On ski-lifts and snowboarders

In an idle moment today, I found myself wistfully remembering the ski-lifts at Méribel. I love sliding up a mountain on a chairlift. It’s so quiet and peaceful, at least it is when you’re not sitting beside a Haxton, and you can just drink in the beauty and wonder of the snow-covered mountains. The ascent of a mountain on a chairlift being a somewhat longer and more controlled experience than the descent, it also gives you time to ruminate and cogitate on (and possibly even discuss, should you be blessed with suitably-erudite liftmates) some of life’s mysteries. I would warrant that Hutchison could compose an entire Monologue on the way up the Golf chairlift from Méribel Village, it being longer and slower than most. On one journey I engaged DC in a discussion on the significance of the Transfiguration, although we didn’t get very far. My memory isn’t infallible, but I suspect Tim might have interrupted with a comment about his hair or other matters relating to his personal grooming.

Tim, you see, is a snowboarder. Snowboarders are very concerned with their personal image and ‘looking cool’. That is why they use snowboards rather than skis. Being a close relative of the skateboard, the snowboard entitles them to ooze attitude and appear hip and laid back. In reality it entitles them to spend a lot of the time laid back on their butt. Sometimes this is after a fall. Falls by snowboarders are always attributed to [choose your own expletive here] skiers, or moguls created by skiers, or bad snow conditions (caused by skiers scraping all the good snow off). In addition, boarders, being strapped onto their board, can only look in one direction, and so tend to swing blindly out into the path of skiers hurtling downhill behind them.

*&!%£* skiers.

However, all of these on-piste skiing offences pale into comparison with what a boarder has to put up with in getting back up the mountain. Ski-lifts, you see, were designed with skiers in mind, as no-one had the foresight to design a lift which perfectly suited someone with a large plank of wood strapped to their feet. *&!%£* ski-lift designers. Chairlifts are bearable for our mono-planked friends, but button lifts and T-bars are horrible. They must twist themselves into all sorts of contortions in order to be hauled back up the hill safely by either of these contraptions. I know a thing or two about twisting oneself into contortions on a T-bar myself, and I’m a skier.

Once off the lift, boarders spend a bit more time on their butt, sometimes because they’ve crashed into a *&!%£* skier coming off the lift, but mainly because they need to strap their board back on. Five minutes later they’re strapped in and ready to ooze cool on their way down the mountain. But more about those T-bar contortions, and less about oozing cool. Three years ago, in Switzerland, I encountered my first T-bar, and not a lot of cool was oozed.


For those of you unfamiliar with these monsters, study the pic on the left. Try and pretend there’s some snow in the picture. The idea is that you and a skiing mate catch one of these as it swings round the bottom terminal, and get the branches of the ‘T’ behind your butts. The thing then hauls you up the mountain. Unfortunately, on this, my first attempt at using a T-bar, I had to go solo, as there was an odd number of us skiers in our group. This proved hilariously disastrous. Having a skier (ie me) on only one side of the ‘T’ meant that the thing was forever pulling itself out from behind you. From behind me, in fact. After a number of false starts, I finally got moving, only for the whole lift to grind to a halt after a few hundred yards. Looking back, I saw that my friend Esther, whose own trials and tribulations on ski-lifts should be available in paperback before long, was having similar troubles, despite having a partner on the lift. So the lift operator had stopped the lift and was giving her some instruction. This gave me some time to think – not always a good thing. I realised that my solo T-bar trip up the mountain (and it was quite a long one) would be significantly easier if I straddled the T-bar, thus putting an even weight distribution on either side of the central pulling-bit. Doing this manoeuvre while the lift was in motion would have been impossible, but now that it was stopped for a bit, I put my plan in action. Soon the lift started up again and I headed off, now in relative comfort.

As I got nearer the top, the flaw in my plan, in a cruel, belated kind of way, made itself apparent. Extricating myself from the T-bar, while in motion, was going to be a problem. I realised I needed to twist it until the ‘T’ was vertical and then pass it through my legs without doing myself a serious and humiliating injury. Unfortunately the top of the lift arrived rather suddenly – I crested a rise to see a short flat area for ‘disembarkation’. It was here, and in full view of Tim and some other boarding friends, that I picked up the most unwelcome speed, tried in an ungainly fashion to carry out the ‘Quinny Manoeuvre’ while still holding onto my ski poles, failed to twist the T-bar far enough, crashed to the ground losing a ski in the process, and got dragged along towards a precipice before something finally went right (I do believe my heavenly Father intervened at this point) – the T-bar somehow detaching itself from my clumsy embrace and springing skywards. Only then did the lift operator see fit to stop the lift, seeing as how I was causing an obstruction to other users’ ‘disembarkation’. As was my lost ski, a few yards further back. Inconceivably, Tim and his mates found all this highly entertaining.

