A letter home

Actually that should probably be ‘home’ since a) like most long-term misplaced people I’m not entirely sure where it really is any more, and b) I’m talking to England here if we’re honest and that was never home in the first place.


Tally ho Ginger! ….. oh do shut up.

I realise blaming the entirety of the current shambles on England will be neither popular nor PC, and nor even wholly accurate, so before everyone starts squawking about ‘not all the English’ and ‘of course I realise Ireland is a real country how very dare you’ etc etc, yes I know perfectly well it isn’t all of you. But you don’t see the rest of us getting nostalgic about cricket on village greens, wallowing in WWII or huffily telling the rest of Europe they’d be speaking German if it wasn’t for our plucky Spitfires, what what old boy, sorry Wing Commander I don’t understand your banter etc etc. This generally from people whose grandparents were barely teenagers during said war and whose experience of conflict is limited to passive aggressive tutting in the checkout queue at Tesco. Seriously, get over it, whatever it is. Get therapy or something. Anything. Just stop taking it out on everyone around you, it isn’t healthy.

But we are where we are. So:

Dear Britain,

We’ve all been watching this with an assumption that eventually someone would get their shit together and behave like an adult but I’m afraid that over the past few weeks it has become increasingly obvious that this shower of third rate public schoolboys the electorate has  inexplicably put in charge could not find their own arses with both hands and a bank of floodlights – I have no idea what an Eton education actually pays for, but it does not seem to be offering value for money if you ask me. We get to a stage where the EU actually has to throw them a lifeline in the form of an undeserved essay extension and instead of grabbing it with both hands and clinging on for dear life, they watch it sail over their heads and then swim off in the opposite direction.


Nuff said.

So since nobody else seems to have a clue, here’s my three-step rescue plan:

1. Revoke Article 50. And before people start yawping about democracy and betraying the will of the people, yada yada, hysterical flag-waving etc, you need to cancel the current fiasco because you have run out of time to do anything else. No do not witter at me about WTO rules because you do not know what they are and people who do have clearly explained to you on many occasions why this would be a very bad idea.

2. Hold a general election. Your current government is as much use as tits on a fish. Political parties – try, this time, to field some better candidates (come on, ‘better’ than the current crowd is a low bar, you’ll be amazed what you can do if you put a bit of effort in). Seriously, Kate Hoey? Christopher Chope? Are these people really your brightest and best? Don’t answer that question – I’ve seen Mhairi Black, David Lammy, Jess Phillips …… I know perfectly well you can do a whole lot better.

3. Start negotiations again from scratch. And this time, send adults who understand the realities of the situation and are prepared to negotiate sensibly and in good faith. Rather than, for example,  swanning around boasting about non-existent trade deals, giving back handers to pretend ferry companies and actually admitting in public that they didn’t realise how much trade went through Dover.

Notice the absence of a second referendum option here. However flawed the first one was, the fact remains that people did vote to leave, and that means the government has a responsibility to come up with some kind of viable plan for doing so. Vote on the plan vs status quo later on by all means – at least at that point people should have an idea of what the outcome of their vote would look like.

Finally (and I can’t believe I’m having to say it), DO NOT go wading in with Article 50 again until you have this plan in place and everyone concerned – parliament, public, EU – has agreed on it. That last effort was like embarking on some serious off piste while wearing a bikini and relying on your iPhone’s GPS. I can’t see the EU stepping in with mountain rescue services next time.


These? Really???

Unfortunately this means that in the meantime you will have to participate in EU elections. Please try not to vote for UKIP this time. Sending a bunch of intellectually challenged pound shop fascists to speak up for your interests in Europe has so for ended about as well as could be expected (see eg Nigel’s failure to turn up for any meetings of the fisheries committee, despite his professed interest in the welfare of the UK’s fishing industry). A stuffed otter would do a better job for you.

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Slumming it in paradise

Every seasonnaire in the Alps, past or present, has a horror story or two about grotty accommodation. Old chalets so run down that the most cheapskate of guests would sue at first sight, ‘six-bed’ apartments already overcrowded once two of you come home, mould-infested rooms housing six staff in a damp hotel basement with minimal to no heating. I once lived in an actual linen cupboard for several weeks, the plus point being that I had it to myself.

isba fire

Fire takes hold on the top floor of the Isba

And it’s all fun and games until it isn’t, a point which we reached with a vengeance in Courchevel last week when the old Hotel Isba went up in flames taking two lives with it and leaving four seasonnaires seriously injured in Grenoble’s CHU, one of them a young woman of 24 who may not walk again after she jumped from her third floor bedroom window rather than burn with the building.

