We went skiing last week. The following was supposed to be posted when I pressed the post button minutes before we left. For some reason, possibly not unconnected to me fiddling with the Post Options, it never appeared. However, never one to let a word go to waste, I am posting it now. We are back from skiing but just call me Zoltar.
••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• The bags are packed and we are heading off to the Alps for the annual ritual humiliation that is skiing. "Can you ski?" French friends ask with surprise adding: "Are there mountains you can ski down in England?" I reply: "There aren't and I can't." But the smuggies know that already. Of course I can't, I'm English.
It really isn't fair. I said this last year - I say it every time - but it isn't. The Frenchman does no exercise whatsoever and has been skiing about four times in the last 20 years, but he can ski. Of course he can, he's French. The Belle Belle-Fille shuns any kind of sport and yet skis like a mountain goddess, sweeping down slopes with a gentle sway of the hips, her knees and skis perfectly parallel and with minimum effort and maximum grace. I keep fit, I go to the gym, I have a good sense of balance, I used to roller-skate, but the art of skiing well eludes me.
For some reason I have it in my head that I enjoy skiing but when I deconstruct the experience into the sum of its parts I wonder why I have reached this bizarre conclusion.
Here is how it will go:
a) The train will arrive and we will discover we have to pay an arm and a leg for a taxi to the ski resort or wait 90 minutes in the cold wearing our Paris clothes for the next bus.
b) The chalet that looked as if it was right by the ski lifts and village thanks to Photoshop or clever use of perspective, will turn out to be half a mile away. It will not be pretty sloping roofed wooden building with lots of balconies in the middle of the photo in the brochure, but the grey Soviet-era concrete block next to it.
c) We will pay a large sum of good money to be kitted out with ski boots that make us walk like we've got two false legs, skis that will flatly refuse to stay together when on feet, but will snap like piranhas to our fingers when we try to carry them on shoulders and will fail to stay anywhere near each other when stuck in snow outside a bar. We will be given two tall poles that we will be told are very important but that we have no idea what exactly to do with except "plante, plante", which if you are French means sticking them in the snow before executing a perfect turn and if you are English means sticking them in the snow and falling over them.
d) We will clomp through the village in said ski boots that have all the elegance of orthopedic footwear struggling to carry skis and poles and getting hot and bothered to the bottom of a mountain that looks very, very high.
e) The Frenchman will suggest going up very, very high mountain and I will agree thinking it cannot be so very, very high as it looks as there are five-year-old French children coming down it. In fact, five-year-old French children coming down it very fast.
f) I will arrive at the top of the very, very high mountain and shout at the Frenchman accusing him of trying to kill me. I will shout for at least 10 minutes until I realise he is going to ski off and leave me to get down on my own if I don't shut up and that groups of five-year-olds are looking at me before skiing off.
g) After launching myself onto the piste I will find I am heading for the edge of the mountain and have forgotten how to turn. I will panic and lean back - big big mistake - and will go faster. I will fall over.
h) At some point during the first day and every subsequent day, someone coming down the mountain faster but not necessarily better than me, will ski into me, or narrowly avoid me, despite the fact I am wearing a glowing orange jacket that could be spotted from an un-zoomed satellite shot on Google Earth.
a) It was warm and sunny. We only waited 15 minutes for a bus; this was long enough to buy the tickets without panicking.
b) The chalet was in a pretty slope-roofed wooden building. It had a balcony. It was much smaller than it looked in the brochure. It was indeed a schlepp and a half from the main ski-lift, the village, the ski school...and all uphill.
c) We did. We were given 20% discount vouchers but still paid a small fortune equivalent to that demanded without vouchers last year. Blistered fingers on the first day.
d) Spot on.
e) He did. There were.
f) The Frenchman surpassed himself in his attempts to get his hands of my non-existent life insurance. First day, first slope, he "accidentally" went the wrong way and took us down a red competition slope for the second year running. I knew I was in trouble because there were no five-year-olds to be seen. I swear this is the same slope I saw on the recent downhill skiing championships. I shouted at the Frenchman. He looked resigned: "Welcome to the first day skiing," he said.
g) Fell over. One ski came off. (and you try retrieving then 'unlocking' a ski and shoving an orthopaedic boot back into its mechanism while trying to avoid sliding down a racing slope on the remaining ski.) Small mercy: thanks to being on competition slope nobody except the Frenchman witnessed my wimping and whingeing.
The move to France was only supposed to be for a couple of years, not forever. Then I met The Frenchman. Then I had La Fille. Now there's no way back. But La Fille, to whom a horse is a cheval and a frog is just pond life is still half English. So before the Gallic nation claims her for its own, sprinkles her with garlic, sautés her and swallows her up whole we make regular escapes on the Eurostar. And we have discovered the grass is various shades of green either side of the Channel.