Defender of the Fells

Landrover CampervanHistorically, I have never liked being on my own. So it was with great trepidation that I set off on my solo camping trip to the Lake District. I say, “camping”, but no tents were to be involved. I’d “pimped my ride” and turned Landie into a rudimentary campervan – if the addition of a carpet, curtains, stove and a portaloo can be called “pimping”.

There is just enough room in a Defender 110, the long wheel based version, for an average sized man (me) to lie flat in the back which is a little known and seldom utilised, design feature.

Debbie thought I was mad, but I’d been held in suburban captivity for several weeks and with ½ term looming it was time to get out of Dodge (Sutton Coldfield). We’d had words the night before, a drunken conversation about “my life”, “my future” and “my solution” – to run away again. But the trip wasn’t part of my ongoing existential crisis – it was a proof-of-concept. Was it possible to live in a Land Rover?

High Spy Summit

I had another mission too. I’d long since wanted to climb the 214 fells that Alfred Wainwright MBE (AW) had described in his seminal work, ‘A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells’ – I was going “Wainwright Bagging” as it is known.

AW was a loner and seldom had company on his ascents. He obviously preferred the blank pages of his notebook to people for company – presumably because they couldn’t disagree with him or complain about their blisters. I was a writer too, but was I cut out to be a loner?

Fear of my own company was not the sole cause of my trepidation. Theoretically Landie can go anywhere but I find getting her “anywhere”, the Alps for instance, psychologically stressful. She doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to reliability – she frequently causes my love to labour.

Despite a worrying noise emanating from somewhere in her drive train, Landie made the hyperspace jump up the M6 successfully and when we materialised in Kendal, I started to relax. The noise had been a reminder that the Agents of Entropy are always lurking somewhere out of sight.

Once in AW country the scenery started to feed my soul and I forgot about the noise. Finally in her element, Landie powered over the Kirkstone Pass and when we finally came to rest, on the banks of Ullswater, I concluded that all her problems where in my head.

The beauty of the idyllic spot was marred by the absence of Debbie. I’ve always thought that any experience is always better when shared with someone that you love. I suspect AW would not have agreed. So I decided to do what most modern solo travellers do and upload a selfie to Facebook. “You are never alone with an iPhone,” I thought and wondered if I could sell that slogan to Apple – but there wasn’t a whiff of phone signal, let alone 4G, in the ether.

Half of me was pleased that I was finally off-grid and the other worried that there was no way to check-in with Debbie. My location, my situation and my itinerary would be unknown to her. Seldom a day goes by, even if I’m in the Alps, when we don’t speak or at least have a text exchange – it was a welcome chore. But the lack of a communications channel hadn’t been anticipated and I thought she would be worried.

I found a phone box, conveniently located in a pub, and once I’d worked out how to use it, I broke the radio silence and explained I’d not been ignoring her. I gave her my intended itinerary for the following day and a cut off time after which, had she not heard from me, she was to call Mountain Rescue – all a bit excessive for a stroll on the fells in June, I admit. But, like skiing off-piste, it’s risky heading out into any abyss alone.

I chatted to a stranger in the pub and being a “loner” meant that I only needed to reveal the parts of my history that I was proud of. When you’re alone you can be anyone you want to be, with no friends around to dob you in. I drank what I now know to be the prerequisite amount of beer for a successful night’s sleep in a Land Rover (3 pints) and staggered back to my crib.

I’d parked in a remote corner of a campsite, next to the lake, which only a Land Rover could reach. While staggering past the other campers, all of whom had remembered to pack friends, I speculated what they might be thinking. Did they feel sorry for me? Did they wonder which path through life I’d taken that had led me to sleep rough in the back of a Land Rover?

Once settled in my sleeping bag, I reviewed the morning’s intended route on the map then fell asleep listening to the plaintive cries of an oystercatcher who seemed down on his luck.

Not having to consider others is liberating. You can eat, sleep and drink when the desire takes you. You can get up when you like too and I set off at 6am the next morning to conquer my first Wainwrights of the trip. Although the early start was probably more due to a tea towels lack of opacity than my newfound liberty – so I made a note to replace Landie’s curtains with something more substantial when I got back to Dodge.

Summit of Angletarn PikesAfter a few vertical miles had been trodden, I looked up at the four looming peaks I’d intended to climb and wished I’d paid more attention to the proximity of their contour lines the previous evening. I realised two things; I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was and that the Far Eastern Fells were vast, uninhabited and a very serious place to get lost in.

With only sheep and meadow pipets for company, I plodded onwards and upwards  wondering if I was really having that much fun. Menacing black rain clouds were rolling in from the West when I staggered to the top of my first summit, Angeltarn Pikes (AW no 143). I grabbed my prize – a picture of me next to the summit cairn. Having toyed with aborting the day’s mission most of the way up, it was a relief to finally get on the scoreboard. However the bleak location and closing bad weather intimidated me and I felt exhausted, frightened and alone. So I quickly started my descent worried that the impending poor visibility might prevent me from finding the main, yet indistinctive, path home.

Demoralised, I decided to abort the rest of the day, accept defeat and head back to basecamp. I hadn’t spoken to or seen a soul all morning and the only conversations I’d had were with the ski demons in my head. I discovered that being alone means being in charge of your own morale and with nobody to keep face with, it’s easy to give up.

Place Fell Summit

While retracing my steps I played with the idea of building my own cairn, nearer the campsite and using it to fake a few more summit-selfies. However, I concluded that I’d only be cheating myself. Seems being alone means being in charge of your own morality along with your morale.

