Skiing and the Porcelain Plateau

It’s a dreich day in January. I’m back in my favourite corner seat at Century General, gazing through misted windows at a rainy Montrose Terrace. H has been highly disapproving of my continual weight loss, openly suspecting anorexia on my part. I am some way off the “underweight” classification, shall we say, but am manfully doing my bit to keep her happy by horsing down CG’s chocolate-and-coconut cake.

The last few weeks have been full of highlights to bring you all up to date on, notably dinner chez Wiseman, which was, as ever, excellent, and only enhanced by the Wisemans’ eminently sensible decision to install a toilet with a dangling-chain flush, thus removing the need for post-prandial flush button decision-making. I was grateful.

Christmas in London was full of our usual family Christmas traditions… Panettone for breakfast, Christmas Eve lasagne, a mild case of the lurgy, and Baileys of an evening. On discovering a near-empty bottle of Ireland’s finest export in the kitchen, I, quietly panicking, enquired of my sister if there was any more.

There was. Actually a visit to the cellar made me wonder if she had left any Baileys for the rest of London.

“It was on offer” she protested.

Just before Christmas I attempted to skateboard in the park with my 8-year-old nephew. I sent a photo of this (I did not send a video) to my rad skateboarding friend Gabe. Gabe teaches chess to New York kids for a living. I love that sentence.

Gabe warned me to be careful, and being rad, added a hashtag.

#getrad

I made it back safely, without at any point getting rad.

Christmas came and went, with my attempts to bribe the kids into getting up a bit later on Christmas morning largely unsuccessful.

Three days after Christmas, I boarded an Oak Hall bus headed for the Austrian Alps. My expectations of a 24 hour bus trip were somewhere south of horrendous, but I am delighted to report that there was an unexpectedly decent amount of sleep achieved. On boarding the bus, I made an attempt to introduce myself to some of my travelling companions. I met a couple of twins from Preston. Transpires they were called Rio and Nakita. I made my way back to my seat, bells furiously going off in the back of my head. It was much later before I plucked up the courage to ask if they had been named after hit songs from the 80s.

They had. What’s more, they loved their songs. They also had an older sister named Simone. After Nina, I presume. I loved their parents already.

On arriving in room 220 at the Hotel Alpenblick in Schlitters (careful how you say that), my room-mates (two of them) and I tossed a coin to see who would get the single bed, and who would be sharing the ‘Austrian Twin’ (two single mattresses in a double frame). I won. Room-mate 1 looked momentarily disconsolate, and then, in a moment of genius, removed the mattress from his side of the bed and planted it on the floor, where it stayed all week. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I inspected the bathroom, and was immediately distracted by the toilet. No confusing flush buttons, just a reassuringly solitary old-fashioned handle.

However.

The bowl was like nothing I’d seen before, and I’ve been going to the toilet for nigh-on 40 years now.

Rather than having the normal sloping sides down into a watery bottom, It had a plateau about halfway up. This plateau took up much of the bowl, leaving a smallish channel at the front leading downwards to the water.

And so it was, after one had, you know, done one’s business… one got to turn around and view the results of one’s efforts, presented as if on a platter, MUCH closer than one is used to. It was, frankly, disconcerting. Especially on the occasions when one turned around and thought

“I did all THAT?”

But the best was yet to come. On pressing the flush handle, jets of water shot out from the rear of the bowl, along the plateau, forcibly sweeping anything that was deposited there into the channel at the front. Mostly into the channel. But it was a very powerful jet of water. One quickly learned to be standing alongside the toilet, rather than directly in front, when pressing the flush handle.

It was a great week’s skiing, only enhanced by getting caught in a blizzard two days in a row and surviving to tell the tale. On the final afternoon, as the weather closed in, and we were still high up the mountain and some way from safety, the visibility worsened to the point where we could see only three chairlift-supporting towers. Then it went down to two, and then one. Filipideedoodaa, at this point, was having goggle-related issues, and was unable to see anything at all.