A Facebook appeal by parents Alain and Isabelle Corci for witnesses to the tragedy quickly turned up stories of overcrowding, locked fire exits and defunct fire extinguishers as well as claims that the building didn’t meet fire safety standards.

Now, this may or may not be true, and police and local authorities will obviously be investigating all such allegations, so I’m not about to comment on them. Latest news from France Bleu and other outlets seems to be that police are pursuing criminal investigations following evidence of accelerants in the burnt out parts of the building.

But if it turns out to be the case that the fire was started deliberately, there’s a risk that we don’t have the conversation that’s desperately needed – and has been for years – about the state of the accommodation that seasonal staff find themselves in.

We’ve all been there. The aforementioned linen cupboard in the Sporting in Serre Chevalier, along with the overcrowded third floor firetrap rooms in its sister hotel La Grange in Montgenevre, back in the day. The Savoie in Val d’Isere, which was more than up to scratch as far as fire safety was concerned, but unfortunately not entirely waterproof and rather lacking in heating and hot water. The Calabourdane in Val d’Isere, about which the less said the better, quite frankly. None of these still in use, thankfully, and several of them since demolished, but today’s accommodation isn’t significantly better.

saint roch

5* accommodation in Courchevel

It’s not just foreign tour ops either – the Isba’s residents were working for Courchevel’s Maison Tournier, which operates upmarket hotels there and in St Tropez. Some of the worst conditions I ever saw were in a 2Alpes hotel run at that point by a French operator – half a dozen young lads on mattresses on the floor of a basement room with no other furniture, no windows and no fire escape, a room we’d been using the previous season as an equipment store.

M Corci’s appeal for witnesses turned up a former resident who claims to have collected the keys to her accommodation at the beginning of her contract in December only to find that she was expected to share not only the nine square metre room but also the actual bed with a room mate she had never met. And on top of that, the radiators didn’t work, though I imagine that was the least of her worries at that point.

Employers have to be culpable in this, but at the same time the relevant authorities need to have a good hard look at planning policies in resort. It’s all very well building and expanding hotels, adding serviced apartment complexes, bunging in five star chalets and bigging up your resorts to new markets and well heeled punters, but some thought needs to be given to where you’re going to put the people who staff and service those accommodations, along with the army of lifties, ski instructors, restaurant staff and general dogsbodies who keep the whole thing running all winter.

Anyone involved in sourcing accommodation for staff, or who has tried to rent a place for the season will know exactly how hens teeth any kind of rudimentary shelter is in any of the major resorts, and the eye-watering amounts being charged for ‘apartments’ consisting of a bed and ….. err ….. well in some cases that’s about it. Which forces generally low paid seasonal staff into grottier and more overcrowded shit-holes every year, and pushes employers into breaking the rules in a bid to be able to offer accommodation, without which they struggle to recruit staff at all.

We need to be looking at real solutions – rent controls, decent seasonnaire hostels, free transport to and from valley towns (running at times when hospitality staff start and finish shifts) ….. whatever. And at the same time, there needs to be a lot more enforcement of existing norms and standards. When was the last time anyone saw an inspector in there objecting to the bunkbeds, the three people rammed into a space only legal for one, the single shower per dozen residents?

Any minute now, I’m going to get a raft of cynical resort and accommodation managers turn up in the comments to say how seasonnaires have no respect for their accommodation, leave it in a pigsty, party all night, wreck the place, blah etc. And we’ve all had to deal with that as well, skanky 18-year-olds who stockpile pizza crusts and refuse to change their bed linen all season (and worse, but that’s a post for another day). I know, they’re disgusting. But they’re also human beings, and people love them. Sometimes they even turn into the sort of pretty decent individuals that you wouldn’t mind spending time with. And even if they don’t, they still have a right to be treated with basic decency and respect, which includes supplying them with safe habitable accommodation. So before you make those comments, think about Ambre, who may not walk again; the three others still in hospital; the two who won’t make it home from their season. They didn’t deserve this.

Meantime, there’s a fund to which you can donate a few quid to help out the people who had to flee the Isba with nothing more than the pyjamas they were wearing at the time. Be generous – there but for the grace of God go all of us.

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Massive snowfall (and I do actually mean objectively massive for a change, not just seems massive because up to now it’s looked like June, a la the past three winters), which can only mean one thing, boys and girls – yes, it’s the biggest busiest transfer weekend of the season! Oh, joy.

