Skiing and The Archers

Pip’s going skiing for Christmas.  Oh no ….

It is easy to feel you are operating in a vacuum, and usually that feeling is accurate. Occasionally however, your words make a small ripple.  It happened to me when I wrote about The Archers.

I won’t go into chapter and verse, but the gist is as follows. On a Thursday one of the young rustics mentioned that he had been invited to join his girlfriend on her family ski holiday to Switzerland.  His mother came up with various suggestions, mostly bad, as to how he should prepare for the holiday and make a success of it.  I wrote an article with some alternative suggestions.  It was published on Sunday and on the Monday evening edition of The Archers I heard to my amazement and intense gratification that one of my suggestions had been incorporated in the storyline verbatim.  How cool was that?  A storm of at least two congratulatory emails landed in my box overnight.  ‘I didn’t know you were a script writer for The Archers,’ and much more in the same vein.

Skiing makes rare appearances in popular culture, and the plot justification is always the same.  It is the harbinger of disaster, and serves to illustrate the ruinous consequences of misplaced social aspiration.  Skiing is lazy shorthand for people who have ideas above their station, and over-reach themselves socially or financially or both.  It works very neatly, because literally and figuratively they are heading for a fall.

Wise heads shake.  “Skiing’s not fer the loiks of uz” the  rustic’s pigman father intoned.  His snobbish wife would not listen, needless to say, taking the view that maxing out the credit card to pay for lessons on a dry ski slope would be an investment amply repaid in Hunt Ball invitations and social advancement.

The Full Monty is a set text.  In depressed Sheffield, the white collar Tom Wilkinson character dare not confess to his wife that he is out of work.  In the cloud cuckoo land of her bijou semi she continues to cherish Emma Bovary-like aspirations of exotic holidays and spends her days leafing through ski brochures.  ‘Skiing! Chuffing Nora!’

What is it about skiing that taints it with the whiff of moral turpitude?

Ministers of State abandon all thought of skiing until they are safely out of office. Their advisers understand that if anything untoward happened while they were away skiing, the red tops and the opposition would rise as one in a frenzy of moral outrage.  If they were walking, climbing or cycling, the nation would applaud their vigour.  But skiing …. In The Present Climate?    No further evidence required, to demonstrate that you are nothing but a filthy rich toff, hopelessly out of touch and with no idea of the price of milk.

As anyone who has tried it knows, skiing long ago lost any social cachet it may have had.  As with seaside resorts and golf clubs there are more and less posh destinations, but the activity itself does not discriminate.

Our plumber works hard, weekends included, and takes a month off every winter to tour the Alps with his mate and their snowboards.  A gas fitter who came to see us in South London kept his next customer waiting for ages while he talked me through his ski holidays, of which there were many.  The bloke at the off-license took the wife to Banff with Crystal for three hundred and sixty quid – how about that for value?   The fact that it was too cold to set foot out of doors on three of the six days of his stay did not seem to affect his perception of value.

These people do not ski to better their social standing or impress their friends.  They do it for fun. Skiing is an exciting, liberating sport and a great holiday. Expensive?   Yes, there are some hefty fixed costs to do with the activity itself, but the framework of the holiday – travel and accommodation – can be as cheap or expensive as you want.

One of these days, a young character in a soap is going to do a Billy Elliott and announce that he has seen someone on YouTube doing back flips on top of Mont Blanc and has decided he is going to roll up his sleeping bag, hitch hike to the Alps and ski for the winter, sleeping in a hostel, earning money by chopping firewood, delivering croissants, carrying bags, cleaning lavatories, washing up, whatever it takes.  Then we will know that someone on the script writing team understands.

As for future plot developments in The Archers, is it too much to hope that Pip will fall for a thirty year old ski bum and decide not to come home?  And the sooner Will and Ed put themselves and us out of their and our misery, the better. They could go skiing, race one another down the mountain, and collide.  Having – stand by for clunky  health & safety message – failed to wear a helmet.  Then Emma could compose a plaintive new version of Twinkle’s anthem for her lost biker boyfriend Terry, enchant a panel of talent show judges and fritter the proceeds of her short-lived fame on the junk food that Georgie and Keira like, not the own-brand muck.



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