Curry and corn on the cob

On my final night in France, Tahar took me to what he described as the best Indian restaurant in Chambéry, which turned out to be a Pakistani Halal outfit, but who’s going to quibble over such small details (apart from Indians and Pakistanis, obviously).

There were a total of four of us in the restaurant. Me, Tahar, a solitary French diner, and the proprietor. “You like cricket?” I asked him, to which he replied with a stream of Pakistani-accented French, from which I picked up that he had watched cricket every day while growing up in Pakistan, but in France all they show is “le foot, le foot, le foot!”. After yet another smoking break involving Tahar and the other diner (the restaurateur took his smoking breaks separately) they returned to the obligatory coffee. I declined. “The French – they drink a lot of coffee, right throughout the day,” I commented in my best GCSE French. “They drink a lot, they smoke a lot…”

This tickled our friend at the other table. The scene reminded me vaguely of Desmond’s, with Porkpie chuckling away in the corner.  “And in England, you drink tea instead.” I explained that I didn’t live in England, and I much preferred coffee, but at 10pm? I would never sleep. Doesn’t seem to be a problem that’s occurred to the French.

In an intriguing mix of our native languages, with much hand-waving and the odd break for a cigarette, the three of us discussed any number of topics, including family, DC’s situation, religion, the deterioration of educational and healthcare standards in France and the UK, French food (not as good as it used to be), Sarkozy (he’s an idiot), Muslim fundamentalism. It was quite a night.

I am in Sheffield as I write this – at a conference for the next couple of days. Had my first experience of Nando’s Peri-Peri chicken tonight. iColin and I opted for a corn-on-the-cob accompaniment. Corn-on-the-cob is great for getting your teeth into, I find, and it returns the favour by getting right into your teeth. Will be picking sweetcorn out for days, I expect.

DC was eventually repatriated to Scotland on Saturday, after a false start or two (try and avoid MapFre if you can when choosing travel insurance), and is recovering gradually in an Edinburgh hospital. I saw him this morning before I headed south. He seemed in good form, albeit dog-tired from lack of sleep. Not a good place for light sleepers, hospital. I brought him some earplugs.

Chambéry, Wednesday

Hannibal wuz ere

Yet another sunny day in Chambéry. The air was crisp and cold as I walked into town and found a café. I have learned some important skills on this trip to France. The French for “what is the password for your wi-fi?” for example, and the word for doughnut. Both have come in very useful.

Yesterday was the third full day I have spent in this town in the last 2 weeks, but the first where everything was open. Everything shuts down on a Monday, it would seem. Encouraged by places actually being open for business, I explored a bit more of the town, and it’s a great little place. Lots of old winding streets, Savoyard architecture and the odd castle and cathedral popping up when you least expect it.

A lovely thing about being in Chambéry is that, contrary to one’s typical experience of a French ski resort, it feels like being in authentic France, among the French. An American girl walked past me on Monday night, talking to her friend in English (or what passes for it among the North Americans), but the only British voice I’ve heard (apart from DC, of course) is from some relatives of the guy in the adjoining hospital room – who suffered an accident in Tignes a few days after him.

DC continues to make good progress in his recovery. The  highlights so far have included his reaction to my informing him I’d brought him the Guardian and Observer for reading material, and a purple patch yesterday morning when his humour was in full flow. A male student nurse called Tahar, pronounced ‘Tar’, at least by me, had a few questions for DC, which the big man attempted to answer, not always in the most helpful way imaginable. Replying to the question “Have you any children?” he replied “No.” before adding “Apart from the people I used to live with.” I convulsed. Tahar just looked bemused.

Tahar went on to explain that his name was Algerian in origin, and that his mother is French but his father Algerian, which provoked a robust comment from DC, which, while not especially racist in the great scheme of things, invoked a certain favourite French stereotype of his, involving surrender. I daresay Tahar, had he understood the comment, might have found it a change to have the French side of his family targeted by a racial slur…

It’s just after 11am here. Visiting starts at 12. Time for another coffee, I reckon.

