Battle off the slopes
Take a bunch of strangers, one chalet ... and stir.
Saturday 15 February 1997
"Why did you serve the Bordeaux before the Merlot? You should of done it the other way round."
I was learning a lot from Pete, a fellow ski chalet guest. He couldn't stop. Every mouthful brought another observation from "my line of work" - this being the police force.
"I just don't see the point of marriage; I dunno why you bothered," he told the married end of the table.
"Now pass the wine before you lot finish the red. We haven't had any up here."
This was my first attempt at skiing and my first chalet. Keeping my temper was as tough as keeping my skis pointing in the same direction.
So, Courchevel in the French Alps. Tick, tick, tick in the "good" boxes. Great food, comfortable rooms, friendly staff. Everything worked - except chalet etiquette.
Wry comments on the coach matured into polite confrontation in the chalet, then downright aggression at the dinner table. The divide reminded me of school trips to youth hostels, except here nobody could tell us to behave like adults.
I tried, I promise you I tried, but by day two "our side" of the dinner table was flinching at everything he said. By day three we were recruiting members to our anti-Pete cause as fast as he turned off our choice of background music.
"I've got a word to describe that," he said of my choice of tape. "But I can't use it in front of the girls. Del Amitri, Simple Minds. That's what we should be listening to. Top Bands."
Dawn broke on beautiful day four, and his room was too cramped, the bed made him ache and the wine was too common for his sophisticated palate.
Sun kissed the mountains on day five and over dinner we had the chance to hear how bodies decompose at crime scenes. Oh, and we had more roast potatoes than "his" side (now poorly organised into a wine militia led by him with his partner as sole recruit).
A cloudy day six and I could snowplough and parallel turn to the left but not the right. He, however, spent the day "going above the cloud" to escape learner-skiers who were, quite frankly, ruining his holiday. His militia now demanded their own supply of Merlot to be deposited at 8.15pm next to his glass.
The evening brought our worst battle. He learnt one of our number owned a boat and quickly became Professor Nauticus, self-taught in seven seconds using the Complete Know-All Guide to Sailing. It meant the poor man who was a professional wine-buyer was left to breathe, but at the expense of our lone sailor going down with the gravy boat.
We retaliated. We kept all the carrots, potatoes and remaining wine down our end of the long table. He demanded some red, our team leader Sally filled her glass to the brim and passed him an empty bottle.
He snorted and complained that Sally's after-dinner cigarette (as yet unlit) made it impossible for his partner to breathe, so he opened all the windows to let in a refreshing -12 degrees breeze. We stormed out to the pub, leaving dessert unguarded and totally at his mercy.
"What's this? Where's the fruit? I don't like ice cream! The other chalets have better desserts ..." The moan died as we left.
Day seven and time to head home. In strict groups. Confused chalet guides watched as each group sat at the other end of the coach, the airport lounge and then the plane. Baggage handlers at Gatwick forced us briefly together, to mingle with evil intent. He pushed our luggage so we kicked his before running to the Gatwick Express. How childish, but we felt we had won.
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