The phenomenon – for that is the only word as would adequately describe it – is one that bewilders this scarcely developed young mind. I had hoped that the Professor, in whose employ I lie and upon whose behalf I compile this journal, might be able to explain it. Yet even he is herewith as confounded and fearful as an urchin in a bathhouse. For this city we now document – Edinburgh, supposedly as civilised an urban area as one might find in this still half-barbarian enclave of Victoria’s glorious empire – bears within its borders the most unlikely, even impossible, quirk of nature.
Every journey… from the shortest to the longest, the most dallying to that of most import; be it upon foot, horseback, carrying wench or road ball… every single journey in this beautiful yet befuddling place is uphill. One might question the logical boundaries of such an assertion, yet it holds true at every opportunity upon which myself and the Professor have tested it. We traverse the path known as the Royal Mile utilising various modes of transit, both Castlewards and Palacewards, and each journey is entirely upon an uphill gradient.
Having found all side streets in both the New and Old Towns similarly upwardly inclined from every approach, the Professor turns our attention to the menacing hill to the South East of the centre. He has notions most would consider quite fanciful about this particular object, known locally as Arthur’s Seat. Not only does the Professor believe this stunted mountain (from whose soil emanates a peculiar distant buzzing sound) to have once been a blood boiling volcano; yet also does he claim it still now houses a creature of devlish intent. This creature – one whose name the Professor is too terrified to ever utter let alone set in print – is not the subject of our studies this day. We remain focussed on the notion of upward trajectory. Having scaled halfway to the submit, an arduous enough pursuit had one not also been tasked with carrying the Professor and all his instruments upon my shoulders, we retrace our steps to its base. Yet again, this journey is at odds with all points of logic and science for it too is an uphill struggle, even when aided as it is by the encouraging sting of the Professor’s motivation whip upon my buttocks.
So what effect does this curious phenomenon of all journeys being uphill have upon the people of this city? The Professor has noted from the provisions stores upon the Royal Mile that the diet here is the same as in other parts of this savage Northern nation; a mixture of haggis (a small pig-squirrel hybrid from whose carcass the national instrument of torture, the bagpipes, is also made), neeps (orangey-yellow mush) and tatties (yellowy-orange mush), followed by a dessert platter of deep fried confectionery products. Yet whereas the indigenous people of other Scottish towns and cities appear slovenly of form and sluggish of countenance, here there is a ruddy health and springbound athleticism to most of the local populace we encounter. This is clearly a result of living in a locale where even a short trip to the petticoat stall will involve an ascent – both there and back – similar to that of the as yet unconquered Himalayas.
“‘Tis fearful as the men of this place would turn to sport,” says the Professor, “for their uphill-treaded legs would enable them to beat the greatest that even London and the South of England might offer.”
“Worse still that the women of this city would turn to sport,” I counter, “for they could conquer not just our fine English women, yet perchance our men too, then perhaps Victoria’s glorious empire itself.”
“Women playing sport?” splutters the Professor. “What sickness must lie in your head to even countenance such a future. Hand me the punishment whip and ready your buttocks.”
Admiral Attackbar drops her left shoulder and hits the Brighton pack, which – quite rarely for this penalty heavy outing – features a full four-wall. The middle two have been looking over their own shoulders to centre track, hoping to see her probable line of attack, but struggling to view her at all through the solid yet ever shifting Auld Reekie defence ten feet behind. There’s often a perception in derby that some blockers can be relied upon more for their physicality and others for their movement, yet these Edinburgh line-ups have largely consisted entirely of skaters who can switch between the two faster than the flap of a bee’s wings.
The Rockers’ own jammer remains pegged back behind the Scottish pack in darkest black, as she has been for the past minute. Harold Wilson once famously declared that “a week is a long time in politics”. Whilst that might be true, a single minute is a lifetime in derby and Attackbar has already made three passes through the Brighton pack. Score wise it’s the stuff of power jams, and in a way this is a power jam – it’s just that instead of being banished to the penalty box, the Brighton jammer is seemingly banished to a jam’s lifetime of futile duking up against the shoulders, butts and hips of the Reekie pack. There have been one or two golden half-chances of breaking through, sure, but each one has been crushed by a blocker’s last ditch hit and a much longer than it seems trip from the inner or outer track to the bottom of the Edinburgh recycle bin.