Not that this worries me, house-sitting the parental château in balmy Burgundy. It would be nice if I could work out how to persuade the TV to show me something other than BBC Alba, but whatever, there’s always the wonderweb for entertainment. Specifically Twitter this weekend, awash with incoherent screams of rage from people hanging about alpine airports. Really, it’s like @realDonaldTrump on steroids.

As ever it’s the poor sods at Crystal Ski who get the worst of this, probably because of a) the sheer volume of punters they move every week, and b) their pretty sophisticated use of social media to communicate with their customers. Warning to businesses considering this strategy – it’s a double edged sword.

Now, I get that being stuck at an airport/on a coach/in a local sports hall is not quite how you want to spend the first evening of your ski hols, and could reasonably be described as a tad annoying. But really, do you seriously imagine that behaving like an enormous toddler on Twitter is going to do anything other than make you look like a complete tit?

Take, for example, @beezymarsh, hanging out at Chambéry:

Seriously, copying in Mail Online and The Sun? This isn’t a a customer complaint, it’s a tantrum.

Then there’s @sarahwi10462786 who first spits the dummy on the coach:

… and then does it again when they’re forced to go nuclear on her:

FFS woman, just get off the damn bus. You’re not the only person involved here.

@gaynorcaldwell2 seems to think she’d have been happier to be stuck at home:

This is one of the daftest assertions I’ve ever heard. Leaving aside the nightmare logistics involved, is it even possible to push every Saturday TO flight and transfer back 24 hours? You imagine all those expensive coaches are sitting about in garages for days at a time just waiting for last minute bookings? Or that there are a zillion vacant flight slots at London airports? Not to mention the howls of outrage and subsequent claims that ‘the roads were fine’ and  ‘you overreacted and ruined our holiday’ etc etc. The mind boggles.

Gaynor is right to point out that the weather was forecast, though this just makes the various ‘we didn’t get fed’ tweeters look even sillier. You all knew there was going to be a bucketload of snow. Everyone knows that this can mean transport carnage in the Tarentaise. Look at a map – there’s one road in and out, what can you expect? So did you load up your hand luggage and your kids’ backpacks with nuts, energy bars, fruit and chocolate, just in case? Or did you assume that should it come to the worst, someone would be able to do the loaves and fishes trick for several thousand stranded passengers? In the event of zombie apocalypse, you lot are going to have to make a serious effort to raise your game or it’s going to be curtains in the first five minutes.

@timpbrown and @GkkgSmith are concerned that Crystal don’t have an army of managers ready to swarm the airports at the first sign of trouble:

Scaremongering about terror attacks seems a trifle dramatic here, unless you’re expecting something which closes half the roads in the Savoie and leaves your customers stranded all over the alps. Though I suppose one should never actually rule out zombie apocalypse.

And while it might make the stranded guest feel better to scream at someone wearing a badge saying ‘manager’, it’s not actually of much practical use having all your management stuck at an airport being screamed at. This is, unfortunately, one of the joys of life in frontline customer service. (And yes, we do all think you’re a complete git.) Given a limited supply of managers, they’re more use to everyone on the phones/in resort. Time spent being abused is time not spent trying to find solutions.

Shoutout here to @HennyWoolard, a voice of reason in the middle of all this nonsense:

Tweeting from the Isle of Man, Henny has plainly been here, done it and got the T-shirt, and she’s happy to tell her fellow twitterers when they need to man up:

Go Henny!

And now, in a bid to forestall next week’s tweetstorm, I give you the current snow forecast for Tignes, broadly applicable to most of the rest of the alps, and relevant to anyone travelling back from the Tarentaise:


Bit of weather. Pack snacks.

Keep an eye on this. If it carries on in the same vein into Saturday, take a few precautions. Pack food and drinks. Make sure all your batteries are charged. Buy some playing cards and teach the kids how to play Shithead. And try to keep your complaints rational, relevant and off Twitter.

Final word from Henny:

Yes you can. You are all awesome. Now get out and enjoy the powder, you deserve it.

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Back to Blighty

It seems that it’s not in the nature of us seasonal types to have a lot of interest in current affairs, possibly because we’re too busy chasing next season’s job or working out whether we can afford the flight back from the last one. In fact, I seem to be a bit of an outlier just by knowing what the EU is in the first place, judging by the baffled looks I get when I ask people what they plan to do post-Brexit if they can’t work here any more.


