So it turns out that I can do the splits. Both ways. I just got back from a white week* skiing in the Dolomites where I wowed everyone with my stylish snow plough and creative ways of crashing to the ground, despite not ever exceeding 2 miles per hour. To have an idea of what I looked like, imagine an ostrich on skis wearing someone else's badly-fitting clothes.
We were staying just outside Cortina. For me, Cortina is an old school Essex-boy car, maybe with fluffy dice and probably with 'Sharon&Darren Foreva' written across the windscreen. However, Cortina is also a very chi-chi ski resort in North-East Italy. It's the kind of place where B-list celebrities get photographed sipping champagne in leopard print dresses at parties thrown by aging playboys. If Ford Cortinas are tacky kitch, then Cortina the ski resort is rich kitch. If you don't have the right diamante sun glasses, blond hair extensions and D&G ski gloves then forget it. (Remember that as a rule in Italy, the concept of kitch doesn't exist - mothers take their kids to school wearing the kind of leather boots that you usually only see in S&M porn. This is, after all, the country that gave birth to Roberto Cavalli.) On the slopes, this means that the ten-year-olds whizzing past me were not only laughing at my potruding bottom but also at my ancient borrowed ski trousers, rain coat and €3 woolly hat from the market. It was like being the geeky kid at school all over again.
Surprisingly, by the end of the week and with the help of Alfonso, my fantastic ski instructor, I could make it down the blue slopes without posing too much of a threat to myself or those around me. Of course, I managed to end up with the only instructor over the age of 65 - I suspect my other half had a hand in making sure that was the case. Chain smoking Alfonso saw me through a couple of days of skiing in a snow storm too, which is a bit like skiing with a white sheet over your head. He even got me doing the fabled parallel turns and after that I was unstoppable (almost literally). The worst injury I got all week was when I nearly cut the top of my thumb off while chopping vegetables for soup one evening, so that's a result too.
After a week at home my knees still feel like a couple of rusty hinges and my calf muscles have only just lost that feeling of being filled with concrete, but I find myself missing my time on the slopes. I'm planning next year's trip already which I'm sure will be even more successful because (a) I know I can survive the ski lift as long as I don't get cocky and start rummaging in my pockets and (b)I now know how to casually walk in ski boots without looking like a total twit.
*Literal translation from Italian. A week spent in the mountains using muscles you didn't know you had and humiliating yourself in front of people you pray you'll never meet again is called a 'settimana bianca'.