I’m so enjoying the Winter Olympics. I have to admit, I have limited affection for the Summer ones, being a dedicated non-athlete. But the panache of the fabulous athletes on snow and ice is a joy to watch and I have been watching every minute I can spare – and the highlights too, so that I can enjoy the best bits again.
I’ve written before about the long hard winter of 1963. If it had just been a few degrees colder, that’s what the poor South West of the country would have had, rather than the floods – which wouldn’t feel better but actually would be; at least until the thaw. On the whole, I was a moderate snow-lover. One of my earliest memories is the holiday we took touring Europe when I was five years old. Seeing the Austrian Alps was overwhelming and I cried – though I got over it. There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting eating an orange, dressed in a Fairisle pullover.
This was our my father’s car in 1959, and we flew it over to Ostend, I think, from Southend. In those days, you could fly your car over to Europe rather than take it by ferry. I know we visited Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and Austria, but I’m afraid that it’s only Austria that really stuck in my childish memory because I loved it so much, notwithstanding tears at the first sight of so much snow – I think it was the blinding sun that did it.
The car was a two-seater and there were four of us. I was five and I should think my sister had her eleventh birthday while we were away – it was the Easter holidays anyway and her birthday is mid-April. I sat on my mother’s lap and a little platform was made for my sister to squat on in the middle behind and between the two front seats. I suspect that my father and I were the only comfortable ones – I was a small, light child, but my mother said I grew heavier and more bony by the day.
I was such a cute little child, not unusually pretty but, with my long blonde hair and winsome expression, people were drawn to me. We stayed at the Hotel Sport in Innsbruck – could this be it? I’m not sure, I’d have to find a photo. The staff were enchanted by this shy little girl and made a great fuss of me. I don’t suppose we were there long, but I loved it. I’ve never been back to Innsbruck since and am afraid to now – I don’t mean literally fearful, but an idealised memory from so long ago would surely be shattered – I don’t know, that looks silly, now I write it down.
The staff called me Alice – I’ve been known as Alice for much of my life; it’s the long blonde hair that does it, or rather did. I had it cut off some 25 years ago and was able to go around incognito for a few weeks afterwards. No one recognised me until I spoke. The next year, our parents left us in Holland with our au pair’s family, and retraced their footsteps to an extent (more about that another day). When they arrived at the Hotel Sport, they were greeted with indignation. “Where’s Alice?!!” They sent back a big bag of chocolates for me and Wink, which were delicious, except for the coffee creams, aka coffee slimes. They stayed in the cupboard for months until someone finally threw them away.