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.

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.