Gordon Snell's favourite: "I Was a Winter Sport"
Gordon Snell’s favourite article from ‘Maeve’s Times’, a collection of Maeve Binchy’s finest journalism
Maeve Binchy: “the Falling Man and The Hysterical Woman and a Twitchy Swede and I spent most of our time clutching each other and dragging each other down again”
Writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell was married to Maeve Binchy for 35 years. “I Was a Winter Sport,” he says, “really encapsulates and is a great example of Maeve’s ability to laugh at herself and situations she found herself in, with great wit and style and sympathy.”
November 21st, 1974
I knew that I would probably fall, but I didn’t expect to fall coming out of the railway station. Crowds of elegant Germans in posh ski wear tramped over me, a few British looked embarrassed and then looked away, an Italian man bent down and told me that it happened to the best of us and went away without picking me up. When the station was empty three porters got me to my feet and begged me not to take the next train home. Madame would be skiing like a bird, they assured me, and like a fool I believed them, and slid and crawled my way to the hotel.
It was full of sweat and heat, and pipes gurgling, and basements with people throwing skis around like darts, and radiant faces talking about the south piste, and worried brows discussing ski bindings. There was registration for the nursery school and a lot of hot rum, and a view from the bedroom like the best Christmas card ever and a very deep, slightly bruised sleep.
Next day, hot chocolate, plenty of buns to keep up the strength, into the ski pants that looked great in Dublin and cost a week’s salary. Beside everything else on the patio they looked like fancy dress. On with about four sweaters, in case I got frostbite and a jar of cream rubbed into my face in case there was sunstroke going around as well. Left, right, left, right, and we marched to the foothills of a crag.
The ski instructor was called Mike, and nobody fell in love with him. In three languages he told us how to put on our skis, which were waiting in battered splendour on the snow. A man fell over just bending down to pick them up, and I was so sympathetic that I rushed to help him up and fell on top of him, which was a bad start, since Mike said in three languages again that there would be time for that sort of thing later, could we concentrate on getting the skis on now please. We extricated ourselves, and a nice 12-year-old tied on both our skis for us.
It was the most awkward thing I have ever done. Each foot seemed to weigh a ton and to be 20 feet long. It was impossible to point oneself anywhere without doing damage to someone else and one woman became quite hysterical because she found herself sliding sideways with gathering speed and couldn’t stop. Mike had to go and head her off before she went into a wall at a hundred miles an hour and that caused a lot of alarm in those of us who stood rooted to the ground. Skiing sideways was a new horror we hadn’t thought of.
He put us in two circles like a Paul Jones and we were asked to walk around to get used to the feel of the things. The space between each walker increased to huge distances because everybody seemed to be sticking a ski into the bottom of the person in front, and you couldn’t turn around to protest because you fell over at once if you moved in any direction except purposefully forward. So there were great oaths in many languages, as we marched gloomily around the churned-up snow dragging these fiendish appendages.