Saturday, March 29
A lengthy, yet largely uneventful, train ride took us to the Alps. The children were a bit hyper but the nice Flemish man opposite said that they were lovely, normal children and I instantly recanted every bad thought I have ever had about the Flemish. The mother of a small baby looked at us viciously when Daniel pointed to a cow and said “moo” in a voice that woud raise the dead and woke her baby but otherwise all was well. The boys slept on the way up to Val Thorens on the bus and we arrived in time for the children to do some mild sledding in the afternoon sunshine.
Sunday, March 30
At 5.40 (summer time) I was lying awake in my bed trying to work out how we would get the children to creche/ski lessons at 9.00 and ourselves to our own lessons (uphill) at 9.15. This is what it is like to be my husband. I did not enjoy it. We left the house at 8.30 and made our way gingerly down the spiral staircase (why?) from the locker room clutching three sets of skis, two sets of poles, assorted material for the creche (change of clothes, outdoor gear, suncream, goggles etc. etc.) and two children. We left the Princess to walk down herself. This turned out to be a mistake as, wearing ski boots for the first time she fell down on her head. On the plus side, this gave her a chance to test the efficacy of her new helmet (very good but does not protect legs or cheeks).
We saw off our various offspring and took ourselves to our lesson in unpleasantly snowy conditions. Most of the lifts were closed. Pablo took us flying down a number of red slopes in poor visibility and I thought “I do not like this one little bit”. The Princess, when collected, reported that she had spent the morning skiing on one ski and that she had lost her group and started to cry. They all called out “We’re beside you”, so I guess she didn’t get separated very far. The boys, unfortunately, saw through the creche for what it was and were outraged at its appearance in the Alps. Nobody would nap. I went out with the boys to play. They were cold and cranky and had taken agin snow. I brought them home and took the Princess out. I fell over in the ice outside our building. This was the highlight of her day. She had never seen anything funnier. I had hurt my knee. She would have sympathised only she couldn’t stop laughing. Then she made me slide down the hill on her sled with her.
I spent the night in mild pain (my knee) and bitterness (the exhorbitant cost of it all, the fact that it was going to be miserable).
Monday, March 31
I spent the morning limping around the resort. I went to inspect the Princess’s lesson. Her instructor, Jean Clement ,informed me that her goggles were useless “c’est pour la piscine ca!” and, after some vain discussion (never argue with a French ski instructor) I limped off to get her goggles (22 euros) and handed them over. I watched her bending over to eat snow and skiing on one leg for a while and limped on. After much anguish at the potential cost, I decided to go to see the doctor in the resort. This, you will be pleased to hear, represented excellent value. For 30 euros I got a cheery prognosis and a prescription for a knee support and pain relief (he was a bit dubious about the dafalgan I had in my bag – doubtless they use it in Belgium – yes, they do, will I ever forget my outrage when I discovered that what I had been given after delivering my baby was not super de duper prescription stuff but a mild analgesic delivered over the counter – I digress). He confidently predicted that I would be back skiing by Wednesday and pointed out that the weather that day was not nice for skiing. I pointed out that, unlike him, I was not spending a season in Val Thorens. I tried to convey this to the creche people also when they looked astounded and disapproving when I asked whether they had let the boys play in the snow, but they were more supercilious than the doctor so I left it.
That afternoon we took the children to an indoor bouncy castle extravaganza. They loved it. I limped off to get my knee support (which I am wearing even now). I intend to wear it every skiing holiday for the rest of my life as it cost me 96 euros. Ouch. It’s great though.
There were hardly any other Irish people at the resort, oddly, though the Princess did have some one from Miami in her class (why?) and she is keen to visit. We said we’ll see. The place was, however, teeming with young Dutch and English people. True to form, the Dutch had all brought their own food from the Netherlands which they were cheerfully loading in to the lift in crates. When I went to the supermarket later, I saw their point.
In the supermarket, I saw that the English young man in front of me with the slipping down trousers and visible underwear had a basket containing only a bottle of bacardi, a packet of pringles and a frozen pizza, I uttered a silent but, alas, as it later transpired, unanswered, prayer that he might not be in our building. Our building was full of young people going at the apres ski hammer and tongs. Mr. Waffle particularly enjoyed being serenaded by English rugby songs at 4 in the morning. Personally, my favourite was the young man banging on the door two floors below at 3 am screaming “Robbie, wake up, I can’t believe he can’t hear me, wake up!”. After about 20 minutes of this, while Robbie slept on unaffected, my whole family was awake. I ventured outside to explain to Robbie’s friend that Robbie had either passed out or was, incredible as this might seem at this ungodly hour, still out. Fortunately, Robbie’s friend had left by then so I was not forced to take him on in my pyjamas.
Tuesday, April 1
Mr. Waffle and I had a delightful morning skiing gently together in glorious sunshine having abandoned any hope of ever getting to our lessons in time. Perked up by this, I met the Princess for lunch while Mr. Waffle took the boys home to nap. This was moderately successful except for the part where she sat under the table and, from this vantage point, threw snow balls at select other punters (all handsome and indulgent young men, I see trouble ahead).
