Last year, around the time of the last petrol crisis last year...the pumps were running dry and just after it was serviced, I suddenly found that my motorbike was smelling of fuel. A leak. If I filled up, I would be high as a kite by the time I was at the end of the road. Not that this stopped me riding it, I just filled up half-way, which meant that it was only semi-comatose on my journeys. Mind you, you could still smell it when the garage door was closed and stood at the other end of the drive. Of course, the general idea that petrol is leaking from the tank and on to the engine should have made me worry about going up in a puff of smoke...but like any teenager I thought I was invincible. One day I will grow up. Anyway, I took it to the dealership who solemnly declared the tank was leaking, couldn't be repaired and I would need to splash out £1100 on a new one. Gosh that's a lot I thought, and continued riding it. Eventually it was due for another service. I decided to take it to another garage, and played the innocent. "I think I can smell petrol" I said. They had it for a couple of days, found that a valve had been removed and placed in a compartment under the seat. So could you please vote on whether the fist garage was a) incompetent and wanting me to spend £1100 or b) had deliberately removed the valve so that I would spend £1100 and so they would acquire a perfectly good fuel tank
I don't suppose anyone really wants to know about the great time we had on our holiday, so I will just introduce a few of the characters:
1. The Muffins. We went with all the Muffins.
2. Lord Poddlington. That was me. Evidently my breakfast was excessive. Bacon, sausages, tomato and fried egg. Followed by a bowl of fruit. Followed by two rolls with butter and jam (apricot). Followed by cheese and ham. All washed down with fruit juice and a pot of coffee. Nor did it help when I cut out one course...the bowl of fruit. I have returned as excess baggage
3. Michael The Farmer. The first instructor for Papa Muffin and The Cat. A local who helped out at busy times. He'd been skiing since before he could walk. But he couldn't speak English. So The Boy translated...even the technical stuff. At the end of the lesson, he walked off and we never saw him again.
4. Mythical Steve. Our last instructor. He was English, but had lived in Austria for 25 years. he was a good friend of the ski school owner, but none of the other instructors had ever met him. He was everything you would expect a ski instructor to be. Bleached blonde, tanned and with an unreformed outlook on life. So every time a female sixteen years and older got near us, he would let us know it was 'a great view'...especially if they bent over to do up their boots. He was fast on his skis, but very impressed The Boy could keep up with him "I've never seen anyone who hasn't done a season ski that well" he said. Meanwhile I was left on the mountain by myself.
5. The Bonnie Scot. Our main instructor. He had done the BA part of his degree in engineering from Strathclyde, and taken a year out to be a ski instructor. My money is on him never going back. The mini-Muffins adored him of course.
6. Frau Fuhrer. The owner of our hotel. She was coiffured like nobody you've seen for fifty years, and charming as could be if you were a guest. I'm guessing working for her was not so easy. She was delighted to have us staying and made us feel like the best of friends. Hotel management as it should be.
7. Boris The Russian. And his pretty blonde wife, half his age. If you've ever come across travelling Russians, you'll realise that he is big, bald and brutish. They sat at a table quite close to us and generally engaged in polite conversation with the child that was at their table. Half way through the week, the boy disappeared. The last evening Boris was very agitated indeed, and you couldn't help but feel that one wrong word and your skull would be crushed.
8. The cast of waitresses...all lovely, helpful and permanently smiling (not in an American way). Some things got lost in translation. One said to me "You make me very happy" which was not half as inappropriate as it seems here.
9. Leopold The Lion. Our waiter. Possibly the most nervous man in the world.
10. The Barman. The Boy thought he was grumpy. The rest of us thought he was very pleasant.
11. The Swiss Family Robinson. Guests on the other table near us. She was also beautifully coiffured. Not an eyelash out of place. He wore either a sleeveless yellow cardigan, or one with sleeves. As he was 70, it prevented me wearing my own yellow cardigans. That was the only reason.
12. Sleeping Beauty. The Cat's Mother rarely, if ever, made it down to breakfast before the rest of us had finished. She doesn't ski, so would spend her mornings and afternoons reading in one of the mountain cafes. One suspects that gluhwein was inhaled. We were grateful for her attendance and good humour.
13. The Irish Family. Lovely as they were, we couldn't help but feel that making their four-year old sit down for dinner at 8.00 after a long day on the slopes was a mistake. It may have been his catawailing and crying that gave us the clue.
14. The Boy. Our final ski instructor. Yes, I'm pleased to say (chest puffed out) that the ski school were desperate to take him on and verbally offered him a job for next ski season...his gap year is probably all organised. And I might get cheap ski-lessons too.