Authors: Paul H. Round
Paul H. Round
Copyright Â© 2015 Paul H Round
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,
or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the
publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with
the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries
concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
9 Priory Business Park
Leicestershire LE8 0RX, UK
Tel: (+44) 116 279 2299
Fax: (+44) 116 279 2277
Email: [email protected]
ISBN 978 1784625 702
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
Converted to eBook by
To Heather who persuaded me I could do thisâ¦
To the glorious brightness of the morning dew, to Weetabix for breakfast, to my moorland inspiration, to Irish eyes, to one million strides all in identical shoes, to Liverpool football club, and to the Big Fella who never tells me I shouldn't drink the last one â bastard! Not forgotten â the myriad of incredible others that pushed me, shoved me, inspired me, and helped on this journey into a strange landâ¦
Special thanks to Madge and Ginaâ¦ Vicious old sisters who have inspired many ideas during our long walks.
, strange idea, does it exist? I don't think it does. I will tell you why. The very idea of a perfect day from dawn until dusk is impossible. To find perfection in every single passing moment or for just one minute would be too much to ask. Suppose it existed, everything in those wakeful hours on that fabulous day just perfect. The weather, all the people you encounter, every single aspect of the day working in harmony for every passing minute. This is where cynicism casts its dark shadow.
Nothing could stay that perfect for every single minute. A crying child distracts you, a meal less than perfect, or some lager-fuelled angry yobbo swearing at the sky. Anything could discolour the specialness of our own perspective of the perfect. Assume that during this magical day every moment gives fabulous satisfaction. Sometime towards the end of this impossible day, a realisation for a mere second darkens your soul; on a subliminal level you know your shining day will be followed by a duller tomorrow.
At this point the argument falls flat. No day can be true perfection when the knowledge of an inferior tomorrow taints the day. To think for only the briefest moment of a grey tomorrow breaks the perfection. A pessimistic view and you're probably right.
â¦ normally I am always the optimist imagining the outcome to dire situations will be good, but the perfect day idea is something else. Some perfect moments, yes, but the perfect day? Who are you kidding?
I always spoil my best moments thinking of tomorrow. “Enjoy the now” that's what they say, and I'm trying to master the art of enjoying each moment. One day, of course, will be my last day, and if this is an almost perfect day what could be better? Now I sound almost optimistic, suggesting it would be possible to experience the almost perfect. That's a step forward!
Death's cold grip closes its cruel hand around some unfortunate soul, and my day gets so much better! This man's death is the unexpected bonusâ¦
I saw him go into the abyss in front of me! Feet wearing snow boots disappearing over the precipice. His death plunge obscured by blinding white late afternoon sunshine. An act not done to surprise the entire
ski crowd, or to give them some bar talk down in Marbella. To my mind it was carried out with a cold deliberation and produced for me a strange dramatic image. I'll admit it now, somewhere inside I laughed, it cheered me.
Only one outcome was possible after he'd plunged from the terrace. Jagged rocks and sharp cold fingers of ice waited to convert his velocity into death six hundred feet below. Anyone who witnessed the fall knew this man's death was certain. This vivid disturbing image came at the end of my extra special day. See! I still cannot say perfect. My day was not tainted by the constant creeping insistence of tomorrow, but â enhanced â by a brutal suicide, a final act to silence a tortured and tormented mind.
This will sound strange, but witnessing that tortured soul's death, almost turned an extra special day into a nearly perfect day. See, the cynic in me is softening!
Only twelve short hours earlier, my day had started with the horrible tyranny of the 5am alarm call. I was destined to suffer pain before the strident alarm had brought me rudely back to wakefulness. After watching a Tarantino war film until well after midnight with some beers, I was in for a beating before I awoke. So any chance of perfection was tainted by the day before! I hate alarm clocks, and no matter how early I go to bed, sleep is almost always disturbed by my internal brain-ghost stamping around waiting for the insidious vile alarm.
The mere act of setting the clock attacks the perfect day attempt. Beyond 4am I wake every ten minutes in expectation of its cutting insistent tones. This brings the inevitable early liquid breakfast. I rise and stumble, head buzzing, to the kitchen at 4.30am. Coffee, this is what I need, lots and black. For me a great day would start with a languid awakening by beautiful maidens sometime around midday. This God-awful early-morning stuff doesn't remind me of the lotus eater. My foolish indulgence means I am awakened in the cold ice grip of winter â inside my apartment! Now I'll have to talk about discounting!