Attackbar’s first pass was an apex jump, the second around the outside, the third a feigned inside line and dart through the middle of a split Brighton wall. This fourth happens so fast we don’t really know which way round the pack she went, and we’re not entirely sure the Rockers defence did either. It was more through them than around, probably. In all honesty, we don’t know. We likely never will.
ARRG’s Twisted Thistles pack boasts amidst its various line-ups the likes of perfectly named Crazylegs, the tactically commanding Ciderella, feisty Velosidy, Mo B Quick, Minnie Riot… and that’s just those from the Team Scotland 2011 World Cup squad. It’s a defence bristling with experience, both from international competition and regular bouts against tough USA and Euro sides, from a league whose playbook runs to several times that of teams like Brighton. There’s a reason why Auld Reekie are ranked #1 in the first official UKRDA table, and this pack is confident enough in their own abilities to regularly leave just two holding back the rival jammer whilst the other one or two run interference, hitting the back of the Brighton pack just before their own jammer arrives.
They didn’t do that this pass though. There’s no reason why they didn’t. They surely could have. Maybe Brighton were expecting them to. Maybe that’s why Attackbar got through so easily and so cleanly, barely a drop of sweat blemishing her game face (paint). That speaks volumes about the tactical talents of this Scottish side. When you realise that the ARRG Twisted Thistles can run interference by *not* running any interference – knowing that doing nothing at such a point in the jam/game will most likely interfere with the other pack’s expectations even more – well, you know…
A man in a film once said: “We run the plays, we win the games. There are only ten of them. It’s not rocket science.” As far as the Auld Reekie playbook is concerned, there seem to be about a thousand and ten of them, and yeah, some of them look pretty close to rocket science to us.
Deep inside the volcano, The High Priest Of All Evil rubs his hands together and cackles. His minions, Minion One and Minion Two – or, as they’d rather the High Priest call them, Frankie and Rabbie – grin at each other. THPOAE surely only cackles like this when there’s real evil afoot. What could it be? A plague of locusts eating their way through the entire Amazon rainforest? A tidal wave decimating West Coast USA? Or the biggie – nuclear armageddon? The High Priest cackles louder still and conjures up a live image of the subject of today’s malevolence. The Minions stare at the scene before them, more than a little confused.
“Uh,” says Frankie (or Rabbie).
“That looks like a car parked on a hard shoulder,” says Rabbie (or Frankie).
“Aye,” says THPOAE, smiling a smile that would look like one of pure evil even without the bits of spinach stuck in his teeth. “Burst tyre. I did that. Invisible bees. Better still, I made it so all the roadside assistance vans nearby are on other jobs. Two hours they’ll be waiting there.” The minions look on blankly, unsure as to the purpose of this – at best – slightly diabolical act. “Some of them are playing roller derby up here tomorrow,” the High Priest explains, “and they’ve barely left the South Coast, hahaha.”
“What’s roller derby?” asks Minion One (or Minion Two, whichever’s the one without a beard)
“It’s a modern revival sport primarily played by women. Two teams of five roller skate anti-clockwise round an oval track in a series of periods called ‘jams’ lasting up to two minutes each. One on each team has a star on her helmet and scores a point for each opponent she passes. The other four have to try and hold back the opposing team’s star-clad ‘jammer’ whilst aiding their own.”
They way he delivered it sounded like it was a pre-prepared speech THPOAE made several times a week, largely to tourists and locals asking about the T-shirt he always wears. This is pretty much lost on the Minions, however. They have always assumed the ‘ARRG’ text on their master’s top referred to the cries of pain from those he curses to the eternal fires of Hellfire and Damnation. Not that they’ve seen him do much, if any, of that. Bursting a car tyre was about standard for the level of evil the Minions had witnessed since starting their jobs, here in the bowels of Arthur’s Seat, three months earlier.
“I’m going to mess with their Sat Nav when they hit the Midlands,” adds the High Priest as the Minions start slowly backing away; the duo nodding nervously as one would to someone on the bus who tells you their feet are possessed. “That’ll add another two hours. Then wait and see what I’ve done to the hostel they’re booked in. I’ve filled the walls with mice. When the invisible bees start on the mice around 2am… squeak, squeak, squeak. They’ll barely get a wink of sleep. And when they discover I’ve made everything around here uphill… hahaha.”
