The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part IV

Haggis Pakora Update: quite disappointing.

Day 5 in the Dolomites was spent on an away-day adventure to Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Hidden Valley. 

Unable to attempt the James Bond run in Cortina due to a race-related closure, we consoled ourselves by going down the ladies’ world cup run a few times, which, after a gentle enough start plunges dramatically downwards, towering rockfaces to the right and left.

Also to the left (we can think of it as Stage Left) was the chairlift, full of skiers, or the Audience, as I liked to think of them, as I lost control and slid down the slope headfirst, skis kicking up snow.

Sometimes the most obvious indicator that you’re on a black slope rather than a red is the time and effort it takes you to stop the slide.

Skiing, in a more conventional sense, further down the mountain, we came across several skiers who confirmed Cortina’s glamorous reputation, sliding along under the watchful eye of their personal instructors, sporting little round sunglasses, chic ski gear, and offering a whiff of expensive perfume as we shot past.

After lunch outside in the sunshine, we made the short trip to the (fairly ancient-looking) gondola that took us up to the start of the Hidden Valley run.

At the top, yet more beautiful views, and tunnels with machine guns left over from WWI. We took the time to explore the tunnels, and then took even more time gliding down a beautiful red run which curved round and through quiet mountain terrain, past frozen waterfalls, and the pub with the Alpacas. It was a twenty minute run and we took the best part of two hours over it.

Near the end, as promised, we got to hold on to a long rope attached to a horse-drawn cart, and get towed the last kilometre or so. Twice the horses stopped to poop, which nearly caused mass carnage among the fifty or so skiers who had to stop suddenly. But in the end only one wipe-out was recorded, the Flying Pistachio temporarily becoming the Swimming Pistachio in the slush.


All of my research into the Dolomites, which consisted of reading articles, reviews, and looking at photos, led me to believe that the Dolomites were spectacularly beautiful. 

It is something of a surprise and, to be honest, a comfort to me that the internet, for all its wondrous technology, cannot really transport you to the Dolomites, or for that matter to any of the beautiful places in the world.

The photos and video looked great. But electronic rendering never does justice to the experience of standing in the shadow of a gigantic rocky outcrop, which – up close – feels like a living, breathing thing, while the sun slowly moves behind it in an impossibly-blue Alpine sky.

Somewhere near Alta Badia, I believe it was during Day 4’s monastic pilgrimage, we passed underneath such an outcrop. I stopped, not on this occasion because my legs were tired and needed a break, but because Emma had stopped. 

She had paused and was gazing in wonder at the sight above her. So I stopped, and we all stopped, and the Sella Ronda momentarily became the Selah Ronda (© Emma). 

The photo I took of this moment wouldn’t win any prizes, and would fail to inspire awe in any who saw it, except perhaps for me, because it takes me back in time to that moment of that day.


We did the Saslong again on our last ski day, for old time’s sake, and in the fairly plush-looking shop at the bottom of the slope I bought an over-priced bobble hat. The lady wrote me out a paper receipt, which felt a little incongruous, in such a glamorous establishment. I can’t remember the last time I got a handwritten paper receipt for a purchase.

It’s a very lovely hat. I have only occasionally removed it since. It has pleased me greatly that the weather has remained cold in Edinburgh recently.

At the end of the day, a day in which I finally broke the 80 km/h barrier by tucking from top to bottom of a run, and Ickle Bef put this in perspective by recording a speed of over 1900 km/h, thus earning her the new name Sonic Boom Bef… we shared a smoked mozzarella pizza, some cold beers, and more limoncellos than was really appropriate. There may have been some unseemly giggling at the bus stop afterwards.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. Apart from the sheer joy that skiing brings, it was made more special for me by getting to ski, explode kittens, and generally have fun with such a great group of people.

But there was a healing element to the trip for me too, as the last time I organised a ski trip to Italy I had to pull out at the last minute due to my father’s passing.

Then there was the last time I organised a ski trip at all, back in 2011, when my good friend DC ended up in a coma as a result of an accident on the first day.

So just making it to Italy, and then having no holiday-ending injuries happen, felt like a win. It turned out to be a resounding win. Thanks to all who came and made it such a special trip!

The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part III

I tried Castello Coffee this morning. Bathing in the spring sunshine on the south-facing Barclay Terrace, it had been recommended by Kenny Raz as a quirky establishment, during a chance meeting earlier in the week. It had been recommended to him by the baristas at Artisan Roast, on a day when their pavement was being dug up and they had no power. So, a double recommendation.

