Sometimes, life gives you lemons. Other times, you get a steel-toed boot to the tuchus. I spent this past week in the Caribbean paradise of Barbados, which was neither of these things. Indeed, it was more like life had taken those lemons, mixed a fine rum punch with them, and then given it to Rihanna to serve wearing only those boots.
Barbados gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966, but the vestiges of that link are everywhere, hanging about like old teabags. Most telling, though, is the sheer volume of British tourists on the island. Over fried fish and Banks beer on a Friday night at Oistins, a weekend food-market-cum-party-spot, I met a British fellow named Julien. As the beers flowed and the fish fried, I came to learn that Julien is a hockey player from Stratford-upon-Avon. I also came to learn that “hockey” means something very different across the pond.
Julien was kind (read: drunk) enough to let me interview him for this article, to help delineate the difference between “that Yankee ice drivel” and the sport we Americans call field hockey. What follows is our conversation, as best as I can make out from the slurred and multi-accented sounds on my recorder.
Crooked Scoreboard: So tell me, which one is “hockey?”
Julien: It’s the one that you don’t need knives on your feet to perform. Do you know how idiotic and dangerous that is?
Crooked Scoreboard: Some people think that’s part of the allure.
Julien: Well you’ve also got a lot of guns, haven’t you? You should sense a trend when you see one.
Crooked Scoreboard: Fair enough, though wildly unpatriotic. In the States, field hockey…
Crooked Scoreboard: Right, “hockey.” It’s played mostly by women at the youth level. Is it popular among men in England?
Julien: Yeah, it is. Football, rugby, and cricket are bigger, but it’s probably hockey after that.
Crooked Scoreboard: I watched hockey during the Rio Olympics, and some of the rules confused me a bit. Penalty shots, for example, are much different than ice hockey.
Julien: Oh, they’re wicked. You’ve got a penalty out, and a penalty flick. Penalty outs are like corner kicks in football, except the rest of the team’s got to wait outside the … [to his wife] … what is it, 16-yard box? Eighteen, maybe. It’s a set piece. Penalty flicks are just like penalty kicks. Hey! Flicks, kicks. They rhyme.
Crooked Scoreboard: I noticed.
Julien: Right. Penalty flicks are rippers. Just a shooter and a keeper. Primal.
Crooked Scoreboard: Who has the better odds on a penalty flick, the keeper or the shooter?
Julien: Oh, definitely the shooter. You’ve got to be a clod to miss, really.
Crooked Scoreboard: In ice hockey, I’d reckon the odds are about 50-50. The keepers—goalies, we call them—wear such big pads, and the net is so small, that they’ve got about an even chance.
Julien: Why they wear such big pads, then?
Crooked Scoreboard: To protect themselves, I’d imagine.
Julien: Oh, that’s bollocks. Where’s the fun? Where’s the sense of adventure?
Crooked Scoreboard: Well, what sort of pads do you wear to play hockey?
Julien: [literally bites off a piece of fish and wraps it around his front teeth] Gum guard, mate.
Crooked Scoreboard: That’s it, nothing else?
Julien: Official rules say you’ve got to wear these goggle-type things and padded gloves, but nobody touches the stuff. [proudly] At least, I don’t.
Crooked Scoreboard: In ice hockey, we wear leg pads, shoulder pads, a girdle …
Julien: [incredulous] A girdle??
Crooked Scoreboard: Yeah, like a padded butt … pad.
Julien: That’s proper fashionable, isn’t it?
Crooked Scoreboard: Function, not form. We also wear gloves, elbow pads, and helmets. I wear a full face cage, too.
Julien: What, you protecting a work of art of something?
Crooked Scoreboard: You tell me.
Julien: I wouldn’t bet on it, mate. That’s the thing with you Americans: it’s always pads, pads, pads. And guns. Guns, too. But pads. What’s wrong with rugby that it needed a billion pads?
Crooked Scoreboard: You’re talking about American football?
Julien: Cracking right. It’s rugby, only watered down and cowardly. [spits] Fucking Tom Brady.
Crooked Scoreboard: Have you ever played ice hockey?
Julien: Hell, no! You mad?
Crooked Scoreboard: Right, no, sure. We’re the pansies.
Julien: There’s a difference between brave and mad, mate. Ice hockey’s something Kim Jong Un makes his political prisoners play in lieu of the firing squad.
Crooked Scoreboard: Have you heard of any professional ice hockey players?
Julien: That bloke Over-something.
Crooked Scoreboard: Ovechkin? Alexander Ovechkin?
Julien: Yeah, that’s it. Big Russian son of a bitch.
Crooked Scoreboard: That’s right. What do you think of him?
Julien: I think he’s your argument right there for wearing a face cage.
Crooked Scoreboard: Is there any part of ice hockey you like?
Julien: I do like how mental it is. All the hits, and the scrums along the edges. Oh, and the fights! Wait, is that real? Does that really happen or is it just something on TV?
Crooked Scoreboard: No, they’re real. They happen pretty often. In fact, there’s a stat for it, and it’s only a five-minute penalty.
Julien: They don’t get ejected?
Crooked Scoreboard: Not at all.
Julien: Well then I like that too, then.
Crooked Scoreboard: Do you have any final words for an American audience? Maybe on the merits of one form of hockey versus another?
Julien: [puffs himself up dramatically] Listen, Americans. We’re not so different, you and I. Us and we, I mean. We’ve got a lot of things in common, like music, and art, and Keira Knightley. We’re not still mad about the tea thing, though it was an awful lot of perfectly good tea you went and nozzed. But as for hockey, you should really give it a go. If the idea of sliding about on ice skates and breaking your arse doesn’t sound appealing, why not hockey? You’ve got your stick, and your ball, and your mates, and that’s all you need, then, isn’t it? It’s easier than ice hockey—it’s got to be. Go find a pitch and play some hockey and you tell me if it isn’t a blast.
Jason Rogers writes about hockey frequently and travels to Barbados occasionally. You should follow him on Twitter.