Chambéry bis

Back again.. the opportunity having arisen to come back for a few days to spend time with DC, and my employer having been kind enough to permit it.

Back in the same hotel. It’s a different room, but they’re all identical, so it feels rather familiar. This time, though, there is no Wiseman to bicker with about who uses which coat hooks, I get the double bed, and there is no-one snoring up in the top bunk.

Flew into Geneva at 6.20pm today, and had to wait for the 8pm bus. Found a food vendor. Swiss sausage rolls, it turns out, are none too shabby, although not really a patch on Greggs. There were no chicken and bacon lattices, fudge doughnuts or yumyums either. The bus left at 8.02pm. Felt slightly let down by such a flagrant lack of efficiency in Switzerland.

Arrived at the bus station in Chambéry just after 9.  So many memories came flooding back – the anxious taxi journey exactly 2 weeks ago.. the hospital waiting room, the trudge to the hotel through darkened Chambéry streets.

These are happier times. Val and John, who have been with DC for the last few days, kindly delayed eating until my arrival, and we caught up over dinner. The big man continues to make good progress. Looking forward to chatting with him tomorrow.

A return to form

I have it on good authority from my reporter in Chambéry that DC is making a good recovery.  This is evidenced by his increasing irritation with the lack of food coming his way. having to make do instead with water and some stuff coming down a tube stuck unceremoniously in his nose.  There is unlikely to be a more resounding demonstration of DC’s possession of his faculties than hearing him complain about lack of food, or delayed food, or food arriving in the wrong order.

This has helped raised the spirits of those of us now back in Edinburgh, already buoyed by being reunited with our luggage a day or two late.  Wiseman, having already had to make an emergency pants-buying trip in Chambéry, on a day when the only shop open was an expensive department store, was staring the bleak prospect of a second underwear-acquiring expedition in the face, when everyone’s luggage arrived.

I must say, having travelled back from France with my rucksack, ski-boot bag, skis, DC’s rucksack and DC’s boot bag, having them delivered to my door was a good option, one day late or not.

Feels odd to be back in Edinburgh when there is what feels like unfinished business back in France.  However, DC has even more people out there looking after him now, and is looking at a return to the UK soon, hopefully.

Thank you to all who sent messages, and especially to those who prayed.

Les Menuires, Thursday

Lynne, Mark and I went back on the slopes for a few hours yesterday afternoon.  Mandy joined us as we went out this morning, and headed up to Val Thorens.  After a couple of runs up there we headed over to the Orelle valley, and made our way up two slow chairlifts to the top of the Pointe du Bouchet. The lift station there is at 3230m, and is the highest accessible point in the 3 Valleys.  The day was clear and bright again, with only some high level cloud, and the views were outstanding.

However, DC’s absence from our group meant the pleasure of such a gorgeous view was diminished, and the carefree joy usually experienced while skiing was missing. Our mood wasn’t lightened by the sight of a helicopter taking off from the side of the piste during a run late in the day.  We stood and watched, no-one spoke.  Then we pointed our skis down the slope and headed down to the bar where Mark was waiting with a canine acquaintance, name unknown.

Sleep hasn’t been coming easy. All of us have done our bit to lighten the mood and keep the spirits high, but it’s been an uphill battle at times. I think the tunes on my laptop have been cheering everybody up, because of their largely “shiny happy” nature. And Wiseman and I have been growing goatees, for no apparent reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time. Mine is.. there’s no good way to put this.. more ginger than his, although it does include a grey component, which lends it a certain gravitas.  Which I feel his is missing.  Not that it’s a competition. Wiseman considered removing the centre section tonight to leave a ‘bandido’ handlebar moustache, perhaps in honour of tonight’s chilli, but mercifully he was persuaded not to.