On my way down, I started to encounter other walkers who’d left at a more civilised time. I blocked their paths and forced each one in turn into conversation. They seemed happy to oblige – you can ignore everyone in a crowd but not a member of your own species in a wilderness.

Maiden Moor Summit

With the knowledge that there were now a few people around, I mentally regrouped and rerouted myself home via another summit, Place Fell (AW No 109). While posing for the second summit-selfie of the day my phone received a random text! I was high enough now for it to contact a cell tower in the next valley.

I called Debbie who told me off for being on the wrong mountain and deviating from my original plan. While chatting to her, seemingly from the top of the world, the irony of the situation struck me. Despite bleak isolation being part of their attraction, you’re actually more off-grid in the valleys than on the tops of the fells. I finished my phone call, uploaded my selfies to Facebook and started the final descent.

Maiden MoorAfter a couple more days of Wainwright bagging, I got tired of not being able to stand up in my accommodation. When you get to a certain age, there are some things you can only do standing up – like putting your underpants on. So I cheated and stayed with friends near Keswick – it’s important to have friends in the North.

They persuaded me to join them the next day as marshals for a sponsored fell walk (a gut-busting 20-mile route march around the ridges of the Newlands Valley). I didn’t take much persuading. Like most men I jump at the opportunity to wear a tabard while holding a walkie-talkie.

Despite their curtains having the correct opacity, we set off at 5am the next morning. We climbed towards our allocated checkpoint, the cairn on High Spy (AW No 110) and call sign “High Spy” was “on station” by 7am.

Derwent Water 7amWe watched the sun rise over Derwent Water from our magnificent viewpoint and mused about life. Then, for the best part of five hours, we greeted and triaged some 200 fell-walkers in various states of distress. An independent solo walker, who had clearly picked the wrong fell on the wrong day, stopped too and exclaimed, “I came up here to get away from people!”

I too had seen the sublime turn into the ridiculous. I’d needed to see a few folks that first day on the fells for reassurance, but now flash mobs were diminishing the splendidness of their isolation. I wondered what was the correct amount of people to fell-walk with? AW concluded that, “if you must take someone along, make sure that they are silent.”

On my return to Sutton Coldfield, I concluded that it is indeed possible to live in a Land Rover – for short periods at least. And for equally short periods it’s liberating to be alone. But, if long-term loneliness is the price of a truly liberated life, unlike AW, I’m not prepared to pay it.

With only sixteen Wainwrights in the bag and another 198 to go, I suspect there will be many more nights in the back of Landie ahead before this foolish endeavour is over – so I must get those curtains fixed.

If you enjoyed this blog my books can be bought here

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I love Cox – but not time travel

Thanks to Brian Cox I did a bit of time traveling in Birmingham last Friday. Well, it was really thanks to my girlfriend’s love of the television presenter and his ability to make astrophysics sexy.

I don’t remember the appearance of the professor who lectured me on quantum theory at University, other than that he had a regulation beard and was anything but sexy. And I don’t recall thinking that he could make some serious money by taking his slides on tour. Or that one day, I’d part with a serious amount of mine to listen to another two hour physics lecture – but that is what I had done.

Brian’s lecture was much better attended than Prof’s and held in a slightly bigger theatre – the aircraft hanger currently called the Barclaycard Arena.

However rebranded, the National Indoor Arena (as I still call it) will always have appalling acoustics and for most, attending a concert there will always be like watching a football match when all the action is around the far goal. You stare at the big video screen, instead of the stick insects in front of it, and wonder if you’d have been better off (literally and experientially) watching a recording at home. It would be better if the Arena, like a football match, had stages at both ends then the performers could swap at half time – but I digress.

I don’t know if an intimate evening with Brian Cox and seven thousand nerds can be called a “concert” but it had all the trappings of one. Plastic beer in plastic bottles, long queues for loos, parking purgatory and even merchandise!

When I took my seat around the halfway line, and positioned my body sideways, I realised it was the same seat I’d occupied while watching U2 over a decade ago. I wondered if the seat was actually some sort of time machine. It seemed like only yesterday, when I’d stood in front of it screaming the anthemic lyrics that, I suspect, not even Bono really understands.

I’d bought tickets to the ‘concert’ as a birthday present for Debbie who
sat next to me in a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I Love Cox” she’d procured at a previous “gig”. Seeing her excited anticipation, I knew I would bathe in brownie points for at least a week.

One of the many things I love about her is that she is a “science chic” and an enthusiastic astronomer. However the boyish charms attached to Brian’s large brain were clearly a significant part of his attraction to her and the myriad of other middle aged, middle class mothers around us. Other demographics included young teenagers with their dads, who I assumed were going to do well in their exams.

I spotted Mark, an ex-work colleague of mine that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. He had aged, as no doubt had I, but my transformation was not apparent in any mirror. I had changed slowly, his wrinkles had, for me at least, appeared instantly. Although he was sat within shouting distance, I didn’t alert him to my presence. We had been travelling down different paths of space-time for so long it wasn’t worth getting reacquainted, as our trajectories were unlikely to cross again.

I don’t know if it was seeing him, or the chair that had transported my mind back in time to my former life when I lived in the centre of Birmingham. I’d lived and worked within walking distance of the arena for almost two decades and that evening we’d parked near my old apartment. We had been to a restaurant in Brindley Place, my old stomping ground. While listening to Brian convince me that time was relative, I realised why I’d felt so uncomfortable walking through my old manor.