*&!%£* snowboarders.

The Day of Reckoning

I promised Jen (and her associates) that there would be a day of reckoning. And there was. Very early on Friday morning, Jen, thinking she’d heard a cat miaowing at the end of her bed, sat bolt upright in bed and clutched her covers to her. She had heard a cat. Earlier in the evening I had sneaked my Airport Express and a small set of portable speakers into her room. At shortly after 1.30am I sent the miaowing cat, and just as she was on the verge of waking up the Haxtonmeister to come and do something about it, I followed it up with a sheep baaing and a cow mooing. At this point, two rooms away, I was also clutching my duvet – to my face to prevent myself losing it. In Room 4 meantime, all attempts to remain quiet had been thrown to the wind. Just before the farmyard arrived in her room, Jen, having lain down to sleep and felt things were not quite right, had discovered DC’s copy of the Times spread carefully underneath her bedsheet like some sort of incontinence sheet for the cognoscenti. Added to the sudden disappearance of four of us earlier in the evening, and subsequent very sudden reappearance outside the front door as she came through it, I think the poor girl was beginning to think we had it in for her. Which we did, obviously.

Friday was the perfect last day. Thursday’s heavy snow and poor visibility had given way to bright blue skies, sunshine and groomed pistes. It was a glorious way to end the week. Phyllida, Tim, Colin and I headed over to Val Thorens, where Mr Haxton left us to return to collect young James, and the three of us skied down to Les Meniuères for lunch. Mandy should have been with us, but had been somewhat thwarted by a lack of ski pass, having taken it out of her ski jacket the night before, for reasons still unclear. So after a couple of blue runs, we headed up to the top of Mont de la Chambre, where Mandy was to meet us.

On the second of these blue runs, Tim and I crested a rise at speed, only to discover a French Ski School for kiddies winding its way gently across the slope. Tim veered left and carved safely through the line of kids, whereas I held my line down the right hand side of the piste, thinking I would straight-line it just inside the piste marker. However, the kiddies’ ski instructor, bless ‘im, decided to ski right out to the edge of the piste before making a turn. I had only time for one thought. Children. They’re the future, and the only future we’ve got. So I veered right and flew headlong, Superman-like, into the powder off the piste. I trust the little tykes appreciated the sacrifices I made – my dignity, and the chance to beat Tim and Phyllida to the bottom.

This was not my only Superman impression of the week. On Wednesday, after I had negotiated almost an entire day without falling (save for one unmentionable incident when Haxton clipped my skis and sent me shooting down a red run on my back), I skied down a short section of green run (yep, green = easy), attempted to stop beside the rest of the crew, managed to plant my skis into some snow and fly over the front of them. Sadly this proved too much excitement for my poor camera to withstand, and I subsequently discovered it in 2 distinct pieces in my pocket. To compound its misery, I had left my pocket unzipped and it was covered in snow. A sad and damp end for a hitherto useful and trusty friend. Remembering to zip one’s pockets up before descending a slope is imperative. With my brand new ski jacket, this was not straightforward. It has pockets all over the place, perfectly-sized for all of life’s skiing necessities – ski pass, mobile phone, sunglasses, Twix.

Having managed to convince Mandy via 2-way radio on the way up the chairlift that she’d come up the wrong mountain, we arrived at the summit just in time to stop her skiing off to find us. Oh, how we laughed.

Skiing back towards Méribel, we collected the senior Haxtons and DC halfway down the mountain, and had a great final run back. Mandy led me astray into a section of off piste so deep that my poles kept disappearing from view.

There was just time to dump Kirsty headfirst into a snowdrift one last time, stop off for one last £4 Coke, and then we headed back to the chalet.

So, it’s goodbye to Méribel. Tim and James, who got along famously, will have to hold off their hair-spiking discussions for a bit. I think Tim appreciated having someone else to talk to with a similar perspective on the world. Both of them see things from a little, um, lower than most of us.

On Wednesday evening we all went out for dinner to a suitably-overpriced local eatery. James found the dining experience much more fun from outside, where he went at regular intervals to knock on the window and wave at us. His mum Morag, fresh from finishing her book ‘Politically Correct Parenting in the 21st Century’, slapped the window with her napkin and called out loudly “Oh, away back to the orphanage!”. The folk at the tables near us weren’t sure exactly what to make of this.

