In case you’re wondering where I’ve been (anyone?), I’ve been up a mountain, trying hard not to fall off. This year, I managed to get down several reds without crying, and what has in the past been a hard work holiday – where the pain is only marginally surpassed by the gain – turned out very nice indeed: glorious azure Southern French skies making sheet ice out of the plentiful February snow.
Unlike my children, who have been skiing since they were barely able to walk in a straight line, I’ll never be great at it – my feet are too small, backside too large and my will largely absent. But I’m learning to enjoy it: it stills the mind: the epic scenery, pristine air and casual sweep between calm meander and abject fear, where concentrating on remaining upright surpasses any other need for thought. I still don’t push myself too hard, but then, that’s become my motto for life.
The kids, on the other hand, not recognising their privilege, flip flop between frustration at having to go to ski school and exhilaration when they realise they are officially better at something than their parents, which seems par for the course on ski slopes where half- pint racers zip down terrifying gradients at speed. It makes me wonder how they cope back on dry land when an overprotective carer tries to hold their hand crossing a road, having been pushed off mountains in nappies.
But even in France there’s been a noticeable shift in the last year to a more health and safety focused nation. I only saw one youth nonchalantly rolling a cigarette on a button lift. This year, hardly anyone smoked in cafes and having knocked it successfully on the head before Christmas, we no longer felt the need (all consuming though it once was) to sharpen the keen mountain breeze with menthol vapes. And I didn’t feel an anomaly, wearing a helmet (especially given how badly my hair was in need of a cut!) after a conversation with a colleague reminded me of several notables who’ve died or been damaged in skiing accidents. As it happened, the worst that occurred was a clonk on the head as the barrier went down on a ski lift, but in years past I’ve taken nasty tumbles when my technique turns to slush at speed, so it seemed sensible to be cautious. Next year, even lackadaisical (smugly confident) Tom intends to wear one, for who wants to be in a position of having to switch off a loved one’s machine after a holiday mishap? It’s just not worth it.
We returned home with nothing more injurious to our health than Jonah’s nasty cough which had plagued him (and the rest of the apartemente) all week, leading to pressure pain in his ears coming down the mountain (along with two pukes from Ava, who’d also puked on the way up when I accidentally gave her too small a dose of mal de mer tablets), and an extra inch of raclette cheese that I’ll no doubt be wearing for the next six months – especially if I keep forgetting my gym kit as I did today.
Afterwards, it was all washing and the aforementioned much needed haircuts – the stuff of normality that can sometimes feel more of a battle than they need to. We were back down to earth with a bump. The reality is, skiing avoid the needs for messy human interaction, with all its painful anticipation, expectation, need for reaction. We’ve got history at this hairdressers, one of the few, locally where I’m marginally more impressed with the service than I am embarrassed to return.
Last year, I wept as the Eastern European barber chopped off locks I’d tried and failed to grow. I don’t like people touching my ears (the fallout from a particularly repulsive “romantic” encounter when I was about 15) and this one in particular sticks his fingers in intrusively, through a towel, to dry them. But then, he also doesn’t also charge me extra for a blow dry, so I let it pass. Yet, even with his native toleration for young folk, he also doesn’t recognise my son’s reticent surliness for genuine fear, and always tries to engage him in some hale and hearty conversation with is almost always met with a stonyfaced silence.
In the same salon, in its dim and distant past, the same girl who’d highlighted my thick, dull pregnancy hair battled the resulting wayward toddler, bribing him to sit still with dried starfish that once passed for toilet decor. Now as an older tween, my son’s loathing for the intimacy of the hairdresser’s chair is still palpable, and sets everyone on edge. This time, he looked as if he would murder a new, young enthusiast who took to his mane (‘just a little trim!’) with clippers, so much so I felt I had to step in, worried the experience of a traumatic buzzcut might scar him for life as much as the woman who once cut his ear with scissors in one of those poncey toyshop hairdressers (nice idea, completely distracting to a toddler) so much tantrum was he having aged 3.
As we downloaded over tea and shortbread in Reprobate Kate’s caf in the villarge afterwards, I asked him if he’d been okay, coz he looked fit to kill someone, only for him to look confused and say with 11-year-old innocence, ‘I was only trying to keep my head still.’ So much, so resting death stare. It’s not the first time someone’s told my son’s eyes go black when he’s angry, but it’s the first time I’ve completely misinterpreted his mood. He was fine. But then, it’s not just Jonah who gets into trouble for having a ‘resting bitch face.’
His hair, now a perfect slope from his temple to his earlobe, is a gradient I’d still be terrified to ski down. But it would be less terrifying than having to pretend, as I hand over the cash for a cut, that it hasn’t been a completely awkward experience for all involved, and we all wish we didn’t know we’d be back there again a lot sooner than we’ll be back on the piste, conveniently forgetting the rest of the world, with all its petty challenges that can feel so much more profound when one is on the spectrum.