Crystal Ski, our tour operator, have continued to be tremendously helpful and supportive, and we remain extremely grateful for the texts and calls from friends and family at home.

DC is due to have a scan tomorrow, and will possibly be brought round from the coma over the weekend.  By that time, we will be back in the UK, and, I suspect, glad to be home, if upset to be returning without him.  Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with him and his friends and family in Chambéry.

Chambéry, unexpectedly

“Let’s have a look at the map, Mark.”

Wiseman pulled the map out of his pocket, unfolded it and spread it out on the table. Two days into a skiing holiday this should have been a piste map, but instead it was a street map of Chambéry. Mark had acquired it earlier in the day, approaching the desk in the Office de Tourisme with no little confidence and a pre-learned French phrase ready to go.  The nice lady behind the desk smiled and enquired if he would prefer to continue in English.

“But I wanted to improve my Freeeench…” wailed Mark.  She smiled again, and started pointing out landmarks on the map in French. A blank expression descended upon Mark’s face, but he persisted manfully.

The day before was our first day skiing, and dawned bright and sunny. After a few, icy lower runs Lynne, Mandy, DC and I headed higher and skied the red Venturons run down towards Mottaret.  It was a good run, with better snow than we’d encountered so far, so we went straight back up and did it again. DC remarked that the Venturons was a good run to Venture On. This is the standard of joke we’ve come to expect from him. At the end of the second run Lynne, Mandy and I waited for the big man to appear.  He was bringing up the rear. After a couple of minutes, we started to get concerned, but remained confident that all was in order. Waiting for the last skier’s arrival at a lift station is not unusual. Frequently something happens that causes a hold-up – often a wipeout, with the accompanying delay retrieving skis and getting them back on. It’s common, too, for a skier to take the wrong turn at a junction, and end up somewhere else on the mountain (Filipideedoodaa is especially good at this last one). A quick text message or phonecall usually sorts this out. We called DC’s mobile, but it went straight to answerphone.

We agreed I would go back up on the chairlift and ski down.  Halfway up on the lift I saw a prone figure just off the side of the piste, with four skiers clustered around him. It was DC, no doubt. Fingers beginning to shake, I tapped out a quick text to let the girls know.  I skied off the lift and back down the run, without stopping, thighs burning, panic rising.  He was surrounded by five or six members of the piste patrol, and had taken a serious knock to the head.

In due course a helicopter arrived, landing on a flattish area between pistes.  The medics took some time to sedate him, and then it took off. One of the piste patrollers with pretty good English kept us updated throughout with what was happening.  He was headed for Moutiers, and then on to Grenoble.  This later changed to the Centre Hospitalier in Chambéry.

We have been receiving a steady stream of text messages and phone calls from home ever since. Under normal circumstances, this would become wearing, but under these abnormal and distressing circumstances, they have been an immense source of strength and encouragement.  Except that the text message alert on Lynne’s phone makes a noise like a distressed budgie complaining in your ear.  Helpfully, it makes this noise on both sending and receiving text messages.

We made our way to the bus station in Les Menuires, passing après ski bars, viewing the revellers with a curious sense of detachment. The world just keeps spinning.

A bus and taxi ride later, we arrived in Chambéry and found DC in the Réanimation unit (ICU).  Scans had revealed bleeding in his head.  He was in an induced coma, and was lying, with his lower shins and feet protruding beyond the bed, wired up to a multitude of monitors.  His face was swollen. They had shaved his head.

We stayed a couple of days in Chambéry, sleeping at a hotel within walking distance from the hospital, found via some sharp Google work by my sister back in London.

Jo, Paul and Derek, relatives and friends of DC from Edinburgh, arrived on Monday, and joined us in our hotel.  They stayed on while we returned to resort.

