Pizza and Chips is a 3,000-word children’s story.
“Pizza”, said the ski instructor joining the tips of his skis together, “and chips”, he said aligning his skis side by side. “I repeat”, he said, “now watch me! Pizza” – and he described the two sides of a pizza slice with his skis again – “and chips!” Again, he placed his skis parallel.
The cloudless sky was a deep blue and the snowy slopes so white and bright they would hurt the eyes of anyone not wearing sunglasses or ski goggles. The red-uniformed ski instructor and the row of children on the gentle slope facing him in their green and orange bibs were brilliant splashes of colour on the snow like dollops of paint in a corner of a huge otherwise blank sheet of paper.
The children watched impatiently. Ludo thought that chips the size of skis would be wonderful but probably too much for him to eat on his own. Gabby giggled because the instructor was French and actually said, “cheeps” instead of “chips”.
“Who likes pizza?” asked the instructor.
“Me!” shouted the children.
“And who likes cheeps?” shouted the instructor even louder.
“Me!” shouted the children louder still and thrusting their hands in the air as though they had been asked a question in a classroom. Ludo wondered which of the two he liked more. Gabby nearly lost her balance as she tried to raise her hand higher and shout louder than the other children. She was only prevented from falling over by her ski hitting the ski of the boy next to her and making him fall over. All of the children laughed except for the angry-looking boy struggling up from the snow.
“Now, you copy me”, said the instructor. “You say, ‘pizza’ and – oop la! – you make a pizza!” He pushed the back of his skis out with his heels so the front of his skis met.
“Pizza!” shouted the children and managed to put the tips of their skis together.
“And then”, said the instructor, “you put your skis like this and you say, ‘chips’” and he brought his skis together.
“Chips!” shouted the children (except for Gabby who cheekily shouted, “cheeps!”) as they brought their skis together.
“Tres bien!” (which is French for “very good”) said the instructor. “Now, you follow me there, there and there and there”, all the time indicating with one of his ski poles where they were going to turn, “and then we stop there by the red and blue signs where your parents are waiting – do you see?”
“Yes”, said the children.
“When we turn, I shout, ‘pizza!’ and you do the pizza for the turn and when we go straight I shout, ‘chips!’ and we put the skis parallel – you understand ‘parallel’? With the skis together, yes?”
“Yes!” chorused the children.
“And you leave spaces between you. One at a time. Not all together. Yes?”
“Okay, let’s go!”
The instructor moved down the slope, a slim, beardless Father Christmas who made skiing seem very easy as he brought his skis together effortlessly after each turn. The children followed, his elves in coloured and numbered bibs, shouting “pizza!” and “chips!” and bumping into each other more often than not.
* * *
“Very good!” said Mum as she greeted Gabby and Ludo at the foot of the slope.
“Very good!” said Dad, smiling.
“Pizza! Chips! Pizza! Chips!” shouted Gabby and Ludo in competition.
“What!” exclaimed Mum and Dad and the children explained.
“We’re hungry”, said Gabby and Ludo.
“Well, what do you want to do?” asked Dad. “We can take either the blue or the red run down.”
“Blue”, said Gabby and Mum, wanting the easier way home.
“Red”, said Ludo, puffing his chest out.
“Okay”, said Dad laughing. “But are you sure you’re up for it, Ludo? It is rather steep and icy.”
Ludo nodded affirmatively. He quite liked the way his ski helmet slipped up and down his head when he did that so he did it all the more until he started to feel quite dizzy.
“Okay!” laughed Dad again, “I get the message! The girls will go down the blue and the boys down the red and we’ll meet at the restaurant all the way down at the bottom.” Dad skied a little closer to Mum. “As you’ll probably get there first, can you order for all of us?”
“Of course”, said Mum, “if you tell me what you want.”
“Pizza and chips!” said Ludo.
Gabby was too busy showing off – leaning back on her poles and on the backs of her vertical skis – to reply.
* * *
Ludo and Dad had only been skiing for about five minutes when Dad said, “Hold on, Ludo. I think we might be lost. They’re not very good at marking the pistes here.” This was true. They had traversed from the last red marker they had seen to some deep snow and had inadvertently wandered off piste.
Ludo and Dad stopped, with Dad just behind and above Ludo. They skied that way together so that if Ludo fell Dad wouldn’t have to walk back up the slope to help him up. They looked behind, below, above and in front of them and saw no-one and no piste markers. They looked at each other. They looked below them again: without their realising it, they had reached a point where the slope had become very steep – so much so that they couldn’t quite see over the edge of it some fifty meters below. Ahead, the snow curved around the side of the mountain; they didn’t know what they would find if they carried on there.
