Mum and dad still won’t go on holiday without me. I’m 34. The upshot is, however, that they pay for me if I go. The downside is that I have to organise it all. When mum said she wanted to spend Christmas going on a train holiday around Switzerland – travelling there and back on a train too – I knew I was in for an organisational nightmare.
The booking everything online part of the venture was exhausting enough but getting mum and dad onto the right train at the right time was like herding cats. I’d really like a couple of those harnesses people use on toddlers to keep them on the right path. Otherwise, they wander off, stop and gawp at things or start bickering.
On Christmas Day itself, we went for a walk in the snow. The dramatic alpine landscape, perfect blue sky, crisp pure white snow with the sun glinting off it was a far more perfect image of Christmas than any clichéd card. Wide low roofed wooden buildings looked exactly as we’d thought they would in this ski resort close to the border with Italy. Ski lifts still trundled up the slopes and skiers still came hurtling down in wonderfully elegant serpentine patterns. Mum decided to slide down a much smaller slope by pulling her coat down tightly over her bum and going down the hill on her back. This was not elegant. Dad and I had a go too though. It was quite fun. Mum then made a snow angel where she landed at the bottom. Dad had to remind her that her coat was brand new. Not that it made much of a difference.
Boxing Day was as clear and crisp as the previous day had been. We decided to do the whole hill sliding thing properly. Since none of us could ski, we hired three sledges to take down the slope. Now, people in Britain think of sledging looking like this:
At least, that’s what we thought it looked like. Therefore, we were a little surprised when we were told to go up in a cable car and get off at the second level. We expected that our little sledging slope must be half way up the mountain somewhere. We were wrong. The sledges we clutched looked much as the ones at home did – colourful plastic things with little runners, a long seat and a bit of rope at the front. Dragging these along behind us, we disembarked the cable car and heading along the top of what looked like a ski run back down the mountain.
“Where do we go now?” Mum asked me.
I shrugged. A helpful man in a florescent jacket must have seen the gesture because he indicated that we should go down the ski run.
“We can’t go down there,” Mum said. “That’s for skiers.”
The man pointed again and nodded. This particular ski run was a narrow and not too steep snowy pathway leading in a zigzag pattern down the mountain. A steep rock face made up one side of the path and, on the other side, was a severe drop down an incline covered in trees at a sharper than 45 degree angle to the ground to point at the sky. Skiers, snowboarders and other sledgers went happily sailing past us down the path.
“I think we’re going down the mountain on the sledges,” I said.
“Don’t be stupid,” Dad said. “You can’t go down a ski run on a sledge.”
“That’s what they’re doing,” I said, pointing to a group of young people sitting three to a sledge. “Come on.”
I put the sledge at the top of the run, sat on it and pushed off with my feet. It slid about a foot and stopped. The incline wasn’t very steep at the top. “I think we need to scoot them along a bit,” I told mum and dad. We all began scooting our sledges forward in a most undignified fashion by swinging our legs forward, digging our heals in and pulling ourselves along. I want you to picture this scene very clearly: a busy but narrow ski run with all sorts of outdoorsy people zooming past on skis and snowboards, groups of people on sledges and then us: Baby Mooney, with a bobble hat, scooting along on a little plastic sledge, followed by Mummy Mooney, with her big hair sticking out of her bobble hat, scooting along and then big bald Daddy Mooney, with his big ears sticking out of his beany hat, propelling a sledge along the path.
Not long after, moving the sledges ceased to be a problem and steering them became the issue. The ropes at the front are not for steering. We found that out very quickly. For some reason, the sledges kept veering off to the left where the path fell away into an almost vertical drop with a very thin grass verge separating us from a body-smashing fall through evergreen trees. As I sat on my sledge on this verge thinking, “Shit, I nearly died there,” I thought about what I was doing wrong. The sledge had started towards the left and I had put my left foot down to push it back to the right. This was a mistake. Thinking about the physics of it, I realised that putting my foot down slowed the sledge down on that side and would thus, pull it towards that side. I had to put my foot down on the side I wanted it to go to. Tentatively, I made sure there was no one about to go shooting past me and pushed off again into the middle of the path. Cruising along at a reasonable speed, starting to get a little too fast in fact, I wondered where mum and dad had gotten to. They didn’t seem to be behind me. While looking over my shoulder to wonder where they were, I hadn’t noticed that the sledge was heading to the edge, and oblivion, again. I slammed my right foot down to pull me to the right but I turned so sharply that I shot right into the path of another sledge. “ACHTUNG!” a man shouted, as he, with a woman on the back behind him, swerved their sledge around me. Watching them go, I saw what I had been doing wrong. They kept their feet on the ground the whole time. When they wanted to turn, they lifted up the opposite foot to the side they wanted to go towards.
Learning this fact made almost all of the rest of my descent dead easy. Almost all. One part of the run was very wide and very very steep. It was clearly designed to allow the skiers and snowboarders to pick up speed or do that lovely weaving side to side thing they do. There must have been some kind of sensible way to tackle it on a sledge but I didn’t know what that was. The slope was too icy to allow me to dig my heals in as I went down so I pushed off, put my feet up on the rungs, held onto the rope for dear life and screamed all the way. I’d never seen a sledge go so fast. I flew down that hill like a foul mouthed cannon ball. It would have been fun if it hadn’t been for the sharp turn at the bottom. There was no way I was turning that fucker at that speed. Bailing out to the side before the sledge hit a curved snow embankment, was the only way I saved myself from coming to a sudden juddering stop. The sledge slid half way up the embankment before turning over backwards and sliding a little down the hill on the seat. I had gone skidding along the ground a little way and stopped in a Superman position next to the embankment. People were looking at me as they went smoothly past. Not even bothering trying to stand, I slid over to the sledge on gloved hands and knees, turned it over and crawled on to it. The rest of the ride down was really quite pleasant.
Arriving at the bottom of the mountain, I thought, ‘Well, that was an adventure. Now, where the hell are mum and dad?’
It looked like dad had finally cottoned on to the fact that you had to keep your feet down as he came gliding down the last part of the run at a very sedate pace at least fifteen minutes after I’d gotten there.
“Where’s mum?” was the first thing he said.
“I thought she was with you,” I replied.
It was a full half an hour later that mum came walking down the path dragging her sledge behind her. She had completely failed to master her sledge and had panicked, jumping off the sledge and walking it down. The only part she had had to ride it for was the very steep hill. Unlike me, she had not thought to bail out at the corner. Her sledge had hit a bump and slammed into the snow embankment at full speed and stuck into it a good foot off the ground (like a cartoon), throwing her into the snow. Even though it did sound painful, I couldn’t stop laughing.