My Mini Prodigy

Switzerland’s an expensive place and to fund my way through the second half of my year here I got myself a boulot. Now this student finds herself in unexpected position of teacher, and in my charge a precocious, if overactive and somewhat pampered, little boy who shows me no respect but who is so utterly adorable that I can never quite bring myself to get cross during our classes.

To enter into the domestic bubble of a seven (and a half) year old’s world is quite extraordinary; a weekly reprieve from the faraway student environment of assignment stress, drunken nights, and general sordid adult affairs. I become a different person: The Tutor, who is always gentle, patient, and never curses. No four-letter words, no talk of parties (not of the kind to which I have become accustomed for the past eight or so years anyway), no concept of (reluctant or lack of) academic/professional responsibility, no music but Justin Bieber.

A world, in short, completely alien to me now, and probably to most students who don’t have younger siblings. The world of…children. It is as far from our universe as you can get; further even than those older than us. His parents, after all, are a generation more removed from their children than I am, yet they share a home environment, whereas I (and I imagine most of my peers) break a cold sweat at the thought of children and domesticity. Priorities are about as polarised as you can get.

It’s disconcerting but also refreshing. Though I am by no means old, this miniature person makes me realise how much I have aged (especially having just had a birthday). So many things that make up my daily life are currently unimaginable to his untainted, carefree mind. I do not patronise the child, as that was something I was keenly aware of adults doing to me when I was small, and hated it, but I cannot speak to him like an equal either. Though he’s a cheeky little thing, he still looked sheepish and guilty today when I heard him say “shut up”. What an innocent world to live in!

Of course childhood and innocence do not (and should not) last forever, but for the moment I just cannot imagine this little mite growing tall and possessing a deep voice and girlfriends. He stands at about my waist height and cannot even reach the sink to do his own dishes; I can carry him in one arm. He’s a link to a time that seems an eternity away, and a reminder that whatever nefarious “grown-up” matters I am now conscious of, whatever base goings-on I am privy to, there does exist adjacently a not-quite-conscious consciousness, as yet untouched.

So the learning goes both ways; indeed, I now know more about Beyblade than could ever be useful to me in the forseeable future. I’d say I’m tutoring a pretty savvy kid, but nevertheless you become aware, as an adult, of the sheer responsibility of having a child in your care, of the kind of influence and inculcation you can so easily, even unconsciously, transmit. Even if he does speak three languages, and corrects your French pronunciation.

I used to think that I couldn’t stand children and had no patience for them, and it’s true that once a week is already more than enough, but aside from providing me with much-needed moolah, my job is also in a way refreshing. NOT that I am about to sign up to become a nursery school teacher anytime soon, but it’s nice once in a while to have a peek into a much purer, simpler world. And an excuse to play brainless internet games like car-racing together during our breaks.

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Why skiing is the sport for me. If only I knew how.

A weekend of skiing in Valais, the second time in my life, has made me an instant cripple. Thankfully I did manage to get a full two days of skiing in before I injured myself, and I was just starting to get the hang of doing bends when I took my fall. If you want to know the gory details of my incapacitation, I’m afraid my memory is rather blurred…

I have never, from the start, been afraid of falling (it was my only method of braking the very first time I skied one month ago), and maybe that was my problem. I was going way too fast, when the next thing I knew I was on my arse, and both my skis were lying a short distance away. I have no idea how they managed to detach themselves from my boots, but there you have it. Nothing worse than a sprained ankle, thankfully, but enough to have me hobbling inelegantly for the next few days.

Yet despite this, or maybe because of it, I love skiing more than ever. If I were a boy I’d describe it as an impetuous shrew I am determined to tame; the more it eludes me the more I want to master it. Skiing is such effort. You’ve got to get yourself up to a mountain just to do it for one thing. You’ve got to take a whole load of equipment, and if you’re renting it you’ve got to get it all fitted and adjusted to your size and weight. You’ve got to have warm waterproofs, ideally a helmet and sunglasses or goggles, and definitely insurance. Then you ascend slowly on a skilift just to whiz back down at double the speed it took to get up there.

It’s so worth it, though. I think skiing is my favourite sport, minus the minor fact that I can’t actually do it (yet!). Firstly, the beautiful natural setting. You can’t help feeling refreshed and at peace when you look around at the snow-covered mountains and trees and charming wooden chalets, whilst breathing the unpolluted Alpine air. Sure, that peace and calm vanishes when you’re careering down a slope with zero control over your speed and a steep drop to near-certain death looming to your right, but you get the idea.

Then there’s the anonymity. With every inch of everyone covered in bulky layers and hidden behind sunglasses, skiing is a fairly incognito sport, and that suits me just fine. Especially when I’m biting the snow. The last thing you need to worry about is what you look like, because in reality there’s no such thing as stylish ski clothes, and everyone looks like an idiot, especially when trying to walk in ski boots on concrete, always a stupid sight. Yet there’s nothing cooler than gliding lithely down a moutainside on skis or snowboard, creating pretty tracks in the snow.

Then there’s the physicality of it. Skiing takes a lot of energy and exertion, and you can feel it in every inch of your body at the end of the day. Guaranteed good night’s sleep. Then there’s the danger factor. As I already mentioned, sliding at high speed down a mountain be freaking scary, but it’s also, if you’re in control of it, FUN. Finally there’s the inexorable nature of the sport. Once you’re up there on the mountain, there’s really no way but down, and there’s no backing out early, you’ve got to go all the way. Either that, or you stay there, because there’s no other exit or means of transport. Unless you get airlifted, but that’s generally for if you’ve broken something. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared, you are more or less obliged to see it to the end, which is character-building (or destroying, depending on your experience…)

It’s basically just epic, in every sense of the word. And if you can’t ski, as I wasn’t able to after twisting my ankle, at least try sledding. It’s incredible fun, and much easier to control than skiiing or snowboarding. Though there were some alarmingly steep death drops on the sledding trail, which gave me and my sledding partner pause. I recall interrogating a man in a saucer sled whom we met on the slope, to check if the path was REALLY meant to be used for sledders; it seemed ridiculously dangerous. He was all casual, “oui, oui!” and we watched him hurtle off into the distance, then proceed to fall off his sled, several times. Not reassuring.

All in all a great weekend. It was nice to escape to the mountains for a bit, and I certainly see the appeal of this highly popular sport in Switzerland. Possibly most surprising of all was the fact that I didn’t have access to a computer, the Internet, nor Facebook the entire time. And I didn’t even notice.