, discounting the rotten, discounting the uncomfortable, discounting anything unacceptable before the start of your quest. I will explain.
I love the sheer thrill of skiing. I'm going to the snow and the day starts at this odd one hour before the godforsaken. The preamble is all discounted time, not until I climb skis in hand on to the cable car does the clock start ticking on the quest for perfect moments. To achieve eight great hours in this unrealistic pursuit for nirvana would be an optimist's goal, the pessimist's miracle. Unhelpful pessimistic thoughts are beginning to consider the crush inside the cable car. So, to this end, I discount all the painful preambles until I push my feet hard into the ski bindings. Click, click! Let the day begin!
The physical pleasure of speed, ice crystals flying up from the hard edges of your skis, this is what it's all about! The glorious sensation of being alive on those amazing ice-white mountains, this is why I discount the early starts. The pleasure far outweighs the pain, and on the balance of things I'm on to a winner.
It's Monday morning. The slopes will be less hectic than the weekend. The few snowboarders falling on their arses every time they climb off the chairlift will not generate huge tedious queues. More space on the slopes to dodge those baggy trousers-wearing youths. In reality I'm jealous of their youthful vigour and their bodies seemingly made of rubber. It's never quiet during the season, even on weekdays, and it makes you wonder where all the people find time not to work. It's February, it snowed yesterday, the temperatures are low, and the sun is brilliant in an azure sky.
Every element is combining to give that once a year day, the prospect of perfect conditions. A great day was building in front of me, I could sense something special deep in my bones, and this day was to become far, far better than any I'd ever experienced. With strange events, a death included, bringing me close to the perfect day. If not perfect, then pretty dam near!
Skiing is something I came to quite late in life, only taking it up when everyone told me I was too old to pursue any ambitions to ski. This was the turning point, obstinacy taking over when they say, whoever they are, you shouldn't learn to ski at your age! I decided to learn to ski because this counted the flat people who'd lost their internal fire and wanted you to live in their ash grey world, desperate for you to share their lack of youthful spirit. They wouldn't step up and attempt anything. You were expected to step down into their mire of resentment of youthful vigour.
Confession time. I undertook hours of one-to-one instruction with a talented and very beautiful young instructor. I was distressed to discover I was a natural at skiing. A natural in business would have been a blessing, but my luck was to be a natural in an expensive niche sport. Three years have taken me away from the laughing children on the nursery slope's, to the steepest slopes, and with the passing of time to the very blackest of blacks.
On this day I had my master plan: start on the blue run to get the eye in. Shake out the rust, then on to the quieter red pistes to carve a few wild curves, and throw some ice around. I like watching the vaporous dancing shadows cast by the crystals in the low morning sunshine. Today I'm skiing free, looking for my special moments. I will ski alone, planning my day on the move, a selfish pursuit with no tyranny from others. Today, I could sense, would be different, possibly nearly perfect.
I cannot ski all day, I need to eat. It was during my snack break that I encountered a skiing group over from London. We fell into conversation and within minutes were getting on well, a sharp banter honed by the British north-south rivalry. So I skied with the group for an hour or so, having to push myself out of my comfort zone to stay with the best of them. I don't have to stay with the expert skiers, do I? I followed them hard and fast down two black runs without falls.
Some of these guys don't wear helmets and are very gung-ho. I always wear all the kit, but I'm still pushing myself into dangerous areas. With danger I hold a love-hate relationship. On the one hand if things are too easy, too comfortable, I feel life is passing me by. On the other, too much adrenaline makes me think I'm stupid to push so hard at the edges of the possible.
I am an adventurous coward afraid of missing something tenuous, and when amongst the action afraid of hitting something solid. Over the years I've learnt how to make internal compromises, a calculated balance of the risks, pushing to get the thrills, but not going too far. My instructor says I have natural balance, but I don't think we mean the same thing.
The guys Michael and Tony were on holiday and wanted to stop for more beers. After the discounted start and the hours of driving I didn't want to waste skiing time. It was beautiful soft almost perfect snow, so it couldn't be ignored even for a minute. I bid my farewells taking the usual and often never followed up email addresses. “We must catch up again,” but we never do!
