Following the universally recognised trope of endeavouring to pursue new things at the turn of the new year, I decided to go skiing. Whereas in the past I might have resolutely stuck to the general principle that things which involve travelling at speeds not achievable within man’s ordinary physical limitations are called ‘extreme sports’ – and are outside of one’s daily routine – for good reason.
Those who read my article a while back which strongly implied that a good percentage of British games teachers are psychopaths would most likely presume – correctly – that I rarely put my body through anything more strenuous than Gillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred workout. And even then, it is not something I necessarily enjoy. I do it under that dull as dishwater guise of ‘wellness’ or in order to ‘test the limits of my human condition’, but quite frankly, the real motivation is vanity. Plus, I don’t do drugs, so I have to make do with endorphins.
Nor am I a natural sportswoman. I would say that in a sporting match itself I might be capable of exhibiting excellent sportsmanship. If I lost, say, a competitive game of hockey, I would be gracious in defeat – mainly because I would not care AT ALL. Not one jot. In this case, the true nature of sportsmanship would be made redundant, because I would not be overcoming any inner demon in shaking the sweaty, victorious hand of my opponent. I would not be suppressing the gremlin of my pride, because he would be elsewhere – eating burgers or playing backgammon or something, wholly unmotivated. In a game of Articulate, on the other hand, I fear that my ability to lose graciously might be somewhat less commendable.
The business of trying new things is one which fills most of us with at least a little abject dread. I know I don’t speak only for myself when I say that although being adventurous is appealing in theory, the reality of lugging yourself to wherever you need to be in order to carry out the adventurous mission is often odious. There is also the issue of obligation – we feel the weight of life’s ephemerality, we repeat to ourselves the old adage of ‘seize the day!’ and judge ourselves when we decide to stay home and nap rather than have our first experience of wellie wanging (A British sport involving the throwing of Wellingtons).
It’s a weird counter-instinctual trait that we seem to have acquired: the moment something becomes an obligation, it becomes immediately less attractive.
A relatable example is being a bookworm yet finding yourself loathing reading a book in order that you might write a good essay on it. It seems to be innate yet it is deeply unhelpful.
I had been skiing once before, when I was four. My only real memory of it is of two of my fellow small ski classmates burying my skis in the snow, and the instructor not seeming to care a great deal. Pretty much everything about the idea of skiing, however, seemed wonderfully attractive to me. And so, with the cajoling of my boyfriend, who is of course immensely athletically able (and was the one who abruptly terminated my brief flirtation with a running career by informing me that I run like a fishbowl) I was sufficiently persuaded – I strapped on my skis and took to the mountains.
Why did I assume I’d be a natural? For whatever reason, I had assumed that it would be easy – it certainly looked that way on TV. We pulled up into the car park and I watched spidery figures make graceful descents down what looked to be near vertical white walls of snow. I assumed that I too would leave a beautifully curvaceous track down the mountain and finish my descent with that rounded, ski-spraying flourish which was made to seem so easy by the no-more-than-3-foot infant I saw achieving it.
The reality was different. My boyfriend decided to take me on a green slope, which he thought I’d be able to handle. He was wrong. I don’t really know where his deluded preemptive faith in me stemmed from – he’s seen me run. After half an hour which involved a lot of time on the ground, many tears, and a risky decision taken by my boyfriend following us colliding – “I decided at that point either I tipped us both over or I sent you off in a different direction down the mountain” – a member of the ski patrol approached us and kindly told me that seeing as I probably was not skilled enough to be here (as toddlers sailed past), he would get a taxi to come and pick me up. Envisaging a black cab rolling up, five humiliating minutes later I found myself in a toboggan being instructed to “hold tight” and skied at neck breaking speed down the mountain, relegated to the magic carpet.
Nevertheless, it was fun. Being so close to death is surprisingly life-affirming. A friend and I had a conversation in which she fretted about not having made a success out of her 2017 thus far – but I say that a disaster you can get a good story out of is just as much an achievement as anything.