‘There are a handful of authors who achieve
that elusive trick of making you laugh out
loud. For me it’s James Herriot, Bill Bryson
and Susie Kelly.’
‘Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear
you apart.’ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Unlike her daredevil husband, Susie Kelly is afraid of water,
elevators, heights, skiing and flying upside down and she
hates being in the spotlight. No matter how hard she tries,
things seem to go wrong more often than they go right.
Fortunately she can see the funny side of most things, even
her cancer diagnosis. However, snoring transforms her from a
sweet little thing into a pitiless monster. These often funny and
sometimes poignant tales of travels through Susie’s muddled
life confirm that, as Simon Reeve writes in his autobiography
Step by Step, ‘…it is always worth remembering that some of
the most memorable times can happen when things go a bit
We have been allocated a spacious apartment in a small private hotel. Not only are there two double beds, there are also easy chairs and a small sofa as well as an en suite bathroom with a bath. It’s warm and homely, and there is a delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee wafting from the kitchen.
Bormio is where we find skiing heaven. Everything is perfect. The apartment, the food, the weather, the atmosphere, and most of all the pistes.
We’re surprised that there are not that many people in Bormio because it’s the perfect place to be for Christmas, with carol singers and roasted chestnuts, sensational decorations and an outdoor ice skating rink. Heavy snow falls each night. The skies are so blue, the sun so warm, it really is perfection. Terry spends much of the day up on the high slopes while I glide around on the gentler pistes, and Julie divides her time between us. In the deep snow I can stop at will, and while I can’t parallel turn－every time I try I end up crossing my skis－I manage to somewhat clumsily change tack.
Terry and I only ski together on the lower, easy slopes where he soon gets bored, so we go to the tourist office and collect a detailed map showing all the pistes. There’s a blue one right from 3,000 metres at the top of the mountain down to the town. Blue runs are easy. I can do those.
Up we go in the gondola, emerging at the top into a wooden cabin which leads out onto an icy platform and slippery steps.
A strip of red and white plastic tape held up by a couple of flimsy spikes marks the very edge of the mountain, which is no more than two metres away down a slight incline which seems to magnetically draw me towards it. On the other side of the tape there is nothing but fresh air for thousands of feet.
Terry tugs me away to the narrow gulley of ice through which only one person at a time can pass to reach the piste. It is the iciest, slipperiest ice I’ve ever seen. I cannot get any grip with my ski boots, and flounder around trying not to fall flat on my back. I inch my way, prodding at the walls of the gulley with my ski poles and it takes so long to negotiate the ten metres that a new gondola full of skiers has arrived and they are caught in the bottle neck behind me, hissing and cursing until we break out onto a plateau.
Far below, the town looks like child’s toy speckled with tiny ant-like figures. The snow glistens with silver specks and it feels as if we are standing on top of the world. I’m eager to set off and ski all the way from the top to the bottom. We walk along the plateau searching for the start of the blue run and decide that it must be a little further down the slope. So we head downwards and suddenly it’s like skiing on a wall. The plateau drops away. Terry shouts ‘Sit down!’, which I do, with a thump, and dig my heels and hands as deep as I can into the snow to stop from going any further. A slinky Italian lady skis towards us and asks if we have a problem. I explain we are trying to find the blue run, but she laughs and says we are on the black run, it’s very easy, just follow her. She vanishes over the precipice.
The gondola cabin is uphill 100 metres behind us, and only accessible via the icy gulley. We have to move down, and we both know that if I stand up I won’t be able to stop until I hit the bottom.
Happily, a snow plough passes nearby, and we call out to him.
‘Is there a blue run here?’
‘Where is it?’
He waves his arm vaguely. ‘It isn’t open yet. It opens on New Year’s day.’
He goes on his way.
I’m getting cold sitting in the snow, and my bottom feels wet.
‘OK,’ says Terry, ‘this is what we’ll do. I will side slip a few metres, and you will let yourself slide forward into my skis. That is how we’ll get back down. BUT do not go off track, because if you start to slide past me I won’t be able to stop you. You’ll end up rolling down the mountain like a log.’
That’s what we do. With my skis on his shoulder he slips sideways, and then calls me to let go. I lift my heels out of the snow and slide down until I crash into his skis. We repeat this until we reach the chair lift station at Bormio 2,000.
The lift operator says I can catch one of the chairs going down, and he stops the lift. I don’t know if anybody has ever taken the lift back down, but the chair is far too high off the ground to be able to climb into, so he has to build a platform out of snow. It takes about ten minutes before it’s firm enough and high enough for me to get on. All this time the passengers coming up from the bottom have been dangling angrily up in the air.
Once I’m aboard the lift starts again, and I enjoy a stately ride to the bottom, while the upcoming passengers stare in astonishment to see anybody going downhill by lift.
c. Susie Kelly
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It’s A Mad World – Travels Through a Muddled Life (Blackbird 2021) is out now.
I have 3 ebook copies and 1 paperback copy of It’s A Mad World, courtesy of @Blackbird_Bks, to giveaway!
Please see my pinned post on Twitter to enter!