It was very quiet.
Dad said, “I think we had better turn around as soon as we can. Do you think you can manage that?” Ludo looked around him and down at his skis. “Do your chips and, as soon as you have built up a little speed, pizza, and make sure you keep your weight on your downhill ski until you come to a stop. Okay?”
Ludo nodded and pushed off. He traversed, skis together for a short distance, and then pushed his skis out at the heel and in at the toe and so started to turn.
“Slow down!” ordered Dad as Ludo started to build up speed. “Turn!”
Ludo was ploughing downhill, faster and faster.
“Stop!” yelled Dad.
“Stop!” echoed the mountain.
Ludo fell – or, as he would explain to Gabby later, he didn’t fall but decided to sit down and go down the slope on his bottom – coming to a stop only when his ski boots came to rest on a rock that protruded from the vast stretch of snow around him. He still had his ski poles looped around his ski gloves. He looked up and could see his skis where they had come off.
“Are you alright?” shouted Dad, looking down at Ludo.
“Yes”, replied Ludo, looking up at Dad, who stood poised over his downhill ski with his poles planted firmly either side of him.
“Stay there while I gather your skis”, said Dad as he moved off slowly.
Ludo brushed some snow off his ski goggles and looked down at his ski boots. His salopettes had ridden up his leg and icy snow bracelets encircled his calves just above the tops of his ski boots. Ludo removed a mitten and busied himself with brushing the snow off his legs and boots with it.
Dad came to a stop before carefully picking up the first of Ludo’s skis and sideslipping down to the second. He stopped and bent down, which was hard to do with the first of Ludo’s skis already in his arms. He nearly lost it and caught it. Then he lost it and didn’t catch it and it somehow got under his skis.
“Harrumph!” heard Ludo as Dad lost his balance and cartwheeled over and “Ouf!” as Dad came down with a thump. On his back and without his skis, head first, he sped past Ludo.
“Dad!” screamed Ludo.
“Dad!” called the mountain after him.
Dad just kept on going. The slope was sheer. There was no hope of him stopping any time soon. On he went. Faster and faster. “Dad! Stop!” But there was no hope of Dad hearing or of stopping if he had heard. He was too far away. On he went, still. Smaller and smaller. And then Dad disappeared from view over the lip of the slope. The cloud of powder snow he had left in his wake settled.
It was deadly quiet.
Ludo sat. He sat and waited. Then he stood. He stood with his ski boots planted shakily on the rock and looked down as far as he could. Nothing. The mountain’s incline was precipitous where he had lost sight of Dad and he could not see over the edge some way down from him. He sat back down.
* * *
Ludo sat in silence. The snow lay white all around him and the sun a white disc in the cloudless sky all blue above him. He knew not to look directly at the sun, even with his goggles on. He finished brushing the snow and ice off his legs the tops of his ski boots and then tucked the inner sleeves of his salopettes into the boots. He removed his goggles and helmet and shook the snow off them and unzipped his ski jacket. He wondered how long Dad would be.
Ludo sat on the little rock and hugged his knees. It was so quiet, so still and the searing white landscape so beautiful but so chilling. A bird hung high in the sky. It looked small from a distance and Ludo wandered how he looked to it – a small speck of a lonely child, waiting for his Dad. He wondered if Dad was looking at it too. He hoped Dad was alright and unhurt.
Ludo was quite alone.
Where was Dad? Ludo fidgeted. When would Dad come back? Ludo stood up. Would Dad come back? Ludo sat down. He felt unwell. He wondered who would read him bedside stories if Dad never came back – Mum, he supposed.
It grew cold despite the sun. Ludo stood, zipped his jacket up and put his gloves back on. He stamped his feet and looked down the mountain as far as he could. He looked up – the bird had gone.
Ludo wondered whom he would play football with in the garden and who would climb the fence to get the ball back from the neighbours’ gardens. He wondered who would teach him the names of things on walks, who would teach him how to read, how to draw, how to climb, how to bicycle and how to lick all the way around an ice cream before it melted all over his hands. He wondered who would tell him off when he was naughty and who would ruffle his hair and give him a hug when he was good. He wondered who would teach him right from wrong and who would show him how to make paper aeroplanes. He wondered who would teach him to throw grapes up in the air and catch them with an open mouth while Mum got cross because that was dangerous. He wondered who would teach him the names of animals and cars and how to draw them. He wondered who would teach him to rub his belly one way with one hand while he rubbed his head the other way with the other. He wondered who would look after him – who would look after him and Mum and Gabby.
