Saturday, 10 January 2015

Sans Titre

I have in my drafts a blog post I was going to publish about now, loosely based on our New Year skiing holiday in La Rosiere, and detailing my best tips for a family ski holiday. I may still publish that post, but it won't be today.

In a case of best laid plans, I've had to hastily throw that post out of the virtual window and instead post this one, the various potential titles of which might also be;

"The one in which I cheat death on a French motorway"

"What do the Tins have in common with the Windsors?"

or, simply:

"Always wear a fucking seatbelt"

We had a wonderful week's skiing, sunshine, good food, good wine and fabulous company. We were sad to be going home.We got on the coach in La Rosiere just before 7a.m. last Sunday morning, with the kids excited that it was a double-decker coach, and installed ourselves across the four very front seats on the top deck, and headed off on our way down the winding mountain roads in the dark. I dozed fitfully, always conscious of the precarious nature of our travel, and breathed a small sigh of relief when we reached the bottom and our journey would hopefully be more straightforward, and I did eventually drop off to sleep. I woke up again around 8.30 when we stopped at a rest-stop and various people got off to go to the toilet.

We continued on our way, and I remember marvelling at the fact that there was no traffic whatsoever to be seen on the straight two-lane motorway. When we therefore slowly but surely started moving from the outside lane towards the middle around 10 minutes later, things immediately seemed odd.The coach struck the central reservation and then, just as slowly and surely headed back to the outside of the motorway. Alarm bells immediately started ringing, and I remember someone shouting "hold tight" when, sure enough, we hit the barrier on the outside of the motorway. After scraping along it for a couple of seconds, it obviously broke, and the coach started ploughing down the gentle muddly slope next to the carriageway. Almost in slow motion, the vehicle leaned towards the right and fell onto its side, accompanied by the sound of glass shattering and people screaming.. 

Sitting on the far left, I was now being held sideways by my seat-belt, desperately holding onto my youngest daughter who was sat next to me.My husband and elder daughter, who had been sat on the right of the coach and were now therefore on the "bottom", undid their seat-belts and helped us do the same so that we could climb down. Having reassured ourselves that the friends we had been travelling with were ok, we proceeded to try and find a way out. Smashing the window closest to us with the emergency hammer didn't have much effect, but a shout from the back indicated that the rear window was passable. We therefore gingerly made our way down the coach, trying to avoid stepping on panes of glass as we went. 

Outside, the scene was chaotic, with adults and children crying and bleeding. In a stroke of luck, a private ambulance had been passing and stopped to administer first aid to those that seemed most seriously injured.It appeared, however, that everyone had managed to walk out of the coach - surely helped by two factors, the speed and location of the accident, and the fact we had all been wearing seat-belts (an opinion reinforced later to me by several staff in the hospital who kept telling us "thank God you weren't French - they wouldn't have been strapped in!"). 

How long it took for the fire brigade and ambulances to arrive is a bit of a blur, and at first their approach seemed a little disorganised, with several people asking the same questions. Eventually a bit of a system became obvious, with injuries being classified in a traffic light system of green - not injured yellow - minor injuries, red - serious injuries. The only visible injury to my family was a large bump on my eldest daughter's face, however, she looked very pale and her legs suddenly buckled under her, slumping into the arms of the nearest fireman. She was promptly laid out on the floor on a makeshift stretcher with her legs in the air, and covered with blankets, before being carried very gingerly back up to the slope into a waiting ambulance.

It was whilst trying to follow her up the slope that I realised that trying to bend my left leg had suddenly become extremely painful, causing me to be reclassified from a "green" to a "yellow". Whilst we were therefore transported to the local hospital, my husband and youngest daughter (both being "greens") were taken to a local community centre where they were looked after by the local community.

Once at the hospital, it became apparent that I was the only injured person on the coach who could speak passable French. Whilst my daughter was therefore taken away to be x-rayed (and fed!), I was called in to "help the police with their inquiries", giving both my own statement, and helping with the translation of one or two others, before being x-rayed myself.  

Having both been given the all-clear and pain relief, we were taken to a small room with other "survivors", where food and drink and children's games had been laid on. Also there was a representative from the tour operator, who was in contact with the group in the community centre. Having missed our flight back to the UK (Southampton), it seemed that there was a very small chance that we might be able to catch the last flight out - to Stansted.

