Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Skiing in Zell am See

Snow clearer on roof in Zell am See, AustriaI spent Christmas in Austria, skiing at Zell am See, an attractive town tucked between an enormous lake and a great mountain.

It was the first time I have been abroad at Christmas and that was an odd experience; the Austrians treat Christmas Eve as their "Christmas Day" and even that seemed low-key compared to Christmas in Britain.

Of course I did all the usual Christmas things – as well as enjoying Zell am See skiing to its full. I had fun skiing, despite being atrocious at it.

To be fair, I was no worse than when I took it up two years ago at Obergurgl but that did not stop me from bruising my big toes so badly they went black - and cutting up my ankles and shins.

My instructor Gavin – a country lad from Shropshire – was completely unfazed that I was virtually a complete beginning and fairly hopeless.

He optimistically took me up the mountain to watch me fall down blue and red slopes, struggling to turn those skis, awkward mothers that they are, especially on any kind of incline!

It had clearly snowed heavily in Zell am See before we arrived but, after that, the snow in the town had melted, turning to horrible slush in the rain and then dry streets, and, on the pistes, the snow-making machines toiled all day and all night to retain their white overcoat.

My ski group was great. Some of them were almost as prone to disaster as me, but braver, throwing themselves down steep inclines with substantial jumps at the bottom, knowing it could only end one way - in a crumpled crash.

I fell over so many times I lost count, and with such comical effect that even snowboarders would stop to have a good laugh and help me back into my skis.

Nightlife in Zell am See was varied.

The best places to hang were Greens, the Dutch-dominated Slam Cafe, and the Diele bar, which had the best dance floor and tunes.

I did not like B52's, not the friendliest of bars, nor Crazy Daisy's, which was remarkably uncrazy and dull on the two nights I dropped in.

For afternoon tea, the Imperial Bar at the Grand Hotel was very fine, and unusally reasonably priced.

And at the top of the mountain, the madcap oldie DJ who decapitates champagne bottles with a sabre was worth a look.

Zell am See is an expensive place to visit, especially with the euro and the pound virtually at level pegging (once commission had been paid).

At the town's Irish bar Flannagan's - conveniently situated beside our apartment - a pint of Guinness was almost a fiver. Likewise, coffee and a snack in a cafe.

And a lunch and a beer on the slopes would set you back 10 to 15 quid. And don't expect much or any change from 100 quid for a day's skiing all in, once lessons, ski hire and ski pass are all paid for.

Skiing is a great break, though. Faced with the terror the slopes and ski lifts, your usual concerns are soon forgotten!

I have been back three days now, trying to tie up the loose ends of 2008.

It has been a pretty good year overall; I managed to escape Leamington Spa after two solid years of tunnelling, and am loving it back in London.

Not surprisingly, I have not spent as much time writing poetry this year as in each of the previous three years.

All the same, my long narrative poem is coming along - and I am resolving to try to get my work published in 2009.

I feel like I have always wanted to write but have found myself at the fringes of the writing world.

Although I was successful as a journalist and had hundreds of thousands of words in print in national newspapers and magazines, my attempt to get a novel published was not a success and I am yet to publish any poetry or other work on anything but the worldwideweb.

Maybe that does not matter and I should be to content to write for myself.

2008 has been a difficult year in some ways. As you get older, woes pile up. When you are young, you simply don't notice the down side to the same degree.

Not that I am complaining. Life is still sweet.

And I had some good poetry gigs in 2008, in Oxford, Leicester and the Poetry Cafe in London - and some excellent ones at Lewes Poetry, especially with Attila the Stockbroker, Dreadlockalien, Justin Rhyme, Catherine Smith and Lorna Meehan, at the Lewes Arms, Lewes, East Sussex.

Though I was very sad to hear of the poet Adrian Mitchell's death.

Mitchell, the original alternative poet laureate, was a great ambassador for live poetry.

I recall him performing in a room in the Royal Oak pub in Lewes - as part of Lewes Lit Live festival two years ago. He was awesome; a mesmerising performer even on his 75th birthday.

Afterwards I approached him to thank him and mentioned that I did a little poetry.

He was hugely encouraging and it was partly because of that and his performance that I was inspired to launch a live poetry club in Lewes, Lewes Poetry at the Lewes Arms.

The baton was passed.

I was also saddened to read of my favourite playwright Harold Pinter's death.

My immediate reaction was not, as usual, to read the obituaries, but instead to re-read three Pinter players, The Homecoming, No Man's Land, and Landscape.

I love their use of language, sportiveness and sense of dramatic surprise.

No Man's Land brings back happy memories because I saw Harold Pinter perform in it (in the role of Hirst) at the Almeida Theatre, Islington in London, in 1992, I think, and Landscape, because I lit it as an post-graduate at University College, Cardiff, in 1984. (I had never done a play with so many rapid lighting changes.)

Pinter and Mitchell. Two great men.

I look forward to seeing you at Lewes Poetry in the new year - and wish you all a successful and poetic 2009!

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