It was my intention to write this blog there. On entering I couldn’t help but notice the prominent notices explaining that laptops were prohibited at tables with four seats or more. I found a narrow breakfast bar arrangement upstairs. Technically it had four seats. Technically it was one table. I wondered if I would get away with it. The gentleman who brought my coffee and lemon-and-coconut slice didn’t offer a rebuke, so I settled in.

I hung my coat on a nearby hook using its loop. I have always wondered about this. How much of a load are those coat-loops rated for? They seem so thin and fragile and stretched to their limit. Are they rated for winter coats loaded down with wallet, gloves and hat? But, for now, it was holding.

Day 4 in the Dolomites was also bright and sunny, and that’s how it would be for the remainder of the week. Ten of us set off around the Sella Ronda again.

Through Val Gardena, up a chairlift over a fun park which included a car half-buried in the snow (anyone want to try jumping over a car? Anyone?), and on round as far as Corvara.

Here we cut off the circuit, taking a lift eastwards and up to Rifugio Col Alt for elevenses in the sunshine. If I’d realised we were going to miss lunch, I might have had more than a double espresso at this point. But I didn’t.

So, reasonably caffeinated but not much else, we decided to embark on our monastic pilgrimage to La Crusc. After some wonderful red runs, and a lot of lifts, we arrived at the little church, nestled in the shadow of a mighty rockface. It was a perfect time for lunch, and there was, somewhat inevitably, a rifugio on site. However, having been tipped off by an earlier pilgrim Richard that the service was a little on the “Italian” side, and aware that we were now against the clock to get home in time, we strapped the skis back on and headed back. 

Skipping lunch is not something I like to make a habit of, especially not on holiday, most especially not on a skiing holiday, but the prospect of missing that last lift, and the corresponding eye-watering taxi fare that would ensue, galvanised us into putting the hammer down.

On and on we went, passing rifugio after rifugio. Inevitably, when you’re up against it, unusual things happen. And so it was that Ruth, one of our happy (but gradually becoming hangry) throng, for reasons which remain hazy, failed to exit a particularly unusual chairlift and stayed on it for another go round.

This chairlift was unusual in that it required you to leave it halfway along its journey.  Which, even with multiple warning signs explaining this, still somehow came as a surprise. It was one of those situations where the signs were particularly large and shouty. The text was large, and bold, and repeated in various languages. 

The conclusion I usually arrive at, on reading such signs, is that they are for someone else. Signs aimed at me would be much more subtle and suggest things rather than screaming them at me. So, engaged in conversation as I was, I nearly failed to leave the chair, but mercifully my fellow travellers were eminently more sensible, and all was well.

On this holiday we were a sizeable group of 24, and we therefore, through a natural selection process based mainly on how often – and for how long – one aimed to stop for coffee and cake, subdivided into different groups. 

Accordingly there are many stories from the trip which describe events that I was unable to witness in person, and thus can’t recount with the unerring accuracy and objectivity for which I am renowned. 

However… this same unusual chairlift, reputedly, had been the scene of some drama only the day before. Richard and his band of merry adventurers, returning from their own pilgrimage to La Crusc, and also against the clock, had a whole chairful that missed the halfway drop-off point. 

Perhaps they also expected the warning signs to be a touch more subtle. Whatever, the Lift Attendant was not content, on this occasion, to wave them around for another go, and stopped the lift, with our dear friends’ chair suspended six feet above the ground.

“You must jump off!” he instructed. 

At this point our friends faced a dilemma. The prospect of jumping off, on skis, onto an uneven, slightly sloping surface of snow six feet below, was not an appealing one. But the clock was ticking, and the final lift they needed to make was still some way in the distance. And that taxi would be expensive.

And so they all jumped, one by one, landing in a variety of creative ways, losing various items of ski equipment and much of their dignity in the process. Even Shikha, for whom six feet is a taller order than for most of us, jumped.

Until only Julia was left.

Julia, being a lady of resolute and steadfast will, and having watched all her fellow travellers wipe out in spectacular fashion, declared that she was not for jumping.

“You must jump!” repeated the Lift Attendant. 

“I will not!” reiterated Julia, who was, of course, six feet above contradiction.

The driver of the expensive taxi began to think about warming up his engine.

In a process mildly reminiscent of a certain current political process, Julia, a British lady of determined will, engaged her European counterpart in strongly worded dialogue. Back and forth the negotiations went. 

Quite possibly she petitioned for a delay, but in any case it became increasingly clear that Julia was not going to embrace a hard chair exit. Or Hard Chexit, one might say.

