Emily is crying – again. This time, however, instead of being flat on her back, with gentle tears seeping from her eyes to her eardrums, she is raging with anger and frustration. Her goggles have steamed up, her nose is running and, for the fifth time in a row, she has fallen off the button lift, unable to grasp how, as a snowboarder with one foot strapped to a plank and the other flailing free, she can possibly wedge the seat between her legs and ascend a mountain sideways. The lift attendant has ignominiously dragged her out of the path of those sliding up gracefully behind her, one of whom is her 12-year-old son Max.
Back home, the idea for their family skiing holiday had seemed like a huge brainwave. Andrew would take the two older siblings Lara and Rufus on an off‑piste adventure, while Emily would learn to snowboard with Max. She had rather relished the thought of learning a new skill and being a hip, sporty mum. After all, how hard could it be for an accomplished skier to switch from two planks to one?
The holiday, alas, had deteriorated rapidly: 18-year-old Lara had discovered on day one that après-ski and late-night clubbing were more her scene than time spent with her highly competitive brother and father. With her new status as an independent adult, she was now flatly refusing to get up in the mornings, spending her days in a misty-eyed reverie instead. Andrew and Rufus were behaving like crazed powder junkies – up and gone in time for the first lift; back at dusk, exhilarated and utterly tedious in the description of their day’s success. And then there was Max. He had agreed to the beginners’ parent-and-child snowboarding classes because he thought his mum was cool. Now she was just a blubbering embarrassment, holding back the rest of the class and making a fool of herself in front of Jean-Claude, the athletic young instructor who Max thought was the biggest legend EVER.
If JC, as he liked to be called, was Max’s hero, he was Emily’s nemesis. The smug Adonis made the sport look simple but clearly had little time for middle-aged women – particularly English ones with no natural aptitude for a board. Emily had tried every trick up her sleeve. With each fall – and there were many, even when the ground was flat – she had flirted a bit and giggled a bit, but to no avail. JC was unwinnable and his smouldering impatience had turned her initial attraction into searing contempt. “Encore, we ’ave to wait for Emileee,” she would hear him mutter to the others as she tried precariously to tilt back and forth to control the direction of her snowboard. “Try a leetle beet ‘arder,” he would say, as he manhandled her up into a vertical position for the umpteenth time. Never before had her back or shoulders screamed in such agony; never before had she longed for a larger, plumper bottom.
And now here she was in an ungainly heap by the button lift. The day had not been a good one. Andrew and Rufus had left without saying goodbye; Lara had returned to her room at some ungodly hour; and Max, in the absence of his father, had been called upon to help dress his mother. Try as she might, the aching Emily had been unable to bend down to pull on her tights or reach behind her back to do up her bra.
Enough is enough, thinks Emily. She is humiliated, wretched, cold and sore. She wants a pampering massage, a stiff gin and a deckchair in the sun. And with that she unclips her ridiculous boots, tucks her helmet under her arm and hobbles off down the mountain without a backward glance at her offensive instructor or unsympathetic son, who is wondering whether to give chase.
A few hours, several drinks and a jolly lunch later, Emily is looking forward to salvaging her holiday with a perfect last afternoon. Andrew, Rufus and Max have all agreed to ski en famille, which just leaves Lara.
“Incidentally,” says Andrew, “where is Lara? I’ve barely seen her all week.”
“She’s having a ‘siesta’, Dad,” replies Rufus, smirking, “with some fit ski instructor called Jean-Claude.”
“Make that JC,” adds Max.
“Make mine a double,” says his mother, hailing the waiter.