The tail end of THPOAE’s speech echoes along the corridor behind as the two Minions hurry out for lunch. The following day they will meet to watch a football match up the road and discuss the new jobs they start on Monday – jobs that will give them a chance to do some proper evil for once. They haven’t dared tell THPOAE they’re leaving. He doesn’t take that sort of thing well, apparently.
Shambolic sits in the penalty box, a pivot panty atop her head. It’s not an unnatural habitat for her, to be honest. Particularly not when she’s putting in the kind of ‘popping up all over the track’ hard fought performance today’s über tough challenge requires, one for which she will take home the Best Blocker medal. Last time out though, against Leeds five weeks ago, her (and indeed the whole Brighton team’s) first box visit didn’t come until Jam 13. This time it comes sooner. In all fairness, Sham had an event packed (burst tyre, Sat Nav probs, etc) fourteen hour trip up here – many others in the Brighton roster had not far short of that – followed by half a night in the noisiest hostel room ever. It’s almost as if her journey up was cursed. Still, Brighton are fighting back now.
Their best moment may have come before first whistle. A well choreographed and Enya soundtracked skate out, all swirly arms and spins; it looked for all the world like the lovechild of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights video and Starlight Express, but it was pretty damn awesome and put the Edinburgh side in the shade. Once the bout starts, the reverse is true, at least for the first nine jams. Brighton are doing what they can, but the Scots are 19-0 up after Jam 1 and the next few exchanges rattle past in quick succession. Pass and call, pass and call. Some awesome work through the pack by Rose Bleed in the third takes Brighton up to fourteen points, but six successive scoreless jams for the Sussex league see the Twisted Thistles up to 79.
A quick three pointer with Sham in the star breaks the Rockers’ scoreless streak and sets up a resilient fightback. The Mighty Mighty Bash puts up some big numbers and some big hits in a power jam twelfth as the Scottish pack start using the same revolving door to the sin bin Brighton were previously bogarting. There are long official timeouts between almost every jam now. Sham takes a whip from Bash in Jam 14 to edge down the differential some more. Rockers pack starting to get more of a handle on the ARRG jammers now, holding back Lilo & Stitches as Kapow breaks through, forcing Stitches to call.
As Bash and Imperial Bint shoulder up on the jammer line, a game that had looked to be running away from Brighton is much closer. The Scots’ early 65 point lead has been pegged back to a circa 40 differential, holding around there jam by jam as the scores accumulate… 46-87. 58-99. 61-101. The Sussex side are giving Auld Reekie a run for their [brightly coloured and not accepted by most Brighton pubs] money now, their jammers drawing penalties from the Scottish pack to create a more evenly matched – rather than primarily cyan – penalty box.
Jam 17 is arguably the biggest of the game. Rose takes lead and looks to be in a position to close the gap further still, but she’s sent off, as is blocker Cake, and Edinburgh take advantage, stretching their muscles and lead over the last few jams of the half to go in 139-69 up. This car-lagged Brighton side are missing a couple of key players, and although relatively new additions like Emma The Condemner and Kapow are putting in good battling performances, we fear this opposition – a European derby powerhouse eager to impress in front of a home crowd in their last bout of the calendar year – may well be preparing to turn the screw in the second half.
The drums. Good Lord, the drums. The relentless echoing rattle, rat-a-tat-tat, reminds Jack of Vietnam. Those were dreadful days. Serves him right, really, for choosing the cheapest backpackers’ dorm room available – one with paper-thin walls and a hard house nightclub just the other side – but even so, he could no longer handle the sound of drums. Even when played as well and joyfully as by the eleven-person troupe (Counterpoint Drummers) providing the half time entertainment in this Scottish sports hall.
Jack heads up the stairs, past the huge banked rows of bleacher seating that occupy the North side of what must be one of the most impressive roller derby venues in the whole of Europe. He still doesn’t quite understand what roller derby is, but he has a job to do. Cub reporter for one of the country’s more scurrilous newspapers. Not a sports reporter, as it happens, just general crime and scandal. There might not be much of that going on here at the moment – apart from the Edinburgh jammers pickpocketing points from Brighton on almost every pass – but he has a brief to find some, in or around today’s event.
