Some people like to curl up with a good book. Others prefer to book up for a good curl – and there’s no doubt which of these choices better suits Aberdeen couple Richard and Moira Morrison.
For the last 45 years, this duo have been in love with the Rolling Stones, deriving satisfaction from the sport which has burst into the spotlight again, following the success of Eve Muirhead and Bruce Mouat’s teams at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, where they picked up gold and silver respectively.
The Morrisons watched the action as it unfolded in China and applauded their compatriots’ achievements along with the rest of Scotland, but on most other days, you will find them on the ice, practicing their skills and enjoying the mix of competition and camaraderie which surrounds the roaring game.
They and their friends at Curl Aberdeen have another reason to feel positive this week – because their Granite City club is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary with a grand Bonspiel on Saturday March 5.
Queen Victoria was sitting on the throne and the inaugural Scotland v England rugby international was staged in Edinburgh at around the same time as the first curling match was played in Aberdeen over 150 years ago.
It was a world removed from modern sport, but while the club’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed, they have survived and thrived to the stage where the organisation is flourishing, as members return to the rink after the pandemic.
Curling proved an ideal ice-breaker
When Aberdeen Curling Club was originally formed in 1871 by members who played on the outskirts of the city at West Cults, the matches were held outdoors and were largely attended by professional gentlemen.
There’s one vivid report from the Press & Journal on January 6 1914, which testifies to the enthusiasm and fortitude of the participants in these contests.
It said: “The ice was in perfect condition for curling and skating and the weather was glorious. There is about four inches of natural ice on the pond and if the dry weather holds, curling should be splendid all this week.”
Nowadays, the club plays indoors at Curl Aberdeen on the Lang Stracht and welcomes players from all walks of life and all ages from eight to 80.
Covid has cast a cloud over their activities, as it has done in every other sphere of life since 2020, but the wonderfully-titled Sesquicentennial Bonspiel offers an opportunity for former and current members to resume their passion and recall memories from past decades and even the Victorian era.
And the Morrisons, as usual, will be in the forefront of the event, displaying the same effervescent attitude which explains why they are the beating heart of the club which has offered them countless enjoyment.
Having joined in 1977, Richard and Moira are the longest-serving members. The couple, then aged 22 and 21, and newly married, were encouraged into the game by Moira’s parents – who were themselves keen curlers – and that passing on of the torch is one of the most obvious features of this pursuit.
Richard, 67, recalled that the training he received in the early days was “basic” and entailed thirty minutes of being shown the ropes.
He said: “We used to pitch up just before a match and were told how to deliver the stones, what the different handles were, and how to sweep – and that was it.
“It took a few years to really get the hang of it. But anyone who joins us now would get full coaching lessons, so it is all very different.”
The couple’s two kids have also cast their stones at the club and Richard remembers a time when the whole family were able to curl together.
As he said: “There are very few sports where you can find three generations taking part. Our children didn’t need much encouragement to start playing – in fact, they really enjoyed it. And, at the other end of the age spectrum, curlers can now have a much longer playing span.
“After all, if your knees and joints begin to get creaky, you can still take part using a stick to deliver the stone, which saves you from bending down. “
The Morrisons relish the collegiate spirit at Curl Aberdeen and are also keen to point out how the sport brings people together from all over the globe.
And that was certainly apparent when the club toasted its centenary in 1971.
As the Press & Journal reported: “Pipe-Sgt James Christie of Aberdeen City Police Pipe Band, found himself surrounded by admirers today.
“For the tall kilted Scot was the only man at an all-woman event at Aberdeen Ice Rink in Spring Garden.
“He was there to give a really Scottish welcome to 20 females who were representing curling clubs in Canada and who are touring the country under the auspices of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.
A civic function was laid on
“Today, they met members of the Granite City Ladies Curling Club, the Aberdeen Ladies Curling Club and the Laurencekirk Ladies Curling Club.
“They were piped on to the ice to start matches against their north-east counterparts and the Canadian visitors, who move on to Aviemore tomorrow, are guests of honour at a civic reception laid on by the town council tonight.”
Moira shares her husband’s whole-hearted approach to booking rink sessions and performing at the club where she has spent countless hours.
She said: “Both my mum and, particularly, my dad were really keen curlers and my older sister also designed our club badge for our 100th anniversary.
“It was only a matter of time before we got roped in and 40-plus years later, we are still enjoying it. Our club games are keenly contested but always friendly, in the spirit of curling, with great on-ice banter and post-game drink with the opposition which for us is what curling is all about.
“We have so many great memories of Aberdeen Curling Club that it’s difficult to pinpoint one, but in recent years, there was our eight-ender [which is the curling equivalent of a hole in one in golf] when we were playing in the same team in 2019, and it involved a big dollop of luck to score eight.”
The pair are hoping that the Olympic exploits of Muirhead and Mouat will persuade youngsters to try their hand and pop through the club doors.
They told me: “Interest already seems to have taken off, following the terrific success of Eve and Bruce‘s teams. There will be local clubs across the country who are ready to welcome those who want to get a bit more involved after trying it and that definitely includes Aberdeen Curling Club.
“For the youngsters, there is a really good junior club to join at Curl Aberdeen and remember that Eve and Bruce both started at their local rinks.”
These words were echoed by club president, James Florance, who is determined to spread the message that the sport is very much open to all.
He said: “We have a good core of members and to get to 150 years with healthy membership is quite an achievement.
“We are always open to accepting new players – and can offer beginner coaching sessions. Come along and give it a go.”