Thursday, February 05, 2009

Origins of the game

I'm happy with my little piece of the internet these days. My traffic numbers are good (although coming down a bit after peaking during the Nunies) and nearly every blog post I put up I get feedback. I'm glad to see people take the time to put up a comment. And that means a lot to me. It's nice to see a conversation taking place on what I'm writing about.

Still, if I want to kill the conversation stone dead, I pretty much just have to mention curling. Most people who come to this blog just don't seem to get it. So I figured maybe if I explain a little bit about where this came from, it might help put things in some perspective.

I think like lots of boys, you follow the sports your father follows or takes part in. My dad, for example, has virtually no interest in hockey. I don't know why, but he doesn't. And nor did I, when I was a kid. Oh sure, I had some hockey cards and I talk about it a bit. But that's mainly because if you were a 10 year old boy and didn't like hockey, well, your life became immeasurably more difficult.

But I never played it. I still can't skate to this day and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

But my dad loved baseball and so did I. My first heartbreak was produced by the 1979 Montreal Expos, who just couldn't catch the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL East title that year. And I still do love baseball. But I never really had much in the way of any skill at it, other than shagging around on the field behind our house.

And dad loved car racing. Never picked that up either and I think I'm all right with that.

But he also loved watching curling. No idea why, but he did. Maybe it was the satisfying cracking noise the old corn brooms used to make when they slapped the ice back in the 70s (until the switched over to the much more efficient, but less fun, brooms they use today). Perhaps it was the simple awe that comes with watching something as big as a rock actually curl. Or, more likely, the whole notion of throwing a rock as hard as you can and hitting other rocks and sending them flying was tremendously appealing to both an adult and a 10-year-old kid.

Nothing might have come from it, except when I was in Grade 8 I noticed an ad in the Telegram offering classes for junior curlers at Baly Haly country club. I think my parents were a bit concerned about how much it would cost, but still let me sign up for it. I never really asked much from my parents, so when I did, and it was reasonable, they normally allowed it.

For those not in the know, Baly Haly was, and probably still is, the snobby country club in the east end of St. John's. For decades, it was one of the few places in Newfoundland you could play golf. It was members only and I still find it miraculous that they let a bunch of 12 to 15 year old kids enter their club and beat up their their precious curling ice.

But they did and I went and I took lessons. And much to my shock, I was pretty good at it. For the first time in my life, I found a sport I was not only comfortable playing, but I could see myself conceivably be good at. I was comfortable on the ice. I enjoyed the strategy. I could make good shots.

And I won trophies. Silly now, but a big deal to me when I was a 14. All my friends had trophies and awards for hockey, softball or Sports Day at school. I had nothing. Then I won a couple of curling trophies and I was the happiest person in the world. I even, during my first year, won one for Good Sportsmanship. Of all the awards I've won over the years, I think it remains the most surreal.

(Yes, I still have most of my curling trophies in storage somewhere)

I really wasn't bad at it. From Grade 8 to Grade 12 I won bonspiels, competed in provincial tournaments and had a lot of fun. And once I graduated high school, I dropped it and didn't start curling again until 2005 when I came up here.


At the time it made sense. I started seriously going out with someone in Grade 12 and suddenly curling didn't seem as important. Also, if I wanted to keep playing, I was going to have to pay a club membership fee of, I think, about $400 a year. An unimaginable amount in 1988, especially when I was trying to pay tuition and having to work part time. There wasn't enough time or money to keep at it.

Plus, well, I don't think I was the nicest person to be on the ice with. Embarrassing to admit, but I was, and still am, very competitive when I curl. Back then when I missed a shot it was nothing for me to start cursing (nearly got tossed from a tournament in Stephenville over it), throw my broom or lie on the ice and whack my head. All of which is staggeringly silly and unprofessional.

I think by the time league wrapped up in Grade 12 I'd had enough. If curling was bringing that out in me, time to hang it up. I think it might have been a mistake in retrospect. I wish I'd had a better coach to take me under his wing or that I'd stuck with it. I'm not saying I'd have curled at the Brier or anything, but it would have been interesting.

I'm glad I picked it back up in 2005. Some of those bad habits I had in high school with my level of competitiveness is still there. And I'm pretty sure I pissed off a few people at the club my first year or so here with it. But I'm getting better and I still try to remember to have fun instead of making sure I win.

