I have never experienced such a long, continuous blizzard, and I’ve been coming here for 63 years. The ski lifts are closed, as are the hotels, and it’s been coming down for a week non-stop. My Portuguese handyman Fernando now lives on his snow plough, clearing the private road that leads to the house, as useless a task as trying to bail out the Titanic. By now I should be in London, enjoying my new rented house in Glebe Place. Instead I’m housebound and snowed in, a modern Prisoner of Zenda without the Ruritanian uniforms.
My only worries are the possibility of an avalanche, and my son’s insistence that he ski every day. Nowadays, that boy simply ignores anything I say and drives away muttering about old people being scared. If I could catch him, I’d teach him a sharp lesson. The trouble is he’s among the fastest skiers in the region, and I’m now among the slowest. He also has a nasty habit of leaving his dog with me and disappearing for the day, turning me into a walker, or whatever it is that people who walk dogs for money are called.
This is Mother Nature giving us her middle finger. The lifts have stopped in France, Italy and Switzerland, the resorts are closed, and she’s dumping on us as if this were Stalingrad. I don’t blame her. Up until 150 years ago, she was left alone in the Alps to organise her flora and fauna. Birds and furry things were undisturbed and when there was thunder and lightning the two-legged creatures below thought they were dragons spitting fire at each other. Then the Brits started to venture higher and higher and the Swiss built hospitals and hotels. And then came the rich tourists, and the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan. Mass skiing is to Alpine nature what speedboats and those ghastly jet-skis are to once tranquil sandy beaches.
Two hundred years ago, as the Greeks rose up against their Turkish oppressors, the first Gstaad inn also rose up. It was made out of wood, of course, and the village’s first post office was located there, so the inn was named the Posthotel. It is my favourite restaurant by far, and I’ve been friendly with three generations of the Widmer family who have owned it for a century. On Friday evenings, carpenters and farmers gather at the communal table and create a nostalgic atmosphere with their yodelling and beer drinking. Papa Hemingway spent some time there when he climbed with skins and slid down the Wasserngrat after emptying a couple of bottles of Swiss white wine, but when, years ago, I asked for a plaque to be put up, they said that Monsieur Hemingway lived in Rougemont and rarely visited. I dropped it. They were thinking of my friend Jack Heminway, without the ‘g’, who did live nearby but preferred the Palace.
I lunched every 1 January at the Posthotel with the King of Greece and Aleko Goulandris, a tradition that was decades-long and ended with Aleko’s death a few years ago. Those were great lunches because I would arrive having slept very little, and sometimes on no sleep at all, to the great amusement of my two friends. Champagne was always waiting on ice and it always revived a weary New Year’s Eve celebrant. Alas, one more tradition down the drain.
With three days to go before my departure for London, I gave a dinner party in honour of Tim Hanbury, who was not present. The Cornet twins were, however, and their mother literally owns Stella Artois, of which Timmy has drunk a minimum 20 cans per day for the past 30 years and has not put on a milligram of weight. The twins want to hire him as the perfect advert, but I told them that Timmy owns two to three million acres and hence is independently wealthy. Mark Lloyd, Anthony Bingham, Lara Livanos, Patricia Valentin and my son and heir made eight for dinner, but everyone present, except my boy, had been vaccinated or had had the virus. This is the good news.
The bad news is that I’m in trouble yet again with Charlie the driver. You may recall that he and his wife did not appreciate my joke about all the hookers who knew him by his first name when he waited in a tiny hamlet while I went up by mini-train to Wengen. Last week, as he was taking me to Berne for my second shot, he noticed a pretty French maid in my kitchen and commented that he found her very attractive. ‘As she does you,’ I told him. That got him all agitated and he asked what I based that on. ‘She commented how attractive you are for a mature man,’ I told him. ‘And what did you say to her?’ said Charlie, gulping for air. ‘Well, I told her that, yes, lots of women found you attractive, but you were true to your boyfriend and never strayed as you are 100 per cent homosexual.’
Charlie fell for my tale and lost it. While gesticulating wildly, he almost went off the road. ‘I didn’t want to have any trouble with your wife,’ I told him, and then went in for my second shot.
Now I’m on my way to London and the loving arms of my wife. But Charlie is making faces and the French maid thinks I’m a stirrer.