In due course, the Lift Attendant eventually relented and provided a softer exit option, helping her to the ground, and our friends were able to continue on their journey, sneaking onto the final lift moments before it closed for the evening.

Perhaps this is why, on the following day, when the Lift Attendant saw another British lady stranded on the chairlift, he elected to not stop the lift, and allowed her to continue for another time around.

Having skied somewhere in the order of 50km that day, with only a couple of Twix and some espresso for sustenance, the 5pm pizza-and-pasta “lunch” that I shared with Emma at the bottom of the Belvedere gondola, with the accompanying cold beer (large), will go down as one of my favourite meals of all time.

The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part II

On Day 3 the sun was out from early morning. With a large and very attractive white bandage on my face, I joined forces with Steve, Doug and Fiona. Fiona had a lovely green ski jacket.

“It’s pistachio,” she pointed out.

We started out clockwise on the Sella Ronda, heading for Val Gardena. Our progress could best be described as halting. 

At the top of every lift we paused in wonder, breath visible, hanging in the crisp mountain air. The fresh covering of new snow had added a layer of further splendour to mountains that were already the most startling and majestic I’d ever seen.

Thus we proceeded, slowly, interrupted regularly by the scenery, eventually arriving at the top of a massive bowl which, further down, gave way to the top of the Saslong World Cup run. But in the middle of the bowl, irresistibly alluring, lay a short parallel giant slalom race course, complete with start hut, and a timing wand to push through. Like real ski-racers do.

Doug and Fiona – who in due course would become known as the Flying Pistachio – raced each other, and the result has been lost in the mists of time, obscured by a difference-of-marital-opinion and a steward’s enquiry. Which left me to race against Steve.

Steve, in his youth, had raced competitively three of the four race disciplines (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super G and Downhill). 

I, on the other hand, had watched all four on TV. Many times. Accordingly I felt I had an even chance, if not a slight edge.

Technology is such these days that one can scan one’s ski pass at a handy nearby electronic kiosk and watch a video of any of these kind of races one has taken part in. As both of my regular readers will know, I am not always a fan of technological advances. However, coming across such a kiosk later in the day, I saw that the automatic camera had successfully captured the first few seconds of the ‘contest’, and then – gamely – had swung through a random arc and focussed on a nearby metal pole instead. I was grateful.

The ‘racing’ complete, we joined the Saslong and made it down safely. I remain in awe of the skill, but mostly the courage, of World Cup downhillers who straight-line it down black runs like that.

At the après-ski bar at the foot of the race piste, there was a goat on the roof. Of course there was. We took pictures.

After a funicular train journey through the heart of a mountain, and another gondola ride upwards, we stopped for lunch at the top. I went inside the Rifugio to order.

“Bitte?” asked the server.

Many moons ago, in Edinburgh, I had an Italian neighbour whose first language – I discovered – was German, and thus I was educated in the fact that a region of Italy is primarily German-speaking. And it appeared that we had skied into it.

I later discovered that this part of the Dolomites had originally belonged to Austria, until relatively recently, when it had been transferred to Italian ownership through a series of circumstances that I am still a little fuzzy on.

However the Austrian-German-sounding placenames live on, and German remains the first language in certain parts.

We skied the lovely 10.5km La Longia run down into Ortisei, and caught the cable car back up again.  

One of the distinct pleasures of skiing in this area is that all the villages were real villages, not purpose-built ski resorts. Thus one had a definite sense of touring around the area, rather than simply skiing up and down runs. The differing languages across the region only added to the sense of travel.

That evening we had dinner out at the Kaiserstube. Having been in Italy for three full days at this point, and not having had pizza, I decided to put that right. There’s something about Italian pizza, eaten in Italy. It’s apparently simple and uncomplicated, and yet profoundly tasty.

My first and, prior to this trip, only visit to Italy was a week’s holiday in Milan, during a hot and sticky June, nineteen years ago. I and my travelling companion Stephen arrived at our small city hotel after a series of delays due to striking baggage-handlers. We were ravenous.

I approached the hotel receptionist – a youngish, bespectacled gentleman.

“Is there anywhere around here we could get a pizza?” I enquired. This remains, I believe, the most stupid question I have asked in any country at any time.

He smiled, and with a benevolent and gracious air, produced a local map and with a pen circled the location of a backstreet pizzeria nearby. I believe it was called Grog. It was family-run, and the pizza was simply outstanding.