Now back in the mountains, to ski or not to ski?  Numbness, confusion and grief make this a difficult one to answer, and we haven’t answered it yet.  Having considered packing up and coming home early, I think we are decided on sticking together here in resort. Crystal Ski have been extremely helpful and kind to us.  Further, we are grateful to all the folks who have called, emailed and texted, and are praying back home – mainly for DC, obviously, but also for us as we try to come to terms with what has happened.  Your support is greatly valued.

Back to work…

A week after returning from Les Arcs, the dust is settling on another fine holiday. There are remarkably few injuries to report, with Kirsty’s faceplant on the halfpipe remaining the most serious (witnessed) accident. She had a shiner for a while to show for her efforts, and I feel this made it all worthwhile for her.

In the first week, I came down a large percentage of the Refuge black run upside down gathering snow and ice in my nice new Christmas hat. Going back up to try again was born of stubbornness, but I was doubly rewarded by completing it successfully AND witnessing Tom falling on the moguls and sliding down on his belly, legs and skis up in the air behind him, rising and falling over the bumps in a manner vaguely reminiscent of someone floating on the ocean on a choppy day.

Not content with this crash, Tom then headed up the Aiguille Rouge in a cable car. With him were a group of doctors from Edinburgh, who regaled him with tales of two professional skiers who died skiing down some off-piste on the Aiguille Rouge. Unwittingly (he says), Tom headed straight down into the same area, had a fall, lost a ski, and slid for 150m. Somehow he retained his life, his limbs, and even had his ski recovered by the same Edinburgh doctors, who were following.

Mandy has been loudly pointing out to anyone who would listen, that I kept falling over. I keep protesting that I only fell over while attempting silly things, which is mostly true, but doesn’t shut her up. I did nearly clock a tree at one point, but managed to divert just in time. One of my skis came off in the avoidance manoeuvre and carried on to hit the poor tree.

Carol, our newbie snowboarder in the group, flounced out of her lesson with a petulant toss of her head only a few days after F… had done the same. *&?@#* snowboarders. I presume the instructors weren’t winsome enough for them.

The return to Edinburgh proved relatively uneventful, despite checking in only 15 minutes before the flight was due to take off. There were, inevitably, delays, although thankfully not due to Kirsty this time. She elected not to bring a penknife in her hand luggage on the return trip, perhaps because she no longer had one after it was confiscated by the nice security people in Edinburgh on the way out.

Back at our favourite harbour haunt on Friday night, Wiseman confided that he had been welcomed back to work with a six month ban on him even mentioning his coccyx.

“Apparently I went on about it a bit last year,” he explained ruefully.

While we were away, the gang have been in good form. Kenny D has been spotted going for a run, sometimes more than once a week. The times they are a-changing.

Nasty Jen was playing hockey when a girl in the opposing team swung her stick into Jen’s head, whereupon she crumpled to the ground in pain. She then realised that the stick had actually connected with the head of the girl beside her, and quickly scrambled back to her feet, hoping no-one had noticed.

DC was at an old friend’s for lunch today. His friend had just had a brand new bathroom fitted. For some reason DC decided to sit down on the toilet lid while putting some eyedrops in, and went straight through it. He has confirmed that he wasn’t even trying to get purchase at the time.

Plus ça change…

Waffles and Waterproof Trousers

South Africa 322/4

As we departed the hotel for Headingley yesterday morning, we were met by a shower of rain. Regardless, I ventured out in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals (and an umbrella), while DC was more stoutly dressed in a raincoat and long trousers. On seeing the rain, he produced, like some Scottish Presbyterian conjuror, a pair of waterproof trousers from his bag and straightaway put them on. I attempted to dissuade him with hoots of derision, but he was not to be put off, and away we went.

DC and I worked our way through the Daily Telegraph crossword in the morning session, while Nasty Jen, according to text updates from a mutual friend, was working her way through a tentful (she later claimed it was more like a marquee) of Aussie men in St Andrews. The mind boggles.