In very dramatic fashion therefore, several families were reunited - a police escort accompanying the coach from the community centre first to the hospital, where we got on, then on to the airport. This involved one police car in front of the coach stopping all traffic with "blues and twos" as we passed, with two police cars bringing up the rear. "This is just like when the Queen goes anywhere!", as no1 daughter remarked.

The rest of the journey was stressful, if actually unremarkable, and we eventually got home around midnight, only around eight hours later than planned.We all took Monday off to recover, but by Tuesday the kids were back at school, and I went in on Wednesday. The muscles I pulled in my waist and neck have been gradually getting better every day, and all bruising has faded from angry purple through moss green to putrid yellow.Whether the mind will bear any lasting effects remains to be seen - needless to say, the thought of going on a coach any time soon isn't one I would cherish, and I'm still struggling a little with trying NOT to think of what could have been.

Needless to say we are all very, very, very lucky and very thankful we just walked away. In fact, so undramatic were the injuries overall that the accident barely made the British press, bar a short mention on the Guardian website, followed by a slightly longer piece on the Daily Mail (sorry!) website. French local TV did of course do a couple of pieces, which are online here and here (both containing a starring role for the back of youngest daughter's head in the arms of a French fireman).

A thousand thanks to the folk at Esprit Ski for the VIP treatment (yes, despite everything, we're thinking of booking again for next year), and all the unnamed French firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and gendarmes - who were all singularly brilliant. 

Most of all, however, thanks goes to whoever it was that decided that Sunday 4th January wasn't going to be the day that our time was up. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

I'm dreaming of a serene Christmas

I love Christmas, I really do. I'm not one of these people that starts putting up decorations in mid-November, but I do love the build up, the preparation and the twinkly lights.

This year, however, Christmas has me seriously stressed. Stressed in the sense of waking at odd times of the night unable to go back to sleep because my mind is in overdrive. Stressed about the food. Stressed about the presents (or current lack thereof). Stressed about family demands.

It doesn't help that work is about to go through a ridiculously busy period that sees me scheduled to work right up to Christmas Eve (for only the second time in my entire life). Add to that the fact that we have to pack for a ski holiday and for having our hall ceiling replaced as soon as we get back, and my to do list is permanently smouldering around the edges.

I'm partly reassured by conversations with others who are feeling similarly frazzled (is this year really different to others, or is it just a coincidence that I'm not alone in feeling like this?).

Part of the problem of course is that this year contrasts markedly with last year, when I was unemployed and had copious amounts of time to make wreaths, contemplate gifts and prepare food.

Thank goodness, then, for a rare half day off and the (now annual) trip to Bath Christmas market with the lovely Chris. She knows how to do Christmas properly, that's for sure. So, thank you Chris for reminding me that Christmas can also be about slowing down and enjoying what's around you.

Merry Christmas....

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A magic carpet ride?

First off-whilst this is technically a review, it's not sponsored in any way. No sir - I voluntarily paid £150 of my very own money to spend an hour on a glorified travelator in an industrial unit somewhere east of Reading.

Let me explain...

You see, we're going skiing again. Soon. Very soon.It's been two years since we last went, and frankly, my husband and I are worried that this is the year the kids outdo us and leave us for dust. Well, powder. We're therefore Doing Something About It.This involves a strenuous and tedious exercise regime to get a vague semblance of ski fitness into those over-40-and-feeling-it legs of ours. Jillian Michaels - we hate and salute you and your 30 Day Shred equally.

Jumping up and down in your living room three times a week is one thing, but it doesn't really help with the real ski practice. Which is why we found ourselves driving down the M4 on a wet Sunday afternoon last week.

They've tried their best to bring the Alpine spirit into a somewhat un-Alpine space:

...but really, we weren't here for the decor. We'd booked an hour's "family time" on the basis it would let all four of us have a go unfettered by other people. Whilst £150 sounds like a lot, on a per person basis it works out roughly the same as a half-hour lesson each. (Have I mentioned skiing ain't cheap yet?).

We arrived about 20 minutes before our session, as instructed, and were pretty much left to our own devices - the kids made the most of the trampoline that was set up in the corner and we mooched about the ski shop. With 5 minutes to go, and no sign of anyone giving us any instruction, we picked out what we thought were the right size ski boots for the kids, and got them to put them on, as well as donning our own. Five minutes after our allocated start time, we had to remind someone that we were waiting, and we were finally given some guidance as to which skis we needed. In the end, the previous people using our "slope" finally vacated it, and we were good to go around 10 minutes later than booked. Not a great start.

