random collection of things to do in the city (yplan = why plan? I know, the cleverness of the name wowed me too). They set up a system where each weekend one of them would scour yplan for an activity than ran for less than £20 a head, and as long as it fell below this price, they could go ahead and book it in for the both of them. This is how they discovered ice-hockey.

They knew nothing about the game, were not particularly fanatical about sports in general, but figured for less than £20, it could be a laugh.

They now love it. They went to almost every game for the rest of the season. They love it to the point that, when describing them to other friends, the first thing I say is, “They’re huge ice-hockey fans.”

Stunned by the passion with which they spoke about the game, I had to see what the fuss was about, so the three of us bused it out to Stratford for my first ice-hockey experience. I was not disappointed.

After making our way into the rink, we were met by two ladies sitting at a table and very officially were awarded wrist bands, proving we were paying supporters of the London Raiders. The London Raiders were Jess and Jen’s favourite team. They bleed blue and yellow, and after five minutes of watching the boys out on the ice, I did too.

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In addition to the very official wrist bands, we were also given a photocopy of the rules of the game, which I immediately digested (mentally, not physically), as, beyond knowing that the puck goes in the net, I had no real knowledge of the game’s particulars. Watching the Mighty Ducks film franchise can only get you so far, and I have a feeling that that rag-tag bunch of underdogs bent the rules on more than one occasion. (Despite all my reading, I found no mention of the famous “Hucklepuck” move as seen in D2: The Mighty Ducks.)

The photocopy of the rules was full of useful information such as the description of the puck being “a 3” disc of rubber which is kept below 0°C and is very hard!” and the warning to “keep an eye out for it because it can hurt if it hits you!” Beyond an over-enthusiasm for exclamation points, the writer of the piece was obviously very fond of pointing out the obvious.

The three of us made our way to the front row in the London Raiders fan club, obviously, because we are such huge fans, and we were soon joined by said fans. It was great to get some local colour, and one father of two quickly made himself known by spitting insults at the competition who were warming up on the ice. His allegiance to the London Raiders was inspirational.

The players disappeared from the ice and I felt a spiral of excitement unfurl in my gut as I realised the game was soon to start. There was commotion at one end of the rink, a gate opened, and I felt my pulse race. Then a giant machine trundled out and slowly and methodically drove over every inch of the ice. I learnt the vehicle was an ice-sweeper designed the clean the ice before each game. I also learnt that the machine moves at about 1km/hr and that the driver was very fastidious about his work.

They certainly know how to build the tension.

Finally, the moment came, and the players once again poured out onto the, now perfectly polished, ice. They lined up and were called out by name one-by-one so we could applaud those who would entertain us for the next hour. The father behind me went with a different tack and each time the announcer called out a player from the opposition, he gave a little “boo!”

Every. Time.

“Brandon Michaels.”

“Boo!”

“George William.”

“Boo!”

He was an excellent role model for his little boy and girl.

Game played started, there was the clack of hockey sticks, the swish of skates through ice, and the ping of the puck as it ricocheted off walls, poles, and helmets. The London Raiders burst into action, spreading out in formation, and, wow, let me tell you…they sucked. No, seriously, the other team was substantially better — the Raiders didn’t know what they were doing out there.

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But the poorness of the play didn’t reduce the enjoyment of the game, nor, judging by my favourite spectator’s comments, the ardour of the fans. Father-of-the-year had witty remarks such as:

“Hey, number 23, you wear your mother’s panties!”

And one time, when the opposition scored, just the simple and elegant:

“Knobhead!”

This explosion of emotion was followed about five minutes later by his five-year old daughter jumping up and down and our-favourite-fan turning to her and in all earnestness saying:

“You need to calm down. Hey, look at me. You need to calm down.”

He clearly led by example.

The timer counted down and before I knew it the siren blared, and my first hockey game had come to an end. Despite the Raiders’ rocky start, the final score was still a nail-biting…9 to 2. The Raiders had confidently lost.

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The three of us made our way from the rink with the crowd of departing spectators, and I had to admit to the girls that I could see now why they had fallen for the sport. The chill of the ice counted by the heat of the adrenaline, the thudding of players as they crushed each other against the rink walls, and the charm of the fans. And of course, the player’s children out on the ice, decked out in full gear. Did I not mention that? Oh man, it was fricken adorable.

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We left the light and glamour of the arena and into the dark and cold of a London night, crossing the road to wait at a bus-stop with a collection of other fans. But just when I thought the spectacle was over, I got one last little slice of entertainment as an intoxicated girl of around twenty-four scuttled into the trees running along side the road, and squatted to take a piss.

We had literally just let a place with toilets. We were standing about twenty meters from it. She could have easily headed back inside. Charming.

But in all seriousness, I had a brilliant time, and greatly enjoyed watching the game. If you’re in London and have a chance of catching the mighty London Raiders in action, I’d highly recommend it. Thanks, Jen and Jess, for sharing your world with me. This post’s for you.

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