I have been in the south of France for a few days. Skiing. Poor me, eh? This was a long arranged dad’s and daughters trip (the inappropriately named ‘Double Dees’, using a friend’s house just outside Bourg St Martin. We skied at Val d’Isere, Tignes, Les Arcs and Villaroger. The snow wasn’t at all bad, the wind slight (except on the last day when it was cold enough to freeze the knockers off a brass monkey (for those who don’t know the origin of that wonderful expression – which gives us British the short expression ‘it’s brassy today’ – I’ll let the Archaeologist explain in a comment because if I try he’ll only correct me anyway), the crowds after the weekend thin(ish) and the pistes just the right side of crunchy. One or two were a little too artificial still but natural snow has begun to add to the mix and at the higher levels, above 2000 metres, it is a joy.
I’m a plodding skier who wrestles the slopes with a ferocity that works up a sweat, even on the coldest days. There’s nothing graceful in my technique, it resembling something more Greco-Roman than Alpino. But I enjoy the fresh air, the unbelievable stillness of snow-saturated mountains, and especially the duffled air of pine forests snuggled in snow. Those moments when you find yourself alone, amongst a breathing marvel of nature are pure delight. The fact the world has turned monochrome is a true wonder because in my head I experience a kaleidoscope of senses – crisp breath fogging glasses, the soft pluff of snow dolloping off the branches, the crunch of a ski, the arthritic creak of Sisyphean trees burdened beyond endurance.
It is not all quiet and peaceful.
There’s this restaurant come Hieronymus Bosch nightmare called La Folie Douche which the young misses insisted on visiting. We ‘boys’ decided to seek a coffee elsewhere. This may give you a sense of what we passed up.
I can’t complain. At 21 I’d have been there like a shot.
And yet amongst the joy and fun and good company, a little worm gnaws at me. A worm that started in April and has infected my bloodstream in ways I hadn’t expected. Blogging. I’m an addict. And I don’t like the withdrawal symptoms: staring, hopeful that the phone will say ‘3G’, waiting for a download at speeds last experienced when King Arthur ruled, attempting comments that are eaten by the tyranny of ‘no service’. I was unblogged from Saturday to today and it hurt. Maybe this lack of wifi and a decent signal is just another manifestation of the Anglo-French rivalries that have dogged we two neighbours down the centuries: since William was a conqueror; since French became the posh language of aristocratic Brits and English the language of the common people; since Agincourt and Waterloo; since Rosbeefs and Froggies; since we learnt to cook better than them. An English iPad is automatically barred perhaps?
I’m pathetic. The Vet accused me of being ‘the worst kind of teenager, glued to my phone’ and the sad truth is she is right. We baby boomers have spent their future, swamped them by being friends rather than parents, absorbed their music into our mainstream and annexed their social media. Facebook is no longer of interest to the 20 somethings, they use Whatsapp groups rather than post about their lives or Instagram for pictures. Soon enough we will suck those into our orbit. And here’s me, part of the problem, not the solution.
So I’ve not posted for five days. It has been HARD. My name is Geoff and I haven’t blogged for five days. Get a life. Gradually as the break passed, my phone stayed shut and my iPad reverted to being my Kindle as I read more. I coped. But it hasn’t broken me of the habit. I’m not sure I mind much though it has given me a little perspective on it. I know, because it seems my family have noticed, that I must be more disciplined about my blogging as I am about a lot of other aspects of my life. Less has to be more, not so much in writing and posting but in reading and commenting. I’ll try. I don’t hold out a lot of hope.
Perhaps I’ll end on a different note. In the UK and especially these soft southern parts, we have little snow and rarely are the falls sufficient to coat the ground and stop the traffic. Boston it is not (sorry you on the east coast of the US; it sounds like a nightmare). But when the dump is big enough and London grinds to a halt; when the snow is white and fresh and not the dirty slush that fills your boots with a freezing gloop; when the world is new and crisp and small children and dogs tell you all you need to know by their reactions to this new wonder, that’s when this poet’s heart soars and he pens a pean of praise to the most magical Land of Frozen Water that we are ever likely to experience. This was written a while back but the sentiments old true today
I wake to a muffled world
where the curtains shine with a sepia tint.
Somewhere, I hear a faint rustle of ticker tape,
falling in drifts.
It is eerily quiet as I peek out
half knowing the reason.
A magician, up all night,
has covered the garden,
deadening the air with nature’s Kapok.
A bandy legged primate, waterproofed, uncertain
overtakes a drunk car, failing its sobriety test.
I smile with guilty pleasure. Routine
dissolves as flakes on the windows.
Any thought of work drips from the sill
To form an icicle of excuses.
A family of Michelin people
waddle in vague trails,
their usually confident tread undone
as the kerbs shift and slip to unexpected places.
Inappropriately shod fashionistas
curse their vanity.
I skip outside. Boots creak,
as if in need of oil.
The smothered hawthorn emerges at my touch
releasing a cloud of hissing white gas.
Everywhere unthreatening Hoodies
reveal glimpses of childhoods re-found.
Dogs, confused by chest deep cold white mud,
gambol and spring, demented in their ignorance,
chasing balls that dissolve on impact,
shaking their heads in surprise.
The Park confounds.
Cool mannered, indifferent teenagers
become seven again.
Armed with lightweight ordnance,
even friendly fire is welcomed.
Young families, paroled by snow
from school and work
play god and mould a choir of obese people,
accessorized with twigs and vegetables.
The enfeebled sun fights to dampen
my mood. Cars retake the streets,
leaving a grey gloop in their wake.
I slither home, uphill whichever way I go.
Unaccustomed muscles growl, frozen fingers
protest, each jab and squeeze
waking me from my illicit
dreaming, leaving my love affair with snow
in puddles on the parquet.