2001-02 (FEBRUARY, 2001)

Dallas, Texas - United States

Here for work for two whole weeks this time (which included two weekends, as well).

I arrived on the Tuesday afternoon and made my way directly to the hotel. I managed to get my old suite back (180° balcony, 4 phones, 2 TVs, etc.), which was most excellent. I was in to work first thing on Wednesday morning and plodded through until Friday. It turned out that I wasn't the only visitor in the Dallas office at that time - other's included Peter (an Oz living in NZ), Russell (Oz), Clinton (South Africa) and Linda (an NZ living in Oz).

On Saturday, Peter, Russell, Clinton and myself went on a 'mall crawl' for the day. I stocked up on t-shirts from Gap.

On Sunday Russell and myself went into downtown Dallas and made our way over to the Texas School Book Depository Museum - bloody excellent museum, too. Next we went to the 'Galleria', a huge shopping mall on the outskirts of Downtown. I kept expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger to walk past carrying a shotgun disguised as a box of long-stem roses.

Another week began.

My birthday was on Tuesday, and I was looked after very well. Tina bought the largest box of doughnuts ever seen into the office. These were just too good - I had to limit myself to one every half and hour - you know, for the sake of my health. That evening a big group of us went out to 'Humperdinks', a bar near the office. I proceeded to make my way through the entire Margarita menu (a word to the wise: do not order any drink called 'Mega Super Strawberry Margarita' - these are just plain foul), pausing momentarily to try a shot of something called Goldschlager (again, pass on this if you get the chance). At around 21:00, a handful of us made our way back to Jim & Tammy's house (via Tina's house to collect her dog, Cisco). Once there, Tina proceeded to show me how to make a real margarita. Then Tammy insisted on showing me how to make a real margarita with Contreau. Needless to say, my head hurt a little bit the next day - but hey, you're only 30 once (thank God).

The rest of the week dribbled by.

On Friday a group of us went over to Tina's house for beer and pizza. Nice.

I didn't do much on my second weekend. A trip to Fort Worth was abandoned, due to the weather, in favour of a late (and long) breakfast.

On my last night in town a group of us went out for dinner and from there to a real cowboy bar ('Top Rail'). I have never felt more out of place than in that room! Once we each had a beer in our hands, the guys presented me with a real, black, two-X, Bradford cowboy hat - a most excellent present! To earn it I had to dance with a genuine cowgirl. Unfortunately my inability to 'two-step' ("what do you mean you can't two-step?!") nor 'slow dance' ("can't do that either - but it's just like a 'two-step'!?") meant that I was let off with only a minute or two of shuffling around the dance floor. From 'Top Rail' we migrated across the road to the much more familiar feel of a cheap, dingy bar. A bloody good night!

I flew home on Wednesday afternoon after a warm farewell from all in the Dallas office. One thing you can say about Texans is that they are extremely hospitable and friendly!

Skiing - Chamonix, France

Day 1: Up at 02:00. Collected by Lou & Richard at 02:30 and driven to Lou's sister's (Suzanne's) house. The mini-van arrived at 03:00 and we were all packed in and ready to go by 03:15. The next 20 hours were a bit of a blur but went something like this: sleep; speeding ticket; sleep; Chunnel; sleep; French services; sleep; peage; sleep; sweets; sleep; Novotel; ski gear; into Chamonix town; lift passes; food (pizza and raclette); hotel bar; bed; sleep.

Day 2: Up at 07:15 and down for breakfast by 08:00. In the van by 09:00 and off to Le Tour to 'get us all back into it'. Andy and I spent the morning together, going over a few basics to get Andy started. She quickly mastered Chris' 3 tenets of skiing: 1. Point down hill = moving, point across the hill = stopped; 2. You are never more than 2 hours away from a plate of hot chips, 1 hour away from a hot chocolate, and 30 seconds away from a chocolate bar; 3. One word - 'edges'. Lunch consisted of saucisson et frites (sausages and chips). The afternoon was spent with the boys, eating up the blue and red runs of Le Tour, whilst Andy spent the afternoon in ski school with an instructor that spoke less than 10 words of English. We had dinner in our hotel with Lou & Richard.

