Friday, 31 January 2014

Olympic Bobsleigh Love Match

One of the small pleasures that gets me through the week at this miserable time of year is David Parkin's column in the Friday edition of Always a sideways view of business life and usually with an anecdote or two along the way. This week's column made me smile because it brought back a special memory. David has just been down the Olympic bobsleigh track at Innsbruck - something which I have also done ... in January 1982.

People sometimes ask how my beloved and I first met and it was indeed on our one and only skiing holiday. Why never again? (The children ask this a lot because they feel they are in some way deprived when their chums go off to the slopes and we steadfastly refuse to go.) Because that holiday changed our lives and, call us superstitious, but we don't want to make that kind of change again.

In January 1982, as Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby was number 1 in the charts, we (my then other half and I) set off by Wallace Arnold coach from Elland Road, Leeds to the Austrian ski slopes with two other couples whom we barely knew. One of the four was my beloved, though he wasn't that then. And one thing I knew by the end of the holiday was that I would never meet anyone as kind and lovely as himself ever again.

But that's skipping ahead. Amongst all the crashing about with planks on our feet and late night drinking (and I'm not going into any more detail than that) there was a trip to the Olympic bobsleigh track at Innsbruck. Crammed into a bobsleigh with a professional brakeman at the back (think Cool Runnings without the egg) we set off at high speed in something which felt literally as fragile as eggshell and went like the proverbial clappers whilst we sat with our legs gripped around the person in front in absolute terror. It was brilliant but, like our skiing holiday, never to be repeated.

Back in Blighty, we, my beloved and I, did eventually get together and four children later and a whole rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, we are still together and will be celebrating our Pearl (30th) wedding anniversary in a couple of months. Yah boo sucks to all those people who said it wouldn't last.

So thanks to David Parkin for bringing back all those memories and although the weather isn't being kind I shall be basking in the memory of the terror of hurtling down the ice track, holding on tight to the rather less-stout-than-today man of my dreams.
You see... still gorgeous! 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Russian Roulette ... or blasting my way into 2014!

This morning was the first day of the New Year. My waking thoughts were twofold - I didn't feel too bad, or at least as bad as I probably deserved to feel, and how nice it was to have my own hair.

After what had turned out to be a difficult and, at times, very sad Christmas, and certainly one that will live long in the memory for the wrong reasons, I had been feeling uncharacteristically bah humbug about New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve amongst our lovely friends is always a special, joyful and eventful occasion; one to be planned-for and anticipated during the run-up to Christmas and in the brief respite thereafter before the year ends. And yet this year I had given the big night scarcely a thought.

Back at the end of October, we had received an invitation in Russian, with even our names translated into Cyrillic script and, after a bit of head scratching, we worked out that we had been invited for a New Year's Eve Russian-themed party at the home of our dear friends and neighbours, Il Supremo of the Cricket Club and his fabulous Mrs. Of course, all the gang would be attending and some were even smart enough to respond in Cyrillic script too, though not us. Russian fancy dress was discussed in vague terms and put on the mental back burner whilst Christmas preparations took centre stage.

Then a couple of weeks before Christmas my beloved's stepfather's health began to deteriorate rapidly and less important tasks and projects (deciding upon and purchasing fancy dress amongst them) were shelved and only the essential items at the top of the list were achieved whilst we played supportive roles for the family. The intrepid granny arrived, preceded by number 1 child and her partner and room at the inn was made for my brother in law who flew back from the Alps to see his father.

On the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, John sadly left us and Christmas and the days thereafter took on different priorities and our usual festive mood barely made an appearance. No further thoughts of dressing up occurred until the eve of the Eve when the intrepid granny was loaded on to a train at York and some rapid and not very creative (on my part) purchases were made for an event that I was still feeling rather bah humbug about.

Meanwhile two other things happened - we asked, and our hosts generously agreed, that we could bring my lovely brother-in-law along for a much needed change of mood. The other thing was a request from our hosts that we be prepared to perform a little party piece. Cue more bah humbuggery from me but at least we were going and now we had decided to give it a real blast.

You may know by now that I am married to the king of fancy dress and any such event is always preceded by a host of enquiries as to whether my beloved will 'black up'. Well, this year he decided to 'gold up' instead, choosing a black Russian Sobranie cigarette as this year's creation. Me - well, I considered being a member of the corps de ballet of the Bolshoi but a tutu was not looking an attractive option when we actually got to the fancy dress shop so I opted (or copped out somewhat) for a blond wig and wearing my tennis kit - 'Hello Maria Sharapova!' Then my brother-in-law on 24 hours' notice managed to cossack-up wearing granny's black fur hat (which I found rather disturbing) and off we went.

The home of our now Russian peasant chums had been transformed into the night sky over Moscow with the film of Anna Karenina running on the big screen in the background and a couple of Black Russian cocktails later with a load of cossack chums, James Bond (From Russia with Love) and Roman Abramovich we are feeling, as they say, no pain. I have just checked what's in a Black Russian and I am not surprised. But sensible drinking was about to kick in - or so I thought - and rather than drinking red wine, my usual choice, I moved on to Russian beer. Can't be much alcohol in that, I thought, drinking it like squash and dancing round the room, bottle in hand.

We failed, I'm afraid, on the party piece but others performed brilliantly with Boney C performing Ra Ra Rasputin, an eloquent poem from my dear chum (whilst she still had the power of speech) and a scene from From Russia with Love. All in the best possible taste, of course. Feasting, dancing and drinking till after three with some of our most favourite people and the first time over Christmas that we had felt properly (if alcohol-induced) festive.

Walking home proved a rather longer challenge than expected, having left one car at the end of our lane earlier (not a public highway and therefore safe to drive with only ourselves living at the end) and the other at our hosts. We walked back to the car (about a twenty minute walk) and then realised that we couldn't find the keys which subsequently turned out to be at our Russian peasant hosts' house. So we eventually arrived home, cooked and ate bacon sandwiches in bed (crumby as I discovered the following morning) and slept the sleep of the virtuous (ha!).

So welcome to 2014 which will hopefully be better for us than 2013 turned out to be and best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy year ahead. I will be treating January with sobriety and respect but, hey, it's my birthday at the beginning of February!

Maria Sharapova and the Black Russian Sobranie. The hair and the visor nearly drove me mad on New Year's Eve but I kept them on, refusing to morph into Martina Navratilova (not prepared to change sexual orientation at this time in my life) and as the alcohol flowed, apparently I even managed to look like Anna Kornikova through others' alcohol-tinted specs - result! The Black Sobranie was wearing a tube-like skirt which meant that he couldn't get into the front of the Land Rover and had to lie down in the back! Happy New Year, everyone!