What would his great great great grandfather make of it all? A well respected London-based Professor, triple great gramps Fenchurch had written one of the most infamous anthropological studies of the Scottish capital back in the Victorian era. It was a book full of ridiculous claims, such as the assertion that all journeys in Edinburgh are uphill. Jack laughs at the thought as he struggles to climb the steps down to the Mezzanine, where windows overlook a Scottish FA Youth Cup match between Leith Athletic and Bishopton (a barnstorming 6-4 win to Leith, someone on the sports desk will later tell him).
On the next level down, around twenty steps further uphill, the Brighton roller derby team are holding a half-time post mortem and offering up suggested tactical changes for the remainder of the match; a secret meeting audible only to themselves and all those using the toilets or watching the football as their voices echo round the cavernous stairwells. So what would the Professor – hardly a fan of women at all, let alone the idea of women’s sport – have made of this fast-moving counter-cultured new sport? Most likely he’d be horrified. Who knows? Later academics claimed old Fenchurch was just plain mad, of that Jack is well aware. His ancestor’s book on Edinburgh would certainly suggest so, packed as it is by talk of a Devil-like entity living inside Arthur’s Seat; an entity that apparently sends invisible bees to attack its opponents, particularly those who quit said entity’s employ.
Jack laughs to himself at he walks back through the merch area – glancing at the varied stylish offerings from the Edinburgh and Brighton teams, whilst puzzling at the strange buzzing sound around the cupcake stall – before heading up the stairs back down to his seat for the start of the second half.
Team talks spoken, skaters refreshed, what will the second period bring? It starts much as the first did, with a series of quick jams; Thistles taking lead in most and calling before the Brighton jammer gets on a scoring pass. The Scots are using a smaller jammer rotation now – primarily just the Big Three of Attackbar, Stitches and Bint – and it’s working in their favour as they start stretching their lead at quite some pace. The Brighton pack are battling hard, with Hyde ‘N’ Shriek, Derby McGee, Cake Or Death, Hairy Fairy, Bash and others putting in some solid physical challenges. Shambolic regularly spreads herself wide as the last line of defence, pegging back the Edinburgh jammers for as many seconds as she can.
The problem with this physical blocking, of course, is that penalty calls are always going to be a by-product, and the more Brighton chase this game, the more blue shirts are ending up in the box. ARRG have upped the differential to well over a hundred and we’re barely five minutes into the period. A series of Scottish power jams and full Rockers boxes follows. At the end of a sequence of nine pointless jams, Brighton find themselves on the skinny side of a 300-85 scoreline and in all honesty are now playing to keep the final points gap to as few hundred as possible. Sham sneaks a single point in Jam 17 of the second period, Rose adds three in the twentieth. They look to add more two jams later as the impressive Chariot Sophia breaks through first, but it wasn’t a clean pass and Attackbar clears the Brighton pack to call it off. With no more scoring opportunities, the Sussex side have to settle for a total points haul of 89.
The Edinburgh league have added Skinn’er Alive back into the rotation for the last quarter of the bout, and their four stellar jammers have swooped inside, swooped outside, apex jumped, duked, ducked, hustled, bustled and weathered big hits from Bash and others to storm their way to one shy of 350 points as the final whistle sounds. Whilst that’s testament to the awesome strength of the Scottish rotation, perhaps more telling is how few points (twenty) Brighton managed to put on the board in this second half. Indeed, a casual observer would mistake LaserHammer – jam reffing Brighton this period – for a Black Power protestor, so often does he raise a clenched fist.
The Auld Reekie pack aren’t just tough, they’re super tough. A dynamic, fast reacting, deceptively physical and tactically flexible offensive defence. One born not just of the practice halls of the Scottish capital, but on the bouting floors of London, Berlin, Toronto, Philadelphia and everywhere else these skaters have sharpened their skills and ground down their wheels across ARRG’s storied five and a half year existence.