Day 3: Up at 07:30 and down for breakfast by 08:00. In the van by 09:00 and off to Les Plaz for something a little more challenging. We parked at the foot of an enormous cable-car and caught it up through the cloud layer to the glorious, sun-drenched slopes. Les Plaz turned out to be without a ski school, so Andy and I returned to the bottom of the cable-car for some one-on-one tuition on the gentle slopes of the local golf course. Here Andy mastered turning well enough to ace a two gate slalom course that I constructed out of ski poles. We ascended again for lunch, and I spent the rest of the afternoon blatting around the lower blue and green runs. Upon our return to the hotel, I traded my Voikls for a slightly shorter pair of Salamon GS carving skis - something a little easier for my poor London-wasted legs to contend with. Dinner was served in The Cavern - pizza again for me.

Day 4: Back to Le Tour today. Andy was unable to get any sort of lesson today - neither group nor private - so we spent the whole day together. By 15:00 she took her first Poma (button lift) ride and snowploughed down like a pro.

Day 5: Argentière today! First up we detoured into town to book a guide for tomorrow's assault on La Vallée Blanche. Next we dropped the girls off at Le Tour and the boys (and Tracy) continued on in the van to the cable-car depot at Argentière, the base of the Plans des pistes des Grand Montets. The queue for the cable-car turned out to be large, so we caught the chair-lift instead. We took an early lunch after a relatively short mornings skiing. We had hoped to get tickets up on the upper cable-car in order to ski the Glacier d'Argentière, but it had sold out for the day. We had a glorious afternoon and finished the day with a long red run back to the base of the lower cable-car. After returning to Le Tour to collect the other half of our party (and after a small respite at our hotel) we were off again - for dinner, night skiing and night ski-carting at Le Glacier du Mont-Blanc (Les Bossons). As it turned out only Graham and I went night skiing. I took a few photos on the way down the very icy, 2.5km route. Ian, Richard, Tracy and Lorraine went night ski-carting instead, which, as it turned out, looked more fun.

Day 6: La Vallée Blanche: The skiing begins from L'Aiguille du Midi at an altitude of 3842m above sea level and takes a 22km route down the Glacier du Géant and La Vallée Blanche to vers Gare du Montenvers ou Les Planards (Chamonix). We arrived at the base of the lower cable-car at 10:00 to meet our guide and were greeted with news of the rather dire weather conditions at L'Aiguille du Midi - zero visibility, -10°C and 50 - 60km/h winds. Our guide indicated his doubts about the likelihood of our being able to ski, but offered to take us up to see the conditions first hand. The lower cable-car ascends 1282m from Chamonix town centre (1035m above sea level) to Plan de L'Aiguille (2317m above sea level). The upper cable-car ascends the further 1525m to L'Aiguille du Midi. It is hard to believe that the original cable was raised by hand. 50 mountain guides, each carrying a portion of the one-piece, 1700m long cable, spent just over 2 days lugging it up the near vertical peak - incredible. Sure enough, the conditions were pretty bad and we retired to the café to await the next cable-car down. It was 14:00 by the time we got back to the car. Richard, who had not been feeling well, asked to be dropped back at the hotel and I jumped out with him - the idea of blowing another 3 hours for the sake of getting 3 runs in at Le Tour had no appeal at that point. I bathed and read my book about Egypt (our next holiday destination) for the remainder of the afternoon.

Day 7: Last days skiing today. The weather was not too crash hot today, so I turned down a second chance at Argentière in favour of again helping Andrea at Le Tour. Our goal today was to get to the top of the second Poma lift and, with plenty of breaks for crepes and vin chaud, we succeeded! That night we dined at our hotel again (but if the service was anything to go by you would have thought we were dining at Faulty Towers).

Day 8: Back home to London today (see 'Day 1', but do it in reverse). One highlight was the incredible blizzards we had to contend with whilst coming through central France. We were home by 21:00 and went to Slurp! for a late dinner. Yum!