It’s five years since I last went skiing. At that point there was no Edward, and David and I left Alex and Isabella here at home with my in-laws, and went off to Chamonix for a long weekend together. I think it’s the only holiday we had together without children: partly as neither of us ever really wanted to leave the children behind.
I remember feeling bereft when I said goodbye to him at the bus stop, as he was travelling back a couple of days ahead of me. I was quite relieved as it showed I still cared about him: in the busy-ness of every day life with two young children it’s easy to feel you are losing touch with your partner. Perhaps we should have had more weekends away like that: the problem was, of course, that once Edward came on the scene as well and I had no job, we couldn’t afford it. That skiing trip was paid for out of the inheritance I was given not long after we moved to Cumbria. This skiing trip was paid for by my mother, out of another inheritance.
The previous time I hadn’t actually been that impressed by Chamonix. We had stayed in an hotel a bus trip outside the town centre and then in a self-catering apartment which necessitated a walk uphill in ski boots and carrying skis to the main telecabine which accesses the Brevent ski area. This time my view of Chamonix was completely different. We were staying in the Club Med hotel, right at the foot of a button lift which provided access to the telecabine, and at the bottom of a beginners’ ski area – perfect for the children.
The Club Med staff were fantastic: friendly and helpful and with superb English for those times when our French wasn’t up to scratch (in fact I spent most of the week in a slightly schizophrenic state, never quite sure which language to speak). The food was superb as well: and with four buffet-style meals a day (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner) we could have put on stacks of weight. The children loved being able to help themselves to diet pepsi and piles of puddings: the ice-cream was especially popular, Bella loving mango and Edward one he called ‘pink milk flavour’ (actually candy cane: I thought it was revolting – far too sweet and with crispy bits of something sugary in). Having cake and vin chaud in the last rays of the sunshine outside the hotel after being out all afternoon in the fresh air was a lovely, warming experience.
Skiing was probably in some ways the least successful part of the holiday. As part of our package I could have gone out all day every day with a guided group, but I had only got the children booked in to afternoon lessons and it soon became clear that my plan of spending time with the children in the morning, skiing in the afternoon and my parents being able to wander off and explore in the afternoon, was not going to work. I think I had one afternoon when I skied on my own, rushing over to Flegere and back again, getting the last cable car back across to the Brevent area. However Alex and Bella got their ‘Flocon’ award and looked pretty confident and controlled coming down the slopes doing snow plough turns. Edward on the other hand didn’t enjoy his lessons and whilst he went to some, encouraged by a Frenchman called Fabian who was absolutely brilliant with him, I felt that perhaps he was just a bit young to start and that next year might be a different matter. I know children cry and cling to their mothers almost deliberately to make their mothers feel bad, but when you’re meant to be on holiday and enjoying yourself it’s a bit rotten if you’re being made to do something you’d really rather not do.
We also didn’t explore that far afield. One day we caught the bus – eventually – up to Le Tour and Alex, Bella and I skied a few green runs up there (I remembered coming down the red previously several times and really enjoying it) but the sun was really hot that day and I just didn’t feel I could keep my Mum and Dad and Edward sitting around waiting for us for ever. In fact as it turned out it was just as well we caught an earlyish bus back as my Dad was then sick: my Mum and I concluded it was sunstroke.
By then (Friday) the snow was pretty slushy at the bottom and quite icy higher up. We really badly needed a fall of snow, and on Saturday afternoon the weather obliged, Alex turning up for his lesson with no coat and no goggles… I rushed back to the room to get them and it was just as well I did as snow fell heavily all afternoon and then again overnight. The day we left we woke up to near-perfect skiing conditions. Typical!
But it was time to go home. The day we had caught the bus ‘up the valley’ we had met Daniela, a Brazilian lady, and her daughter Naomi, and the first bus we had got on had left my Dad, Daniela and Naomi behind. Daniela and I talked about how we’d look on it as a bit of an adventure and part of the experience of the holiday, but we also both felt by then that it was time to go home. Funny how you start to feel like that but then when the time comes you don’t want to after all… However my Mum had also had a call from my Grandmother’s nursing home saying that she (my grandmother – 103) was unlikely to last the weekend. In fact of course she proved the doctors wrong yet again (they gave her just two weeks to live when she first had her stroke aged 100) and is still alive, but even so I could see my Mum felt bad about being away and would be keen to head back down to Somerset as soon as she could.
We had had a lovely time not only skiing and eating too much but going shopping in Chamonix and to the museums of crystals and of alpine mountaineering. I wouldn’t do an all-inclusive package again as I don’t think we got real value for money, at least in terms of the skiing (we had to pay for the children’s lessons as extras) and also I’d prefer self-catering so that I could eat in different places and also have a bit more control over what the children consumed: when diet pepsi is on tap and children can help themselves it’s a trifle difficult persuading your 4-year old that really diet pepsi is not a good drink at breakfast time (fortunately there was orange juice and apple juice on tap as well). It would also mean that the children could eat at their normal tea time and go to bed slightly earlier than they did on holiday, though they all slept well and didn’t wake up too early. What we did make some use of though was the swimming pool and it was magical swimming outdoors with snow-covered mountains as the backdrop.
As for Chamonix itself: this time I loved it, and I was seriously considering whether I could get a job out there, even if only for the next winter season. Alex was heart-broken by the idea so maybe not yet. But I had forgotten just how much I love being in France; and I also had not realised that the young, free and single me who loved travelling and exploring and having few ties, is still there inside me.