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It’s snowing this morning in Sutton Coldfield! I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m pretty sure it has snowed here before, but since the royal town adopted me, it’s the first time I’ve seen her draped in white. England is a damp and gloomy place in December and Sutton’s new gown had really cheered the place up.
I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with Snow. We’d instantly fallen in love on a station platform when I was small. I remember scooping up my first snowball then licking it to see if it tasted like ice cream – it didn’t, so I threw it at my sister. I then realized snow, correctly fashioned, made a lethal projectile because her first brief encounter with snow produced tears.
Since then I have discovered that my lover is actually a killer, having witnessed an avalanche death and that snow is to be feared as well as loved.
My first ever snow in Sutton reminded me of what winter in the UK was like. Having spent the last seven ski seasons in the Alps, I’d forgotten that traffic grinds to a halt and schools close if one snowflake accidentally lands on another here. I’d forgotten that when it snows in England, the odds on a white Christmas go down, but all other bets are off.
I do remember the frustration I’ve felt at our winter ineptitude. I recall one year when ankle-deep snow turned into waist-deep irony, by preventing me from going on a skiing holiday because “snow” had closed Birmingham Airport.
Depending on their age, the sight of snow brings different emotions to different Englishman. The young get excited, not just because school might (will) be off, but because tobogganing and mass snowball fights might be on. Snow also changes the world of our less war-like offspring into a magical enchanting place and for most it means Christmas presents are close.
For the not so young snow is often a harbinger of doom – not least because their kids are stuck at home. Snow brings commuting trouble and general disruption to the important activities of their lives. The elderly, batten down their hatches and regard the pavements as no-go zones. They buy excessive amounts of milk and generally stock up, as if preparing for the siege of Leningrad.
I opened the curtains this morning and on seeing the first snow, I questioned my emotions – was I excited, was I still young? Or did I just want to bulk buy milk and ‘stay in the warm?’
I had a seemingly important motorway journey to complete and my initial thought was to abort my plans for the day. However while clearing Landie’s windows, I impulsively made a snowball and threw at my bedroom window (no siblings where in effective range) and my childhood love of the damp fun-dust were rekindled.
Season 7 had left my relationship with Snow at an all time low – Snow and I were not speaking when I left Morzine way back in April. It might have been a seven-year itch, but for some reason, my lover, Snow had deserted me along with most of the Haute-Savoie in 2017. It had been a bitterly cold season with high winds and the Agents of Entropy had been rampant. To cap that, the lack of snow had meant disappointed guests and poor bookings.
Having spent the summer on less slippery endeavors, the early Sutton snow was a wakeup call. It was time to forget about those seemingly important life goals and prepare for Season 8. I checked the Morzine webcams. A metre of snow had already accumulated on its top slopes and the Portes Du Soleil was preparing to open
its lifts a week early. It, along with the rest of the Alps, seemed set for a bumper snow season. It seemed like all had been forgiven and my love affair with Snow might be back on.
I’d had mixed emotions on finally seeing Sutton in the snow. But once I’d manned-up, stuck to my plans and headed out in Landie, I realised that my predominant emotion was excitement – I was still young (ish). Maybe for all who ski, it is our fond childhood memories of snow that make us want to go skiing – to once again play in the snow.
If you want to play too – I still have a few beds left at Chalet Benjamin this January – for more info click here: myskifriends.com
And, if you’re after an ideal Christmas stocking filler for a skier or boarder, click here: skiingwithdemons.com
I hope that some of you will be disappointed to hear that Skiing With Demons III (SWD3) will not be published in time for Christmas – mostly because I haven’t written it.
Amongst the ambivalent, there is someone who is happy about this fact, Dr Debs. She was concerned that I would withdraw for another summer into my man-cave and forget how to sleep, eat, wash and dress in the correct order. Although her happiness is of paramount importance to me, there are other reasons why I haven’t put much ink onto paper this summer.
The first being that not enough shit has happened to me, on or off the pistes, since the last narrative ended.
The Après Aliens and the other Agents of Entropy were mostly dormant last season and this summer, I’ve not been prepared to poke them with my usual rash life choices, simply to create material for a book.
