I wanted to go anyway as I love the idea that one day we will have a Brady Bunch style holiday where the most exciting thing that happens is my mother burning the toast. Because of this tragic dream I assured the boy things would be different and I actually believed it, there would only ever be four family members together at any one time and there was going to be partners and friends to force us all to be on our best behaviour.
For the first four days everything went well; there were no sulks, no snarls and even sarcasm was kept to a minimum. I started to feel smug at how dull we had become and even considered making cookies for us all. I should have known it would not last. The giant enjoys his space as do we all and in the absence of yoga, Facebook and Sky television the tensions began to mount and all it would take for things to explode was a happy hour combined with an empty tummy too many.
As I am not really meant to be drinking I usually try to back away from situations where I feel obliged to drink. Après ski however is a traditional part of mountain culture and is one of the nicest parts of the skiing day. After the lifts have stopped the skis come off and people gather together with their friends, family and travelling companions upon the terraces which look up to the slopes and swap anecdotes of a day spent with their heads above the clouds. When everyone suggested an après ski drink I could not resist and over a cold beer we had a great time dissecting our day and congratulating ourselves for surviving a blizzard to come unharmed through the other side of the mountains mist.
The problem with drinking after a hard day on the slopes is how quickly the alcohol goes to your head. I have fallen foul of the beer fairy before and in doing so have ruined myself for the slopes the next day; with this thought in mind and an overwhelming desire to finally get up to date with my blog I headed home leaving the others at The Rhododendron; the cheapest and most cheerful pub in the whole of Le Praz. I was feeling quite proud of myself for recognising the limits of my liver and treated myself to a strong coffee and hot shower to ease the aches of the slope.
I do not know why everything went wrong but I do know when it started to slide downhill. I had curled myself upon the couch after returning to the apartment alone and was looking forward to spending some time alone. I had just finished coming up with a concept for the day’s blog when my thought structure was interrupted by my sister’s partner crashing through the door upon the arm of my father’s godson. Admittedly he had been moaning while we were in the pub and had asked for a cold pack but we had all assumed he wasn’t too injured as he had skied down the mountain on it just fine only an hour before. One look at his face convinced me he was not faking, he was pale and acting as though he was in total agony. Though I do not have the most maternal of bones I felt I should at least attempt to care for him. His knee was the size of a tennis ball after all and with my sister absent and my mother back in the UK I applied the medicine of every good Irish woman, a cup of tea and a sandwich.
After adding to my cure a couple of painkillers and some snow packs, (my father’s godson’s innovative invention) ,it was clear he might need more medical attention than I could provide. Although I did a first aid course when I was twelve all I could remember was something about a triangular bandage and I didn’t really see how that could help us now. It was about this point that I started to panic.
My sister and the giant were over at the bar with no idea about the deteriorating knee situation. Though my sister had said she would return home after one more drink I had little faith in her keeping this promise. I have echoed the same spiel myself when the boy has rang to see when he could expect me home. Though one likes to believe one will be home in a jiffy the craic of the bar will always outweigh any call to come home, especially as the caller will usually be a cross patch by the time you get back and be none too amused when you tell them you wuv them very smuch indeed.
As I feared she may not be in the mood for problem solving when she returned I had sent a messenger to find out whether there was any hope of getting help on a Sunday and found out that the nearest hospital was forty minutes away. When I heard this I had another unpleasant realisation; I was the only one capable of driving and I haven’t been in a car since December. I was beginning to feel rather overwhelmed by responsibility and upon hearing another groan from my sister’s partner I realised I had no choice but to get the doctor involved. When she arrived she seemed quite concerned and advised a hospital visit for X-rays and painkillers. After deciding it would be best to wait till the morning to take him I began to feel relieved that something had been done.
My sister had returned just before the Doctor got there which left me free to return to my writing whilst she played at being nurse. Just as I had settled into the couch however and opened up a monthly magazine, the giant returned. If it wasn’t for his rosy cheeks I probably would have jumped out the ground floor window upon seeing the look on his face. The giant had been unaware of the developments in the knee situation and as far as he was aware I had called out a seventy-five euro doctor for no reason and was a bit of a fool for doing so.
