Jim gets his skates on after four decades of ice management

FOR almost 50 years, users of the Border Ice Rink have glided, swept, looped, lutzed and salchowed over a magnificently smooth surface.

And for the last 40 of those Jim Keddie has been the man responsible for keeping it that way. This summer, however, the weel-kent manager will step down from his position at the venue that has become a “way of life” for the Kelso resident over those past four decades.

Now that he has taken that major decision, Jim, who turns 65 in July, is looking forward to spending his future time on the ice, trying to keep up with his grandchildren at the Sunday afternoon skating sessions.

He told TheSouthern: “I will probably feel a bit sad nearer the time, but at the moment I am quite happy. I feel like I have done my spell and am looking forward to my retirement.

“It was actually ice rink secretary Norma Wright (who also retires this year) that summed it up for me. She told me that I was able enough to keep going and I thought if that is the case I’m able enough to enjoy my retirement, too, so that endorsed my decision.”

The brainchild of local farmer Willie Wilson, Border Ice Rink was in the planning for a few years and was built and opened in 1964. The design was based on the Canadian style soft base ice pad (brine pipes bedded in loose gravel), which was effective and economical.

Borders curlers and skaters used to travel to Haymarket ice rink in Edinburgh and always dreamed of having their own ice in the Borders. Jim, originally from Earlston, was one of them. He recalled: “At that time skating was hugely popular among the young farmers and the Borders was just crying out for a rink of our own.”

Despite living on a farm himself, Jim opted to go and work for the local grocers on leaving school before having a spell at the shrinkers works in Galashiels.

He joined the team in 1973 and has never looked back since.

He saw the venue enjoy many years of service, but the passage of time took its toll and in 1997 major upgrading set the rink up for the new millennium, with a new insulated concrete floor under the ice and 10 years later the board decided to initiate a programme of upgrading of all facilities.

The management of the ice surface was, and still is, of top importance, and with this in mind there were moves to improve the quality of curling ice.

Jim was delighted when the changes came in. Pebbling is now done with warm de-ionised water to create a harder surface, while scraping of the ice, an art in itself, saw the rink invest in a new model Ice King cutting machine – the first of its kind in the UK. This was installed at the end of the 2008-09 season for training and is now the main unit in use daily by none other than Jim and assistant ice man Paul Thomson.

“The continuation of ice management is uppermost at Kelso and to this end they have acquired a second-hand ice cutting machine which maintains the thinner ice depth and results in better control of temperature and reduced energy consumption,” explained Jim.

“I have seen some major changes and developments at the rink since I first started, but the whole ethos is the same. To provide an excellent venue for both skaters and curlers and in my opinion we have achieved that and then some.”

The rink is approaching its 50th year of service, which brings with it the usual wear and tear and ongoing maintenance, but Jim is quite happy – well, almost – to let someone else step in.

“This place will always be part of my life and I will continue to pop in for a blether and to watch the curling as well as skating on a Sunday,” he added. “Everyone has their own way of doing things, though, and I will have to try not to comment.”