We are all now aware of the dangers of coronavirus and what we should be doing (or not doing) to beat it, but on this trip (and in my life to date) I’ve come across other dangers, which I’ll go into here.
In Japan, Helena developed carpal tunnel syndrome, she’d been overusing her right wrist, most likely from using her ski poles to push herself along. It’s a conundrum – do you be a snowboarder with no poles who fears the flat sections or do you be a skier with a set of poles for propulsion and risk injury? It’s probably safer just working in an office and getting a mild case of RSI from using your mouse all day. The carpal tunnel syndrome woke her up in the middle of the night with a feeling of pins and needles, sometimes she had to stand up several times and shake it off – did Taylor Swift suffer from the same medical affliction I wonder. Helena googled her symptoms and diagnosed herself with carpal tunnel syndrome (as any good Doctor would recommend you do), the best treatment for which is rest and keeping it straight in a splint. We created a makeshift splint for her out of a long wooden spoon and electrical tape. It seemed to keep her wrist stationery and straight, but I wondered if I’d just cut off the circulation to her hand and it was only going to add to her list of ailments.
Towards the end of February we were out ski touring one day, aiming to complete our first successful ski tour together when Helena got a nose bleed. I said “We can just head back to the mountain centre,” but no, Helena is a determined human and wanted to carry on. Besides, we’d gone through a fair amount of faffing just to get to this point in the day, getting all our ski equipment together and setting it up. I offered her my Buff neck warmer to stem the flow of bleeding and after saying “I couldn’t possibly take that”, she took it. I was getting brownie points for this I thought.
20 years ago on a ski holiday with family and friends and I got carried away on the first night out and had one too many beers. I put it down to the effect of the altitude on my body and the fact I was a lightweight. The following morning on the bus ride up to the ski resort and I was feeling ropey to say the least. It was a windy road and a packed out bus, full of heavily clothed humans radiating heat. I staved off the thoughts for as long as I could before announcing “I’m going to be sick,” after which followed a moment of panic when the people around me realised there wasn’t a sick bag and they were about to get rained on by the projectile vomiter. My Mum standing nearby did what Mums do best, offered her love in the form of a ski hat from on top of her head, thrusting it into my hands. It acted much like a sieve, but beggars can’t be choosers and it did manage to save those around me from full blown disaster. So in a sense, me offering up my piece of ski clothing to help Helena, I feel in some way reprieved from the shame of this historical episode.
The person in charge of sign writing at Kiroro Tribute resort liked to write in first person; English was probably not their first language, but it could be amusing nonetheless. Signs by the swimming pool displayed “I hope I do not run”. I hope he didn’t run either, but as for me making my way to the outside pool in the snow, I might have picked up the pace to a jog. The last time I ran by a pool was in Turkey in the Summer, when I was mock running to join the aqua aerobics class and my foot smashed through a plastic drain cover. I dropped to my knees but managed to climb out alive and make the aqua aerobics for a laugh.
Also there are signs on the walkway outside saying “Your feet are slippery” – it’s almost like this person had written the signs all the time thinking of me. He was absolutely right, my feet are slippery, especially when they have ice underneath them. Back at Hopi Hills we had a spell of warm weather in mid-February, where the snow melted and then froze again overnight. We walked across the car park in the morning on the way to our house keeping shift and Helena was shuffling her feet 1cm at a time, arms splayed horizontally for balance. I’m laughing at her inability to walk anything like normal in her snow boots when I seem to be managing just fine in my trainers. Five minutes later and I was approaching the Hopi Hills cafe when I stumbled upon a section of ice, and just like a cartoon clip of someone standing on a banana skin, I took off, momentarily my whole body leaving the Earth, feeling like I’d paused in mid-air and subsequently falling to the ground on my side with a big thud. Tessa happened to be nearby, always one to see the funny side of things (no I haven’t just broken my wrist, but thanks for your concern) said with a massive smile on her face “Wait till I tell Helena about this!”
We didn’t have many guests in towards the end of the season, so instead of cooking breakfast I was put on chain sawing duty. I don’t know if it’s a man thing, but there is something about taking a saw to wood and the sound that comes from a petrol-powered chain saw, it’s all a little bit exciting. But obviously also incredibly dangerous if you’re not careful with it. I felled several trees, some up to 50ft in height, while getting the tree to fall the way you planned feels like quite an achievement. Chanele asks if we are to do any more “see sawing” that day in her French accent, mixing up a motorised cutting tool with a long plank of wood that children swing up and down on. She has a good sense of humour and she too sees the funny side of mixing up her words. We talk about words in English that are different but sound very similar; letting her know that “Going to the beach” and “Going to the bitch” are two very different things. The next 24hrs include Chanele walking round the lounge saying “beach….bitch….sheep….ship….sheet….shit…hmmm this is difficult”. Something that an native English speaker takes for granted and may seem obvious, but when we try to say “Gerard Depardieu” with the correct pronunciation we just get laughed at, falling way short on getting the correct amount of rasp into the “ar” of “Gerard” and enough pout with the “dieu” of “Depardieu”. English is hard, so is French, and then Japanese is on another level.
At the pizza shop we were working with an oven that is 500 degrees centigrade; the pizzas take less than 2 minutes to cook in that heat, leave them a few seconds too long and they’ll be cremated and even the human dustbin (moi) will turn his nose up at them. Occasionally I’d touch the searing pizza trays by accident and like any self-respecting chef ended up with a few minor burn marks to my hands. These were not the worst burns I’ve had in my life though. That accolade still rests with the episode of me pouring a bowl of steaming water onto my crotch. I’d like to say this episode happened when I was a mere teenager, but in fact it was a few years after that (late 20s I seem to recall).
I was sitting on the sofa at home with a big bowl of steaming water on my lap, fresh from the kettle. I had a few spots on my face, and the idea was for the steam rising from the bowl to clear up my skin. I steamed my face for a few seconds, head under a tea towel and as I came up for air the whole thing tipped forward, and the entire boiling hot contents of the round bowl spilled onto my lap. It took a second for my mind to register what was happening, then I ran to the bathroom, desperately trying to get off my soaking wet tracksuit bottoms. Before too long my nether regions were under the shower in an attempt to cool the burn.
Next thing I was in A&E talking to the nurse in triage “I’ve burned my balls,” is essentially what I needed to say. I got seen by the nurse pretty quickly, so I guess they thought it serious enough for me to jump the queue of people. “We’ll have to shave you down there,” says the nurse, Bic razor in hand.
“OK,” I said, now willing her to just get on with it and I looked the other way. My next recollection was waking up in a strange place with people running around me. I soon came around and realised what had happened as I was lying half-naked on the hospital floor, with medical staff running all around me.
After several of the medical staff had left the room and following a second more successful shaving session from the nurse, a gauze dressing was applied to the second-degree burn. “Next time, try going to a steam room,” the nurse said to me. “Also you don’t have many spots, I don’t think you need to be steaming your face”. She was probably right, but I’d heard about this idea and I had just wanted to test it out (the face steaming, not the ball burning). Next time you see on the internet “That one weird trick that fixes so and so”, you must ignore it, there’s a reason it’s weird. The only repercussion from that episode was the piece of gauze dropping out of my trousers and being lost somewhere in the Tesco supermarket near Royal Surrey Hospital that day, my apologies to the cleaner on shift. Everything else is in good working order, I can report.
Stay safe people. Stay at home.