When the wind’s blowing hard, the snow is sticky (I think it was actually raining at this point), and you can’t see anything, it’s surprisingly hard to know which way is down… it was in these conditions that Filipideedoodaa attempted to exit the piste stage right, but we agreed that this wasn’t the time for off-piste, and called her back. That’s what friends are for.

New Year’s Eve was fairly quiet in the hotel. Roomie 1, having taken a taxi into town with the youngsters, reported that the Austrian NYE street celebrations were a little insane, with everyone bringing their own fireworks and letting them off at random. He spotted an Austrian gent wandering along the street with fireworks draped over his shoulder, smoking a cigar. Splendid. What could possibly go wrong?

The bus back to London was very similar to the outward journey, except we all knew each other, at least a little. Liam, a young fellow-Edinburgher, was pumping out the tunes via his Bluetooth speaker. Classic 80s, mostly, including Billy Joel and Neil Diamond.

There’s hope for the younger generation yet…

When Nasty Jen lost her Mr Darcy

“Is he safe and well?” read the text from Nasty Jen.
I didn’t know, actually.  I’d left Jen’s new prized possession, her Mr Darcy keyring, in a plant pot at The Orchard, our local establishment just down the road from the church.  For all I know he might have taken root and been well on his way to germinating into a Mr-Darcy-keyring-tree.
I decided not to reply.
A bunch of us, including Nasty Jen and Kenny D, had popped in to the Orchard the night before , to plan our Easter Monday St Andrews trip.  Jen was showing off her Mr Darcy keyring, so when she passed it round, I thought it would be hilarious to remove it from her keys when she wasn’t looking.
The next day after work, feeling the guilt, and mentally branding the word IDIOT on my forehead, I entered the Orchard and headed straight for the plant pot.  I sidled awkwardly up to it, embarrassingly close to a sofa containing two women deep in conversation.  When are two women on a sofa not deep in conversation?
“Um, I left something in here last night… nope it’s not here now” I explained, eloquently, as one of the ladies looked askance at me.  I shot out of the room without looking back, feeling a little like Mr Bean.
Confounded cleaners.  Which meant I had to ask at the bar.  I approached it sheepishly, and asked the genial curly-haired barman if anyone had removed a keyring from the plantpot in the corner.  He didn’t think so, but he asked the manager, who disappeared down the hatch behind the bar.  He reappeared a few minutes later, looking pleased with himself.
“Just to be sure it’s yours, can you tell me what’s on it?” he asked loudly, and somewhat triumphantly.
“Errr. Mister Darcy” I muttered quickly, hoping the regulars propped up along the bar wouldn’t hear.
“Yeah!” he laughed, and handed it over.  I mumbled my gratitude and tripped out onto the pavement as fast as I could.  Am hoping we don’t find ourselves back in the Orchard too soon.
The sun shone all Easter weekend, perhaps an unprecedented occurrence, which gave Jen at least three opportunities to claim sunstroke, none of which she passed up.  I destroyed DC over 18 holes at St Andrews on Easter Monday, albeit it was the ‘Himalayas’ ladies putting course.
Kenny D has undergone something of a transformation since I last wrote.  After a few exploratory runs at the turn of the year, he has turned into a fully-fledged card-carrying fitness-obsessed Action Man, scoffing at those of us who use motorised transport for distances under ten miles.  Ken now prefers to hike instead, making light of such obstacles as rivers (he just goes through them) when they get in his way.
F… has been in Ghana for the last six weeks, and blogging furiously.  Should one look away from her blog for more than a minute one is likely to look back to find it has been updated at least once in the meantime.  She has now likely made more posts to her blog than she has made decisions, and as a result has out-blogged me 25 to 1 since the beginning of March.
Wiseman has been strangely quiet, nursing his coccyx perhaps, although that has never been a quiet occupation in the past.  Perhaps he’s been taking time out to read F…’s blog, or possibly he’s just been ashamed to show his face recently, having forgotten my birthday again this year, and then snubbed my party.  Pfffff.
I apologise for this lengthy hiatus in my blogging effort, and am grateful to those of you kind enough to have encouraged me to write again.  I am currently en route to visiting my sister in London, to admire my new nephew Sebastian, who, in joining myself and Hamish the cat, evens up the gender imbalance in the household somewhat.
The lady currently beside me in the departure lounge has been talking non-stop on her mobile phone for 45 minutes now.  It appears that a sofa is not a pre-requisite to inane female chatter…

