I saved up £33 over a period of six months. It was a rare demonstration of abstinence for my 10-year-old self.
And I blew it on the worst skateboard in human history.
It was one of those that you would now probably find in the cat’s lick sports section of a small co-op. It was bristling with extra bits of protective plastic which in retrospect were probably designed to preserve the integrity of the woeful piece of MDF that comprised its deck rather than help me in any way. The plastic was purple. I was so pleased with it.
I rattled around our crescent pulling miniscule ollies on this contraption. An ollie, for those of you unfamiliar with skateboarding linguistics, is a flick of the board’s tail which results in it leaping into the air. A respectable ollie might be around 30 centimetres high. On this board, mine were estimated at 3cm.
Still, our neighbour, the 2000AD artist Glenn Fabry popped out and had a go on it. He clocked me on it, said “Cool! I used to skate.” He then got onto it and instantly went arse over tit.
To have him fall off it gave the board a certain cache.
After persevering with this weighty plank for a couple of years, my parents took me to a skate shop in Muswell Hill. On the way, we passed a newly-installed memorial to the recently-assassinated policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher. London felt heavy.
I chose a board made by a company called Schmitt Stix. It bore the name of a skater, Lee Ralph, who I didn’t know, but its design (a boxed-in naked figure, contorted to fit the shape of the board) was exquisitely counter-cultural. For a 12-year-old, in London, in ever-present heavy times, it was a gritty, urban artefact. Not pretty, but beautiful.
And on it, my ollies sang. 40 centimetres, 50, then 60. I was the envy of my tiny peer group. I began to wear skatewear, listen to Suicidal Tendencies and Napalm Death. The years rolled, my hair became a mop and my freestyling blossomed.
Latimer Road, Romford, Southbank, even Farnborough: I fell and cut myself in every node of skatelore in the Southeast of England. I even painfully did the splits down a halfpipe in Romford: I curled up on the flat and indignant older skaters simply skated around me as I writhed, unradical.
No-complies, shove-its: I mastered a range of tricks. But I never mastered the ollie kickflip: a beautiful manoeuvre where you jump up, flick the board along its length and gracefully land, continuing along your prior trajectory. I could do anything but: my attempts were a montage of words more profane than heck and my shins acquired the contours of the Pennines.
I came to the conclusion that I didn’t believe I could land the kickflip. I bailed without fail, fearful of landing on the moving board and falling backwards onto the concrete.
However hard I tried, I couldn’t visualize my successful completion of the kickflip. Even now, trying to picture my graceful leap and flip, there is an instant overlapping white noise at the point of success. I won’t allow myself this small conquest. I want to fail.
The kickflip, encased in the protective purple plastic of my unconsciousness, will perhaps now only be unlocked via a pitifully humorous midlife crisis.
Perhaps it’s not too late.
Perhaps it’s not too late.