(I missed my slot yesterday but I had a small emergency – luckily not a skateboard accident!)
A few weeks ago my granddaughter put on her first pair of rollerblades and decided the only place to try them out would be at the skateboard park in Clapham common. My son tried all manner of tricks to suggest a more gentle start. Apart from her welfare he wasn’t so sure he was ready to take on a bunch of sixteen to eighteen year olds and upwards, whizzing around a skateboard park. But like a good father not wanting to dampen any initiative and enthusiasm he concurred and I went along rather reluctantly to witness the event. My granddaughter already has a steel pin in her right arm from elbow to wrist after an event on a trampoline.
It was a bleak day. The dull grey of the skateboard park looked more menacing than normal. The hoodies were all out there huddled in their greys or in black puffer jackets with headgear pulled low.
‘You have to wear elbow guards and a helmet.’
‘They don’t wear them!’
He won on the helmet but not on guards.
‘We’ll stay on the outer edge and keep on the path.’
‘I want to be in the middle.’
So with me clinging to the fence, they ventured into the middle. I waited for the abuse. The swearing. There was nothing but extreme politeness. Skateboarding and rollerblading is done in silence. There is no mocking. Just sheer determination and a code. It’s a code that was a mystery to me. They line up. Watch each other. Take turns. Timing seems crucial. They’re acutely aware of peripheral space around their bodies.
Not once did anyone raise their voices to tell this small girl (the only girl there) in the pink helmet to get out of their way. They whizzed around her on bikes and skateboards and rollerblades doing feats that were quite remarkable. And when I tried to see the faces tucked into the hoods or under the beanies, I saw no hardened gangster glaze but something far far more vulnerable.
I watched boys practice the same move over and over again. Not five times in a row but fifty times – with skill and determination. They were putting in their 10 000 hours of practice that Malcom Gladwell suggests in his book ‘Outliers’ is the only way to set you apart from the rest. In a country with a better climate they’d be boys on surfboards out in the sunshine taking wave after wave after wave – perfecting their balance, perfecting their style, perfecting perfection. In a sport like soccer or tennis or golf they’d be lauded for their practice.
But the average person walking past the skateboard park that grey day in Clapham might have seen these grey-hooded boys as drop-outs. They might not have picked up the little pink helmet weaving between them. And they wouldn’t have witnessed the politeness, nor seen the guts and determination I saw in those boys. Was I frightened of them? Yes. Should I have been? No. And the fact that my granddaughter showed absolutely no fear in being amongst them is proof enough for me.