Team Gym

In advance of our skiing holiday in the New Year, some of the more dedicated members of the party have been meeting up, weekly, at the gym, in an attempt (perhaps a forlorn one) to get fit. Our current gym of choice is Ainslie Park, which I keep wanting to call Astley Ainslie, for some reason. The Astley Ainslie is a hospital, mostly full of old people recovering from serious conditions. I have no doubt that I will end up in the gym there soon enough, but am in no rush.

For some of us, though, notably Filipideedoodaa, once a week at Ainslie Park is no longer enough, and so she has suggested we start going twice.

“How’s six o’clock at Meadowbank on Monday?” enquired F….

“Do you work near Meadowbank on Mondays?” I asked, wondering about the change of venue.

“Well, it’s on my way home if I go home that way” she replied.

There, in one sentence, the logical genius that is Filipideedoodaa is encapsulated.

The whole gym thing, so far, has been a rewarding, but exhausting experience. Last week, on returning home, I felt so drained that I promptly devoured most of a box of Lindt chocolates. I confessed this to the Admin Supremo the next morning at work, who confidently asserted that this wasn’t a bad thing, since good quality chocolates don’t contain very much milk. Or something.

This week, having confessed my indulgence again, this time to Broon and F…, Broon immediately and confidently backed up the Supremo’s claim, and followed it up by claiming that the best thing after exercise is a chocolate milkshake. WELL, I can tell you, that piece of news went down well in my corner, if not F…’s, as she has renounced all chocolate products since a large chocolate bar fell on her head when she was six years old, and being a bloody-minded Welsh redhead, she isn’t breaking her fast for nobody. On further querying, Broon appeared to be quite genuine in her chocolate milkshake belief, and after all, she is a qualified physio, so off I popped to McDonalds, which is on my home if I go home that way. I have resolved to go home that way after every gym night from now on, in the interests of the quick recovery that chocolate milkshakes provide, according to Broon et al, 2004.

I pulled up at the drive-through.

“Chocolate milkshake please.”

“Regular or large?”

I thought for a moment.

“Large please.” After all, I had done thirty reps on that fiendish leg press thing. This gym malarkey is starting to look up. And the gym at Meadowbank is slap bang opposite…. McDonald’s. Good choice, F…

The return from Val d’Isère

“Everything hurts,” moaned Wiseman early one morning. “Perhaps we should take up colouring-in, or something.”

We, the walking wounded, hobbled and limped back into Edinburgh yesterday after a 5 hour delay in Chambéry.

Ladies and gentlemen, a message for those flying to Edinburgh on flight BA1961. Unfortunately your aircraft has landed at Lyon.

[D’oh]

Please expect a delay to your flight.

No kidding.

Lynne managed to use the time wisely, lying down in the medical room after refusing to go to hospital with 3 firemen in their fire engine. When will she get another chance like that? Perhaps she’d had her fill of men in uniform for a while, after being attended to on the slopes by men in red and yellow ski suits.

Myself, DC and Kirsty had skied over a crest yesterday afternoon to discover Lynne sprawled unconscious on the snow. She came to after a couple of minutes and before long was being stretchered down into Val d’Isere. It was all very exciting, albeit slightly worrying, and I daresay she would rather not repeat the experience.

Filipideedoodaa had her own adventures the day before, cartwheeling down a red run and injuring her ankle badly enough to rule her out of skiing/boarding for the rest of the holiday.

Aside from that, we sustained a few twisted knees and one or two bruises. Val’s twisted knee was much worse than mine, but I complained more. Wiseman is currently walking like John Wayne, and now that we’re back I have been perfecting my dual limp (both legs hurt so I can’t favour one over the other). With four physiotherapists on the trip, sympathy and compassion were in desperately short supply, so there was no point in looking for any before now.

