So once you’ve eaten haggis and peeked longingly under kilts, what Scottish thing can you do next?
It’s time to curl.
The sport of curling is a big deal here — Scotland won a gold medal at the last Olympics. So we wanted in on the broomstick action. Rory’s wife Jane, the maestro of event management, rounded up a dozen curious folk and booked us both rink and coach.
I think I expected a wee frozen pond in the middle of a field. Instead there was a clubhouse with a wood-paneled porno set ambiance, beer on tap and curling memorabilia smirking at us from behind glass.
Oh man, I thought with a shiver, this is gonna be like those movies where the zany city people stumble into the outback Australian pub, and the weatherbeaten locals look up from their beers and say, What the fuck are you doing ‘ere?
But they just ignored us. We all noted the massive window overlooking the rink, through which the regulars would be able to witness our spectacular debut. Then one of the guys reported they’d overheard the coach telling his cronies, “Got some amateurs coming in today. Should be good for a laugh.”
The coach was a prime specimen of maleness, tall and thick with an alluring shrub of chest hair bursting out of his polo shirt. He rattled off a list of Rules Not To Be Broken. He was terrifying.
He told us to go put on our clean shoes. We trotted obediently to the change rooms, getting pumped by giving ourselves mighty curling alter-egos like The Broominator, Curl Gurl, and Broom With A View.
It was crispy out there on the ice. We lined up along the edge like baby ducks, tentatively dipping our feet over the edge.
“Curling is the best cardiovascular workout you can get,” he began, “The University of Edinburgh have done studies to prove it.”
We huddled on either side of him in two neat little rows. He explained how the game worked, something about circles and curls and lines and sweeping and team captains. My brain whimpered and I only heard, “Blah blah blah blah!”.
Finally it was time for him to show us his prowess. The stone sailed neatly along the ice. He put his hands on his hips and gave a satisfied smile, “Yes. That was a good shot.
“Right, you each have a go, one at a time.”
Holy shit. I had been here before. That patronising voice. My lack of comprehension. The public showcase of uncoordination. In front of boys, too. Eww. Yes, it was that sickening feeling just like high school P.E. class, only now my breasts were better developed.
So what you have to do is lean on your broom a little, lunge off from this starting block thingy, and push the stone down the ice towards the big circles. Sounds easy enough. But according to coach, we were shite. “Too hard!”, “Too soft!”, he said in bored tones. That was when he wasn’t scoffing at the lesson going on next door.
“See those people over there?”
“That’s no way to teach someone to curl,” he shook his head and the manly chest hair nodded in agreement. “No way at all.”
We moved onto sweeping.
“You have to sweep HARD. You can press right down on these brooms. You won’t break ’em. Even I can’t break ’em.”
We all nodded and scrcch-scrcched at the ice. I used to be a dab hand at sweeping the floors at KFC. But sweeping on ice, sideways, while running after a speeding stone was quite a different prospect.
By the time we split up into teams I was really packing it. All around us, seasoned curlers were rushing up and down the ice, sweep sweepity sweep, grunting, shouting, sliding halfway down the rink on one knee like Torvill or bloody Dean, their toupees flapping gently. But I could not get the fucking stone to move, my instinct was to try and lift it and throw it, and seeing since it weighed 44 pounds, all I was doing was slowly disengaging my arm from its socket.
“See, I bet you saw curling on TV and thought it looked easy!” came the helpful tip from the coach.
Soon enough he buggered off, probably to go break large trees over his knee for fun. We started figuring out this great sport for ourselves. Some of the group were naturals, I’m always in awe of people who just get the hang of things right away. Some of us took a little longer. Before long it was great fun and strangely addictive. I could have wept for joy when mind and body finally connected and I pushed the stone then remembered to let go, only to have it knocked out of play a minute later (damn Scots. The sport is in their blood).
We played a few ends and the Yellow Team consistently defeated the Red Team, darnit. Two hours of sweeping and stone-pushing and chit chat flew by. Soon our time was up and the coach reappeared with a water dispenser on his back to spray the ice, strutting around and waving his hose.
“What a man,” I sighed.
“He is just like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing,” said Rhi, “The big blokey bloke about town who knows all the moves.”
“If only your name was Baby, you could meet him at midnight for some horizontal sweeping.”
We finished in spectacular style, with one member of the group crashing to the ice just as all the club members were back inside and watching from the mega window. Ohhh it looked painful. I feared for his spine and felt guilty for thinking, “Wow, I’m so glad it wasn’t me!” Last I checked he was recovering nicely.