There is little point in going into detail about who slung the mud and how deep was the colour but what got said tonight has destroyed the delicate peace of the last few days. I feel foolish for coming away and annoyed because come the morning I will be the only one who will remember the harsh words spoken. The boy is perhaps right, maybe the time has come to call a day on the annual family hell-a-day.
- Today’s dress is another loan from my sister who also took the photos from today. It is from Hennes and though it looked great with a beret all of us were feeling a bit too bitter about the rugby to promote French culture any more than we had to. The mountains in the background by the way are Swiss.
- FYI – The reason I am smiling in the pictures is they were taken before everything kicked off when we were still on speaking terms. I do hope our family will be at peace again., I just find it hard right now to imagine how.
Today I fell off the wagon rather dramatically. In my defence I have been doing fairly well; other than a few drinks on a couple of special occasions over the past four weeks I have been surprisingly sober. I can not deny that I haven’t missed the drink; I love the grape and the grain as I do a long overdue conversation with a good friend so being without it has left me feeling a little lonely at times, particularly when my society consists of the suitably sozzled.
Though I had decided to do my best to have a booze free holiday it turns out not drinking in France is nearly as depressing as not smoking. When I tuck into a long lunch with a baby bubble beverage rather than one of their sweet stumpy beers I am looked at like a leper and feel like a right old bore. After all I say to myself I am on holiday and after all surely occupation of a different country means one must adopt their laws and customs. Surely I think by not drinking their delicious vino I am causing unintended offence.
After running through similarly logically sound arguments all day I finally fall well and truly off the wagon during dinner. I manage to convince myself that holidays are technically a special occasion and after all I have cause for celebration and this is the first time I have shared a meal with my family after getting my good news. It may be an excuse and I am perhaps kidding myself but it certainly feels like an occasion. We go to our favourite restaurant in Chamonix. Although The Hotel Eden do some of the most fanatic dishes in the whole of The Alps, their prices are pretty high and although I would love to go to their restaurant until I am employed it is just not realistic. Our favourite restaurant is one of the best value in the whole of Le Praz, a small village just outside of central Chamonix. It is only a five minute stroll from where we stay and their menu has I think stayed the same for the last five years.
It is one of those restaurants where as soon as you walk in you know who the owner is. The family who own it are often eating there themselves when we come in and the television stays on the sports channel for their pleasure. The y have not changed their menu or themselves to accommodate the influx of tourists into their village. We order in our very best French, desperate not to seem like the atypical arrogant anglais who can not be bothered to stretch his tongue to please his hosts. If we make a mistake she kindly corrects us and when there is an issue with translating the puddings she will switch to sign language and indulge us in our guessing games but she will not use the English tongue and for this I admire her. Once when we had fondue there the lady who owns the place along with her sports fanatic husband took pity on our peasant ways and showed us herself how best to coat the futons in the melted pot of cheesy gold.
We usually have the same, a special salad which has a poached egg on top as well as little bits of bacon and croutons drenched in oil. It is delicious and if I was more of a fool I would ask her for the recipe. The salads are followed by steaks, chips and more devilishly dressed salad, I do not want or care to know how many calories I consume in this meal but every squat, sit up or stair climb I have to do to burn it off will be totally worth it. Even I, the ketchup queen, will happily go without red sauce because everything is cooked so well it would seem an insult to injure it by adding one’s own accompaniments.
Tonight, there was just a little bit of tension at the start of the meal and as I have been fearing a repeat of last years family feuding I turned to the drink as a distraction. I find it hard to relax and just be and whether or not it is wrong or healthy having a drink just brings me down a level and loosens me up. I am always on such a tightly wound string it is nice to lose a little control once in a while and as I had told myself earlier that day I am after all on my holidays. Though I did my best to take it easy, technically speaking the tablets I am taking do not exactly advise alcohol. Two glasses of delicious table wine later I was feeling fabulously free and when the owners decided after our drunken debate with a table of Irish men about who would win the rugby the next day we all drank to France’s victory with a liquor from 1946. It totally finished us all and the walk back was hilarious. I am standing in the photos but many did not work as I was swaying ever so slightly.