Kaiserstube’s pizza reminded me very much of this. It was an excellent evening, to round off a great day.

The Snow Angels of the Dolomites, part I

It’s April, dear reader, Yesterday’s watery sunshine, luring us briefly into thoughts of balmier weather, has given way to today’s endearingly British rain-hail-sleet combo. Or “April showers” as we like to call them.

But before April came March, which witnessed a couple of important events. Firstly, Britain’s non-exit from the EU on 29 March. Having been guilty in the past of being carelessly ignorant of important goings-on in the nation, I have tried manfully to stay abreast of developments with Brexit. At least every now and then. I have periodically read articles and blog posts by political analysts, which appear to come forth daily. But I find they all follow the same format:

  1. Last night [this thing] happened.
  2. What does [this thing] mean? or occasionally What happens now?
  3. We don’t know

What I deduce from each article is that, really, nothing is happening.

Happily, March also finally witnessed my long-awaited ski trip to the Land of Bialetti, with 23 fellow adventurers. I christened our group the Dolomites Snow Angels, and no-one objected, or at least not too strongly, and so that was that.

On the first or second evening, I can’t quite remember which, Emily – the holiday rep – held court in our neighbouring chalet’s living room. Our chalet was the Traviata, theirs the Violetta. Both named after a Verdi opera. This pleased me.

Every chalet holiday I’ve been on has had one of these introductory chats from the rep. Never have I attended one before.  But this time I was numbered among the crowd that trooped over to the Violetta. And I found myself pondering what my sceptical non-attendance might have cost me all these years, as Emily engaged us in a whistle-stop tour of the area’s skiing highlights.. 

She waxed lyrical about La Longia – the 10.5km red run down into Oritsei, and went on to mention the legendary Saslong men’s World Cup downhill black run in Val Gardena, the La Crusc church in the furthest away corner of the map above the village of Badia, the lovely blue runs of the Alta Badia valley, and the Marmolada Glacier, with its spectacular views from upwards of 3000m, not to mention its WWI museum. 

Clearly all that plus the 1200km of general skiing available wasn’t going to keep us busy, so she was also offering limited places on a trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Hidden Valley on Day 5. Cortina promised yet more stunning and unique Dolomites scenery, a ladies’ World Cup downhill, and a ski run featured in For Your Eyes Only. Meanwhile the Hidden Valley ski run is regularly voted one of the world’s top 10, includes a pub with two resident Alpacas, and the opportunity to be towed the last flat 1km or so by a horse-drawn cart. Oh, and there were tunnels left over from WWI to explore at the top.

Having come to the Dolomites with the express purpose of completing the Sella Ronda, by the time she was done I found myself less invested in that, and much more interested in the variety and quality of the unique skiing experiences to be had here.

Of course, there was no reason why these attractions had to compete, and so on Day 4, ten of us did in fact complete the Sella Ronda, interrupting our clockwise journey at Corvara to head off on a monastic pilgrimage to La Crusc, before rejoining at Corvara and skiing hard all the way home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Day 1 was, as it always is, a day for re-acquainting oneself with one’s ski legs and remembering forgotten techniques. Having more or less found my way down the hill safely in the morning, I had decided to have an easy and fun afternoon skiing in the fun park, through ice tunnels and over pianos, but took the wrong lift up and instead found myself skiing black runs and moguls in Arabba with the some of the more adventurous Snow Angels.

But I survived, and on the way home found somewhere selling Baileys, with which we toasted St Paddy that evening.

On Day 2 we awoke to falling snow. It had been falling since the early hours, and so we abandoned any plans we might have had to ski hard and long that day. Truth be told, there probably wasn’t a plan for that day. Most days plans were formed late and on the hoof, which is not a bad way to approach a holiday, I reckon.

We headed away from the crowds of the Sella Ronda, up Val di Fassa, and took a gondola ride into a winter wonderland. Not that we could see all that much of it, initially.

Skiing in the falling snow, provided it’s not being propelled into your face by a Force Nine gale, is a wondrous thing. Sounds from across the mountain are muffled by the ever-deepening snowy blanket, and skiing must be done more by feel than by sight due to the reduced visibility. And everything is soft. Everything, that is, apart from my ski, which came off during a particularly inelegant wipeout at the bottom of a black run, and clattered into my face.

After some slope-side ministrations from the amazing Steve, who – Mary Poppins-style – conjured a host of medical supplies from his bottomless rucksack, I repaired to the nearest Rifugio, whereupon a host of friends patched me up with steri-strips, chocolate cake and espressos. I remained there for many hours, entertained by the inimitable Jamie and Kirsty, until I had recovered my courage sufficiently to ski a blue run a couple of times and then retreat back to the chalet.