Now back in Edinburgh, and I’m finding it colder here than I did on my return from Australia last month. Work that one out. It could be something to do with being dog-tired. Fell asleep for the entire second half of Scotland v Wales this afternoon. Missing Méribel and all the laughs already. Hope you enjoyed the posts from DC and myself, and the photos (click on ‘Other photos’ on the RHS).

Hope to hear from you all soon…

The jacket, the prank and the wardrobe

(A modern day morality tale)

[apologies for the delay in posting this, and also more photos… wasn’t easy getting access to wifi in Méribel. This one from DC again]

The pranks in Meribel continue unabated, and to rebound on their perpetrator with uncanny regularity. Wednesday was our hosts’ day off, and so we had to repair to a local restaurant. It seemed that during our meal the French version of Pickfords (le Pickfords) had paid us a visit. Somehow, the wardrobes in the guys’ bedrooms had managed to turn themselves around, so that the doors were facing the wall, rendering their use somewhat difficult.

There were the usual denials and protestations of innocence. However, the track record of the occupants of the chalet meant that identification of the guilty party(ies) did not require us to call out the local gendarmes.

Shortly later, Nasty Jen decided it was time to go out and hit the local nitespots, as I believe the word is currently (mis)spelt. Jen was hopeful of bumping into her ski instructor, who apparently was not only French, but also “hot”. As looking trendy is of prime importance in Meribel, the pink jacket was obviously the item of attire of choice. Jen was most distressed to be unable to find said jacket. However, it was suggested to her that turning one of the wardrobes back round and opening the door might yield up the jacket, which had managed to find its way there during an unguarded moment.

We attempted to explain to Jen the concept of putting right the wrongs that one had perpetrated, but it fell on deaf ears.

Jen looked forlorn and protested that lack of strength would preclude her from executing this operation. And her partners in crime seemed reluctant to pitch in again in the furniture shifting operation. One moving of wardrobes was obviously all that had been included in the original agreement.

So Jen had to hit Meribel in her white ski jacket. She returned later in the evening bemoaning the fact that, on arriving on the dance floor, she had “lit up” as she put it when the disco lights did their stuff and illuminated the white ski jacket. Apparently this was not the desired look and had reduced her standing in the coolness stakes. Perhaps it was just as well that she didn’t bump into her ski instructor.

Such embarrassment on the fashion front could have been wholly avoided had the original crime been put right, but Jen chose not to. A lesson, for us all I feel.

Today, we had planned the mother of all ski expeditions to take us to Val Thorens, the highest ski location in Europe. However, the blizzard conditions which developed during the morning meant that this was likely to be as successful as one of Jen’s pranks. So we opted for skiing and intermittent snow shenanigans.

This yielded several highlights. While waiting to get on a chairlift, Mandy decided it would be a good idea to try to rugby tackle Andrew. Her first attempt nearly resulted in taking out an unsuspecting skier, who did not find this amusing. To digress briefly, it seems that we are the only people in the village who actually have a laugh while skiing. We are obviously not taking it seriously enough.

Mandy’s second attempt was no more successful. Despite being on skis, Andrew was able to sidestep Mandy’s dive in a manner of which David Campese would have approved. This resulted in Mandy’s going headfirst into the snow, much to everyone’s amusement. It also meant that Andrew had the unusual experience of having women throwing themselves at his feet. Any port in a storm, as he has been known to say.

At the end of the day, there was a mass snowball fight. This is possibly not the most accurate term, as the main conflict involved the girls trying to shove snow in the guys’ faces. This mismatch again rebounded on the ladies, and saw most of them being subjected to snow down the back of their necks. There are several incriminating photographs of this, which Andrew may well post on the blog at some point.

The final say goes to Morag eliciting the “s” word from Andrew, that word being “sorry”. Andrew was convinced that he could reduce the number of lifts we would have had to take on the planned mammoth ski trip. After much deliberation and calculation, Andrew had to concede that he was wrong and Morag had been right. This was the source of much amusement for Morag and deep contrition for Andrew. If Jen had shown a similar level of contrition the evening before then Meribel’s discos might have been able to experience the full glory of the pink jacket.

Méribel, Day 3

Three days on the slopes, and the minor injuries count is rising. And that’s just in the chalet, where Tim and myself have been the targets of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation and abuse. It began with the relatively harmless removal of the lightbulb from my bedside lamp on the second evening, and is now threatening to escalate into full scale inter-room guerilla warfare. On discovering my missing lightbulb, I immediately suspected foul play from Room 4, which accommodates Nasty Jen and Broon. I was correct, although it transpires that Jen, on discovering a non-functional lamp in her room, and not completely familiar with the inner technical workings of a bedside lamp, swapped the whole thing for mine rather than simply stealing my bulb. And given that I, on discovering my own newly non-functional lamp, immediately stole her lightbulb (which was in fact mine, of course), she was mightily perplexed that evening when her light still didn’t work.