Ludo hoped Dad would come back. He hoped and hoped he would.
Ludo then thought that he would have to look after Mum and Gabby – or Gabby, at least. He imagined bossing her around and telling her when to go to bed, to eat all her dinner and when to go to school. That made him feel a little bit better – until he thought of a life without Dad and he suddenly felt very alone and very sick. He couldn’t bear the thought and stood up very quickly, so quickly that it made him dizzy. Dots swam before his eyes and gradually faded, all except one that persisted in his lower field of vision: a little dot on the seam of where the white met the darkening blue.
“Dad!” Ludo was so excited he nearly lost his footing and fell off the little rock he was perched on. “Dad!” he shouted as loudly as he could.
“Dad!” answered the mountains while the little dot, it seemed to Ludo, stopped and looked up.
It took ages for the dot to grow, to take shape and colour. After a while, Ludo could make out the colour of Dad’s ski jacket and see that it was unzipped and hanging open and that he had his helmet over his arm and his poles and one ski under the other. Ludo watched him laboriously kicking his heavy ski boots into the snowy slope, one at a time, pausing only to pick up his second ski.
Ludo and Dad hugged each other and repeated what the other said.
“Are you alright?”
“Are you sure?”
* * *
Dad lay on his back panting, while Ludo sat on the rock and Dad told him how he had travelled down the mountain at speed, head first and on his back.
Winded, it had taken him a moment to realise that he wasn’t going to come to a natural stop at any time soon and that he had to do everything he could to brake. “It was like I was my own sled!” he said. He had dug his heels and fingers into the snow but this had had no effect on his speed at all. He had dug them in further until his legs and arms hurt and he had arched his back – he had been so desperate to stop – but still he had sped on. “I couldn’t see a thing through the spray of snow I left after me and I couldn’t see ahead of me.” He had wondered when he’d stop and how and whether his ski helmet would be strong enough to resist the impact of a rock.
After what had seemed a very, very long time to him, Dad had slowed to a stop. He had neither hit a rock nor gone over the edge of a cliff. Nothing was broken. He had lain there on his back, breathless, looking at the deep blue sky through the snow on his ski goggles and feeling the snow in his ski jacket melt down his back and on his neck. His ski helmet lining, his socks and his gloves were soaked with melted snow and perspiration.
Dad had stood up, removed his ski goggles and helmet and clipped them over his arm. He had loosened the clips on his ski boots and unzipped his ski jacket and shaken as much snow out as he could. He had run his hand through his sopping hair and looked around him. There had been nothing to see save snow and sky and a blazing sun. He had shaded his eyes with one hand and looked up for sign of Ludo but there was none. He didn’t bother shouting but looked down at his feet, kicked the tip of one ski boot into the snow and then the kicked other into the snow above the first and so started the long walk up.
“I was so happy to hear you shout,” said Dad, “and so glad you had the good sense to stay where you were. Were you worried?”
“No,” said Ludo kicking at the snow, “well, a bit.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have got you into this mess – now, let’s ski out of it!”
* * *
Ludo and Dad reached the restaurant at the same time as Gabby and Mum. “What took you?” asked Mum and Dad simultaneously.
“We skied all the way past the restaurant the first time,” said Gabby, “and had to take a chair lift back all the way up to ski down to it again!”
“That’s because Gabby was too busy shouting ‘Pizza!’ and ‘Cheeps!’ to pay attention to where she was going,” said Mum, “and I had to ski after her!”
“Well, we had an adventure!” said Ludo and explained what had happened as Dad collected their skis and stood them upright in the ski racks and looped the ski poles over the ends of the skis.
“All’s well that ends well,” said Mum with a note of relief in her voice. “I suppose you won’t be skiing again today then?”
“Oh yes we will,” said Dad, “don’t you think, Ludo? They say that if you fall off a horse you have to get straight back on or you will become too scared to ever get on one again and I think the same principle might apply to skiing. So after lunch, let’s repeat the run – but stay on piste this time – shall we?”
“Yes,” said Ludo.
They removed their ski helmets and gloves and unclipped their ski boots and stomped up the steps to the restaurant. The snow crystals on the tables twinkled invitingly in the sun.
“Now who is having what for lunch?” asked Dad.
Drawings by Ludo.