There’s an old Archie comic I remember reading as a kid that I think I may have already mentioned on this blog before (and apologies, for it seems I have). It tickles me because it perfectly captures the sham that is credit. Veronica’s father, Mr Lodge, comes raging through their home with steam coming out of his ears, wildly waving a clutch of papers in the air. It’s Veronica’s credit card bills. He demands to know what the hell she thinks she’s doing, spending all his money like that, and Veronica gives the bills a dismissive glance and then innocently asks her father, “You mean someone has to actually pay?”
Imagine for a moment that I am, at this very moment, Veronica Lodge. And Llew is Archie. And we’ve taken off for the weekend armed with those shiny happy little magic cards that allow you to do whatever you want to do. They are wonderful, devilish things. And I am writing to you direct from the ski fields of Thredbo because right now we’re ignoring the fact that yes, eventually we will have to actually pay. But in the meantime, it’s so easy handing over the magic card. Mine’s gold. It’s very pretty, and it works every time! A world of consumer satisfaction and endless possibility opens up before me every time I see it glinting in my wallet, beckoning and seducing me. I sign my name and I feel empowered, briefly, by the ease with which items are procured, rooms are booked, meals are ordered, wine is waved to the table. Yes, I think, everything is right with the world, all is as it should be.
I don’t know about you, but I am extremely confident that I would be marvellous as a woman of independent means. This is the chief magic card fantasy. Those moments of working on my autograph allow me to feel that only my signature – now no longer legible on the back of my well-flexed piece of plastic – is required. Doors open. Packages arrive. Tickets are seized. Ahhh. Reality is suspended, bills are forgotten, debts recede. Who cares?! Have VISA, will travel.
And so travel we have, five hours from Sydney on a manic whim that came about when Llew sort of snapped on Friday night/Saturday morning. A toxic combination of boredom, frustration and winter interiority that only emphasises his long working days in the office finally got to him, and he just. Lost. It. He had to get out of Sydney, stat. And what he wanted to do was go skiing, something he’s not done since we were still living in London and he flew to Austria for some powder power. That was eight or nine years ago. We’ve had some amazing, truly incredible trips since then, but skiing has not been one of them, which is odd because Llew absolutely loves it and is not bad on piste even if he does say so himself.
I guess I am partially to blame, because I am well and truly a beginner on the slopes. I liked it last time I went – which was two years ago on a travel famil to Treble Cone Ski Resort in Wanaka, New Zealand – but that was because it was a travel writing gig so I had a ski instructor with me the whole time, something I could never afford. In fact, affordability is the real killer. This is not a cheap pastime. We’ve been here two days – two lousy days! – and our budget has been spanked all the way to Kingdom Come. It’s why I’m not skiing; I don’t see the point for so little time because next time I’ll still have to start all over again, and I’d rather do that over a week or more. Also I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours blinded by my watering eyes, as the horrific little stack of receipts mounts with a pace and ferocity that takes my breath away far more than the mountain air ever could.
I love the après-ski culture, I love the chalets, I love all the kit, and I love the landscape, but unlike Llew, I didn’t learn to ski as a child, so as a 36 year old, danger averse grown-up, I find careening down the side of an icy mountain, my legs locked into entirely foreign and confounding apparatus, absolutely terrifying. It makes me feel completely out of control, and while some adrenaline junkies crave that precise hit, personally it’s a sensation I really dislike. So I spend the whole time locked in a state of intense anxiety, rigid with fear. I’ve made myself do it on several occasions, for both personal and professional reasons, but I don’t have the appetite for it, and I think that’s a deep shame for Llew. I know it disappoints him, and I feel badly about that because it is something he really, really loves. You should have seen his face at lunch yesterday – he was already a new man, like he’d physically shrugged off work pressures and career worries. By the end of the day, he’d completely exhausted himself, but it was the kind of exhaustion that’s good for a person, and his satisfaction was palpable. It hopefully goes without saying that I’d never, ever prevent him doing it, and I have no problem being here enjoying those aspects that aren’t violent and high-speed, but I guess it’s true Llew’s less likely to get to the snow every year if his wife doesn’t ski. We’ll have to learn to manage that better, I see that now very clearly when I compare his state of mind Saturday morning to his returning mojo now, but the truth is it’s not really something we’re going to share, because I am never going to be skiing by his side. I’ll always be on the lower, crappier slopes with the slower, crappier skiers. And I’m just not sure how much I need to do that again. He’s a pig in mud skiing on his own, but learning on my own appeals to me about as much as wind burn.
Besides, why ski when I can shop with my magic card?