Thursday, January 10, 2013

1981: My life is in your hands

I was about the fourth person he'd asked. Unfortunately in those days I was good at saying no to things when being put on the spot. So I agreed. I agreed to a skiing holiday.

Of course I had to run it past mum, and why I didn't ask her to forbid it, or just not tell her at all and lie that they'd said no. I was so unworldly and therefore in another fix.

It's not that I didn't the classmate who'd asked me, but I recall he went through stages of not being the most popular boy in the class. He was sporty but a bit dim, and there was an odd family set up going on. He wasn't the only one of course, there were lots of odd set-ups, but his I never got to the bottom of, despite going on holiday with them.

There were three children. My classmate, his sister, who seemed a year older but was in the same school year as us, and a much younger sister. They called their parents - or I suppose guardians - Auntie and Uncle, but they were apparently unrelated. The guardians were super posh and lived in this amazing 1960s split-level house. There was no shortage of money, but the children couldn't have been more different.

There was casual talk of a mother somewhere, but never talk of a father. Some whisper that they were unsuitable parents. Perhaps the children had to be rescued. I don't think they were officially adopted. What happened to them later was surprising. He's one of the world's most respected sommeliers, but I was shocked to read in the papers about 17 years ago that the older sister had become a high-class prostitute and was embroiled in a big court case. How does one end up liker that?

Anyhoo, back to more innocent times. So it was agreed. I was going. And I was dreading it. I'd never been skiing but was going with a family who went every year. So I was marched down to the dry ski slope in the nearest city and for about two months had the worst time of my life. It was dark, cold, had to be done after school and I never got used to those heavy boots.

Have you ever been on a dry ski slope? It hurts. My thumb still bends right back due to one of many tumbles. It was impossible to stop and really scary. What's more, it bears little or no resemblance to the real thing, which is even more terrifying and actually a properly dangerous and rather foolhardy thing to do unless you're Bjørn Dæhlie.

But I needn't have worried. In my hired skiwear (thanks Snowtogs of Millbrook!), and after making my tentative and hugely unexciting nursery slope debut at what I suppose must have been early January 1981, all skiing at our very nasty modern norther Italian ski resort was cancelled due to lack of snow. So we spent our time either sliding down empty ski slopes in our slippery salopettes, going for hot chocolated in mountain cafes or swimming. Much less dangerous.

In the evenings, when the 'parents' had retired, we sang along as a pompadoured hairdresser from Cheltenham played Hey Jude on his guitar and flirted with the sister. It was enormous fun, except for the early mornings. Not exactly relaxing. It's notable for being the first time I'd had a brioche, the concept of which was helpfully explained by our tour guide on the way to the resort from Milan airport. Now of course you can buy them at the corner shop.

Back home, our rabbit had had a litter. There was more snow there than in the Dolomites. John Lennon was all over the charts. Every time I hear Woman I think of rabbits and skiiing.

Back at school, we went our separate ways again. We were never to be close pals though we'd had fun. It was a strange holiday, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I've more detail in that diary I briefly kept. Apparently I was rather taken by a family from Glyndebourne.

I've never been skiing since. Don't intend to either.


  1. Nothing on earth would induce me to go skiing. I loathe being cold, and have a weird aversion to snapping my lower limbs off at high speed.

    But at least you had a go, and got to eat brioche well ahead of the pack. Got to be worth it for that alone!

    I'm fascinated - clinically - by the story of your friend and his extended family. Didn't sound like they were ever destined for ordinary lives, mind you...

  2. Yes, I wish I'd asked more questions about it, but I don't think it was really up for discussion. I might spend the afternoon doing some Googling.