When, eventually, we had finished lunch, I took her up to see her do her thing on the beginners’ slope but she refused to go down alone and I had to carry her between my knees which, mercifully, turned out to be a lot easier than you might expect. However, the skiing held no real attraction for her as there was a giant inflatable chicken nearby. We had to take off our skis and trudge up to inspect it. We then stayed there for some considerable time and the Princess circled the chicken while eating snow. I wouldn’t call it a phenomenally successful session.
Later, we got our her sled and went down to the supermarket. Her iron will supported her while travelling her approved route which involved toiling up a blue slope in the hot sun. Unfortunately, it let her down as we went around the supermarket and she was a disgrace and her post-shopping present was not therefore forthcoming and she sat down and refused to budge and I waited and read my book and still she wouldn’t budge. I found myself using my mother’s old phrases “what kind of mother would I be, if I let you behave badly and didn’t tell you what was right?” and “who is going to tell you how to behave unless your mother does?”. To the latter she said crossly, and unanswerably, “our childminder”. Mr. Waffle and the boys had to come and rescue us, I was very glad that we were going out later and, if you find yourself looking for somewhere to eat in Val Thorens, may I heartily recommend L’epicurien? I was glad dinner was nice as babysitting weighed in at a hefty 20 euros an hour.
Wednesday, April 2
Mornings continue fraught. Daniel wept convulsively as we dropped the boys at the creche; Michael was cheery. The weather was miserable and we skied round blinking in the snow. Not our best moment. Mr. Waffle took the Princess off for lunch and I put the boys to bed and read my book. Inadvertently, Mr. Waffle took the Princess to ski down her first blue run; I don’t think either of them enjoyed it much. On the plus side, they spent a happy hour going up and down the cable car. More bouncy castles later in the afternoon. Sigh.
Thursday, April 3
Another beautiful day for Mr. Waffle and me above the clouds. The Princess was cranky and the boys howled at the creche, so I think that the rest of the family may not have had quite such a wonderful morning. The Princess announced that Jean Clement had made her continue to do an exercise until she did not fall over. She did not like that. French kiddie ski instructors are ruthless, not soft and cuddly. To compensate, we went to visit the bouncy castles in the afternoon, the girl behind the desk observed sagely that we should have bought a pass.
Friday, April 4
I asked Jean Clement how the Princess was getting on. “Impeccable” pause “mais elle fait ce qu’elle veut, eh?” I can only imagine what the clash of the Titans was like. Nevertheless, at the end of the morning she was awarded her Ourson badge (only a Flocon and 3 etoiles to go before she can do anything). Notwithstanding this when I took her up on a chair lift (probably the highlight of her week) and encouraged her to ski down a very gentle slope she refused to budge and I had to carry her the whole way down. I think we need a little more work here.
In the morning, however, her father and I enjoyed a lovely morning’s skiing which, in my experience, always happens on the last day. The weather was beautiful, we went down a number of red slopes (but no blacks at all) with cavalier ease – please let me be smug, I have spent my fair share of time on my bottom waving my skis in the air. The only thing that happened to mar our enjoyment was sharing a cable car with a remarkably irritating English teenager who spoke as follows:
Annoying Girl: No offence but they’re holding us up.
Inarticulate side kick: Mmm.
AG: No offence but we haven’t fallen at all, except that one time getting off the lift when we fell on that man and that was his fault really.
AG: No offence but we need to be skiing harder and faster.
ISK (admiringly): You only skied the hardest black in the whole resort yesterday.
AG: I know and, no offence but that woman in the group really annoyed me.
AG: I mean, she was annoyed when I knocked her over yesterday, she said I could have broken her leg and, no offence but, she was skiing again today, so I couldn’t have, could I?
What was particularly galling was that somehow or other our friend had managed to get her skis wedged in the door of the lift when getting in which did not give us a very good impression of her prowess, this poor impression was reinforced when we actually saw her on them.
“I think,” said Mr. Waffle “that that was a Sloane Ranger.”
“Really, but she didn’t sound at all like our English friends in Brussels and I thought they were all middle class”
“No, but, I think you really need to have more money than anyone we know to have children who mangle their vowels in that very peculiar manner”.
That afternoon, partly to avoid the girl on the bouncy castle desk, we went to the pool which was surprisingly pleasant, despite our children’s insistence on donning every flotation device in the pool.
Saturday, April 5
Up at 7.30, out at 10.30 after cleaning up, bus at 11. Both boys sick on the bus and bottle of milk spilt. We arrived in Moutiers at 12.00 and wandered around the quaint streets of the old town until 16.23. Actually, it was quite nice but we were in no mood to appreciate it with three tired cranky children and two cranky parents (including one with a spanking new migraine, yay) all finding it a little toasty in their ski gear on a sunny April day in the valley. Furthermore we spent most of our time combing the town for nappies as we had reprehensibly and entirely inexplicably run out and so had Val Thorens. We found some, you will be pleased to hear.
The train journey was long. We shared a carriage with some nice Belgians but none of our six children slept which was a source of some regret to the four adults. The train was delayed and got in at 11. By then Michael was asleep but herself and Daniel were still gamely awake. We queued for taxis in the biting cold and finally got home about 11.30 and bundled our protesting children into bed and collapsed ourselves.
Would I do it again? Yes. Would I make any changes? Many. Was it fun? Much more so than you might think from the description above.