Definitely a man just asking to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

‘Oh, they’ll work something out’, they say vaguely. Or ‘I’m OK, I’m on a French contract’. Or ‘well I’ll just get a work visa’. Or even ‘they can’t afford to lose all the Brits, they’ll make an exception’, possibly the most deluded version out there of the already tenuous ‘they need us more than we need them’ argument.

So if you don’t want this winter and next summer to be your last seasons before you’re all forced to take up sprout-picking on a rainy island which appears at the moment to be inhabited by a large number of racist pensioners with the collective IQ of a gerbil, it’s time to start paying attention.

An outfit calling itself Seasonal Businesses in Travel, which appears to be a hastily-formed association of panicked tour ops, has just estimated a loss of 25,000 seasonal jobs unless someone comes up with a way of letting us all stay. Chalet hosts, reps, ski techs, campsite couriers, kids club reps, watersports instructors ……. that’s your job they’re talking about.

And presumably that’s before we look at all the people working for non-tour op businesses – the bar staff, receptionists, chefs, transfer drivers, tradesmen, lifties, ticket sales monkeys, etc etc you name it, working for local businesses.

If you’re working for a UK-based company and being paid in sterling, you’re doing it as a posted worker on an A1 portable document, which allows people from one EU member state to work temporarily in another one without having all the faff of getting involved with another country’s tax and social security system. It only works if your home nation is an EU member, which is the reason we’re not knee deep in Aussies and Kiwis – they can’t do what you do without jumping through so many hoops that it’s virtually impossible.

Rowi breeding management — Partnership West Coast Wildlife Cen

Kiwi – not a common alpine bird.

If you have the good fortune to be working for a local company offering proper wages and civilised hours, then hurrah. But you can only do that because your home nation is an EU member, which means you can apply for a job anywhere in Europe and the most difficult hurdle you face is persuading some hatchet-faced Credit Agricole employee to let you open a bank account.

Once we wave goodbye, your A1 becomes irrelevant, so chances are your tour op job will just disappear. Along with the tour op itself, in quite a few cases. And you can apply for as many local jobs as you like, but you’re no longer an EU national, so before they can take you on, employers will have to apply for a work permit. Which is likely to involve them advertising the post locally for a set period of time and then proving to the authorities that they can’t get a native to do it and have to recruit elsewhere. You think anyone’s going to bother going through that palaver for a seasonal chef or a barman? Think again.

And I wouldn’t go pinning my hopes on David and Theresa coming up with some kind of special arrangement either. The painful truth is that they don’t give a toss about you and your pathetic little life. You aren’t bankers, millionaires or Tory party donors. Chances are you don’t even bother to vote, even if you’ve managed to be in one place long enough to register or organise a postal or proxy vote.

The French aren’t likely to see the whole thing as a tragedy either. In fact the ESF is rubbing its hands with glee even as we speak, in anticipation of an exodus of British ski instructors, something they’ve been trying to engineer for 20 years.


My hovercraft s full of eels.

I know we like to think the Alps would go spectacularly bust without the British skier, but have you seen the number of East Europeans kicking about the pistes recently? There are plenty of alternative emerging markets out there, and resorts are already chasing them. Chalet owners might have a bit of a hard time finding tenants for a while, but if 2Alpes is anything to go by, there’s an army of Hungarians out there ready to take up the slack. Besides which, what sort of skier gives it up just because he can’t have his favourite catered chalet? They’ll emigrate into self catered apartments and eat takeaway pizza instead, and while they might grumble a bit to start with, after three seasons they won’t even remember the chalet thing.
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Posted in Pot Luck, Ski Season, Summer Season | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Mainstream media cover-up – we reveal the truth!

Me neither.

Me neither.

Now, you can call me old fashioned if you like, but I’ve always been under the impression that for information to call itself ‘news’, it has to be kind of …. err ….. new. Ish. Certainly fairly recent. Definitely not knocking on for two weeks old at any rate.

But perusal of the Telegraph’s website this morning suggests that I have been labouring under a misapprehension. ‘Worst ski holiday ever? Resort in dire need of snow’ it scaremongers, linking to a video of bugger all snow in Austria, filmed on January eighth.

Now it’s true that the SkiWelt area in Austria did indeed have bugger all snow on the eighth of January, in common with most of the rest of Europe’s ski areas. We had sod all here, if we’re honest, despite the altitude and the glacier and all that. I didn’t even get out there until the following week, which is the latest I`ve started a season since I embarked on a lifetime of squandering my winters in ski resorts.