Managed to conquer my T-bar demons, on Thursday. Neither run was without incident, however. When on a T-bar with someone they should ideally be of a similar height. The first time up was with Mandy, who only avoids being officially registered as a dwarf by a couple of inches. I am over six feet. We began with the bar at a comfortable height for her, and finished at the top with her skis barely touching the snow. On the second run I was sharing the bar with the Haxtonmeister, who is of a more similar stature (although somewhat more rounded), but somehow managed to cause him to wipe out at the top regardless.

Much hilarity has been had overall. Siobhan’s name proved too tricky for her French ski instructor, who insisted on calling her “Cheval” (translation = “horse”) throughout the week. Our instructor, on the other hand, spent several minutes calling out “leeean, LEEEAN” to us as we were cruising down the piste during a lesson. We were doing a leaning exercise at the time, so we duly tried to lean even more. We were virtually falling over before we realised that he was trying to get Lynne’s attention.

The same instructor, who demonstrated an admirable ability to not only smoke on a wind-blasted chairlift but actually roll his own, was exhorting us to “caress the snow” and “embrace the gravity”. He explained that we needed to be more “fairy-like”. I felt the need to point out that behaving like a fairy was not a good thing for a British bloke to be doing.

The pranking shenanigans continued through the week – when Wiseman and I arrived back in the chalet on Monday night after posting the last blog entry, we discovered our room had been divested of its beds. I asked Mark if they had been put out on the balcony.

“Nope, I’ve checked.”

Turns out he had stuck his head out briefly (“it was cold”) and decided they weren’t there. We then proceeded to search the entire chalet, or at least the bits we could access, before returning to find them … on the balcony.

On another day Ken went to relieve himself, and lifted the toilet seat, which promptly exploded. Jen’s bed started laughing when she lay down on it, her famous red coat went missing for days, and several people’s toothbrushes also disappeared. The latter thief remains unidentified despite Ken training his video camera on the bathroom door to try to catch the culprit.

Mental Mo and Nasty Jen organised a ceilidh on the final night, attendance at which was more or less compulsory. Mysteriously, Ken found it took him several hours to pack for the journey home, despite having a rucksack only marginally larger than Jen’s handbag. Even the chalet staff – Osh, Tom and Liam – were invited. One really can’t blame them for running away and hiding downstairs for the entire evening.

The presence of most of these reprobates made the airport wait that bit more enjoyable, and when we finally got on the flight, Broon fell asleep, which allowed me to steal her meal. You snooze, you lose.

And so, a great holiday is over. I will miss so much about it over the next few days. Like the early morning routine with Wiseman.

“Mark, are you awake?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good Morning.”

“Morning.”

The formalities completed, I pulled the duvet over my head for extra sound insulation, in preparation for The Clearing of the Nasal Passages.

Actually, I might not miss that. But I will miss the skiing. Not going to be taking up colouring-in just yet, bruises or not…

Skiing and Car Engines

Went indoor skiing at xscape with Filipideedooda again last week. It’s now only six weeks or so before the next epic ski trip takes place, this time to Val d’Isère, so we thought some practice would come in handy.

We stood at the top of the slope, planning our route down. Friday night is freestyle night, so there were a number of jumps and rails on the slope.

“I think I’m going to go over the fence this time,” said F.

“What fence?”

“That one with the black netting.”

“That’s not a fence, F, that’s black netting blocking off the jump to stop people going over it. Presumably for a reason.”

Filipideedooda, being a ‘kickass boarder’ by nature, and therefore accustomed to flicking V-signs at authority, decided to jump over the “fence”. She flew off the half-formed jump, over the black netting, which was sagging somewhat, and landed in a heap. I skied over to her and helpfully pointed out that there may have been a reason why it was blocked off.

Skiing in France with F will be fun, there’s no doubt.

“Oooh, can we go and ski over there? It looks fun.”

“What, over there in the area marked off with yellow-and-black striped warning tape?”

She went straight back up and tried “the fence” again. And wiped out again. And again, with the same result. I gave up reasoning.