DC disappeared off to the bookies at tea, to “catch up on the golf”, and Wiseman went off to the toilet, although curiously he came back clutching a burger. On their return, I wandered round to the back of the West Stand, and found a purveyor of waffles. I stood in the gap between the Main Stand and the West Stand for a bit, watching the cricket. The sun was on my back, the chocolate-coated waffle was delicious, and the only thing disturbing the serenity was the semi-riot taking place amongst the denizens of the West Stand. This particular stand, going back to its days as the Western Terrace, has a long history of boisterous crowd behaviour, with a penchant for throwing beach balls around (a banned activity), stacking hundreds of plastic beer glasses together horizontally (another banned activity) and passing the resulting snake around the crowd, cheering wildly as it becomes longer and especially when it evades the clutches of the stewards. Roddy, an ex-Holy Cross wicket-keeping team-mate, was sitting in the West Stand today. I texted him before tea offering to buy him a pint. We had managed to catch up at the tea-break on Day 1, but yesterday I fear he was too busy forming beer-glass-snakes and baiting the stewards and police to hear his mobile phone. He was always so well-behaved behind the stumps as well.

I finished my waffle, got myself a cup of tea, and stood in the sun again, watching England vainly trying to prise out another South African batsman. It wasn’t to be – only one wicket fell all day, and even that was a bad decision. England’s lack of bowling penetration in this Test is worrying, particularly as Flintoff, the Great White Hope, has returned. Flintoff, while bowling well, has not made the batsmen play enough, and has been unable to generate enough pace or hostility to get them out. Lack of swing has been a serious problem, which has rendered Pattinson, the new boy, ineffective, as it might have Hoggard, or even Sidebottom, if they had been playing.

Back in my seat, I thought it had started raining, but in fact it was a chap in the upper tier of the stand, returning from the bar with four full pints. He must have been a little unsteady on his feet, as a fair proportion of the beer was tipped over the edge of the tier onto our heads below. DC’s dignity was protected by his substantial wet weather armour, and I regret to say he adopted an air of superiority as a result.

It eventually did start raining, although long after it was forecast to, and with the close of play imminent anyway, DC fished out the waterproof trousers and we trudged back to the hotel. After the requisite afternoon nap for one of the party, we headed into Leeds for some food, and after a short search, landed in a place called Tampopo, serving a variety dishes from across Asia. It’s a chain, I later determined, but not one that’s made it as far north as Edinburgh, and since none of us had eaten there before, it didn’t count as a chain. Wiseman had an unpronounceable meal from Vietnam.

“Is it hot?” enquired DC.

“No” said Wiseman, shaking his head, and then promptly bit into a red chilli.

We retired to the hotel satisfied by a great meal and a good weekend all round. England are sinking fast in the Test, much to DC’s delight. Wiseman was reasonably content, having remembered his radio on Day 2, and in any case the bars were open on both days. The Trip to the Test can therefore be considered a success for both my companions. I was pleased to see plenty of action (and controversy) on the first day, and generally had fun watching cricket with my mates again, rather than on my own, as I had done (mostly) last time around in Australia. My presence at England matches, however, seems to have had a detrimental effect on their performance, if the last three examples are anything to go by.

Roll on Edgbaston. I promise to stay away.

Leeds, Day Two

England 203
South Africa 101/3

South Africa were on top yesterday, so DC finished the day much happier than either Wiseman or I, Mark having left his digital radio in the hotel, and so unable to keep abreast of Blowers’ uniquely colourful commentary. Helpfully, I passed them some highlights from that and the shipping forecast when it came around. It was a cracking day’s cricket, despite England’s collapse, with Freddie Flintoff making his first Test appearance since I saw him lead the team to defeat in Sydney 18 months ago. Sadly he flashed at a wide one on 17 and departed somewhat sheepishly.