January on the Wane

January is on the way out, dear reader, which can only be a good thing. The days are steadily getting longer, although not especially warmer, just yet.

Lying in wait is February, and in the blink of an eye it’ll be March, with a ski trip to the Dolomites. I am imagining much in the way of leisurely slope-side pizza-consumption in the early spring Italian sunshine. Followed by Tiramsu, and almost certainly an espresso. Then, with a sigh and probably a burp or two, strapping on the skis and hurtling down the hill towards Brexit Day.

The country feels in a state of some turmoil as Brexit approaches. Personally, I can’t help but think the whole thing was an extraordinarily bad idea.

While I accept that Mrs May possibly hasn’t done as sterling a job as she might in navigating these choppy waters, I do have some sympathy given that she wasn’t for leaving in the first place. And I find myself grieved by the overall air of grasping self-interest that seems to be prevalent in the country, not particularly unusual in Westminster at any time, it must be said, but seemingly magnified just now. It feels like the country’s in a bit of a pickle, and rather than everyone rallying round to try to find a solution, everyone is instead fighting their own corner all the more fiercely, with Ms Sturgeon eyeing an opening to sell independence to the Scots again.

Along with worries about the Irish border, the long-term loss of GDP for the UK economy, loss of jobs, port blockages and the like, of immediate and pressing concern is the state of the nation’s Empire Biscuits, and in particular, the depth of icing. Last Friday the icing was unacceptably thin. This week the Admin Supremo attempted an early EB acquisition on Thursday night at Tesco.

“Never seen such pale Empire biscuits” was the report Friday morning. 

Bring on a second referendum I say.

Meanwhile, January has seen a marked decline in the use of the washing machine at Only Here For The Cricket Towers. Over the festive period in particular, I was delighted by how long my clothes were lasting between washes. It belatedly occurred to me that, in employing the tried-and-trusted Sniff Test each morning to determine my clothes’ eligibility for another day’s use, I had neglected to take into account the cold that I’d been suffering from for weeks, and thereby unable to effectively smell anything.

I do apologise to all my friends, particularly the huggers.

January has also seen a marked upturn in my sleep quality. On becoming more and more aware of the shape and hardness of the springs in my mattress, I petitioned the landlord for a new one, and received the go-ahead a week or so ago. I was reminded of a previous flat tenancy, twenty years ago now, when I inherited a room in a flat on Magdala Crescent. Lovely flat, quiet street, perfect location.

After a month or two living there, I began to question the cuts that were appearing on my torso without any apparent cause, until one day I noticed that some of the springs in my mattress were actually poking through. Not an awful lot, but enough to draw blood periodically. Somewhat timid in nature at this point in my life, I never mentioned it to anyone, and instead found a narrow strip along the westward side of the mattress which was unmined, so to speak, and lay very still every night.

I note with some alarm that Facebook is about to integrate Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Quite what that means I’m not sure, but I’m alarmed mainly by the implication that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, a fact of which I was unaware. I was becoming quite fond of WhatsApp too. Ickle Bef uses it to send pictures of swans on the canal, which is charming. And Nicola, sporadically occupied in the Caring Profession between documentaries about the state of the Polynesian rainforests [subtitled], sends occasional informative updates to us all from drug dens in Leith.

If WhatsApp takes a Facebook approach to life and applies its cursed algorithmic approach based on one’s “liking” and “posting” activity… well, no-one will ever see anything I say, ever. 

I might have to start speaking to people in person from here on in. Eek.

Snowmageddon and Bacon Rolls

Tuesday 27 Feb

Went into town to see the movie Lady Bird. With the internet promising apocalyptic weather over the next few days I wasn’t sure when I would next get out of the house. The Beast from the East was on the way, they said. Freezing temperatures and shedloads of snow, they said.

Not likely, I thought. Winter after winter we get these predictions, and they do happen, somewhere in the UK, I’ve seen it on the news, all those drivers stuck on motorways and whatnot. But never in Edinburgh. Too close to the coast. Snow doesn’t really lie here.

I exited the flat into a shallow carpet of tiny hailstones. Drove into town. The Beast, it seemed, had made a preliminary foray into Edinburgh, and the old girl was clad in a thin veil of ghostly white. The wind was gusting a little. I parked up on London Road, and walked/slid up to the cinema.