For the record, and I'm sure I've said this before, it helps having Steph as my Third. I think I'm much more relaxed curling this year, and that's mainly because Steph comes down and chats and random stuff having nothing to do with curling.

Although I think I might start bringing a swear jar and put in a dollar every time I curse on the ice and donate the money to junior curling. But on the upside, it's mostly happy cursing ("Fuck, did you see how much that fucking rock curled. It's fucking buried!") and least I don't throw brooms anymore.

So that's why I love curling. Now you know why I keep writing about it.

Last Five
1. Evil - Interpol*
2. That boy - Lloyd Cole
3. Nightblindness - David Gray
4. House of cards - Radiohead
5. Milk - Garbage


SBB said...

I am really glad you like curling. I have a hobby that can kill a conversation at 100 yards too. I must say that I tried to read the whole post, twice, never got past the you keeping your trophies part either time. I just skipped to the end, you should donate the swear jar money to the Juniors. Sorry. I tried to like curling.

The Perfect Storm said...

Interesting. My father liked curling (and played it). I could never see the purpose.

He loved golf (would put in two 18 hole rounds in a single day sometimes my mother says). I played it enough times to understand I don't like it.

He played hockey and coached hockey. I didn't play until I was nearly in my teens. I enjoyed it marginally and coached for 10 years while my boys worked their way through (one loved it, the other was never sure whether he liked it).

Sailing? My father touched on it and I loved it as a kid but never found the time as an adult.

Renovating? I am my father's son. Plenty of half finished projects litering the space we live in. Just like I remember good 'ol Dad.

Excellent post, as always Townie.


JH said...

The reason I started visiting your blog was the link in The Curling News blog. So, enjoyed the post and just wish that I had started curling earlier in life. It is a great social sport and for me, has the added benefit of how I met my wife.

SRD said...

Don't know about your fellow curlers, but I find 'happy' and 'casual' cursing far harder to take. I can understand someone cursing when they are scared or upset -- eg my response to a car driver who opened door without seeing me on the bike (with 30lb of cute baby on board) last night -- but cursing because you are happy? that's just gratuitous, same as people who don't even notice the casual uses. To be honest Craig, I find the cursing in your blog hard to take sometimes. The editor in me thinks it would be much more effective if used less.... I particularly don't understand why comedians -- including very funny people -- think they are funnier the more they use 'bad' words. How very 4th grade... Anyway, enough moralizing on my part...I'm off to shout bad words at stupid drivers some more...

towniebastard said...

I just have to remember that it's a social thing. There's no glory and few trophies for the winners. Most of the prizes are small things and the big prizes at events are door prizes, which is as it should be.

It's just that I like to win a little too much sometimes. Thankfully I have Cathy there to reign me in when the bloodlust starts to build.

And SRD, it's a fair point about the swearing. Lord knows Anne Martin has made similar comments about my writing, so it is something I'm slowly becoming more conscious of.

I looked at the post I put up this morning and there are two pieces of profanity in it. Would they work just as well without it? One was easy to eliminate, the other could go, but I do kind of like it. It adds something to the sentence I like.

I agree using profanity just for giggles and a reaction is kind of cheap. The key to good writing is to know exactly when to drop it in and to use it for maximum effect. So, one more thing to keep an eye out for.

Shanlee said...

I love, love, love to watch curling. I even have my very non-curling husband starting to like it. Of course he likes it better when there is money on the line like the Casino Rama when the last shot was worth $43,000 - but baby steps right. He even metioned that he might join me next year and curl mixed somewhere.

I totally laughed out loud at your description of your "freak" outs. I myself am more of the casual, cool and collected type of curler - but you guys that are all wound up - make me giggle. Plus you are fun to beat! ;)

towniebastard said...

As I said, I'm not so bad now, but back in

Part of it certainly was the drama and competition that happens anytime you put a bunch of teenagers together. Plus there was clear "class" distinctions between curlers. I came from a very middle class family, where some of the top tier junior curlers came from rich families, were part of the clubs and had access the rest of us didn't. And they were known to lord it over us from time to time.

So yeah, it could cause some pretty intense emotions and rivalaries. Imagine a John Hughes movie set in a curling club, and you have some idea.

Anonymous said...

there are few greater sounds than corn brooms sweeping on ice. it smacks of old men in wool sweaters on a late tuesday afternoon in a small town curling club.