Today, however, the webcams are telling quite a different story. Gosh, there seems to be lots of snow. People are skiing! There is no grass!! Amazing.

Looks like snow to me.

Looks like snow to me.

Or actually not all that awazing, since it has been snowing like a bastard for most of the past ten days, to the extent where we’ve had a series of nasty avalanches, one of them here in 2Alpes, competently and comprehensively reported by none other than the Telegraph.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that they should recycle a motheaten no-snow story from two weeks ago on the website today. Are they in the pay of the French tourist office?

This all seems trivial until you consider that while the wintersports industry does indeed cater for Russians with guns and annoying people who insist on talking loudly in bars about property prices, it’s also a source of income for a small army of generally not very well paid people, most of whom are already out of pocket following a poor start this season, and all of whom would quite like to keep paying their mortgages please. Posting wildly inaccurate stories telling potential customers that conditions are rubbish really isn’t very considerate.

This is particularly pertinent in the case of the SkiWelt area, which is run by a bunch of local people rather than some huge faceless conglomerate whose main business is theme parks, and doesn’t it just show when you visit their resorts. Yes, CdA, I am looking at you. The big resorts will no doubt be able to take the hit of a bad season, and probably even piss about with the figures to such an extent that they get some sort of tax rebate out of it, but a bunch of Austrian farmers are unlikely to wot of such machinations.

So, if you’ve still to book your ski holiday, have a look at the webcams and consider a trip to the SkiWelt area. I know absolutely nothing about it, never having had the pleasure of skiing in Austria, but I’m told it’s lovely. It certainly looks it. And it’s run by a load of farmers and local families instead of an army of suits who’ve probably never got closer to a mountain than just past the Péripherique. What’s not to like?

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“Scandaliser est un droit. Être scandalisé est un plaisir.” ― Pasolini, Pier Paolo

jesuischarlie“It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read.”
― Philip Pullman

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RIP Natives

mist tent

Sumer. Not supposed to last until November

Oh shit, is it winter already? Bugger. That’s what you get for signing up for a so-called ‘summer’ season which doesn’t finish until after the bloody ski show. What was I thinking about?

I’d like to say it was some kind of  super-awesome stoke which prodded me out of the summer slumber but I can’t because a) I can’t take myself seriously while doing so and b) unfortunately it wasn’t.

In fact, it was the final death knell of erstwhile seasonnaire website Natives, once the go-to resource for employers recruiting staff, seasonnaires in search of a more or less respectable way of funding a lot of skiing, drinking and sexual excess, and a bunch of grumpy language purists looking for victims (a bit random I know, but that’s the way it was, for some reason).

Having built the site and its loyal following from scratch out of an improvised office in his mother’s broom cupboard (I’m making this up – he might have had a lucrative lottery grant for all I know), founder Iain Martin flogged it off for millions (I’m making that up as well) to the Friday Ad, in order to start Skipedia, a fascinating site devoted entirely to marketing bollocks and its application to all things ski.

The Friday Ad, I ask you. An organisation which distributes a load of free papers dedicated to the private purchase and sale of everything from dodgy leather sofas through pedigree hamsters to vinyl gimp suits. And there’s nothing wrong with that either, but it can’t be denied that what they know (or care) about ski resort work and the people who do it could be written on the back of a postage stamp with their collective willies dipped in ink.

Might contain an ad for some second hand Rodeo skiwear I suppose

Might contain an ad for some second hand Rodeo skiwear I suppose

You could tell things were sliding inexorably into the corporate void when the front page consisted entirely of ads for gap courses and any effort at actual snow-related news disappeared altogether.

The subsequent revamp of the forums in Mr Kipling’s French Fancy colours and with markedly less functionality managed to send 90% of the existing posters into the welcoming arms of Facebook, without at the same time attracting new blood, resulting in a seasonnaire forum which is dead as a doornail in ski show season, a time of year when anyone lucky enough to have landed a resort job is verging on hysterical with anticipation and absolutely wetting themselves in their desire to talk about it incessantly. To anyone, even a bunch of total strangers on the web. In fact, preferably to a bunch of strangers on the web, since all their real friends have long since got into the habit of slapping them round the head every time they open their mouths.

