Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

Gstaad It's early in the morning and very still in the silvery light of the heights up here as I look out my window. A company of wispy white clouds hide behind the surrounding mountains - a reminder that a perfect dawn makes for a perfect day's skiing. The clouds play games. They wrap themselves around the peaks like snowcaps, then are chased away by the sun, only to return and play headdress again. Someone once compared the movement of ice to the passage of a soul to heaven. I watch the glacier across my house daily, but have yet to feel the movement of a soul, but then I'm not that spiritual.

Glaciers are great to look at and wonderful to ski on - they're flat and fast - but as far as their passing a soul to heaven goes, I ain't so sure. Yes, man is vile and nature sublime, and the latter makes one meditate on the workings of memory and time.

I used to schuss these mountains non-stop, showing off to the slowpokes making parallel turns behind a ski guide. No longer. I am now lassoed to a female guide called Fear, who keeps reminding me that in this high-altitude world wretched excess pays a very steep penalty. Youngsters schuss past me leaving me green with envy and sorrow at what a coward I've become. Ah, the distilling process of memory and yearning for what once was.

Never again, Taki old boy, says Fear, and I listen and follow her instructions. Turn, brake, brake some more, turn again, and so on.

The yearning to recapture one's youth is ever present, however, and as strong as the yearning to recapture the scent of a once young and beautiful girl named Beverly. She was at school here, and I had just got married to my first wife, and had the bad luck to meet her going up the ski lift. One thing led to another, as they say, and the next thing was a Geneva hotel, and you can guess the rest.

Bev found out that I had just got married and all hell broke loose. If you think Jeremy Clarke was embarrassed last week when his iced Foster's reacted 'turbulently' and made him fart non-stop next to his lady love (do you know many writers who make you laugh out loud? ), it was nothing compared with B throwing a pitcher of orange juice as I came into the Palace bar and calling me a liar and a cheat in front of my bride, who proceeded to kick me on the shin as I've never been kicked before or since. (Miss B was American, from the Midwest, and those girls don't take that kind of stuff sitting down, as they say. My first wife was French, and very much a lady, but had a terrible temper. ) Yes, the palimpsest of present and past is always with one, and the never-changing mountains and ski slopes don't help. …

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