On the plus side on our return to the apartment rather than falling into the trap of desperately trying to keep the party going I got myself a glass of water, watched a bit of the football until I was forced to admit that all I could see was a red and green blur I slid under the duvet, typed a few words of my blog and slunk into the loveliest sleep I have had in days. I may well have fell off the wagon, but at least I didn’t get hurt.
- Today’s dress is a kaftan borrowed covertly from my mother whilst she was away in Chamonix. Knowing the only way she would find out is if she read the blog I decided to chance it as she should be doing her essay so should certainly not be browsing through her daughters drones. I know it is ridiculous but I wore it with a beret as when in Rome and all. The green jumper was loaned to me, with permission and everything from my older sister. I love it and am thinking of accidentally acquiring it during the course and the panic of our packing. We are sharing a room at the moment and it is great fun. The top is apparently from Asda and the shirt dress is from Marks & Spencer Autograph collection. I think it is meant to be a top. The pictures were taken by my sister’s boyfriend, James Cornish who is quite the amateur photographer and kept doing strange things like practice shots.
When I crashed my car back in early December whilst driving along a country lane I remember quite clearly what went through my head when I stepped out of the only door which still opened to survey the wreckage and wonder at the miracle of German engineering; “Oh God I am going to have to start getting the train again.” Since passing my test on my fourth attempt I have done everything within my power to never have to darken the door of public transport again. Rather than getting on the last bus home or taking the train down to London or up North to Manchester I chose the comfort, safety and reliability of my car every time. Whether I had to put up with roadworks, boy racers who lack the skill to keep up with a lady racer or BMW drivers who insist on riding up your behind no matter what, I always took comfort in the fact that at least I was not having to ride the trains.
There was once a time when I enjoyed boarding the train. It was about eight years ago when midland mainline in their wisdom put on a service which rode its passengers directly from Leicester straight through to Manchester. As I was due to start at the University of Manchester come September I was delighted and even made use of it a few times to check out my new city-to-be. At the time they still offered free cups of tea and coffee and even the odd entertaining magazine all for a fairly reasonable price of £18 so long as you remembered your railcard. Unfortunately the tea and coffee was cut, some wise guy accountant decided this was actually the cause of a 0.001% reduction in profits and knowing that the poor commuters would have little choice other than to pay the price or get up earlier in order to make up a flask of the good stuff they pushed through the skinflint measure knowing they could charge us with little fear of a French style rebellion. Midland Mainline kept the service going until about two months after I began my course when they decided there just wasn’t the demand. It was just enough time for me to get used to the joy of being only two hours from my home town of Market Harborough and for the rest of my time there I was forced to crowd on to the train services to Sheffield like a low breed cattle into carriages so over-packed I came close to fainting for want of air on more than one occasion.
I have been in long distance relationships for most of my adult years and ever since this service came to an end in 2003 I have loathed getting the train. If it wasn’t problems with overcrowding or overcharging there would be an issue with engineering works which were always conducted during the weekend when they would put on buses but never think to lower the fares to compensate those of us crushed into coaches which should have been decommissioned back when the railways were built.
It was because of these horrendous experiences with the rail network that I spent thousands of pounds on driving lessons and tests. As the daughter of a man who owned a car dealership it was a bit of a joke that I reached the age of 24 before I was able to get behind the wheel, but once I was there I never wanted to leave.
When my father told me it would be possibly weeks if not months before I would get my car back or even before he would let me drive it I cried, a lot. In spite of my crocodile tears and diva like protests that trains are more dangerous than cars due to the quantity of drunks and suicide bombers even he would not budge. He thinks I crashed because I was going too fast and has decided ice was not at issue. Apparently it has something to do with physics and the speed one has to be going at to roll a car three times and spin it, but its all Greek to me and as far as I knew I took the corner at a cruise worthy speed and if it hadn’t been for the frost this article would not be being written. But it is and I am sitting here on a train to Manchester having spent nearly five hundred pounds on train travel in the last two months and seeing as I have had to board nearly every rail service provider in Britain I feel I am well equipped to report on my findings of the state of the rail network as it stands today.