Being a Friday, there had been a buzz about the place. The bars were overflowing with city types, drinking after work, some still in their suits. That was exactly how I used to spend my Friday evenings when I’d had a so-called proper job. It was a lifetime ago, before the Chalet Project and before I became a geriatric ski bum.

Friday nights were special then and often the social highlight of a boozy business week. Friday nights were sacrosanct; only boring people stayed in on a Friday, or ones with no friends. Now my Friday nights seem to involve going to a physics lecture – time had made more than just physical changes to me.

Brian’s lecture was much more enthralling than any of Profs, or maybe I was more engaged with the subject than I’d been at University, having traversed so much space-time in between. If I’d known then that being good at physics could turn you into a rock star I might have paid more attention to Prof.

After the “gig”, on our way back to the car, we weaved through the smokers drinking alfresco – loud music and excited voices emitting from every bar. I remarked how little Friday night had changed in Brindley Place and I felt very nostalgic. Then I wondered if I might bump into my old self and what warning from the future I would give me – probably “go home”.

Brian explained why Einstein concluded time was relative and why, through experimentation most scientists now agree with him. I concluded their definition of the word ‘time’ was different to mine. Their time was a dimension; I used the word ‘time’ to describe the linear progression of events – I think I might have to start calling it “history book time”.

Brian’s ‘time’ was relative to speed – mine was too. Time seems to stands still for me when I’m stuck or bored, but races past when my life is moving fast. So much had happened so fast since I’d worked with Mark – my chair might not have been a time machine after all.

At least Brian and I agreed on something. You may be able to accelerate into the future but you can’t go back in time. To reminisce about the past is pointless – however you define it, time will change us but we can’t change time.

Chris Tomlinson’s books – can be bought online here

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2017 – The Best and Worst of Ski Seasons

Skiing books

Laax

It had been the best and worst of seasons, as Dickens might have described it – one lacking in snow and beset with Land Rover problems from its outset. Morzine had seen a brutally cold January and tropical temperatures in March – but I’d had some fabulous skiing experiences in the Dolomites and Laax.

Winter 2017 had also seen a particularly eclectic mix of people stay at Chalet Framboise: Old friends and new, some entertaining, some irritating, some flawed and some fascinating – all ripe for literary assassination. The season had produced some good material for the final instalment of the Skiing with Demons trilogy (publication date unknown).

skiing books

Dolomites

There was a lot to reflect on whilst driving north. I’d undertaken Wine Run 7, as my northerly migration is known, alone. One last twist in the season’s tail meant I was without my co-driver, and chief medical officer.

We had been hanging around in Morzine, waiting for a Land Rover part, but Debbie had run out of holiday and had flown back to the UK. There was one day left before I too had to vacate Chalet Framboise. The couriers website, claimed the part (a rear prop shaft) would be delivered before 6pm that day, but I wasn’t confident.

Getting parts delivered to France is tricky. They arrive in Morzine with impressive rapidity, but the last mile to the chalet is always the hardest relying as it does, on the French postal system.

Knowing that French postmen simple cough outside your door and immediately conclude that no one is home, I’d literally waited by my door all day. At 3pm I started to panic. The prospect of driving Landie home with no drive to the rear wheels was daunting. I checked the tracking website again and to my horror the package status had changed to “Failed delivery – returned to depot.”

Livid, I jumped in Landie and nursed her down to the Post office, to protest. There was a queue. The official behind the desk did what all officials do when there is a queue – he proceeded slowly. I watched as a young English couple in front of me had handed over their failed delivery note. He then asked them for  identification. The parcel was addressed to their dad. They had his passport and his surname, and I assumed they were not trying to collect gold ingots for his pre-Brexit stash, but there was no way he was going to give them the parcel.

After their sheepish retreat, and still with a little steam coming out of my ears, I stepped up to the desk. Having just heard him eloquently dismiss my predecessors in their mother tongue I made a rookie mistake – I started the encounter in English.   “You tried to deliver a parcel today, I was in all day, I believe it is back here?” I said, knowing full well it had never left the building. Sensing my frustration his reply was, “Speak French.”

computer-says-no_o_1699339.jpgRealising what I’d done, I apologised and tried again in Franglais. I gave him the tracking number and he typed it into his computer, then gave me the French equivalent of ‘the computer says no’.  I showed him the email proving “Le carton, was dans la maison” “Maybe we will deliver it tomorrow?” – he said, accidentally reverting to English.

I explained that I had to leave “La house of raspberries de matin” and that I had voted to Remain. He turned back to his computer and with out typing anything, decided it was worth looking in the store room.

After a while and presumably a quick espresso, he returned holding what could only be a prop shaft. He placed it behind him and started the paperwork – in France the paperwork often takes longer than the job it pertains to, but at least I could see the object of my desire.

I couldn’t prove I lived at the chalet, they hadn’t left a failed delivery card, because they had only pretended to deliver it. Added to this the first name on my passport didn’t match that of the recipient on the package – he wasn’t happy. I thought about leaning over, grabbing the prop shaft and doing a runner but decide instead to state my intention not to leave the building without it. I asked him what time the post office shut and where was the best place for me to sleep – it did the trick.

propshaft

After successfully installing the new prop shaft, my arms were covered in grease and my fingernails impregnated with oil. I felt very manly and had a strange desire to eat a Yorkie Bar (do they still make those?)

The next morning I set off at 5:30am with a full moon and the stars illuminating my way. A deer and a fox, were the only traffic I encountered as I wound Landie down the mountain to Cluses and joined the motorway.

Once on the motorway, the prospect of being imprisoned with my thoughts for 16 hours was daunting. Having done the journey 6 times before, the navigation was easy – west, past Geneva then turn north towards Dijon. I was also familiar with the psychological way markers.

Dijon seemingly takes forever to reach and there is an overriding feeling of foreboding, as every new rattle and squeak Landie makes is a harbinger of doom. Once Dijon is captured the cities of Troyes, Reims and Saint-Quentin seem to fall easily. Passing Reims is always poignant for me having spent a night in its hospital. Finally, when the first sign to Calais appears the smell of diesel fumes are diluted with a whiff of success.

I stopped for fuel just after Dijon and noticed something leaking out of my left rear hub. It wouldn’t be a proper Wine Run without Landie leaving a trail of some kind of liquid, I thought. I took no action, other than to drive faster in order to get to the ferry before whatever was leaking ran out.

During the journey, for distraction, I tried to recall all the people who had visited me that year. Like the snow, my regulars had been a bit thin on the ground. A new type of guest, ‘my readers’ had filled the ranks. Many had come to visit the crime scene of Skiing with Demons and to meet the central protagonist. They had made me feel like an attraction at a freak show. I wondered if they had been disappointed? I was no longer the party animal of Morzine and was now a recluse, hiding in a remote chalet on its outskirts and seldom seen in its bars.

I also pontificated on whether this would be my last Wine Run. Landie had caused me a lot of stress that winter. Even when she had been running well the anxiety of not knowing where and when she would break down next had been crippling and even though I’d replaced most of her parts my confidence in her was at an all time low. The problem was I knew my collection of new parts were held together by the same rusting chassis and idiosyncratic design.

Perhaps I could return to Zine without Landie? But it wouldn’t be the same without her. She had become part of my persona and was often a source of misguided pride. I wouldn’t be “Chalet Chris” if I drove around in a Toyota Yaris – the world’s most reliable car. I concluded that :

“You can take the man out of a Defender, but you can’t take the Defender out of the man.”

doverOnce Calais fell, I pulled into the EU citizens queue at the ferry port. I wondered if post-Brexit there could be three lines: one for non-EU citizens, one for EU citizens and one for Remainers?

The ferry was full of the usual suspects: parties of annoying school kids, lorry drivers, Eastern European migrant workers and those too fat or too frightened to fly.
I hid in the boats posh restaurant.

As the white cliffs of Dover loomed, the next psychological part of the journey began. The cliffs reminded me that the English section of the journey home, is actually the hardest. The traffic, the road works and physical fatigue make it the most painful. Despite the comfort of being within the reach of the AA’s home relay service – the last 150 miles are always the longest.

skiing books

Sutton Park

Finally Sutton Coldfield was in sight and the prospect of a canine welcome lifted my soul. Only dogs know how to do a welcome home. It took me 15mins to get past Oscar before I could embrace Debbie. She felt guilty that I’d had to drive home alone. But alone had been better – the forced solitude had given me time to think. Landie had been my decompression chamber as I transitioned from my winter environment to my summer one.

I’d promised to do a lot of things that summer – mostly “sort my life out.” I’d been through the best and worst of times, but now it was time to make good on those promises and not just hibernate until winter came around.

Want more ? order signed copies of Skiing with Demons here

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Style Altitude – interviews a “geezonaire”

Interview with a geezonaire

Definition of a Geezoniare : a ski bum over 50

Being asked for an interview by Elaine Deed,  Style Altitude’s editor in chief and former fashion editor at Tatlor, was flattering. Being called a “geezonaire” –  not so much.

Not really being known for my dress or indeed skiing style, she was more interested in my books  and the Alpine life of another 50 year-old ski bum or geezonaire as she calls us.

Anyway – does this mean I’m finally famous ?

Full transcript here :
http://www.stylealtitude.com/chalet-guy-the-man-behind-the-morzine-chalet-project.html

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Who are the Agents of Entropy ?

Excerpt from The Agents of Entropy

morzinenightsky

Photo by Harry Flashman @ snowheads

Scientifically speaking, entropy is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system. It’s also a fundamental law of thermodynamics: that any closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.

I believe the forces that create entropy are constantly working on me. I’ll save you from my full thesis on the subject, which I’ll admit has its scientific flaws, but I’ve noticed that the thermodynamic system called ‘my life’ tends to a state of disorder and I constantly lose irretrievable energy trying to prevent it from falling into chaos.

I may not be alone in this. For example, have you noticed how a house becomes untidy all on its own? Objects don’t just leap out of the cupboards, something or someone, has used energy to move them and you must deploy an equal amount of energy to put them back. In the thermodynamic system known as ‘a chalet’ this is a constant process and the energy used is entropic, it cannot be reused for constructive purposes – it’s gone forever. I call the ‘somethings and someones’ the ‘Agents of Entropy’ and I’ve unwittingly been at war with them all my life.

Most of the Agents are human, although some appear in animal form, usually disguised as domestic pets. Others are mental constructs, like the Ski Demons, that cause disorder and a lot of heat in my head. Some are simply forces of nature (extreme weather) or the passage of time (ageing) that destroy the order we humans create.

Chalet guests are the most common Agents of Entropy in my universe, especially if they’ve had a drink. Some are worse than others: the feckless, the bad timekeepers, the accident-prone and those who always seem to get into a scrape.

Children start out as Agents and don’t need the influence of drink. But some get better at fighting for order once they’ve been through that teenage Agents of Anarchy stage.

Even well-disciplined adults can temporarily become Agents, especially when they go on holiday. I think it’s called letting your hair down or reliving your youth. Such Agents have a tendency to leave their stuff all over the chalet or randomise the molecules of a glass or plate by dropping it onto the floor. If I’m forced to enter their rooms mid-stay, I’ll often find towels, clothes and other, often unsavoury, items scattered all over the place. But I don’t wonder if we’ve had burglars; I just know that an Agent of Entropy has been at work.

Interestingly, when I show guests to their rooms, men will usually mark their territory by dumping their suitcases on their allocated bed then immediately return to the living area to drink beer.They never unpack, but take items out of their cases when they’re needed.Women, however usually disappear for at least an hour and unpack their bags, utilising the room’s storage furniture and setting up their toiletries in the bathroom – and heaven knows what else. Given this difference in gender behaviour, it’s interesting that the laws of thermodynamics are not sexist and by the end of their stay nearly all the rooms look like a burglar has been through them. Anyway, enough about sexual stereotypes – it’s got me into too much trouble before.

The most prolific Agents are the clumsy and the impatient. They work away at the fabric of the chalet.You could call it wear-and-tear, but there’s a never-ending list of maintenance issues I have to waste entropic energy rectifying. Showers, windows, door-handles and kitchen devices seemingly malfunction all on their own. Not a day goes by when I don’t have to replace or repair something and I’m staggered by the number of toilet seats I’ve had to fix/replace since the Chalet Project began – what on Earth are people doing in there?

I’ve devised a simple test to identify the Agents of Entropy, which I call the ‘French Door’ test. If a guest can consistently operate French door furniture without breaking it, they’re safe to leave on their own (more about the French Door Test later).

Some friends are worse Agents than others and whenever they come into my life an increase in disorder, if not chaos, is usually the result.They can lead me to change sides and engage in entropic activity myself. I sometimes think I become a double Agent of Entropy when I’ve done something stupid or self-destructive, or something that cannot be undone, or said something I didn’t mean that can’t be unsaid.

The worse Agent of Entropy is time. It has a slow but unstoppable effect on the randomness of the human body. I have to put an ever-increasing amount of energy into biological maintenance – by eating well and keeping fit enough to do battle with the other Agents.

The alpine weather is a powerful Agent too.Wind, snow and ice cause chaos and disorder, blocking roads and bursting pipes and avalanches are particularly good at randomising stuff that gets in their way. No matter how much we humans create order, a violent storm or biblical flood can mix everything up again.

I’m undecided if Mother Nature herself is an Agent of Entropy: ivy attacks our walls and tree roots undermine our foundations. Then again, living things are highly structured in a biological sense. She can organise oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and calcium atoms in some amazingly complicated ways. Maybe she has a different definition of order. Humans order things in straight lines and separate them into groups, but Mother Nature’s idea of ‘order’ is higgledy-piggledy and evenly mixed up. Anyway, that’s enough about gardening.

Entropy’s agents often like to work together which is why bad things happen in threes. Landie always breaks down when I’m trying to fix something else and then a ‘someone or something’ misplaces my phone. I’ve also noticed that the Agents wait until I’ve got a hangover before springing their coordinated attacks.

The Agents of Entropy work on a macro as well as a microscopic scale. Empires fall, civilisations collapse and humans, like the dinosaurs, will eventually become extinct.The Earth itself is on a march towards randomness and will eventually be consumed by the sun. If you view a life, a chalet, a planet or a solar system as a closed thermodynamic entity, then you know that the war for order cannot ultimately be won. Everything we build will be broken, grown over, eroded and, sooner rather than later, we too will be turned into dust.

I know that believing in supernatural entities masquerading as humans, makes me sound like David Icke (more about skiing with David Icke later) , but my conspiracy theory is based on science. I’ve simply extended the laws of thermodynamics to explain the chaos that goes on in my life. You may have suspected that forces beyond your control have been working against you all your life too – well now you can give them a collective name.

You can buy SWD II – The Agents of Entropy  – here.

swd-icon

 

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Season 7 – Fancy Skiing With Demons?

landiewheelcoverThe clocks have finally gone back and it will soon be time for me to go skiing rather than writing about it. The Bacon Run looms and it’s also time to put winter tyres on Landie, fix everything on her that broke last season and rename her  Trigger’s Broom.

chalet-framboise-morzine

Framboise

The Chalet Project is returning to Chalet Framboise in January, where I hope some of you will join me. Then I’m going on an actual skiing holiday in the Dolomites (early Feb) –  although the Ski Nazis have organised that trip so it might not be so relaxing.

I’m also leading a Peak Experience holiday for the Ski Club in Laax (25th March) and I hope to see a few more familiar faces there too – Laax is a lovely place. It should be an interesting season – but then, they always are.

The “The Bloody Book II” (BBII), as Debbie calls it, is finally finished or at least I hope it is – you never can be certain that a book is finished until you hold it in your hand. I hope you’ll  enjoy reading it when I finally get it printed.  It’s mostly about an existential crisis, and I’ve suffered even more existential angst writing it. But I’ll publish and be damned.

Don’t sartreworry, it contains plenty of skiing and drinking anecdotes too, and makes fun of the English, the French and myself in equal measures. To quote my biggest fan:

“If you enjoy jokes about gender or regional stereotypes and self-serving anecdotes disguised as false modesty” – then you should love it.

If you fancy skiing with me (demons optional) this season, February is mostly booked now, but I still have space in January and March. You can book a room, for just a few days, or the entire chalet for a week – I promise not to write about you or make you ski The Wall!

I always wonder, if a forthcoming season will be my last because the Chalet Project can’t go on forever (one of the themes in BBII). However Season 7 is afoot, the fitness campaign has started and so has my marketing campaign to fill the chalet.

I do think it’s ironic that the Project was designed to prevent me from having to using the ‘M’ word ever again, yet it has dragged me out of retirement.

 Once the clocks have gone back and everyone is returning from work in the dark, they start to plan their winter holidays to cheer themselves up – so book early to save (my) disappointment.
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 It’s going to be a bit more expensive in the Alps this season. Although #BREXIT has made life easier for those not good at maths by creating a global single currency (£1=€1=$1).  At least I have two years of being a European left, so I’m going to enjoy Season 7 and possibly Season 8.  After that the Project might have to move to Scotland – I wonder if I’d look good in a kilt ?

P.S.  Let me know if you can work out where I was standing when I took the top photograph. Here’s a clue – I wasn’t in Morzine.

Buy: Bloody Book I      |      Book: Chalet Framboise

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Craggy Island – Drinking (tea) with Demons

Craggy Island Tourist Information CentreThe decision to visit Craggy Island was an ecumenical matter – we both loved Father Ted despite the difference in our religious views.

I thought it would be a good place to work on Skiing With More Demons (working title) away from civilisation, but it wasn’t – the scenery was too distracting. That, and the fact that I’d left my laptop charger in the car on the other side of Galway Bay, scuppered my writing plans – ‘feck!’

Craggy Island is a special place for Father Ted fans, atheists and Catholics alike, so I decided to take one along (a Catholic that is) and see if she could ride a bike (there isn’t a car ferry). I hadn’t been on a bike, without an engine at least, for years myself – but it turns out riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike and all the Hail Marys were unwarranted.

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We couldn’t get into the parochial house, because those scenes were filmed on the mainland – ‘arse’. But the tourist office found us a charming B&B to stay in which had curtains and tea making facilities in the actual room!

I had an overwhelming urge to call the landlady ‘Mrs Doyle’ but decided she had probably heard it all before.

We’d missed Ted Fest, the annual Father Ted festival held on Inishmore (it’s not really called Craggy Island). Disappointed that we couldn’t dress as priests and run around shouting “Drink!, Feck! Arse!, Girls!”, we cycled around the island and visited some of its famous sites.

tiny cows on craggy island

skiing book We saw Ted’s lovely, lovely horse and some of the tiny cows Father Dougal was fascinated with.

Or were they just far away?

The nightlife was a bit dead outside of Ted Fest so we played scrabble and the tea flowed.

Thereskiing book isn’t much to do for the young people on the island; stone circle building is popular and jumping off the pier seems to keep them occupied – but only when the tide is in. I knew they must be struggling for entertainment when I saw two kids devilishly throwing a pillow into the sea – Bishop Len Brennan has been informed.

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We also saw the monument to lost seagulls – moving.

The bank only opens on Wednesday morning between 9:30am and 10am, when Ted would presumably have been holding Mass, which is probably why he left the Lourdes fund ‘resting’ there for so long.

There isn’t much crime financial or otherwise on the island; no one locks their doors or chains their bikes up – probably because it’s very hard to chain a bike to a rock.

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Skiing With More Demons (or whatever I decide to call it) is still on course for release in October, assuming I’m reunited with my laptop charger and stop wasting my time and battery life on silly blogs.

Anyway, “it’s time for another lovely cup of tea.
“go on, go on, go on, you will , you will, you will.”

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buy SWD here

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Wine Run 6 – Uneventful thanks to Trigger’s Broom

Wine RunMy winter’s lease has all too short a date and once again I find myself back in Sutton Coldfield with another long summer ahead.

‘The Wine Run’, as my annual northerly migration is known, went well. By Land Rover standards the retreat from the Alps carrying wine, cheese and canned duck, was uneventful.

triggers broomThe driver’s door partially fell off while crossing a particularly vertiginous viaduct and we did leave a trail of diesel from Morzine to the Channel but, apart from that, Landie behaved herself. Mind you, I have replaced so many of her parts now (some twice) I’m thinking of renaming her ‘Trigger’s broom’.

After four months of relentless early starts, the cooking of more than 1,000 eggs and the grilling of several sliced pigs it’s nice to have a rest from my Alpine routine and not to care about whether Landie will start or not.

It’s quite nice not to have to ski too! Now, with seven whole months of summer ahead and while I look for gainful employment, I have time to complete the second book. But what is there left to write about?

I may have left the reader thinking, demons vanquished, new love blossoming, that I lived happily ever after. But life’s not like that – well at least mine isn’t.

Landie With two more seasons under my skis since the ‘Skiing With Demons’ narrative ended (Season 4) I have accumulated more anecdotes, met more interesting people and heard more chairlift philosophy worthy of documenting. Then there is the stuff I left out!

Like an annoying itch that won’t go away, I feel the need to scratch mine some more and to fill in some of the blanks and recall some of the stuff I’d forgotten about. The truth is the book never really got finished – to my satisfaction anyway – it just got published.

Season 5, had its moments, but Season 6 marked a change in direction for the Chalet Project. It moved to a new base, a converted farmhouse called Chalet Framboise, higher up the hill, further out of town and a long way from the Buddha Bar. Its remote idyllic location proved a more authentic Alpine experience and gave me a lot of practise putting snow chains on.

good-luck-card-lucky-black-cat-size-6.25-x-6.25-agoi-9999-7221-pFramboise came with a black cat, a local stray that adopted the place. I suspect Le Chat Noir, as I named her, caused an outrageous amount of bad luck, which at least helped generate material for the new book.

Season 6 also saw another transition – less drinking, by me at least, and most of the Project’s supporters got with the new programme of eating in and skiing without hangovers – apart from a few die-hard cougars and boys’ trips that is. ‘But that’s going to make for a very boring book,’ I hear you say.

But you’d be wrong. As a slightly more sober observer more fun can be witnessed without the morning regret and a damn sight more can be remembered! If you’re not convinced, luckily the book will also cover Season 5, based in the old chalet (Chalet Neige), in a kind of ‘The Last Days of Rome’ type way.

skiing-with-demonsThe Après Aliens may take a back seat, but the Ski Demons will resurface. They were never really vanquished, they were just waiting for some low psychological ebb before they chirped up to tell me I’m going to die. I’ve also had others tell me about their own battles with ski demons and discovered my true calling – skiing psychiatrist, not skiing instructor.

Season 6 involved some Extreme Girlfriend Skiing too and now the jacket fits and I’m officially a sexist, I might as well wear it and elaborate some more – albeit in jest.

ChrisLeaderThe season also saw me wear my coveted Blue Ski Club of Great Britain jacket in anger (the one that caused me all the problems getting) and play Jack Nicolson in my own ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ parody. I also started a feud with the ESF, but that was more about parking than ski-hosting.

Notably absent from Season 5 & 6 were children. Mostly because, for the safety of everyone concerned, I skipped Morzine for the school half term weeks and most parents who presumably had read the book decided to go elsewhere.

But the new book, like the old one, will be mostly about a meta-crisis – a midlife crisis for want of a better description. Skiing will be the context, the Alps the backdrop, but not the story.

It took me three years to write ‘Skiing With Demons’, I’m hoping (with less personal angst to deal with and fewer people to upset) to complete the new book in seven months.

So, I hope you’re up for some more snowy cathartic self-indulgence and will buy it when it’s finished – I’ve got a labrador to feed and all that. If so, by way of encouragement, send me an email, ‘like’ my page or friend me on Facebook and I’ll let you know when it’s out.

Now back to it.

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“Dyslexic skier writes Best Seller” – Apostrophe Police Perplexe

Six months have passed since ‘Skiing With Demons’ (SWD) was released into the wild and I thought I’d let you know how it’s been getting on. More than a thousand people have now parted with cash for the dubious privilege of sailing around my addled brain and it seems many have enjoyed the voyage – which is a relief.

buymybook

To self-publish was a gamble, even though it made financial sense. With no impartial opinion – backed by money – to validate the book as a worthy read, my heart was in my mouth when the publish button was pressed. Not least because of the book’s personal content and the realisation that I’d be baring my soul to friends, family and enemies alike.

SWD wasn’t really finished either, but I was in danger of losing my main sponsor (Dr Debs) if I didn’t stop fiddling with the “bloody book” and return to the housework!

skiing bookI was nervous because, even though the folks I’d allowed to read the manuscript (friends, family) loved it, I knew they loved me and were unlikely to suggest I “keep the day job”. Initially 54 people immediately bought the book. Unsurprisingly, purchasers were mostly friends and guests who had stayed at Chalet Neige, wondering if they were in it. More surprising were the people who didn’t buy it. If a friend of mine had published a book, even if it was about knitting, I’d buy a copy and sling it on my bookshelf.

Then there was a worrying pause in sales. I started to regret not call it ‘Fifty Shades of Snow’, along with the removal of the salacious content from the early drafts.

skiing bookThen, from within the 54, emerged the self appointed guardians of the English language. “Appalling grammar”, “A litany of spelling mistakes”, “Shoot your editor.” and, at one stage, I thought I was going to be arrested by the Apostrophe Police.

Dyslexia hadn’t been invented when I went to school and consequently I’ve been ridiculed for my poor spelling all my life. Even though I had enlisted the help of numerous literate individual and professional writers to proof the book, to my horror, more than 180 “typos” were gleefully reported back to me. Some people were trying to help, some were simply wrong, some I suspect just wanted to prove their superiority – though to be fair I had spelt ‘skier’ wrong in one instance!

Then some of the less pedantic within the 54 actually started to read the book instead of correct it and the 5 Star Amazon reviews started to roll in, with words like “Hilarious”, “Honest”, “Impossible to put down” and even “Well written!”

Sales pushed on to 200. Some readers liked it so much they became advocates and started selling the book in their own ski chalets, others bought in bulk to give to their friends.

girlfriend skiingThen I had a stroke of dubious luck – a myopic journalist at the Telegraph, ridiculed SWD and labelled it as “sexist”. She clearly hadn’t read the entire book just the now infamous ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ chapter that I’d foolishly put online. Had she done so, she might have realised the book was an assault on the male midlife crisis stereotype – but I digress. However, there’s no such thing as “bad publicity” and the orders started to build, pushing past the 300 mark.

Then, to my rescue came SnowHeads. Someone (users are anonymous on this slightly irreverent online ski forum) started a thread about the book. Many of its users empathised with my narrative, wanting to live a similar dream, some had their own Ski Demons and many had even met the Apres Aliens.