The second reason is that I’ve been working on a better answer to the biggest question posed by the Chalet Project: “What do ski bums do in the summer?”
Telling people I was a writer wasn’t really cutting it and declaring I was a house husband was raising eyebrows further. The first answer seemed to suggest self-delusion and the second an assumption of idleness. Both seemed to lack suitable respect in my opinion, so I’ve come up with much a better answer; “I am an electrician!”
Instead of writing, I devoted most of the summer to wiring. I studied hard, passed my exams and generally worked out which way to turn a screwdriver. Now my apprenticeship is well underway, I’ve discovered that being a “sparky” is very similar to being a chalet host (no, really!)
Being an electrician, like skiing, involves meeting lots of unusual people from a wide socio-economic background and often in a domestic setting. Instead of vin chaud, I make small talk over mugs of tea which is altogether safer. Instead of sitting on a chairlift I field the groundhog questions while standing on my ladder; “where are you from?”, “got any kids? etc. etc.” to which I’m equally tempted to invent answers.
When pulling people’s wires apart I adopt the same air of confidence I use for ski leading. Instead of trying not to look lost when I am lost, I try not to look shocked, when I am shocked, because I forgot that brown was ‘live’ and not ‘neutral’.
I rely on Landie to do my job as I do in Morzine. I wonder every morning if she will start or what will be the day’s malfunction.
At least I don’t have to scrape ice from inside of her windows or worry about it forming in her diesel. Instead of skis, it’s ladders I constantly load on and off her roof rack and often forget to adequately secure them. Unlike ski boots, I can drive Landie in my specialist shoes, even though they have steel toecaps.
My high visibility vest, inscribed with the word ‘Electrician’ reminds me who I am and suggests I know what I’m doing. The words ‘Ski Club’ on my Leaders jacket play a similar role in reminding me I’m allegedly a good skier (whatever that means).
So, finally, I have a “proper job” to see me through the summers and better still, one that seldom needs further clarification. And, if an eyebrow is raised, I tell its owner that I carry a big, “fuck-off” drill to work and declare, “I’m not afraid to use it”.
The final reason for SWD3 being delayed is that I’ve been working on another book – which isn’t finished either. Its working title is ‘Walking With Demons’ and it’s about one man and his trusty Land Rover exploring the mountainous parts of England – or at least I think it is.
Be assured that I’m not done with the skiing thing yet; there is definitely another book in it. I have rented a new chalet in Morzine (Chalet Benjamin) for the forthcoming season. This one is within staggering distance from the centre of town, which should see the return of my more après-orientated clientele. They have historically never let me down when it comes to producing entertaining material.
The Ski Club is also sending me back to Switzerland (Flim/Laax) again this season to run another Peak Experience holiday. Leading fifty year-olds around a mountain usually produces an incident or two, although I hope none of them will be serious. And finally, I’ve signed up for a BASI level-2 course this season, which is guaranteed to fill a chapter.
So apologies if you’re missing a Christmas stocking filler this winter. I’ll try and make sure it’s present in next year’s sock and not been replaced by excuses. However, there is more to life than skiing or so I’m told, and I’ve been busy sorting my life out – if only to make it sound better.
To book a room in Chalet Benjamin, click here: www.myskifriends.com
To book a place on the SCGB Flim/Laax holiday, click here: Swiss Bliss
To buy a book (SWD I or II), click here: www.skiingwithdemons.com
OR if you need an electrician – call me !
Historically, 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?
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
After 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.
We 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.
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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
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).
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.”
Realising 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.
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.”
Once 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.
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
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 :
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.
The 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.
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 worry, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Or were they just far away?
The nightlife was a bit dead outside of Ted Fest so we played scrabble and the tea flowed.
There 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.
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.
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.”
‘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.
The 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.
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.
Framboise 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
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!
I 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.
Then, 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.
Then 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.
The 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).
My 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.
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?
There 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
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’.
Does 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.
There 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.
Then 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.
You maybe familiar with the ‘seasonaire’ stereotype, but these days not all chalet girls are called Pippa, wear Alice bands and Ugg boots, and are on a gap yah-er.
