Thursday 7 March 2024


Back in August of last year I went to Chamonix with some good friends - Charlie, Ben and JT. Andy, the fifth member of the gang wasn't able to make it. We've known each for about a million years, or it seems that way. Since the start of University more or less, which is coming up to a horrendous 30 years ago. Half a lifetime, although I think the actual milestone being celebrated was 25 years since we all graduated. We met up for similar reasons in Zermatt in 2018, I'm not sure why mountains are involved. I think Charlie just likes them! 

We're all arts graduates, none of your STEM nonsense here. All four of us studied French in some way, combining it with other things. For Charlie and I that was Management Studies, and ensured a year away at a French Business School. We chose the South of France, lived together, and had a thoroughly marvellous if rather un-academic year. Ben added classics, and taught in a school in the sud-ouest during the same year, and in fact we met up a few times as Montpellier and Dax are not hugely distant in the grand scheme of things. JT went to Canada I think, he was always ambitious like that. So nearly three decades have passed and we are all still alive and broadly doing OK, let's meet up somewhere and some fun. Mountains anyone? Yes, mountains will do. 

Ben and I arrived first even though we were supposed to arrive last. JT and Charlie's earlier  flight was cancelled, whereas our later flight was not. In the ensuing chaos Charlie ended up on the next flight out the following morning, but somehow JT missed that boat (well, plane) and didn't travel until the following day by which point we were probably over the half-way point! Transport woes did not end there but I can save that for later. 

Ben and I had a riotous journey. Even though we managed to get there on the correct day our flight was really quite delayed which meant we were able to spend a lot more time in the airport lounge than originally planned. Seeing as we had the time we started with a few drinks. After working up an appetite at the bar we then had a very leisurely multi-course dinner and then moved on to after dinner drinks. Lots of after dinner drinks. We continued the after dinner drinks on the plane too and were pretty well oiled by the time we arrived in Geneva where our transfer was waiting. This is a rare event in my life, and pretty rare in Ben's too - we are normally serious people who are not stupid. On this occasion however..... I make make no apologies, we had not seen each other for a long time and despite the sad news that our travelling companions were not with us we had a lot of fun.

The next morning we were quite in need of some cool mountain air for some reason..... Up the cable car to Brévent it is then! What a view! What. A. View. I now remember why we come to the mountains. I am not a skier by the way, I tried it a couple of times in my youth and never really enjoyed it, I just found it boring and painful. Walking in the mountains in the summer however, well that's just an excellent use of time, despite my near certain tendency to be crushed by patellar tendonitis at the drop of a hat. 

Charlie met us halfway up the mountain at some point in the late morning. The band is getting back together. We went on a short walk during which my legs behaved perfectly, or did they crap out? I can't remember. Actually maybe they did let me down? Anyway, we were together again and it was all very pleasant. This is the type of friendship where even if you don't see each other for months or years it is as if time has stood still when you do get back together. I am sure you know what I am talking about. In short it's great. That evening we consumed a hundred-weight of cheese and then attempted to replicate the previous evening's antics in various bars in Chamonix, pretty successfully I might add.

The next day JT arrived reasonably early and we went up the other side of the valley to the Mer de Glace. The others are in much better shape - less Burgundy I expect - and marched up there. I could barely walk so was forced to take the red train a little later after having a nice walk birding around the town on the flat. Chamonix was gearing up for an ultra-marathon, a gruelling course where you run around the Alps day and night. For seriously fit people only, I was content just to watch these perfect humans wander round the town as they got ready.

In common with many other glaciers the Mer de Glace has retreated so far in the face of climate change that it is now a Mer de Pebble where Glace once was, but in any event the weather was pretty filthy, with cloud obscuring most of the view. We all took the train down, and back in the town the weather was nice enough to sit and have lunch outside. With Sparrows. We went for another walk along the river, the boys being kind to my legs. Very bizarre whatever this tendon is, I can walk perfectly happily either uphill or on the flat, but a single step downhill is agony once it has gone. We then repaired to the roof-top hot tub of our hotel and consumed a series of colourful drinks. This is what old guys do apparently, sit around and get pinker and more wrinkly. In the evening we sought out yet more cheese (although I passed and had something else) and then spent the rest of the evening in a very loud bar pretending we were a lot younger than we were. We fooled no-one.

Our final day and my knee still did not allow for strenuous descents so I chilled out whilst the boys climbed Mont Blanc or something. JT had had to leave already but Charlie, Ben and I had a leisurely lunch and then watched some of the superhumans complete the course which happened to finish just outside our hotel. They had been running through the night and to be fair most of them looked like it. Incredible though. Soon it was time to go, our decadent long weekend was over, and so we took a taxi back down to Geneva and had a walk around the lake until our flight home to London left. If it left that is. UK Air traffic control was having some kind of meltdown and we were not sure what was going to happen. More on that later, as it had a significant impact on my next trip and I had a decision to make. Still, a wonderful few days. Already looking forward to 2028.

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