When you get to section B, there can be all sorts of things they ask you to do. One student decided to do a “describe” task as a story. Here it is….
My phone rang as I negotiated the tricky part of the run, hard left, just skirting the rocks, shit, that was close. Then right through the middle of two huge pines, sentries guarding the last of the shadowy woods and finally out into the brilliant sunshine, the snow all around reflecting the dazzling light back to the heavens.
“Pronto” I tried to answer in my best Italian, my chest still heaving, desperately searching for oxygen in the cold, rarefied mountain air.
“We ave a parcel for you ere, Meester Opes , I tink whatever was in it is dead. Come very quickly please!”
I collected my parcel from the impossibly beautiful alpine chalet that was the Post Office, and walked back along the snow covered road, towards my apartment, the temperature dropping like a stone now the life giving Sun had dropped behind a craggy peak.
I had decided to do one last season as a Ski Instructor, and here, high, in the Italian Alps, I sat, on Christmas Eve, at the kitchen table of a Snow Covered Farmhouse and opened my Parcel.
The beauty of it took my breath away again, but the air I now sought for my lungs was now warm, the crackling log fire and it’s heady intoxicating pine fragrance saw to that.
It sat, truly magnificent, on the table, a prime chunk of fine English Stilton, defiant and proud in it’s new Italian surroundings. There was something else too, a twelve pack of Quavers and a note from my Brother, which simply said, “Enjoy”.
Happy tears welled from nowhere. Someone, so far away, cared enough to do this, my dearest brother, my love for him as warm as the crackling fire.
The door flew open, cold air rushed in to fight with the warm, and in tumbled, my two, far from unattractive, chalet mates, full, quite literally, of Christmas spirit!
“What you got there Mattie?” Amy giggled, her tanned skin glowing with soft firelight.
I must add at this point that It is well known in skiing circles that a Chalet Girl will, after half a season “in Resort” will do almost anything (in reality you can drop the almost) for a jar of Marmite, what would these do for a share of two pounds of finest Stilton and some Quavers (whilst Italian cuisine is amongst the best in the world, their crisps are mind blowingly bad!), it was party time!
We sat, with the balcony doors open, the twinkling lights of the resort stretched out like a Christmas Tree on massive scale, eating such a humble meal of cheese, cut with a penknife, fresh bread ripped, whilst still warm from the loaf and rough local Red wine from plastic beakers. Such a simple fare you could not imagine, the complexity of feelings however was indescribable.
The beauty of that rustic meal, the laughter, the comradeship of friends and the love of family will live with me forever.
Did the Stilton and Quavers work their magic with the Chalet girls? Well, that’s another story…
The news was expected yet brutal and shocking when it came.
My girlfriend (now wife) had bought a couple of really nice pieces of Sirloin Steak on the way home, a treat for us both on a dreary, February evening.
I set about seasoning them in preparation for cooking when the phone rang.
The normally welcoming sound so often bringing cheer, news and reassurance from dear friends and family now had an ominous, sinister and threatening tone.
I glanced at Hayley, who tried, and failed to smile reassuringly.
“You get it,” she said.
“It’s Dad, I have some bad news I’m afraid”. My fathers voice sounded calm, his ability even now, to make those around him feel safe shone through.
The rest of the conversation passed in a blur, key words rose and fell, driftwood on the swell.
Six months, respite care, nothing more can be done, comfortable, be strong.
I replaced the receiver, no words to my wife were needed, my face did not just tell a story, it told of a lifetime, now passing.
Tears would not come, only an impossible emptiness, yet being on a dizzying precipice I dared not peer over the edge.
I returned to the Kitchen and began to cook the steaks, why I have no idea. The thought of eating seemed so alien, such an impossibility, so wrong.
The smoking pan almost grabbed at the meat, finally having something to transfer its malevolent heat to, one rare, four minutes, one medium six minutes. Dad liked his well done, but I did not need to remember the cooking time, nor would I.
We ate in silence, and when the silence became too noisy, we made pleasantries; we even talked of late trains and what should be done.
The steak was beautiful, and I feel guilty remembering that till this day.
I was hungry but could not face eating, my wife urging me to try and eat a little more but every mouthful felt wrong, rebuilding my body whilst my father’s wasted away would never again seem right.
Years and many, many meals have passed since. Some people are missing from the table of life, but where they sat new, small mouths fill the void. Life on a plate.