Lady Bird was a great film. At some stage I experienced the gradually-dawning realisation that I was watching an American teenage girl’s coming-of-age movie. However, it was frequently hilarious, and often touching, and only spoiled a little by the fact that it was subtitled. This is the second Tuesday in a row I have been ambushed by unwanted subtitles at the cinema. Is Tuesday Subtitle Day at Vue?

I left the cinema. Some fresh snow had fallen in the meantime. Scraped the windscreen clear and headed home.

Wednesday 28 Feb

From 3pm today until 10am tomorrow, a red weather warning is in place from the MET Office. I normally drive into the office around lunchtime on a Wednesday, but today it seemed sensible to stay and work from home all day.

Working from home has benefits, some of which are bacon-and-egg-roll-shaped. I followed up that lunchtime benefit with a simpler, more austere second course of bacon-only-roll. One has to take one’s bacon roll opportunities when they present themselves.

Just recently I found myself in town on a Friday morning. A narrow window of bacon-roll-opportunity presented itself, so narrow it was more like one of those windows you get in castles, just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, but it was enough. I marched, expectant, into the New Town Deli.

The barista had tattoos. I was reassured.

“Do you do bacon rolls?”

She looked unsure. I scanned the blackboard. It was all smashed avocado and crushed fennel seeds.

“No, sorry,” she explained, after a short conversation with her supervisor. “That was yesterday.”

That was yesterday? Is Thursday Bacon Roll Day? I’m an Anglican, and thus primed to celebrate feast days on the appropriate occasion, but have now missed Bacon Roll Day AND the memo about Subtitle Day.

Anyway, back to the present. My boss has also decided to work from home today. We communicate via email, with Snowmageddon updates via WhatsApp.

14:17 Definitely worsening here. People are panic buying at the local shop. 

My boss lives in The Sticks. If the local shop gets cleaned out they might need to do food drops by helicopter.

I put it to him that he wouldn’t know they were panic buying there unless he was there panic buying himself. He is unable to effectively deny this. Meantime I am quietly panicking myself, as my coffee beans have almost run out.

14:59 One minute until Snowmageddon.

The wind picks up. Within an hour the snow is coming down hard. I do what work I can from home and eventually stop for tea. In the interests of a balanced diet, I eschew more bacon, and instead have sausages. And potatoes.

Flatmate returned from work with the disturbing news that our local McDonalds had shut.

Thursday 1 Mar

More snow overnight. Car looks like it’s not going anywhere for a while. I pulled back the curtains to see neighbours pulling their kids along the middle of the road in sledges.

No buses running today. Fresh coffee beans now gone. Had to make an emergency raid on the reserve coffee bean jar this morning.

Sky cleared a bit in the morning. My flatmate’s work is closed today, but he was asked to go and put up a sign on the door to say this. He wrapped up and walked into town.

Main roads are ok. Just passed one guy on skis!

He asked if I wanted anything. I realise that I have bacon, but no rolls, so ask him if he could stop off for some at Sainsbury’s. Apparently the panic-buyers have got there first.

Brioche only!

A bacon brioche doesn’t sound terrible, and he agreed to bring the brioches. Meanwhile I decide to revisit Morrison’s to see if it was open today.

It was. I stocked up on bacon, rolls, and other essentials.

Climbed the steep street back towards my flat, and say a cheery “Hi!” to a snowboarder going the other way.

Safely back in the flat, I reestablish WhatsApp communication with the boss.

Local shop is out of milk and bread…

And I used up all our bacon for breakfast

He sends a picture of his back garden, complete with snow ramp, and sledging daughter. It’s all happening in The Sticks.

After lunch the Rector’s Administrator emails. She is working from home in Morningside, and all is well – she has plenty of Prosecco and Waitrose hasn’t yet run out of quinoa.

H texts. H loves the snow, but not the cold. The heating in her flat has two settings: Clay Oven, and Old People’s Home. I suspect it’s on the latter today.

The blizzards continue all day. Looking out on my back “garden”, I realise that if the snow continues, it won’t be long before even the weeds are completely submerged. This is a non-trivial amount of snow.

I put the kettle on, and pop some brioches under the grill. Get momentarily distracted and before you know it, the brioches are smoking.  Who knew brioches toasted so quickly? I flip open the kitchen window, and the Beast makes short work of the smoke in the kitchen, before it even has a chance to reach the nostrils of the Loudest Most Sensitive Smoke Alarm in the world.

I have Blackened Brioche with marmalade. Surprisingly tasty.

Followed that up with a bacon-based tea. One has to keep one’s energy levels up at times like this.