We moved on to a ‘park bench’ where F came off, lost a ski and proceeded to take out the next 3 boarders attempting the bench while trying to retrieve her ski. It was all very amusing. I should give credit where credit’s due, however. At least she was adventurous.

Wiseman, after missing last year’s ski trip with an unmentionable injury, is looking forward to this year’s adventure very much. Phrases like “carving up the slopes” and “becoming one with the mountain” are being bandied about with alarmingly bullish self-confidence. Having discovered that he has elected to join the Forces of Snowboarding Darkness, Mental Morag has queried whether or not he has invested in some sort of padded arrangement for his butt, in case he becomes one with the mountain rather more often than he had anticipated.

A more recent development has been a sudden re-interest in learning to drive. This might be down to me giving him a voucher for two free driving lessons for Christmas. Except that was in 2005. Rather than take up the lessons, Wiseman has waited two years, and then begun devouring books on the subject. In the space of only a couple of days he has become an ‘expert’. In fact, one could say that he has ‘become one’ with all motor vehicles. All of a sudden, failures to indicate appropriately, and other minor driving irregularities, are being loudly pointed out to me as I drive him around. It came to head last night when he insisted on inspecting under the bonnet of my car and wanted me to point out to him where the coolant and oil get topped up. We had just spent an evening in the company of our charming Donegal housemates, eating good food and playing Articulate. For the record, and in the interests of objective reporting (for which I am renowned), the boys got hockeyed. Not being the best loser, I was in no mood to stand around pointing at car engines in the freezing cold, but we located the relevant items and then I took him home, where I believe he was planning to read up on some more road signs.

Perhaps on snowboarding as well. Let’s hope the book has a chapter entitled “Why you should never go skiing with Filipideedooda.”

Freestyling and Strawberry Tarts

Well, the weather’s been rotten. Not as bad, mercifully, as that suffered by many parts of Englandshire, but depressing nonetheless. Many cricket games have been called off. Wiseman suggested I take up an indoor sport instead. “Like carpet bowls.” The day will come Mark, but it hasn’t come just yet. However, I did venture indoors for a spot of skiing a week or two ago, with my good friend Filipeedadooda. Leaving straight after work, we bombed through the rain to xscape in Glasgow, and arrived just in the nick of time for the start of the freestyle session.

Freestyle means there are a lot of unnecessary obstacles littering the piste, seriously reducing the amount of white space available for sensible skiers such as myself. I cannot include Filipideedooda in that description as she is not even sensible in shoes, never mind on skis. However, she hadn’t been skiing for a few years, having joined the Forces of Boarding Darkness a while back, and was taking it canny to start with, so we both used the strange contraptions as markers on the piste rather than objects with which to impale ourselves.

Naturally there was a high proportion of the uni-planked ones strutting their stuff, clad in varying shades of outlandish boarding gear, jumping on and off these obstacles with some success. DC, should he have been there, would’ve loved the hip hop soundtrack pumping out overhead.

On one side of the slope was a glass-fronted restaurant, the other side had a long glass-fronted bar. There were two poma tows, one on each side of the piste, which trawled you up in front of one or other of these establishments. After a few runs and tows back up each side, Filipadooda suggested we go back up the right hand side. “The snow’s better,” she reasoned. She was right. The totty on view in the restaurant was also much better than that in the bar, but I neglected to highlight this.

Today marked Tony Blair’s last day as Prime Minister in the UK. Tributes were paid by friend and foe alike. Perhaps the most touching of these came from my boss, a long-time Blair fan, who bought several boxes of cakes to celebrate his departure. Come 4pm, all that remained were two strawberry tarts.

“I couldn’t possibly eat BOTH of them,” complained Dish.

This was met with the same sceptical raised eyebrow as greeted her comment earlier this week:

“I don’t eat THAT many biscuits,” before hastily adding “In the morning.”

Finally, your help is needed. Check out fifty ways… Something to keep you occupied on a rainy day. And if you’re in Scotland, you won’t have long to wait for one of those…