Anarchick and Pukeahontas lead the celebrations on the Edinburgh league’s bench. Over on the Brighton one, coach Mass Janeycide and Mistress Von Über Vixen (deputising as line-up manager for the absent Maude Fondeo) have no time to reflect upon the result right now. Such reflection comes later, days down the line. Boozing and long uphill walks come first. When that time for reflection does arrive, one hopes it will focus on one truism of this so young, so rapidly developing sport: You don’t get better by playing teams you can easily beat, you get better by playing teams that will more than likely beat you (and learning from that experience).
It’s an avenue Brighton have increasingly gone down in 2013. For the first couple of years of the Rockers’ bouting existence, some quarters of the UK derby community accused them of only picking contests with weaker opponents. That accusation certainly can’t be levelled at the Sussex side now. This year they took on the three toughest opponents feasibly available to them; Glasgow, LRG Brawl Saints and Auld Reekie. Whilst those matches all ended in defeat, there was a lengthy period in both of the latter two where Brighton were matching their tougher opponents point for point and starting to build up a head of steam. Interestingly, it was the second half of the first period in both cases, as the Rockers closed in what looked like unassailable scoreline gaps, shaking up the Saints and Thistles and going into half time just a couple of power jams behind on the tallies. If the Sussex side can channel the resilience of those fightbacks and spread them out across more of a bout, then that list of “teams that will more than likely beat you” – already a pretty small list, a dozen at best in the whole of Europe – will get smaller still. I certainly wouldn’t like to be their next opponents, Central City. The can of whup-ass that is the Brighton Rockers just got shook up in Edinburgh, and you know what happens when you open a shaken up can…
As for the Twisted Thistles, they end their 2014 bouting season on a high, having just racked up the highest points haul in their history. Defending ARRG’s position at the top of the UKRDA rankings, with neighbours Glasgow breathing down their necks, is a priority. So too their WFTDA ambitions – they currently lie 103rd in the overall rankings, tantalisingly close to the Top 100, and 15th in the 72 league third tier. With the breadth of talent and experience across this A-team roster and beyond, an impressive bouting venue and the best chant in UK derby, the opportunities the next couple of years will bring for the Edinburgh league – and indeed, the whole of derby – are limited only by their ambitions. Auld Reekie, you are indeed so fine, and there’s a whole continent out there across the Atlantic whose minds you will soon be blowing.
I’m a bee. (I don’t mean I’m an overacting drama student running from side to side in a black-walled studio, fingers flapping up by my shoulders as I make unconvincing buzzing noises. No. I’m an actual real actual bee.) Oh yeah, I’m also invisible. My name’s Miriam. My mate’s called Buzz (his parents were well unimaginative). I don’t know what you’ve heard about invisible bees, but we’re a couple of the good guys. Today we were assigned to work in the heads of the duo announcing some roller skating contest in Scotland. It was supposed to be (or ‘bee’ – geddit!) a simple job. If it looked like they were running out of things to say, we’d buzz around a bit, stirring up the thought bobbles of the brain.
It probably would have been a simple job if not for Anthony. He’s an invisible bee too, but he works for the other side, he works for YouKnowWho. We couldn’t see him (he’s invisible, yeah) but we sensed he was around, and we soon worked out what his job for the day was. He was buzzing about at floor level, chewing on the black and yellow tape that marked out the skating area. Every time he chewed up a bit so much it frayed, some guys in stripy tops had to pause the match for a while. Our commentators couldn’t stop talking though. They had to fill up that gap in the action, which often ran to several minutes. That’s where me and Buzz came in.
Say something about the officials’ shirts, Buzz told his announcer… Make a joke about the kit check looking like a dance routine, I told mine… Talk about it being Auld Reekie’s last bout of the year… Mention the wire that runs under the track tape… Plug the craft and merch stands… Mention the cupcakes (mmm, cupcakes)… Shout “make some noise”… Both announcers did a damn good job filling the time with things we suggested, but all that buzzing about in their heads was terribly tiring for Buzz and I. Damn Anthony and his tape chewing ways.
We bumped into him at the cupcake stand at the end of the bout (heard, not saw him, at first, obviously) and he was very excited. Said he’d got a “really big job” that evening at a nearby pub. Him and seven other evil invisible bees. Wouldn’t tell us what the job was, of course, but we pity the intended victims. Poor souls.
