Margate in the Sky

My first experience of ice–skating was in the late 1970s. I had travelled to the hip and urbane mecca of Margate in south-east England with a couple of friends from primary school in search of adventure, popular music and a chance to impress a few girls. The plan was perfect in conception yet boasted one major flaw: I could not skate. Certainly not in any conventional sense and spent most of the time hanging on to the side of the rink trying to look cool and nonchalant. I only went once. And thus my career in spandex and holographic metallic combos ended in glorious, short-lived failure.

Margate, as travel insiders will tell you, is one of Rough Guide’s top places to visit in 2013. It is a confusing place. At one time it could rightly claim to be the spiritual home of the British seaside holiday. It was hugely popular and reportedly invented the traditional British pastimes of resolutely sitting in deckchairs on windswept beaches, swimming in testicle-shrinking seas and putting the sand back in sandwiches.

Part of the Margate experience was the seafront funfair, Dreamland, and long after the town could no longer compete with the more glamorous destinations in the Med, the funfair was still going strong. The Dreamland complex housed the ice-rink and like much of the food in the 70s, it was synthetic. This meant that when you fell over you did not so much get wet, rather caked in a curious flaky plastic. It was how I imagined falling in a bowl of coconut shavings.

For years now Margate has been struggling. It as one of the highest concentrations of empty high street shops in the UK, unemployment is high and the donkeys on the beach ended up in fast food long ago. Recently, however, there have been signs of a concerted renaissance with the opening of the Turner Gallery by the harbour and the rejuvenation of parts of the nearby old town. Dreamland closed years ago but parts of the funfair remain (although closed) as does the huge 2000-seater Art Deco cinema. The site is set for redevelopment but it seems no one really knows if this will be a “historic” funfair or a TESCO, reputational roller-coaster in tow.

But what has this got to do with Vienna? Well, the next time I pulled on my blades of steel was more than 30 years later in a place that could have been plucked right out of Margate any time in the last 80 years. Englelman is a legend amongst ice-skaters in Vienna. It is a roof-top ice-rink in the 17th District (ironically above a supermarket) which looks like it has not changed since my grandmother was on the pull. Whereas the over-cool and uninitiated will head to the Rathaus ice-experience (all bright, flashing lights and characteristically awful Austrian radio), Englelman slowly goes about its business serving serious ice-skaters and fans of retro-chic: the buildings, the music, some of the fashion, the food. It is a place which never seems to change or never feels the need to change – this includes my flair for ice-skating in any form – and I find it rather comforting.

Anyway, here were my scores from the judges:

  • Number of under 5s better than me – all
  • Rink employees drinking beer at 10 AM – 2
  • Campest man in central Europe at skate hire – 1
  • Pensioners on the pull – at least 20
  • Confused teenagers in search of love’s first kiss – 12
  • Posers – many
  • Spandex spiral suits – a hugely disappointing 0
  • Middle aged gigolos in white boots, surfer shades and iPod – 1
  • Crazy Legs Crane impersonators – not as many as I hoped
  • Arse over tit – 1
  • Enjoyment factor (10) – 8+
  • Grudging and bleated respect for ice-skaters – much

(c) R . J. Barratt 2013

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