Wiseman and I arrived at the ground clad optimistically in shorts, he, rather foolishly, following my lead in the matter. The weather was cloudy and drizzly, and not especially warm, and I don’t recall seeing anyone else in shorts in the entire ground, but this being the cricket, there were a number of outfits on show that made shorts look positively sensible, including men in women’s clothing, and a smattering of superheros. At some point during the afternoon session I conceded defeat and popped into a toilet cubicle to change into my jeans, emerging to find Superman wrestling his way back into his suit. It’s good to know that even Superman has to take a pee.

Thursday night, as expected, was largely sleepless, partly due to the skylight, which shed rather too much light on the matter, but also because every water pipe in the hotel seems to be routed through the wall behind my bed. A previous occupant of the room had also helpfully set the TV to switch itself on at 5.30am, for which I was less than grateful.

Last night as considerably better, having tired myself out by sitting watching cricket all day. Was woken by the sounds of Wiseman preparing to go for a run next door – that is he was preparing next door, rather than going for a run in his room. On returning from his run at 8.30am, he knocked on my door, which elicited an appropriate sub-duvet response.

Breakfast was taken at 9am. Wiseman entertained us once more with his unique croissant-buttering technique, and we even struck up some convivial early morning conversation, something neither myself or DC are renowned for, with an Englishman on a nearby table.

And so on to Day Two. Right now, the sun is shining, although showers are forecast. Nevertheless we are in good spirits, and I am confidently starting the day in shorts and sandals again.

Come on England.

The Little Chef and cricket

Had lunch with Glenn and Anna last Sunday. Their oldest daughter, Maria, who’s four and feisty with it, once the main course was over, removed herself from the table and installed herself on the sofa, where she declared she would take her dessert. Anna made it quite clear that unless madam returned to the table, improved her mood and began to behave herself, there would be no dessert at all. I reflected on how it isn’t all bad being a grown-up. After all, you can be grumpy and still have your dessert.

It’s Thursday night, and I’m in a Leeds hotel. DC and Wiseman are in the adjoining rooms. It sounds like Wiseman has just smacked his head off the wall, but I’m sure there’s a rational explanation. We’re here for a couple of days of the Second Test between England and South Africa. DC, being a rabid Scot, has adopted South Africa as his favourite cricket team for another month or so, or whenever their series against England ends. He refers to them as “our boys”. I, of course, am supporting England. Wiseman is along for the opportunity to drink beer, hopefully in the sun, and listen to the TMS commentary via a 15 second delay on his portable digital radio.

Having left straight after work, we were looking for somewhere to eat shortly after the halfway mark. The distance between Edinburgh and Leeds is 222 miles, which makes Leeds a superstitiously perfect cricketing destination for us. Almost bang on 111 miles into the journey, a sign for services appeared. Genius. We veered off the A1, hopping from foot to foot inside the car. “It’s a Little Chef, it’s a Little Chef – look look!!” cried Wiseman excitedly. He had already declared that wherever we stopped for food must have peas. Garden peas. Because he was in the mood for peas.

Little Chef fits the bill. Being a British institution, it must have peas on the menu. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Little Chef, it was a remarkably dodgy-looking Indian restaurant. Right in the middle of nowhere. It says something for its dubious appearance that three lads not averse to a curry immediately turned the car round and headed back to the A1.

(The next services was only a few miles further on, and it was indeed a Little Chef. Wiseman was beside himself.)

Wiseman stayed in this very hotel two months ago, while on a university-funded course being taught how to hack into wireless networks. Between him and the sat nav, we arrived safely and without undue fuss. I landed in room 34, my age, which I took great delight in pointing out to DC and Wiseman, for whom the thirties are a distant memory. They may have the last laugh in the morning, however, as my room is the only one with what appears to be an ancestor of the Velux window. I also have a normal window, with a quirky triangular window above it, both of which have efficient-looking curtains. The skylight does not have a curtain of any description. I note with some trepidation that the sun is due to rise at 4:56 am.

Here’s to an early wakening…