But the final nail in the site’s coffin has to be today’s slogan competition. We Need a Slogan, it thunders, completely ignoring that fact that it already had a perfectly serviceable one in Iain’s ‘Knowledge is Powder’. Presumably that doesn’t suit its ‘brand’. Yes, it now has a ‘brand’, whatever the fuck that means, so the suits in charge need a new slogan which they can use ‘across their brand’. No, I can’t tell you what that means either. Absolutely nothing whatsoever, I strongly suspect, though in today’s spangly corporate world that’s a view which could quite possibly get you summarily shot in the face.

Not a problem they're going to have at Natives any time soon.

Not a problem they’re going to have at Natives any time soon.

But as they feel the need for a new strapline, they are generously offering ‘you guys’ (because you’re their best friends, innit. And they’re cool – you can tell by the fact that they used the word ‘awesome’ three times in three sentences.) the chance to come up with some piece of despicable marketing wank for which they would otherwise have had to pay a firm of consultants an arbitrarily eye-watering sum of cash.

And what are they offering for this money-saving service? A ‘seasonnaire starter pack’ worth £500! A bargain, you might think, containing everyting the noob seasonnaire might need! Er, no – let’s take a closer look at the detail of this fabulous prize.

First up, a Ruroc helmet/goggles combo, something which might come in handy at New Year fancy dress parties, but that’s about it. (I’m sure I’ve been though this before.) I have never ever met a seasonnaire (or anyone else for that matter) who would willingly wear one of these even if you paid them. Which shows you what the Friday Ad knows about anything.

Next, jacket and pants by Westbeach. Spiffy. Except that any half decent outerwear combo would pretty much cost £500 all on its own without the Darth Vader helmet and the rest of the crap, suggesting that either a) the Friday Ad can’t count or b) the stuff is going to be about as good as 20-year-old C&A Rodeo if you’re lucky.

Seriously, why don't they just offer us one of these and have done with it?

Seriously, why don’t they just offer us one of these and have done with it?

Further on, thermals, gloves and headphones. Again, if any of it was any good, that lot would have a total price tag of going on for £300. (Yes I know Skullcandy is a ‘brand’. Take it from me, their headphones are shit – mine are going on eBay the minute I get home from the Fatherland.)

And finally, some complete tat – more Westbeach end of line clothing, some shower gel (seriously, even I couldn’t make that one up), a few stickers.

These people are making absolutely no secret at all of the fact that they think we’re all just a bunch of witless salivating morons. Friday Ad – just fuck right off.

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Seasons in the (setting) sun

Official monster raving UKIP loon

Official monster raving UKIP loon

Time for a spot more Guardian-bashing today I’m afraid – I know I’ve been here before, but when they line themselves up so neatly in the crosshairs it’s hard to resist. I do read other news websites, honestly, and it’s not like I’m some raving UKIP loon out to lynch the lefties, but really no-one writes quality twaddle the way the Guardian does it. I suppose I could try reading the Mail Online, but that’s a bit fish in a barrel even for someone as lazy as me.

Today our champion of equal rights for all was slating outgoing banker Mervyn King for telling the world (well all right, the half a dozen people who listen to Desert Island Discs on a Sunday morning) that he was off on a gap year.

Guardian blogger Ian Martin takes issue with the phraseology here, clearly associating it with getting pissed in Bangkok, having ill-advised sexual encounters with peripatetic antipodeans and boring your co-freshers witless with tales of your amazing time in Africa. Or possibly Meribel.

No, Mr Martin is quite happy for Mervyn to chuck in his job as long as he refers to it as ‘retirement’ rather than a gap year, and spends his time wearing elasticated pants, getting pissed on warm beer and falling asleep in the garden centre before sliding inexorably into fumbling dementia. Which tells you a lot about how old the inside of Ian Martin’s head is, though not much about chronological age or Mervyn’s plans for his time off. Which might well involve ill-advised sexual encounters for all I know – and why not – though he definitely didn’t mention that one to Kirsty Young when I was listening.

Old man pants. No need, really.

Old man pants. No need, really.

But the good news for all of you contemplating the prospect of elasticated trousers and Gardeners’ Question Time with dismay is that while growing old is inevitable, growing up seems to be increasingly optional. ‘Old’ people, having shed the shackles of mortgage, family and tedious desk job, are out there in their droves doing things Mr Martin clearly assumes are reserved exclusively for spotty youth.

On returning to camping for a living after something which is apparently 20 years but which I swear can’t be any more than five, I find myself to be younger than most of my colleagues, a novel experience for the veteran seasonnaire. Europe’s campsites are crawling with ratrace escapees and survivors, lolling around in the sunshine, waving glasses of rosé and sporting lurid uniforms with name badges. I feel like a veritable baby in comparison.