When I started getting the train again I decided I was in a unique position to really take a good look at how rail has changed in the 18 months since I was last a regular weekend commuter. The first journey admittedly was delightful. For the first time in months I had three lovely hours all to myself. I kept coming across magazines and newspapers and for once I was able to read more than just the headlines and the starting paragraph; fine if it’s The Express not fine if it’s The Guardian or The Independent, they usually spend the first paragraph telling you about the atmospheric weather and scenery surrounding stories of supposedly hard news and it is not usually till you reach the fourth paragraph that you find out you are reading about an especially intelligent canine who is the first ever recorded smiling dog. I was even able to indulge myself on the Virgin trains in a very small bottle of red wine which was delightful and I got squiffy enough to strike up a conversation with some poor soul from The Times who let slip about a certain head of states lawyer giving him a tinkle to tell him he’d better not publish or damned indeed he would be.
The problem came when I wanted to return home on a Sunday, it was complete and utter pandemonium. Every time I have tried to travel back on a Sunday I have been faced with late trains, cancelled services, crotchety train staff and a constant stream of misinformation. One particularly memorable journey occurred on January 14th. I had an appointment with a consultant in Leicester the next day which I had been waiting for since September so I had no choice but to navigate my way through the tussle of trains and buses to get back in time. I had been avoiding Sunday services because I couldn’t bear to get on the coaches or que outside Piccadilly Station for a place on a bus that may not ever come free. As it was I had somehow managed to find a service which would get me home for a fairly reasonable time and after playing a particularly ferocious game of scrabble; where thimbles of Krupnik had rendered the normal rules of play redundant; I set off to the station with my partner to get a train which required as far as we knew no buses.
After waiting at Mauldeth Road to the point where it became clear the train was not coming; not you understand because there was an announcement, but because everyone there concluded that fifteen minutes after it was due to depart there really was little chance it was going to get there in time for us to make our connections; we all ran from the platform in search of a taxi to hot-foot us to Piccadilly. Unfortunately the roads were packed and though the people I managed to herd into my taxi made their connection I was left stranded at Piccadilly with no way of getting home. When I got to Manchester station I was all in a flutter and on the verge of tears but hopeful I would find some explanation for my abandonment in the cold. I spoke with the man at the information desk only to be treated like a partially sighted toddler who informed me in the most patronising tone imaginable that there had been signs up in Piccadilly for months about service changes, “but I wasn’t at Piccadilly I was at Mauldeth Road.” I spurted agitatedly. He rolled his eyes and suggested I find another means of transport.
Northern Rail finally found a way for me to get home but it was all very touch and go and was dependent on those at Derby station taking me into their care and paying for a taxi to get me home. They did, but only as far as Leicester station in a taxi with the most racist person I have ever encountered. An Asian girl who had been smoking with her boyfriend at the station who felt the need to lecture me about the dreadful Polish people who are apparently stealing all our jobs. “And where in England were you born?” I politely enquire of her. “China,” she answered; but I live here now, I work for gas company”. I turn my head to look out the window and chew my lip to stop myself replying thinking of my car and the joy of driving with only myself for company and whichever DJ I choose to accompany me on the miles.
Other than delays over these two months I have encountered rude staff, cutbacks on the use of debit cards to pay for snacks on Virgin and Midland Mainline and constant overcrowding. If there is ever a rude passenger who is causing discomfort he or she will generally be ignored by the train managers who somehow lack the courage to confront drunken louts and noise polluting pubescent teens. I come across staff at a Midland Mainline buffet car who are happy to tell me that they get paid handsomely helped in part by the cut backs of the free coffee and tea which I once loved so much.
There has to be something done about the state of the rail-network. Until the government intervenes to stop these constant hikes in prices without improvements to delays, overcrowding and general service there is no way anyone would ever choose to board a train when they can drive to the majority of destinations for a third of the price charged by the service providers. It is unclear what we as a collective can do but as individuals the time has come for us to bombard our MP with complaints and whatever you do if you find yourselves left waiting without explanation in the cold or abandoned at the platform when you get to your destination make sure that the first thing you do is ask for a complaints form, fill it in and send it off.