Each slope can only take 3 people at a time, so adults and kids had two alternating fifteen minute slots each.

I have to say I found it the most bizarre experience, and it certainly took a lot of getting used to the idea of standing still while the ground did all the moving. The general idea is that you turn side to side, effectively skiing on the spot, but this is easier said than done. Despite all being able to ski more or less parallel, none of us managed to get much beyond a basic snow plough position - even Mr Tin, who has been skiing for 30 years... As our instructor said; "If you can ski on this, you can ski on snow", and I'm certainly hoping that we'll have moved on once we do get on the powdery stuff!

Having said this, we all found it to a worthwhile session, which really helped focus on technique and general fitness. While it is expensive, we are seriously thinking about doing it again before we hit the slopes, as Skiplex are running a special offer on family sessions in December. Whether we will or not remains to be seen, as it is still a LOT of money. Anything that helps with a bit of confidence and technique to get the best out of our actual week's skiing has to be a good thing though.

Friday, 7 November 2014

25 years ago today

There are certain events in history that turn out to be those "where were you when" times. They are the events so momentous that you can almost feel the world shifting on its axis.

For example, I always remember my mother telling me she could remember exactly where she was when she heard that JFK had been killed, or when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.

I was always slightly jealous about this collective memory of the older generation- an instant talking point that bound people of a certain age together.

In my lifetime, those two events of life-changing proportion happened on a sunny September in 2001, and 12 years earlier on a grey November.

I was on a trip back from Finland when the first inklings came. A group of 20 or so teenagers from the town I was living in visiting our twin town in the frozen North. For cost reasons we made the trip from West Germany to northern Finland by train. Leverkusen, Cologne, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oulu, and back again.

A discarded copy of USA Today at Copenhagen train station while we waited for our connection home - "East Germans flood foreign embassies". Prague and Budapest, that was where they were congregating.

By the time we reached home, momentum was building every day. German TV channels seemed to have turned into rolling news channels when this was a concept previously only known to CNN. My history teacher threw out all mention of a curriculum and wheeled a TV into the classroom. " Das, Kinder, DAS ist Geschichte!"

I confess I had to look up what day of the week that 9th November eventually was. A Thursday, apparently.

Ask my husband, and he'll tell you he was hungover on a sofa in an Israeli Kibbutz when the wall eventually came down. I'm afraid my moment isn't quite as glamorous as it too was a sofa, but just that of my parents, at home in what was still West Germany. Now it's just Germany of course, and the cold war seems to have been replaced by another menace. It's easy to be slightly depressed by mankind's apparent inability to learn from history.

Today, therefore I'm remembering a time when peace seemed possible. Here's to hope.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Deutschland.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Random holiday rambling, August 2014

Things I have learnt on holiday;

1) Cockroach poo looks remarkably like mouse poo. It's also weirdly crunchy.
2) An upset stomach is still the best bikini diet, but it doesn't help shake off that pale and pasty, 'just arrived' look
3) Either "Jingle Bell Rock" is no longer classed as a Christmas record, or Paphos, 3rd August 2014 sets a new record for inappropriate festive cheer on the radio...
4) No matter what age the children, parenting is spending 99% of your time trying to keep them quiet to avoid annoying other people.
5) In a classic tale of middle class woes, my children do not know how to work a simple pop-up toaster. After all, everyone we know has a Dualit. Oh, the shame.
6) Speaking of shame, I can't help thinking that if you are going to have a large tattoo of what appears to be a bull with giant horns in between and over your breasts, and then sunbathe topless, it looks a bit odd if you suddenly go all shy and start walking around with you hands covering your boobs. No. Not talking about myself, for the avoidance of doubt.

Things that I already knew, but have been reinforced;

7) I'm really, really not built for tanning or sunbathing, and never will be.
8) A "meze" platter always seems like a good idea when contemplating a menu with an empty stomach, but it will only inevitably end in wasted food and the knowledge of what a Christmas turkey must feel like. A bit like the Mediterranean equivalent of a"meal for two " at a Chinese takeaway.

9) Nice as it is to go "offline" for a period of time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live without internet access, especially when life necessitates the researching of cockroach poo.
10) It's always good to be reminded that swimwear is a great leveller. (See also 6, above)


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