Admittedly I have yet to see any of the older cohort getting falling down drunk in New Jack’s (though I’d be prepared to bet you could find one or two in St Anton’s Krazy Kanguruh) but in their own quiet way they’re having just as much of a whale of a time as their whippersnapper co-workers. And what’s more they seem to be outnumbering the whippersnappers by about five to one, from what I’ve seen so far.

This isn’t to say that the youngsters are no longer doing silly seasonal things of course – they come through a batch at a time as they ever did, enjoying a bit of sun before they trudge off down the long dark tunnel which is responsible adult life (travel tip: there’s an alternative road – it’s steep and rocky, there’s no barrier between you and the cliff edge and the surface can be a tad potholed, but the views are better). The difference is that we’re picking more and more of them up again when they pop out of the other end. They’re looking a bit worn, I grant you, but they’re still up for it. And definitely not wearing elasicated trousers.

Luminous uniform. Making old man pants look like a good idea.

Luminous uniform. Making old man pants look like a good idea.

So while you’re out at the garden centre in your crimplene slacks, Ian, the rest of your cohort is whooping it up on campsites and in ski resorts across Europe. Never mind raging against the dying of the light – this lot come armed with an emergency hurricane lamp and a box of waterproof matches.

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Posted in Summer Season | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s camping Jim, but not as we know it

Proper camping

Proper camping

We all know what camping is about, don’t we – getting out in the fresh air and back to basics, just you and your little tent, roughing it without the clutter of modern life between you and nature. Etc. Often this involves torrential rain, mud, and wishing you’d bought a better sleeping bag, admittedly. But it makes you appreciate those mod cons all the more as you dump your mud-encrusted clothing in the washer and retreat into a hot bath and a glass of wine.

Now, I appreciate that this sort of deliberate discomfort isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I always had a lot of sympathy with those people who went for the pre-erected tents and proper furniture experience offered by commercial camping tour ops. And not only because I got a job out of the arrangement either. Let’s face, it proper camping with three kids and an unruly dog is hardly a restful experience. After getting lost halfway through France, having a blazing row about which way you should have gone, arriving at the site after dark and having to wrestle with a huge tent in the pouring rain only to find that someone forgot to pack the tentpegs, the torch and the teabags, you’re not exactly in the holiday mood.

How much better then, to arrive to a fully equipped tent which someone else has put up, cleaned, and arranged nicely with a little welcome pack and everything. It doesn’t stop you getting lost and almost diovorced on the way down, obviously, but it does make the aftermath that bit more comfortable.

Absolutely not camping

Absolutely not camping

These days though, I feel we may have taken the home comforts thing just that bit too far. Mobile homes were always an option, but the rest of us were inclined to look at them rather sniffily and regard them as ‘not real camping’. Even the people booking them tended to be a bit apologetic and offer excuses about being that much older these days and needing a bit more comfort, and of course we used to do tents when we had the kids etc etc. Yeah, right.

But these days people of all ages shamelessly book huge palatial mansions complete with full sized freezers (Why? WHY? You’re only here for a week, what are you planning to freeze, for God’s sake?), dishwashers and those humungous American style fridges which take up 90% of your kitchen space and go wrong all the time. By the time you’ve added the decking, the garden furniture and the fancy gas-fired grill (no, it isn’t a barbecue – barbecues involve charcoal and blackened sausages, not gas bottles) you might as well have rented a gite. At least you’d get a bit of privacy instead of being rammed in cheek by jowl with everyone else in a field which is beginning to look more like a trailer park than a campsite.

Definitely camping, but possibly taking things too far

Definitely camping, but possibly taking things too far

And what’s more, these people have the temerity to refer to their excursions as ‘camping’ holidays. I have news for you all here – not only is this most emphatically not ‘real camping’, it’s not even camping at all. Be honest, what’s the difference between this fancy caravan and your house? All right, the walls are thinner, but that’s about it. I swear the bloody things are actually bigger than my house. The fridges are certainly bigger than mine, that’s for sure.

While I could just about live with the 30-year tent veteran deciding that he fancied his own loo rather than the trek to the toilet block (and having the grace to look a bit sheepish about it), I am frankly disgusted by the lack of backbone displayed by the younger camping generation. Really people, think of the harm you are doing to your children. What sort of huge girls blouses will they turn into if they grow up never having had to brave the middle of the night trip to the washblock with a torch? Never woken in terror convinced they were about to be eaten alive because there was a hedgehog clattering round the groundsheet sounding like a herd of woolly mammoths? Never experienced the joys of wading out of the tent in pyjamas and wellies, dragging sodden sleeping bags, then spending the rest of the night shivering in the car? These pantywaists will not be there for you in your old age, I warn you, and it will be your own fault for not taking them on proper character-building family holidays.

