Late spring 2008
For at least the previous decade, every holiday we had been on as a family (other than at my parents’ holiday house in Norfolk) had been because I’d been writing a travel article for some publication or other. For obvious reasons these have to be unusual, interesting and not written about by all the other journos wanting to go on a similar jaunt. Suits me. Since I get to do the work, I get to make the suggestions... and have lost count of the whacky and gruelling ridings junkets I’ve put my family through just because I love being on the back of a horse.
Generally speaking therefore, for obvious reasons, skiing trips are off limits. Unless you happen to be the ed-in-chief and bag one for yourself.
By extreme good fortune – sorry: my utterly stunning genius – however, I had successfully pitched an article about a Girls’ Only Ski Clinic in Morzine. With Serena as photographer.
The two of us taking Bink as our guest.
Years earlier, I had prayed that one day Bink would be well enough to ride and ski again. She had been competent at both as a child. Both had been lost as she entered adolescence. Though whether because she had grown out of other people’s tastes, or because she was too ill to enjoy anything at all, was hard to say.
Now, I told myself, she was surely well enough again. Look at her.
We prepared for the trip with excitement. Dusted off ski suits. Went to be fitted with new boots. Dug old skis out of storage.
And when we arrived, were greeted by our hosts, briefed round the roaring fire, toasted our half-week away with pink champagne.
(And that first evening, as it happens, Bink got the vile and vicious text from the other side of the world saying she wasn’t fit to be among Christians, given everything she’d been accused of as victim of such sordid sexual allegations in court. Serena and I were shocked; even more when she told us this was only one of a string of similar such. Some of whom from a man who, months earlier, had wanted to marry her. We urged her to ignore it as best she could: the next day we would be on the sunny slopes...)
The skiing tuition was based on the principles of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (positive thinking, to you and me) and the construct of my newspaper article was whether this might help Bink’s mental heath.
It would be a miracle indeed if our instructor could give me positive thinking about my amplitude and edging, my schussing and traversing, my snowploughing and steezing. I’m rubbish at skiing, always have been, and only do it to spend time with my family. I think the last time we’d been on the slopes together, before that Girls’ Ski Clinic, was when Serena had been chalet-girling in the Italian Alps and I’d been eight months pregnant with Rose, and took Alex and Ben out to spend a week with her… and then completely lost my nerve, and stood at the top of what, I swear, was a completely vertical red run, sobbing in utter terror for ten minutes after the three of them had all zoomed to the bottom in moments; and then watched dear Alex walk painstakingly all the way back up, presumably on sideways skis, to comfort me and spend half an hour gently guiding me all the way down.
That’s when Serena told my ski instructor, who’d had me in his group all week, that I was pregnant (she didn’t confess by how much) and he had a very vocal and extremely Italian panic attack all of his own…
In those four days of the Girls’ Ski Clinic, Serena and I saw Bink skiing like a wild thing.
Enthusiastic, reckless, utterly fearless. We watched with amazement as she bounced madly over moguls. Laughed with astonishment as she skidded into the air and swished inches between ragged boulders. One evening, she told us over the Après ski that she has skied all day with her boots unbuckled and hadn’t even realised until she came to take them off.
What joyous abandon. We all laughed together.
And yes, by the end of it even I was dropping down sheer, cliff-like – I tell you, completely vertical – red runs with near-confidence. Even almost enjoying myself.
Never mind Bink: it certainly helped my mental health.
It was much later – several years, I believe – before Bink told us the truth.
We were having a conversation about anti-depressants. How is it possible that one of the side effects can be suicide risk, when the whole idea is to cheer you up?
Easy, Bink said. She had sailed within a hair’s breadth of suicide herself, she told us, as a result of anti-depressants. They dull you to reality, she explained. You lose touch with the consequences of your actions. You could kill easily yourself, without even understanding that’s what you’re doing.
Take that time, she said, when the three of us went skiing together. I was taking insane risks. I had no idea.
We stared at her. We assumed it was joie de vivre.
“Not at all. I was simply out of it. I could have had a terrible accident: don’t you remember my missing rocks by a whisker? Even, yes, killed myself. I had no concept of the dangers.
“They’re extremely hazardous, some of those drugs. I simply didn’t have a clue what I was doing...”