The chick-flick film ‘Chalet Girl’ has done the most to reinforce the stereotype. Despite loving Bill Nighy, I hated the film for that, and many other reasons – but then I thought Reservoir Dogs had too much love-action.
In Morzine you’re more likely to bump into a Colin than a Pippa, even though I’m sure her stereotype still exists in more expensive resorts. Increasingly, now skiing has become more accessible, seasonaires are coming from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds – as indeed, do their guests.
Even though I rarely don furry boots, seldom need a hair restraint and, unfortunately, “Daddy” won’t be paying off my credit card any time soon – I am technically a “seasonaire”.
More accurately, having “done” five seasons in a row, I am a “serial seasonaire”. The prefix ‘serial’, correctly implies some pathological issue associated with the word it precedes. But I didn’t sign up for a one time Alpine odyssey to experience the novelty of servitude, the social acceptability of binge drinking and the opportunity to be promiscuous – I’ve chosen “seasonaire” as a life style!
But at 52, I’m better seasoned than the average seasonaire, and now do all but one of the above in moderation. I believe whatever their age or background, all skiers/boarders deserve a gap-year, a career-break, a midlife crisis – call it what you will. Every snow-sport enthusiast deserves to spend at least one season in the Alps.
The problem with being a skiing enthusiast and living in the UK (Scotland aside) is you can only do what you love once or twice a year. If your passion were golf for instance, you’d get a round in at least once a week without too much sacrifice or indeed too much marital strife. It’s a bit like taking up yachting when you live in Birmingham – ill advised.
Maybe this is why Skiing With Demons seems to have captured the imagination of hundreds of UK snow-dreamers on the snowheads.com forum, where most of us hang out. Many have congratulated me on having the gumption to live their dream – although they may change their dreams after reading the book.
More worryingly, many have bought the book as a present for their wives, given the inscriptions they request. This could just be the typical male Christmas behaviour; buying their partner something they want to read themselves. But I suspect many might be trying to send their less snow-orientated halves a message, primarily:
I suspect many will get the same reply as I did:
“What, so you can go skiing with the guests while I cook and clean all day?!”
This isn’t exclusively a male fantasy, I can assure you of that. More than half of the purchasing SnowHeads have been women and, despite the book getting an early sexist yellow card, has been favourably reviewed by the fairer sex. Most of them have worked out that it pokes more fun at the stereotypical menopausal male than the female skier.
I fear a few of the blokes might not have been so observant, having read the sample chapter ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ online, and are hoping the gift will explain why they get so frustrated on the piste themselves with their wives.
They could of course be purchasing what is a fun stocking-filler, for anyone who loves to ski ,without any agenda. Most of my friends and family will be getting a copy – as I think they have already guessed.
But I should really wrap it in a warning, that if you let your other half read it, they might turn into a Colin, and if they do, don’t blame me!
In order to atone for my controversial, Girlfriend Skiing, chapter – I thought I’d add this supplementary blog. I was tempted to simply replace the word ‘girl’ with ‘boy’ and repost the chapter – but where would be the fun in that?
I refer to it as ‘Boyfriend Skiing’, or BF skiing for short, but any romantic connection between the participants is optional. It describes the common problems faced by women who are significantly better skiers than their hairier halves.
The first and most common problem for both parties is recognising they are in a BF or GF skiing relationship. Men always think they’re better skier than they actually are, and almost all women underestimate their ability. But girls, if the skills gap is unarguably in your favour, you’ll need to manage the situation carefully, if you ever want him to return to the slopes.
If he is a beginner, it’s not a good idea to dump him in ski school everyday while you bugger off into the backcountry with Jean-Pierre – local guide and notorious Lothario.
And, even if you’re a qualified instructor, it’s a worse idea to try and teach him to ski yourself. If the relationship is to survive you’ll need to spend at least one day BF skiing with your Beau, if you want to keep him.
BF skiing means adopting the same attitude needed for successful GF skiing. It means waking up on the designated BF day, and saying to yourself – “today I’m Boyfriend Skiing” then flicking your boots into walk-mode, grabbing some long thin piste skis and taking your camera instead of your transceiver.