AULD REEKIE ROLLER GIRLS
Best Jammer: Admiral Attackbar
Best Blocker: Crazylegs
MVP: Imperial Bint
BRIGHTON ROCKERS ROLLER DERBY
Best Jammer: Chariot Sophia
Best Blocker: Shambolic
MVP: The Mighty Mighty Bash
Skate out: Brighton Rockers
Bout: Auld Reekie
After party: Brighton Rockers
SKATE-FUL: DEPRAVED ‘PARTY’ SHOCKS ONLOOKERS
The Scottish Stun on Sunday investigates the murky world of ROLLER DERBY: This sinister new sport, devised by TATTOOED FEMINISTS and OTHER DEVIANTS, has really taken off in Scotland, with the country boasting the TOP TWO TEAMS in the recent UK RANKINGS TABLE.
Whilst this might be a source of NATIONAL PRIDE to some, those who have witnessed this ‘sport’ in the flesh might find it a source of NATIONAL SHAME. Women, some of whom hold down respectable professional jobs, VIOLENTLY KNOCK OTHER WOMEN TO THE GROUND in front of a BAYING AUDIENCE.
As sickening as this spectacle may sound, it doesn’t end there. This sport – which many have likened to A PAGAN CULT – has its own language and slang, deliberately designed to be indecipherable by outsiders, or ‘NORMS’ (normals) as they are known. Those who partake adopt SICK PSEUDONYMNS to hide their true identities from the authorities. When these ‘WOMEN’ talk about JAMMERS, BLOCKERS and ZEBRAS are they using their own slang terms for DRUGS, SPELLS and RITUAL SACRIFICE?
After a roller derby match (known, due to its high level of violence, as a ‘BOUT’) the players then hold a secretive ‘AFTER PARTY’. This newspaper infiltrated one such event in an Edinburgh public house over the weekend. Although several players from the local AULD REEKIE team were present, most of those involved were members of a team from BRIGHTON – a city well known to be the UK capital of SEXUAL DEVIANCE, SATANISM and VEGANS. In order to hide their affiliation to the roller derby cult, they had come dressed as tennis players, using said conventional sport by way of DEVIOUS DISGUISE.
Several onlookers, many of whom had innocently wandered in from a Hibernian football match, were REPULSED by what they saw. “There was this thing like a tennis ball, aye,” said Frankie McDonnell, 27, from Galoshes, “except it probably wasn’t, it was probably a MONKEY’S BRAIN or something. And these women were passing it between each other using only their NECKS, and they were LAUGHING about it. Well, they may get up to that sort of shenanigans in Brighton, but we’ll nae be havin’ it in Edinburgh, I’ll tell ye that.”
His friend Rabbie Wilson, 29, from Lochatherayre, added: “Then they did this thing with a coin, where they took turns placing it in their BUTTOCKS, waddling around like ducks then dropping it in a cup like they were doing a JOBBIE. A coin of the realm! That’s QUEEN ELIZABETH HERSELF they’re doing that to, as good as. I was fair disgusted.”
Wilson and McDonnell, until recently employed by a ‘private contractor’ in the Arthur’s Seat area and due to start work as ATOS advisers on Monday, then both started to yelp in pain and shout about being ‘stung’. We watched in horror (but didn’t help) as BIG RED WELTS started to spring up all over their ARMS and FACES. Then they both SCREAMED and raced for the door.
This newspaper is not one to leap to assumptions, yet what we just witnessed on those poor souls was clearly a PLAGUE OF LESIONS, a well known CURSE used over the centuries by WITCHES. A warning, no doubt, to any men who might criticise this new ‘sport’ and the secret and sinister culture that surrounds it. McDonnell and Wilson are surely just two more innocent victims of the menacing DARK WORLD of ROLLER DERBY, and the HELL-WOMEN who partake in it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
REPORTER: JACK HALIBUT-JONES
Auld Reekie Roller Girls 349 – Brighton Rockers Roller Derby 89
Photos by SCOTT CARROLL
BRIGHTON ROCKERS are next in action on November 23rd, when they take on Birmingham’s Central City Rollergirls in Haywards Heath.
On the same day, AULD REEKIE will be hosting one of their popular Edinburgh boot camps, with a few places still available.