Stay safe out there, Britons.

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…

Toilet flushes and girlfriends

Seems like I duly took my own advice and even extended the slowing down to my blogging, which, it’s fair to say, didn’t really require much in the way of brake-application. Could perhaps use a judicious application of the literary accelerator rather than the brake, I’d say. I’ll try and work on that. The time for New Year Intentions is coming round fast, so I’ll add it to the list. Again.

Anyway, my time away from the blogging keyboard has allowed me to spend some much-needed time considering important life questions such as “Do the two buttons on the top of modern toilets actually perform different functions?”

Sometimes they are marked with one dot, and two dots, respectively. Is this a bashful reference to Number Ones and Number Twos? Or a reference to the relative volume of water that is used in the flush? Which, one would think, would be commensurate with the, er, volume of waste, and so could refer to both.

But then sometimes the buttons are different sizes, indeed sometimes the larger button is so much larger that it could only be appropriate for a Number Three (the mind boggles), and then again sometimes the smaller button is encased and enclosed by the larger one, making it unpressable on its own. Unless you are handily carrying a pencil, which I generally wouldn’t, not into a toilet at any rate, for health and safety reasons.

Given the more deliberate, intentional act required to depress the two together, does this activate the Number Two Flush, thereby only using a greater volume of water when strictly necessary? This would make sense in our eco-conscious world.

But then why is it that mostly they continue to flush for as long as you hold them down, regardless of their number of dots, or size, or enclosedness?

I would likely refer to the instruction manual at this point (this point being several years after first encountering the problem, as per the proper manly approach), but I confess I have never seen an instruction manual for a toilet.

Has anyone been taught correct modern-toilet-flushing protocol? Is this something taught at classes on Etiquette? Does anyone have a pdf (even a quick-start guide translated directly from Japanese) they could send me? I would be grateful.

Some months past, I visited a very fine establishment (pub) in Dunning, Perthshire. I cannot recall now the toilet-flushing apparatus they had installed, but I did partake of a very fine pie. When the waiter, mid-plate-clearing, asked me how my meal had been, I remarked that I thought it might have been the finest pie I’d ever eaten.

The waiter, with a sidelong glance at my profile, remarked “Thank you sir. That’s quite the compliment.”

I resolved to lose weight immediately.

Shortly thereafter the Finance Director started her health kick spreadsheet, and the rest is history. It would be indiscreet of me to share exactly how much weight I’ve lost, but suffice to say, were I to parcel up the lost fat in a medium-sized parcel and post it via the Royal Mail, it would cost £22.

In other, unrelated, news, I have been dating the lovely H for several months now. Things are going relatively well (she’s met all of mine, and I’ve met a tiny fraction of hers). Dating me has given her frequent reason to use the rolling-eyes-emoji – I do consider a day wasted if I haven’t provided her at least one opportunity – which I believe she’s grateful for, judging by the enthusiasm with which she’s embraced it.

In yet other news (I really must blog more often), the snowy slopes are calling, indeed they have been calling for 2 years now, but I have finally yielded to their alluring cry. Albeit via the budget-friendly Oak Hall 24-hours-on-a-coach route, which is decidedly less alluring – but – I am convincing myself – fun-filled nonetheless. I shall keep you all posted, possibly on an hourly basis if sleep fails to arrive. H, sadly, is not joining me on this particular adventure, being as yet unpersuaded of the delights of being very cold and falling over a lot at altitude. It’s surely only a matter of time.

Skiing will be happening over New Year – a first for me – but before that there’s a visit to the London branch of the family for Christmas. Where, if memory serves, I once destroyed the modern flush system of their newly-installed toilet with an over-vigorous pressing of the Number Two button. Good times.

Bring back the elevated cistern with the dangling chain, I say.

Have a Merry Christmas y’all.

Ski Racing and the Youth of Today

Monday:

DL: “I watched the race from Kitzbühel on youtube last night mate.”

Me: “Oh really?”

DL: “Yeah especially because we got the silver.”

Me: “Huh?”

DL: “Yeah we came second… Dave Ryding? In the slalom.”

Me: “Whaaaaaat?”

I really do love skiing. I’ve been skiing (for at least a day or two) every winter since 2003, with the exception of the wilderness years of 2005 and 2006. In 2005 I instead decided to spend a week with Wiseman et al in Toronto for my friend Alyn’s wedding, and in 2006 I was saving up for an epic trip down under to see England lose 5-0 in the Ashes of 2006-7, although obviously I didn’t know the result at that point. It might have somewhat demotivated my saving effort.