Anyway, as I say, hostilities have escalated with last night’s disappearance of my duvet from its cover, and tonight’s sewing up of one of my t-shirt sleeves. The blame for all of these atrocities can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of Room 4. However, this very evening, having brushed past a rather static and ineffective sentry at the top of the stairs, I entered my room to discover a newly enlisted member of the enemy forces leaving our ensuite with a rather culpable look on her face and a box of clingfilm badly concealed behind her back. One could be forgiven for expecting a more mature approach from one of the, erm, more senior members of the party. Particularly when they are married to one of our church elders.

It would be fair to say that retribution is on the cards, will be effective, and will continue until the culprits are thoroughly chastised, it all ends in tears or it puts someone’s eye out. That’s the way these things inevitably go.

Although, as more details have come to light, it’s conceivable that more fun could be had by foregoing revenge and allowing them to continue the pranks. To compound the disappointment of the failed clingfilm episode, in a bad case of mistaken-pyjama-identity, Jen’s bumbling accomplices managed to stitch up her longjohns rather than my t-shirt. Quite how they mixed up the two articles remains a mystery but still a source of amusement.

As for the skiing, that’s all going well, with the exception of the Sunday morning, which nearly did end in tears. Your correspondent’s skiing skills were found to be wanting in the areas of stopping and turning, and staying upright. I discovered that sliding into the back of someone’s knees at high speed sends them up in the air in quite a spectacular fashion. I’m very glad Phyllida wears a helmet.

Since then, things have improved somewhat, and skiing-related injuries, at least for me, have been confined to a few muscle strains in the upper arms, and one somewhere in the left buttock. Poor Jody has not fared so well, with some sort of arm injury, and DC’s shins have a bruised and battered aspect. Perhaps that’s why he felt the need to depart for the slopes wearing my ski boots this morning, or perhaps he’s joined in the thieving of my possessions.

This morning began, at 5am, with Tim announcing that he hadn’t been able to get much sleep, and thought he had pee under his bed. I remarked that if there was pee under his bed then it surely was his, as I had restricted my peeing to the bathroom, as per the normal convention. It then became clear that he meant ‘pea’ rather than ‘pee’, which, if he was unable to sleep, confirms his status as a princess.

Tonight we undertook an excursion to the local ice rink to watch ice hockey. It was a junior game between Norway and Austria. One of the features of ice hockey, as I’m sure you’re aware, is the habit of playing little jingles whenever there’s a slight break in the action. Presumably this was designed to accommodate the short attention span of your average N American sports fan. Anyway, the tune aired when a goal was scored tonight was Gary Glitter’s “Rock n roll pt 1”. The locals, and any other tourists that had wandered in, were a little bemused to hear a section of the crowd singing “Nasty Je-n, Oh!, Nasty Jen…” at these times. How many people have had their names chanted in a small-time ice hockey stadium?

Finally Wiseman. Despite not being able to make the trip, he has been in our thoughts, not to mention our bags, on our tables, on the slopes, and in our daily slideshows regardless. See the photo page for illumination.

Well, it’s late, even Haxton has clearly fallen asleep, as the strains of his tenor snores are filtering through from next door. Time to rest some of those aching muscles and dream up some revenge plans…

These boots aren’t made for walking

Ok folks, here it is, DC’s debut 🙂

It’s the second full day of Meribel 2007 and again the sun has split the skies and temperatures have reached an unseasonable level of warmth. Our ski instructor this morning told us that it was a whole lot more difficult for tall people to successfully complete a parallel turn, due to our higher centre of gravity. This was quite reassuring, as thus far I had assumed my difficulties were down to incompetence. However, it seems that small people have come up with something else at which it pays to be shorter in stature (other examples being buying clothes and travelling on aeroplanes). Perhaps it’s their revenge for basketball.

Trying to go anywhere in ski boots, unless you also have skis attached, is somewhat difficult. Even with the skis attached success is not guaranteed. A number of us have discovered this to our cost. Andrew’s friend Tim decided to take us down part of a black run, which then led into reds and blues. He had built up to this in his thought for the day this morning. His main point seemed to be that choosing to attempt a black run rather than a blue was akin to Israel crossing the Jordan, whereas to make the reverse choice was on a par with Jonah fleeing from the Lord when called to preach to Nineveh. With these words of encouragement ringing in our ears, we duly embarked on the black run. Now on the basis that what happens on holiday stays on holiday, names will be omitted to protect reputations. But suffice it to say that one member of the party took a most spectacular tumble, went down on their back with one leg in the air and came to a halt about 20 yards further down the mountain. This provoked shrieks of laughter from Mandy and the aforementioned Tim. How to react to another’s misfortune will presumably be covered in a thought for the day later in the week.

