This is blogger Boris calling from the slopes
I am very sorry not to have done my blog before sloping off.
Here is the profoundest thought that has hit me on the pistes of Austria.
Many things have hit me on the pistes.
Drunken Dutch snowboarders.
My own skis.
My children’s skis.
But this is the nearest thing to an economic or political pensée, and it concerns CHOICE.
We were standing at the top of some icy peak only a few hours ago, my friend Dr Justin Ruisbroek of Utrecht, and our ski instructor Chris. We were waiting tensely for our instructions – bend the knees, press the shin against the front of the boot, and all that kind of thing. We were like greyhounds waiting for the off. We were like mambas poised to strike. We were determined to do it to the mountain, before the mountain could do it to us.
Around us the clouds had parted. The sun shone on the snowy vastness. We stared over the lip of that black run and in that moment it was though all nature held her breath. There was not even the cheep of a chough or the croak of a mountain marmoset. It seemed the loudest noise, as we prepared to risk our necks, was the noise of our blood shooshing in our ears.
And then, quite suddenly, without any warning at all, there came from the breast pocket of our instructor’s jacket a small but familiar noise, and after much fumbling with his gloved hand there fell to the snow in front of him – yes, you guessed it, a mobile phone.
Chris then began a long and animated conversation in German with a fellow instructor, and it must be said that the excitement and mystery of the occasion was dissipated.
We must face reality. The mobile has changed completely the logistics of the skiing holiday. We now have an almost infinite ability to vary our plans and our preferences. We can start the day with a plan to meet Susie and Hugo and the kiddies at the Hospiz restaurant at St Christof, and so we send them all kinds of text messages to sort it out.
And then one of the kiddies will develop spaghetti legs, and need to go home, and Susie and Hugo will wonder if they could possibly ask Maria, who is in theory skiing with us, whether she could take the kid back to the chalet. But Maria is currently on another side of the mountain having a lesson from Ulla the other ski instructor, so we get on the mobile to Ulla, and Ulla passes the instructions on to Maria, and for five minutes or so it seems that everything is sorted out.
And then someone remembers that we have forgotten to book the restaurant, and that since it is a lovely day we are unlikely to get a table outside, and so someone gets on the mobile to the restaurant, and discovers after much shouting in German that our worst fears have been realised, and that the place is full. So it is then necessary to get back on the mobile to Hugo and Susie and break the bad news, and at the same time to work out another venue, and then of course someone will have to get hold of Maria, who will be coming back from the chalet and hoping to have lunch.
Try looking at your mobile after you have sorted out one of these trivial questions. You will have made and received about 15 calls, and they will not have been cheap. Up there in the ether greedy satellites are gratefully receiving the torpid details of your endlessly revised arrangements, and charging a whacking great fee, and then spanging your bellowed negotiations all the way back to the UK, where your own mobile operator charges his own socking fee before pinging the tedious nonsense all the way back to the satellite currently over the Austrian alps, so that a friend of yours on the other side of the same mountain can decide more easily when and how and with whom to have lunch.
By the time you finally take the mobile from your hot ear, you find that you have been at it for half an hour, or more!
And just as you are putting on your gloves and adjusting your goggles and pushing off for the rendezvous the blasted phone goes again and someone else is saying, scrub that, why don’t we meet at the Edelweiss Bar at Gampen 2600!
Aaargh! Are we not all, my friends, in the grip of a slight insanity? These mobiles have added greatly to the flexibility of our lives. They have increased choice. But have they really increased freedom?
Would it not be blissful just to be make an arrangement in the morning and stick to it, and to be left in the mountains to ski?
Would it not be better to be able to go up in a chairlift, and look at the view, and to be reminded of Pascal’s line about how la silence eternelle de ces espaces infinies m’effraie, and not to have the awful yodel of the Vodafone in your pocket?
My point is that we can sometimes end up more free, if we have a bit less freedom of choice.
Never forget that they shot Lawrence of Arabia on location, in the desert, with only one landline.