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By David Rooney on

Straddle A Saddle, Then Paddle And Skedaddle

It’s that time of year again. Temporary ice rinks are springing up all over the country. There’s a popular one at the Natural History Museum, for instance, and there’s a useful ‘top ten’ rundown in The Telegraph. What’s not to love?

Well, whenever I’ve been foolish enough to agree to have a go, it seems as if everyone else on the rink is related to Torvill and Dean whilst I resemble a new-born Bambi on a bad day.

Couple skating on an open-air rink, 1930s
Couple skating on an open-air rink, 1930s (NMeM / Kodak Collection / Science & Society)

As I struggle round, clinging to the hand rail for dear life and wishing I had stayed in the pub, everyone around me is gliding effortlessly along as if born to the ice, chatting, laughing, arm-in-arm with their loved ones, strong-of-ankle and co-ordinated of limb, gently mocking the baleful-looking man who has just fallen flat on his backside for the twentieth time. I tend to repair very quickly to the bar.

But I now have the perfect solution. Next time I shall ride an ice velocipede.

Print of an ice velocipede, 1869 (Science Museum / Science & Society)
Print of an ice velocipede, 1869 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Wouldn’t that be simply the best thing to use on the rink? I can just imagine the admiring stares and envious glances as I rode, stiff-backed, around the ice. I may not get up much speed, and I can imagine cornering would be rather tricky, but surely the knee-length boots alone would be sufficient to induce jealous swoons in my fellow skaters.

This rather splendid contraption is featured in a wonderful Victorian book in our library out at Swindon. Its cover bears the delicious instruction, ‘how to ride a velocipede: straddle a saddle, then paddle and skedaddle’. A lesson for us all there, I think.