Mention must be made of our superb hosts, Paul & Emily. Each evening they have provided us with a magnificent 3 course dinner, and then they return 12 hours later to provide further nourishment to sustain us for a day on the slopes. Judging by the quantity provided, they must think that we haven’t seen food for weeks. And they obviously don’t realise that we actually spend half the day in cafes engaged in further eating, drinking and general frivolity. Rather than working on our thighs and calves for the past couple of months, we should have spent the time developing our jaws and digestive systems. They have certainly been required to gird their loins and earn their crust over the past 3 days, and I get the feeling this has just been the warm up.

For anyone who is actually interested in the skiing conditions the snow has been pretty good, although getting a bit slushy further down and the usual ice later in the afternoon. There is some snow forecast for overnight into tomorrow, and this will be most welcome, as it will give us something softer to fall into. I sustained a bit of a bruise on the old right hip on the last run of the day, falling on to some none too receptive ice. It’s at times like these that one’s lack of adequate padding in these regions is most noticeable. Perhaps that’s the real reason why Paul & Emily have been feeding us so well all week.

It’s time to turn in, so I will conclude my first entry as guest blogger. The DVD of “War of the worlds” is playing and this seems to have had the effect of dispersing everyone to their beds or another part of the chalet. As far as I can make out, it’s about Tom Cruise battling to save civilisation (or at least the US version) from invading aliens. My gut reaction is that he will succeed but I don’t have the stamina or inclination to find out. Tomorrow is another day on the slopes, and I really need all my energy and concentration for that. So I bid you good night, in whatever part of the world you might be reading.


On the road to Meribel




And it was against Australia as well! Took their time about it, and Australia probably weren’t that interested, having already qualified… but one has to grasp at whatever straws one can see at times like this.

Now en route to Méribel. Left home at 3.20am this morning, only narrowly remembering to draw back my curtains before I left. A more important action than you might think, my mother being due back in town on Tuesday. Mum takes the status of my curtains very seriously, and has been known to text my sister in London with the current state of play. However for the past week their degree of closure has gone unreported, as my parents have been down in London with said sister, celebrating the birth of little Margaret Lily, born on 20 January. I immediately christened her Orange Lily, without even knowing she was jaundiced. Orange Lily is a reference I know Broon will get, but perhaps not many others. Perhaps best to leave it there. Anyway, orange, or indeed Orange, or not, all of us in the family are delighted to have a daughter/granddaughter/niece.

The flight from Edinburgh to Geneva was more eventful than all of my solo travelling put together. Ruth, in 33A, turned, alarmed, to Jen (33B) after 10 minutes, wondering why there was a light ‘following us’ off to the left. Jen was more interested in her bottle of Baileys, recently purchased from duty free. Just as Phyllida (32A) turned round, seeking a partner for a game of battleships, we established it was the light on the wing. Mandy, in 32B, had been bouncing up and down in her seat, bored, since the five minute mark. Meanwhile Broon, directly in front in 32C, was quietly munching on a chocolate bar, and Jody was on another planet across the way in 33D, alternating between ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design’ and his Gameboy.

DC was in another section altogether, having smiled sweetly at the chunky bloke on the checkin desk, and thus securing himself an ‘upgrade’ to an emergency exit seat way off in the distance. He must have been gutted to miss the chat on ladies’ toilet protocol, in particular the ‘lining’ vs ‘hovering’ debate, that was going on to my left. No doubt he was concentrating on getting his breakfast items in the right order, which is important to the boy.

Once we had retrieved DC’s oversized, overweight (is he a girlie in disguise?) suitcase from the carousel, we piled on to the coach and on towards Méribel, where no doubt more entertainment awaits. I am now in possession of a list of wi-fi hotspots (some of them free, woohoo!) in Méribel, and my trusty PowerBook. I find the whole travelling experience much more comforting with it near at hand. It’s reassuring to know there’s always a spreadsheet nearby if you need one.

And it’s nice to blog again. DC will be blogging for your enjoyment before too long. Sorry that it’s not Wiseman this time, anon, but perhaps soon. I don’t like to disappoint his Fan Club. And you N Americans can be very impatient. Impatient AND very forward…