It works just like magic…

August 3, 2009 at 3:24 am (Uncategorized)

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?



  1. Charlotte said,

    I have the same issues with skiing. I keep going back year after year, spending a week in terror, crying at breakfast once my kids have gone off to their lessons, fighting something that isn’t going to work, in order that we might ski together as a family. This year, lightbulb! I am going to do cross-country and let the downhill adrenaline junkies do what they may on the slopes. I am sure it will be better for all.

    So I completely sympathise with your skiing issues. I’d far rather be flexing credit in the shops.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    It sounds to me as though you’re each doing what you want to do. It’s healthy for couples to have independent as well as shared interests. And my total sympathies on the skiing thing!

  3. doctordi said,

    Charlotte, it is SO FUNNY you say that – I was wondering, in the car on the way home, about cross-country skiing myself, thinking that would be much more the thing. And you know what, I didn’t bring it up, because I know what Llew thinks of cross-country, which is not much. He thinks it’s boring. But I’d be so much happier doing that. I think my other problem is that there’s a full list of things I didn’t learn to do as a child that Llew’s entire family enjoys together – they all ski, they all play tennis, they all sail. Even my being a non-driver has its roots in my own very, very different childhood, because by the time all my friends were learning to drive the family car at 16, I was living independently and had no access to any such lessons from home. And so there’s quite a bit of pressure, even though it’s loving, because to them it’s natural that everyone should know how to do all these things, whereas unless you’re pretty privileged, that’s just not going to be the case, and certainly wasn’t for me. So the whole thing makes me feel deeply inadequate and… almost exposed, like I’m a fraud for even being there.

    As you say, Lilian, it’s healthy to have independent interests; we share a lot, but this is a round peg in a square hole issue for me, and that has to be all right.

  4. litlove said,

    I only ever skiied once – I was in college and went on a college trip, I was useless and hated it (I felt exactly the same as you), and after a couple of days decided to revise for my forthcoming exams and enjoy just the apres ski aspects. That went fine. After all, skiing is hardly a companion sport – you can’t chat or encourage each other in the moment. Often ski resorts are pretty places, and if I ever had to do it again (unlikely for all kinds of reasons, but still) I’d take writing and spend the days working and admiring the views. The only problem with skiing, and I remember it well, was the cost. That year, in those final, poverty stricken weeks of term, I ended up cutting the mouldy bits of bread and toasting it, accompanying it with an end of hard cheese. The problem with magic is that it wears off…. 🙂

  5. doctordi said,

    Oh, Litlove, how right you are! First night back last night, and Llew didn’t get home from work until ten, I ate alone, and he was back out the door at 6 o’clock this morning. The magic has definitely worn off!

    You know, I feel SO MUCH BETTER knowing you girls have similar sentiments. It’s easy to imagine the whole world loves to ski when you’re surrounded by true believers. Charlotte, I will be waiting with bated breath to see how c-c goes for you this year (Llew was actually quite excited when I finally raised this possibility yesterday, emboldened by your comment – I think he had despaired of ever getting me on the snow again!).

  6. Jenny said,

    Can’t ski, can’t tennis, hardly swim, can’t surf, can’t sail – can’t even ride a bike … and only got my driver’s licence at 22 because I had a child and it’s no fun bussing with prams. But I can write and ride and that’s quite enough for me. By comparison you are immensely talented!

  7. davidrochester said,

    I actually think it’s very healthy for couples to have separate interests that each supports, but that they don’t necessarily share. It would be tiring and boring to share absolutely everything.

    I keep thinking I’d enjoy skiing, but then I remember how accident-prone I am, and figure I’ll learn when I’m more invested in the idea of premature death.

  8. doctordi said,

    Jenny, you ride your own horse at midnight, and that is just THE coolest thing ever. Really. Nothing is cooler than that.

    David, I can assure you, if you ever become invested in the idea of premature death, skiing is the pastime for you.

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