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Posted in Summer Season | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Foot in the crosshairs ……… fire!

All right, that's enough of that having fun business.

All right, that’s enough of that having fun business.

Right, you lot. You can stop looking forward to that nice holiday you planned to spend showing friends round your favourite French ski resort. Don’t you realise that what you’re doing is horrifically dangerous? Really, how could you possibly imagine that you are in any way capable of pootling around a few blue runs and eating lunch in a convivial manner without killing yourself and everyone with you? God, you’re so irresponsible.

Or so last week’s court judgement in Albertville would have you believe. Following a case brought by the French authorities egged on by the ESF in Meribel, tour operator staff will no longer be allowed to ski about the pistes with their punters, on the grounds that it isn’t safe and they aren’t qualified to be responsible for said punters. Since there is no real difference between this and you showing your mates around, I think you should be worried.

This has been a long running and increasingly tedious argument led largely by the French national ski school, which seems to think people are going to pay for its instructors to ski around the resort, chat to them and eat lunch. Which clearly they are not, when all they want is an animated piste map, preferably with the odd social skill as a bonus.

It’s presumably because this argument is so blatantly fallacious that they’ve started going on about safety instead, though as far as I can see they have completely failed to demonstrate that a load of overweight British holidaymakers cruising around the marked runs with someone wearing a jacket with a logo on it is any more or less dangerous than me spending the afternoon sliding about with three barely intermediate friends on their annual half term break.

In fact, if we’re going to insist that anyone who ever skis with anyone else has a certificate which says that they once did a slalom course to near-olympic standard when they were 17, the Compagnie des Alpes needs to start looking at developing marmot sanctuaries, because running ski resorts is going to be a non-starter as a business model.

Dangerous criminal. Do not aproach this man.

Dangerous criminal. Do not aproach this man.

Fortunately for general common sense I predict that the whole ski hosting/social skiing/whatever we’re calling it this week will carry on as usual, since even in totalitarian France nobody has the power to stop persons A B and C inviting person D to ski with them even if person D does happen to work for the company with which they are on holiday. Person D is entirely at liberty to ski with whomsoever he pleases in his free time in the middle of the day and he clearly isn’t wearing the company’s uniform, so piss off. The fact that it has been made clear to him on training that he is expected to ski with his guests three times a week is something which is never likely to come to anybody’s notice. Which brings us right back to the position we were all in when I did my first season back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we were all wearing tight pants and Nevica jackets.

In the meantime though, there is bound to be a bit of fallout, during which various people will be inconvenienced while various others take advantage.

The losers ….

The ESF, which will lose whatever private lesson business the ski hosts used to put their way, since part of the host’s role was always to say (in the nicest possible way, obviously), “your skiing’s rubbish mate, get a lesson”.

The ESF, as every tour op which has the option scrambles to recommend any other ski school they can find just because they’re feeling narked by the whole situation.

The ESF, which is quite likely to find itself with rather fewer English customers as people vote with their feet and either holiday elsewhere or just book with different ski schools.

French resorts, which stand to lose business to countries where you can ski with whoever you like. We should bear in mind that this doesn’t just affect UK tour ops – the Belgians, Dutch, Scandis and eastern Europeans provide just the same service to their guests. That pretty much accounts for all of our non-French visitors here.

... or alternatively find some other school altogether.

… or alternatively find some other school altogether.

And the winners are ….

Resorts outside France, which will score for some more punters as those people for whom the ski hosting days are an important part of the holiday opt for Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Andorra, North America, Bulgaria ……… etc. It’s entirely possible that TOs could consider either pulling out of French resorts altogether or at least significantly reducing their presence here. It’s not like France has a monopoly on wintersports is it?

The ESF in Meribel, which has rather bafflingly been awarded something in the region of 20,000€ for ‘loss of earnings’. Though in view of losers one to three above, this could be regarded as something of a Pyrrhic victory.

A bunch of lawyers, since it seems likely that the case will go from appeal in France to further appeal in Brussels or Strasbourg or wherever they do these things.

So that was a really worthwhile exercise then. Well done Les Pulls Rouges, way to convince everyone they’re going to love skiing in France.

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Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment