I lost a friend today. A good friend.
I only met him 20 years ago, and we probably only saw him two or three times each year, but for 15 years or so one of those occasions would be for a week’s skiing.
There were 8 of us in the gang. We stayed in catered chalets across Europe, and revelled in making the wish list as challenging as possible for whoever had the onerous task of finding somewhere that ticked all the boxes that year.
But once we all met up at the airport, something magical happened. It was as though we had just finished the previous year’s final run, and we all slipped effortlessly back into the same warm camaraderie as before. We knew a great week of snowy escapades, excessive food and drink consumption, banter, laughter and friendship would follow, as surely as an Alpine lunch is vastly overpriced.
Our friend was the oldest in the group, but probably also the most fearless. He was the one who first embraced helmetdom, but his excellent value protective head wear from Lidl didn’t prevent him seeing stars after a heavy fall on a packed piste. And in flat light in Zermatt one year, he failed to see the edge of the groomed piste and performed a spectacular somersault into fresh powder, leaving his skis way behind him. Blood still gushed from his nose as we boarded the funicular back into town, but he had a demonic look of quiet satisfaction etched on his craggy face.
Our snowy pilgrimages started off in middle age, and we were all sliding inexorably towards old age, when he became ill. Unable to ski, we spent a memorable autumnal week in Dorset instead, renting a house to try and replicate that ski chalet ambience for one last time. We enjoyed a lovely Sunday lunch at River Cottage, a brilliant piece of theatre in Lyme Regis – he loved Nina Simone – and he even managed to play golf for the first time in a while.
He was fiercely intelligent, with a wit as dry as his glass after a long lunch. He was sociable, and yet intensely private. He was a special person. His only flaw was that he supported Manchester United and Wales.
We might all ski again, but it will never be the same.
You have left a big hole, old friend.
Sleep well. And when we all meet again, it’s your turn to find the chalet….