Twice emboldened by the London boys (not the band) I have stupid falls pushing the technique, and once a full hundred metre snow, sky, snow, sky, shoulder, head and bottom bruising moment. This leaves me winded for a minute or so, cursing my own stupidity at pushing the envelope. I lay in the snow recovering my breath. Gentle hands help me to my feet, assisting me by recovering my lost skis from thirty metres up the slope. I assure my helper that I'm okay, nothing permanently damaged, I'm only winded for a minute, and so I reflect on my sense of self-preservation and balance. How much thrill can I give myself without too much of this fear thing? I ease backâ¦ a little!
This truly lovely day passed as all things special; too quick for a man wanting more. A final consolation was visiting my favourite terrace bar for the lingering
ski. It was crowded, so as normal I share a table. You look more social that way. I do have friends but sadly none of them were foolish enough to learn to ski. Some were foolish taking up sub-aqua with all that rubber and cold water. Then again, rubber and cold water might be your thing!
I find a spare chair on the terrace and enquire if it's free. Yes, I think he said, and if he did it was the only word spoken, no others. He didn't look at me. It was as if I wasn't there, a passing shadow. The man at my side could have been me. Similar age, Northern European looks, hair colour more or less mine, but I think he had a little less, and definitely thinner. The big difference between us is in our demeanours. I'm taking the rays, slowly drinking my only pint of beer â I've got to drive. Eating my tapas and people watching, not exactly people, a more accurate term would be watching beauty. Today there are some spectacular forms on display in very tight ski pants, an excellent day all round, powder snow and a vintage day of
ski beauties. On the other end of the table, my compatriot's drinking his seventh or eighth strong bottled lager. I know this because the bar is too busy for the overstretched staff to clear tables and the dead bottles line up, testament to his insatiable thirst.
He's never without the bottle in his hand, pouring the stuff down at one hell of a rate. I suppose he's staying at one of the hotels in the ski resort. I hope to god he's not driving off the mountain tonight, or he may just drive into a waiting chasm. His gaze comes back time and again to the beer bottle as if he fears finding it empty.
All this time his concentration is devoted to listening. The object of his rapt attention is a small digital voice recorder. It's the type you see journalists using on the television news whilst trying to catch a damning sound bite from some hapless politico who's about to have the full support of the Prime Minister behind him and leave politics. His drinking and intent listening lead me to believe that he may be just that, a newshound reviewing prime sound bites, relaxing heavily, journalistic style.
Time passes as do more
ski visions on that bright, and for me, exceptional day. Though we have not spoken and are not facing each other, a tension existed between us. Sitting almost shoulder to shoulder my feeling was of an old festering argument. I don't know if I saw this or sensed it but I had the impression he'd finished with his listening. I see him, but he doesn't register me at all, he's staring into empty space, eyes not focusing on this world. He wrapped the recorder into its little papoose using the earpiece cables. His actions are slow, heavy and made with an unnerving deliberation. Why I'm having a bad vibe I have no idea, but the intense set of his body as he carries out these movements give me a disturbing cold sensation up my spine.
To my great surprise he places the machine down in front of me centred between my tapas and beer. It sits there abandoned. I look at the recorder and to my compatriot, our eyes will never meet. I return my gaze to the machine placed with deliberation in front of me. I start to ask a question; no words leave my lips.
For now this is the moment my story ends and his beginsâ¦
With sudden almost robotic abruptness of movement, he stands and stagger strolls across the terrace, weaving a drunken path between the tables. He bumps one or two tables hard with his loose moving body and receives loud complaints, all ignored. Spilt drinks, stained clothing, and scattered food. People are roused from their conversations, watching this swaying figure make his clumsy exit from the terrace. It's not too easy to watch him blinded by the low sunshine. A hint of nightfall comes with a sudden chill or is that something else about this moment I imagined?
I'm shielding my eyes watching or trying to watch what he's going to do. I hear a single shrill cry from a woman nearby, then the gasp from my left, a whole wave of sound moves across the crowded terrace. Everyone turns from conversation and food. Rapt attention has taken over the entire eating area. Everything is moving in slow motion focused on the one single figure I now see swaying on the stone balustrade topped with an ornate iron lamp post; used as an aid to climb up there. At that moment he was gripping it with a white knuckled clench, and I thought that he might address the terrace for some strange reason and make a speech against conspicuous consumption. No, he looks down into the void, and at that moment slumps as if all the weight in the world was inside him.