This winter, it seems, is going to be another one sans-skiing. However, I am keeping the dream alive by wearing my ski socks all through the winter, and falling over periodically. Be reassured that I do have more than one pair of socks, and switch between them occasionally.

I also watch the ski racing on Eurosport, every weekend if I can. However, not since the beginning of January, as the Finance Director doesn’t appear to have a Eurosport subscription, more’s the pity. I wonder if she realises how much coverage of international handball she’s missing out on.

And so it came to pass that the best result Great Britain has recorded in the Alpine Skiing World Cup since Nineteen Canteen… passed me by. I might have missed it altogether, had my youthful spiky-haired colleague DL not pointed it out.

Dave Ryding, what a legend. What a result. On a crazily-difficult piste which saw many of the top names crash out, he finished first in the initial run, and would have come first overall if Marcel Hirscher hadn’t produced one of his now-customary unbelievable second-run charges to take the spoils for Austria.

Hirscher is an incredible athlete. One of the all-time greats, mesmerising to watch, he’s my favourite skier to watch in slalom and giant-slalom.

It’s understandable that countries like Austria, Norway, Switzerland and the USA produce great skiers. Not to mention France, Italy and Canada. They have great mountains and ski resorts on their doorstep. The ski federations and training programmes of these nations are strong and well-resourced. Not so Britain’s.

Today:

DL: “Hey mate, did you see we got a gold yesterday?”
Me: “Whaaaat?!”
DL: “Yeah, in the disability skiing”

It’s true. GB’s Millie Knight won gold in the downhill. She’s 18 years old, and visually impaired. Racing the downhill while visually impaired, can you imagine anything more terrifying?

Me: “British skiing are having a real purple patch at the minute!”
DL nodded and smiled.
Me: “Do you know what I mean by that?” I had used the phrase in a conversation with my youthful goateed boss not long before, to general bemusement.
DL: “No.”

What are they teaching the kids at school these days?

Unexpected sporting connections

 

I’ve found a sport that the Brits and the Americans both love. Skiing. And we even have the same name for it. Naturally there are some differences in nomenclature. Here, as I understand it, my pants are held up by suspenders.

We’re two days into a 3-day ski trip to West Virginia, and tired muscles are recovering in our overheated condo. This is my first experience of skiing in N America and not Europe, and the Showshoe resort seems great. Speaking to a stranger does not require a preliminary assessment of what their first language might be, and resort staff (and slope users in general!) are considerably more courteous than those in France. It sits at a lower altitude than any resort I’ve been to in the Alps, but there have been shedloads of snow, and all the runs are covered right down to the bottom. Also, despite the lower altitude, it has somehow has been much colder than anything I’ve experienced in the Alps. Two days before we arrived the temperature here was minus 4. Fahrenheit. Today was a comparatively Amazonian 10F. It would appear that this is cold enough to cause beer bottles, left out to chill on the balcony, to explode. This has never happened before to me on previous ski trips. Although that was usually Kronenberg 1664 and this was Corona. Perhaps French beer is more suited to low temperatures than Mexican beer. Hmmm, makes sense.

Anyhow, the result of 5 exploded bottles of Corona (Corona Light, in fact – never shop for beer in a hurry) was a considerable amount of yellow snow. Possibly the only time yellow snow has been worth eating.

I’ve been back in the US for exactly 3 weeks now. My journey and re-entry to the States was pleasantly hassle-free. On the NYC-Nashville leg of my journey I found myself sitting across from a dude with a guitar. This is not an unusual occurrence on a flight to Nashville. He struck up a conversation with me, thus:

“Excuse me sir, are those in-ear-monitors?”

“Yes they are, absolutely.”

“Did you get them in Nashville? I need to get a pair.”

“Oh no, sorry, I actually got them in Edinburgh, Scotland!”

“Oh, wow, ok, that’s a long way.”

“Yes.”

(Then after a moment)

“I played rugby in Edinburgh once. When I was 12.”

But of course you did.

“I was at school in England, and we were on tour. It was very cold.”

Yes, that’s the one.

On another trip to the States, a few years back, I was taking a cab with my colleague from the airport into downtown Washington, DC. The cab driver was an enormous black dude. The conversation turned to where we had flown in from.

“Edinburgh, Scotland.”

“Oh.” (Then, after a moment)

“I played cricket in Edinburgh once. In a tournament.”

But of course you did.

“It was pretty cold.”

Yes, yes, that’s the one..