Meanwhile the BF will be having a team chat with his reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Today we’re going to leave it all on the mountain”, “don’t let her see your fear.” “Move aside, Jean-Pierre, I’m taking my woman back.”
However, BF skiing is harder to pull off than GF skiing thanks to the fragile nature of the male ego with the additional complication that most men don’t like being told what to do – especially by women. Most also have a sexist opinion of female navigational skills, so girls, you’ve got your work cut out.
Don’t be too bossy. There is an art to being in control, without looking like a control freak, which must be mastered before attempting BF skiing – the passive-aggressive approach works well.
“Where would you like to ski today darling?” you ask, while having a perfect BF skiing plan in mind. Whatever he comes up with first, just say, “well that’s fine, it’s your day dear, where ever you want to go, we’ll go.” Let him cycle through alternatives until he hits on your plan, then agree it’s the best option.
Before setting off, make sure he has applied sunscreen. He might not care about his skin but if his skiing improves sufficiently, making marriage a possibility, you’ll potentially have to look at his mug for a long time. It doesn’t hurt to run through a full equipment check too before leaving the chalet – remember he’s just a large child and you’re simply taking over from his mother.
Like GF skiing, the choice of terrain is critical for a successful day’s BF skiing. Try and find empty wide blue runs to allow him to ski at ludicrously high speeds without endangering others and always ski behind him yourself for your own safety. Expert BF skiers can occasionally request he slows down – so they can catch up.
If you think your BF is able, it’s always good to find an easy black run he can notch up on his belt and give him something to brag about in the bar later. Avoid all mogul fields, couloirs and heavily wooded areas – they will expose his lack of turning ability. You might get a free helicopter ride out of it, but you’re the one who’ll be helping him walk to the toilet for next ten weeks.
The choice of lunchtime restaurant is important too. It must have a swanky wine list enabling the BF to show his superior expertise in something. Don’t worry, he will always choose the 2nd cheapest bottle from it. For similar reasons, allow him to order his own food in French and don’t laugh when the snail consommé turns up. Also remember to be impressed when he inevitably wants to shows you the top speed of the morning, he recorded on his Ski Tracks app.
After lunch it’s especially important to keep the BF away from ski-school areas. Most men suffer with PLAD (post luncheon attention deficit) and he’ll ski like a missile with faulty guidance software. If he does take out a kindergarten class, ski past until you’re out of sight, then wait until you can’t hear shouting anymore.
Remember, despite the picturesque scenery, the log cabin accommodation and cozy blazing fire – don’t expect any romance in the evening. You might be on a holiday, but he is on a survival course, so don’t wear him out in bed.
I believe it is possible for mixed ability couples to enjoy a skiing holiday equally, but only if the better skier understands the principles of Girlfriend Skiing or indeed Boyfriend Skiing. Interestingly, which approach will be most effective with your spouse, isn’t always determined by his/her sex!
Related blogs: An apology to my ski girlfriends
Excerpt from ‘Skiing With Demons’ chapter 3.
Nothing particularly frightening has ever come out of Switzerland. Graham Greene famously wrote:‘500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they [the Swiss] produce – the cuckoo clock!’ Given that nothing scary begins with the word ‘Swiss’, it amuses me that the most intimidating ski run in Avoriaz should be called the Le Mur Suisse – The Swiss Wall.
‘The Wall’, as the run is commonly referred to, is officially called Le Pas de Chavanette, it’s often mentioned in newspaper articles with titles like ‘The World’s Scariest Ski Runs’. It usually comes in at second or third on such subjective lists. Less subjective are its vital statistics.
It’s 1km long, during which time it drops 400 metres. The top of the run has an incline of 76%, so steep that you can’t see the face of the slope while standing at the top. It’s often covered in moguls the size of VW Beetles.
Given the unthreatening nature of the word ‘Swiss’, its use in this context must be for purely geographical reference, the top of the run being in France and the bottom being in Switzerland. The word ‘wall’ is more informative because walls are usually vertical, hard and unyielding.
The comparative difficulty of any given run depends almost entirely on the snow conditions they’re attempted in, although, in some cases, the name of the run is important too. Give a run a name like ‘The Wall’ and you give it an auspicious notoriety. It automatically becomes ten degrees steeper than it actually is. With a suitably foreboding name a run can build a reputation – one that gets embellished by those who have skied it, in order to underline their achievement. Comments such as ‘Yes, I skied the Widow Maker – but I don’t want to talk about it,’ followed with a vacant gaze into the distance, being the classic way to do this.
The truth is you don’t need a death wish to ski the Wall. Dozens of not especially accomplished skiers (like me) get down it each day without significant incident and live to embellish the danger they faced. Taking on the Wall, like most skiing, is a mental challenge rather than a physical one.
The most important ingredient for any descent is confidence. If you think you’re going to fall – you will fall. Skiing can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and my main prophets of doom are the Ski Demons.
The Ski Demons are the voices in my head that feed on my self-doubt. They tell me I’m going to fall. They tell me, ‘Frankly Chris, you’re not capable of completing the skiing challenge ahead.’ They doubt my ability, my fitness and my courage. If I pause too long at the top of a pitch they drag me into a debate about the difficulty of the terrain below. ‘It looks a bit icy Chris’ or ‘it’s too steep for you Chris.’ They give me plausible excuses I can use to wimp out. ‘I’m nursing an injury’ or ‘I brought the wrong skis.’
If I man up and drop in, I usually silence them by making those all-important first turns successfully. But if I fall they pipe up again with ‘We told you so.’
If things go completely pear-shaped, and I suffer a sequence of falls their voices become deafening. ‘This time Chris you’ve started a descent you’re not going to finish – you’ll need a helicopter to get out of this one!’
We all have Ski Demons that feed on our mortal fears. Sometimes the fear isrational: fear of injury or death. Sometimes it’s primeval: fear of heights or being buried alive. Sometimes the fear is emotional: fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or fear of fear itself – panic. Skiing is a veritable buffet for demons if we let them eat.
When debutants take their first look at the Wall’s steep and icy entry point, many audibly swallow. The slope seemingly vanishes into mid-air and is often shrouded in mist for dramatic effect. On busy days, the entrance can be blocked with skiers, peering over into the abyss, straining their necks like meerkats to see the extent of the slope, some obviously wishing they hadn’t agreed to ski it in the bar the previous night.
Those who change their mind can watch their more courageous friends descend it from the Chavanette chairlift, which runs down its side. I jokingly call it the ‘Chairlift of Shame’ because it’s ridden by those who’ve wimped out.
Goaded by a mate, I first found myself on the Wall too early in my skiing career and grew to hate what became an annual pilgrimage to it. But, no matter how many times I’d successfully got down it, a battalion of butterflies still amassed in my stomach whenever I approach the wretched run, such was the terror it had engraved in my psyche. Until one day an ESF guide cured me of the problem.
The guide had been organised by a Ski Club Leader and a few of the members, including me, had signed up for a day off-piste. His chiselled facial features were darkly tanned from spending a lifetime in the mountains. His faded, red jacket, with a gold medal hanging from his breast, were signs that he’d reached the highest ranks in the organisation. He was also wearing a white, knitted sweatband that only an ESF guide could wear without looking camp. This head garment was clearly a fashion accessory; he was never going to break into a sweat skiing with ‘Les Anglais’.
After several sweaty and exhausting hours of extreme-skiing (for me at least), we found ourselves at the top of ‘The Couloir of Certain Death’ as it surely must have been called. ‘He never mentioned a couloir, did he?’ I said to my companions.
Like most skiers, we had hired a guide to take us out of our comfort zone and he had spectacularly succeeded. He didn’t flinch when we exhibited the telltale signs of a First Refusal – probing the snow in front with our poles and adopting an ostrich-like stance. He assured us that it was within our capabilities, and that it was part of the ESF’s esprit du corps that they always returned with the same number of clients they’d left with. Not wanting to blot his record, we dropped in.
I tentatively picked my way down using little jump turns; stopping to congratulate myself after completing each one. He was right; it was within our capabilities since most of us made it down without falling. One foolhardy comrade chose ‘route one’. He pointed his skis directly down the couloir and accelerated past me like a missile. Presumably hoping to find somewhere flat enough at the bottom to lose the immense speed he would accumulate, or at least to find somewhere soft to crash. As the couloir exited onto the Wall, neither option presented itself.
After my own less spectacular exit from the couloir, I found myself perched on a mogul halfway up the Wall. While catching my breath with the other survivors, I spluttered, ‘Never thought I’d be so happy to find myself on the bloody Wall.’ They all laughed, but I wasn’t joking.
Now, whenever I find myself panicking on the Wall, I look up at that couloir, I’ve now renamed ‘The Couloir of Almost Certain Death’, and consider myself to be in a comparatively safe position.
The Wall may not be the most difficult run in the Alps, but its notoriety increases with every skier who conquers it. Once I’d got over the Wall, so to speak, no marked piste would ever hold any fear.
Except from ‘Skiing With Demons’ by Chris Tomlinson
I’ve decided to take Sample Chapter 19 ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ offline!
My actual Girlfriend (Debbie), on which it was based, laughed out loud when she proofread it – but that could just have been at my atrocious spelling. I’m mortified, that it came across as sexist, having made the point early on in the chapter that ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ can be done with both sexes. However ‘Significant-other-of-lesser-ability Skiing’ wouldn’t have been so catchy.
The problem with writing my memoir I discover, is that I will unavoidably get tagged with a lot of ‘ists’: narcissist, fascist, jingoist, ageist, fantasist, hedonist, anthropomorphist, alienist and now sexist – please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.
The problem with trying to be humorous is that it’s so easy to step over the line between funny and offensive. Most jokes play on stereotypes and people laugh at them because they have a similarly long list of ‘ists’ themselves.
Unfortunately (fortunately?) I cannot remove Chapter 19 from the actual book at this stage. So maybe you can order it, read it, and let me know what you think?
I apologise now if it offends you too, but there will be no refunds!
Update: by popular demand Girlfriend Skiing is now back online.
It could have been a cathartic exercise to purge myself of the demons it alludes to. It could be an attempt to gain fame and fortune (unlikely), or simply an act of vanity (likely) – there can surely be no more narcissistic act than writing a memoir?
It could have been an attempt to gain immortality, a record of my insignificant existence on the planet (probably). It could just have been that I wanted to set the record straight or maybe to apologise for my behaviour (evidently) – you’ll have to read it and decide.
Just got the cover graphic from the illustrator (Dan House) – very pleased.
Of course you need to read the book to understand why it’s so perfect for Skiing With Demons. It shows the Apres Aliens arriving, a backdrop of Mt Blanc and one of my skiing/drinking companions. What do you think ?
( click image to enlarge)
Its been 3 years in the writing and finally I’ve finished it. Well, actually, my editor and girlfriend (Dr Debs) have forbidden me from fiddling with it any more.
Every time I proof read it I want to change something. Mostly because my opinions and recollections have changed. It really started out as a cathartic process of documenting what happened to me – it didn’t really have a plot or a story line. Somehow I hope I’ve managed to turn it in to a ‘book’, not just a collection of rants.
Part memoir, part observational humour, it now documents my transition from a city living executive, to a garage dwelling ski bum over four winters in the French Alps.
Hopefully, it will be enjoyed by anyone who has either been on a skiing holiday, is thinking of running a ski chalet, wants to be a ski instructor or is planning a midlife crisis.
Skiing With Demons – is due to be released mid-September (2015) – in time for my 53rd birthday!
Because nothing else made sense.
After almost being suckered by a vanity publisher – I did my research and discovered that the world of book publishing is now completely different to how I, and most of us, conceptualise it.
You no longer need an agent or a publisher to get a book published. You probably need an editor, a graphic designer and a printer – all of whom are for hire for a modest price.
You might need a publisher to help you market your book. However, no literary agent or traditional publisher will take a risk on a first time author (like me), unless they’re famous, have a staggeringly original work or have friends and influence – none of those predicates applied to me.
I was actually offered two publishing contracts (from vanity-publishers), but it was clear that neither were going to put any effort behind marketing the book, yet wanted me to contribute to the production costs, sign over most of the royalties and, more importantly, relinquish editorial control.
So, I found a great editor, a great designer and a great print-on-demand provider.
The marketing is down to me – and here I’m doing it!