The Ninth Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

Photo courtesy "Ice Skating" magazine

It's that ghost wonderful time of the year when ghouls and goblins take center stage... and center ice. For this year's Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular, we're travelling back in time to England, just after the end of the second World War, when a skater using the pseudonym 'Jenks' warned the readers of "Ice Skating" magazine that they weren't alone at the rink. Dim the lights, light a candle and read this tale if you dare.


The existence of Gremlins has never for a moment been doubted by RAF personnel. Soldiers of every rank will vouch for the fact that Gremlins have at times turned their unwelcome attentions to the embarrassment of land forces, while sailors will swear that the little men can be equally at home before the mask or on the quarter-deck. Peace and demobilization came as a bitter blow to these, the most perverse of all the fairies, and they were for a short while at a loss to decide where, in peace time, their energies could be best directed. I am now in a position to give due warning to the skating public that large numbers of them are taking up their permanent quarters in and around ice rinks.

A short while ago I had an impromptu interview with the Squadron-Leader of a large force of Gremlins which had just arrived at a large London rink. I had just been up to the skate shop and collected my skates after re-grinding. I had put the skates on, and was leaving the changing room, when I felt, under my right skate, a small round hard object. There was an unpleasant little click, and too late I realized that I had trodden on a small stone which had chipped a considerable portion of my beautiful freshly ground edge right off.

As I ruefully surveyed the damage, I heard an unmistakably sardonic chuckle. I must have paled visibly as I remembered with some horror just where I'd heard that chuckle before. Yet, he was there, sitting comfortably on the top of a nearby locker, his legs dangling over the edge, his feet encased in little skating boots which drummed a light tattoo on the locker door as he grinned down at me. From the flashing skates to the spotless white of his perfectly fitting shirt with the very latest cut in collars, he was the perfect skater. Only the large head, pointed ears, and expression of malevolent cynicism topping the small but powerful body betrayed his true identity. There was no doubt whatsoever that he was a Gremlin.

For a full minute we gazed at one another in utter silence. I was petrified by a morbid dread of future tribulations, and scarcely dared to attempt a suitably abject greeting. He shifted his position slightly, jumped lightly down to the floor, and took a look at my damaged skate. 

"That stone," he said, quite calmly, " was not there when you came in. I placed it in exactly the right position just as you came out." His gaze travelled slowly up from the skate to my face, and he studied me for a few seconds, gently rubbing the lobe of his out-size ear, an all too familiar gesture. Suddenly he smiled, and from his eyes shone the concentrated wickedness of Ages. 

"Don't worry, my friend," he said smoothly, "We shall not harm you too much. We know you to be a Believer, and that makes a little difference you know." He turned and led the way to the balcony: "Come and see my boys, they're getting to work now." 

Together we stood gazing down on the dancers, and I was shocked to see little groups of Gremlins dotted all over the ice, sitting on the barriers, and clustered round the gangways. Some were busy at their tasks, groups of three were guiding the skates of selected couples towards the deepest ruts in the ice, some were digging through the ice to expose the pipes and concrete beneath, while whole squads were working over chosen patches of ice with powerful blowlamps. 

"You see," said the Gremlin at my elbow, "We are getting well established. And we are not confining our attention to the ice, my friend. What I did to your skate with the stone was only a very small sample of what I have organized in that direction. Look, see for yourself." And he pointed to where a well-known skater was just leaving the ice, to tread, he thought, on to the safety of the mat. At that moment three Gremlins leapt off the barrier, grasped the mat, and pulled it to one side with the speed of a camera shutter. I heard the sickening metallic grinding noise as the edge of the victim's skate came down hard on the concrete, saw his sudden start of anguish, and groaned inwardly. 

My companion pointed again, this time to a perspiring young man who had obviously come off the ice to re-tie one of his laces. His partner, a comely blonde, was pouting impatiently at the barrier. On the offending boot of the victim there sat a Gremlin, hacking at the laces with a small cutter specially made for the job, so that when the laces were tightened, they parted with an exasperating "pop." Sick at heart, I ventured to ask: "How long has this been going on?" 

"Oh, some time!" was the reply. "In fact, before the war we were fairly active, but of course it's all been intensified since peace broke out. But that's by no means the end of it. I have squads making hollows in speed skaters' grind-stones, loosening screws in figure skates all over the rink, placing loose screws under several skater's favourite edges, stopping up the pipes underneath the ice, spreading grit and small stones over the carpets, taking away and destroying one skate-guard of every pair we find, soaking boots with water well charged with ammonia, raising the heads of all the nails in the wooden flooring, adjusting the gramophone turn-table to run too fast or too slow, cutting the wires leading from the orchestra microphone to the loud speakers, and so on. In fact," and here he shrugged his small shoulders eloquently, "In fact, we are doing everything we can." 

And so, dear readers, I beg you to he most careful in your future conversations. Scoff at the Gremlins if you dare, but they'll catch up with you. Just wait and see.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":