Orders started to flood in, critical mass was reached (about 500 books) and social media – fuelled by me – took over. The book became an Amazon “Best Seller”, both in the UK and briefly in France. Then came Christmas, when ‘Skiing With Demons’ proved to be a popular stocking-filler and sales leapt to 700 by the end of December.

Next was my return to Morzine, which I was also nervous about, thinking I might have upset a few of the folks I’d written about. But many were actually disappointed I’d not been more salacious about them!

Reluctantly, I cold-called local retailers and proprietors in an attempt to get them to display and indeed sell the book. I hated every awkward encounter – I’m just not a salesman.

skiing bookThe most amusing moment was when I attempted to get the central bookshop in Morzine to stock SWD. The owner’s command of English was mirrored by my grasp of French, so I ended up explaining the content of SWD through the medium of mime. He was obviously impressed with my theatricals, or maybe he just wanted the English loony out of his shop, but he
bought ten copies either way.

I also plastered Landie with posters and parked her in the centre of town. Congratulatory messages were left under her wipers and I was accosted several times while jumping in and out of The Beast (all very good for my ego and, indeed, book sales).

cocktail-girl21My other tactic was to use pretty girls. Marketing isn’t really that difficult, especially in “Manzine”, as Morzine is known in January. My female friends would sit in bars start talking about the book to the suitors they’d inevitably attract then I’d materialise with signed copies. This pushed sales up to 1,000 mark.

I was told writing a book was the hard bit. Now I can confirm the more difficult task is getting people to buy it. But had I accepted a publishing contract, I suspect the marketing would have been mostly down to me anyway, vindicating my decision to self-publish.

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Is Skiing a Sport ?

It does seem a bit pointless. Spending a fortune getting to the top of a mountain so, at great personal risk, we can slide down it. We usually end up exactly where we started – at the bottom of the first lift.

But then all sport is pointless – right?

is skiing a sportThere might be some health benefit to playing sport. Humans used to get their exercise from chasing food; instead we now chase each other to keep in shape. Given that most people usually return from a skiing holiday fatter, dehydrated, sunburnt and often in plaster, we can rule out any net health benefits.

 So, other than being pointless, what does skiing have in common with other sports – is skiing actually a sport?

There are versions of skiing (downhill, slalom, biathlon etc.) that involve the wearing of

skiing with guns

lycra and sometimes the carrying of a gun, which are indeed sports, but they bear little resemblance to what most of us do on our skiing holiday. Not only do skiing athletes wear different clothes, but they also use very different skis to us. They ski on different terrain, usually pre-prepared ice, which we go to great lengths to avoid. They never ski in bad visibility or have to take emergency action to avoid a human obstacle sat in the middle of the piste. They never stop half way down it for lunch, or go binge drinking afterwards, either.

There are those who think an activity must be done in shorts, not long trousers, to be deemed a ‘sport’ because it implies some physical exertion will be undertaken. But then cricket, a very physically demanding activity, would get thrown out along with the bathwater (snooker and darts). We skiers would also go down the plughole because, apart from the odd Scott, we seldom ski bare-legged. The pub definition I like the most is known as the ‘Shoe Test’.

the shoe testDoes the activity require specialist foot wear? If the answer is yes, then it’s a sport. If no, then it isn’t. This gets rid of pub-based activities but keeps football, rugby, cricket and most importantly skiing in. Skiers have the ultimate in specialist footwear after all.

Rather than look for clothing based definitions I should probably head to the Oxford English Dictionary which defines ‘sport’ as: ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.’ Skiing does involve exertion and requires skill, but unless you’re wearing lycra, or carrying a rifle, you’re not competing against anyone else – so skiing is not a sport.

Ski-tracks-chamonix-mont-blanc-retreatThere are those, mostly men, who try and turn skiing into a competitive sport. They try to be the first down every run or record the highest speed of the day on SkiTracks. Some, I’m convinced, think it’s a contact sport, given their disregard for others on the piste. But most of us are not consciously entering a competition when we go skiing. If we are in a competition, it is with the mountain, and mountains can never truly be beaten.

There are also fitness freaks that see skiing as an endurance sport. Ski Touring is popular amongst these types. They cover vast distances and often stay overnight in remote mountain huts – which appeals to me. However they spend most of the day ‘skinning-up’ slopes, which doesn’t.  Spending four hours skinning for ten minutes of skiing seems a very poor reward. I also like the idea of having a geographical objective for the day – a nice restaurant in my case, not a mountain hut.

Others see skiing as an exercise in orienteering and love navigating their way around the slopes in military fashion. For them, skiing is just a giant game of snakes and ladders (the pistes being the snakes and the lifts the ladders) making skiing more of a board game than a sport for them. Then there are the collectors. They tick off ski resorts and their signature runs, but that makes skiing more of a hobby than a sport.

126867-2Then we have the adrenaline junkies who get a buzz from going deeper and steeper. They seek radical experiences and sometimes jump out of perfectly serviceable helicopters. For them, skiing is a sequence of escalating challenges – not a sport.

Perhaps the best way to define skiing is to look at the history of the Alps before it became a playground. Skiing wasn’t invented to be a sport, a competition, a hobby or a challenge but a means of winter transportation. The farming population made essential journeys on skis – their skiing wasn’t pointless. For many of us, skiing is just the best way to get around snow-covered mountains which unfortunately means wearing long trousers and specialised shoes.

Skis allow us to access an ancient wilderness normally too difficult for bipeds to move around in. Skis allow us to explore places Homo sapiens were not designed to go.  Skiing is many things to many people but for most of us, I think, skiing is much more than just a sport.

more….

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