The City Hostel In Geneva had given us free travel passes which covered trains trams and buses, it was a bonus considering the cost of everything else in that city it seemed right that transport was free, at least for a day. We were to meet Nick the co-director of Mountain Heaven at the airport that afternoon, our employers for the next 4 and a half months, we weren’t quite sure exactly how long to be honest, Orsi was sure it was till May, I seemed to recall it was mid April latest.
We’d arrived there in good time and waited. We had all our new winter gear on and new boots, Orsi in red me in blue. Nicks email had said arriving from Liverpool. But the only flight from the UK was Manchester, it had to be that one, we hoped. I had reservations about him due to a curt phone call when we’d been trying to get the tax situation sorted out back in September his follow up email had seemed quite abrasive too.
We were nervous, but we’d committed, we were there in Geneva, there was no way we could go back, we wanted this to be a good experience. We needed it to be. It had been a roller coaster of a year that had challenged us far more than we’d expected. We planned to do retreats with the Healing work and thought this would be a good place to see if we had it in us to do hosting.
A few minutes to him arriving; we stood at the arrival gates Orsi holding up a sign written on a paper plate
It said “Mountain Heaven”
We hoped so..!
“Here goes” I said
We looked at one another for what seemed a long time. Then there he was in front of us, a younger looking man than I’d expected, neat sliver hair, we breathed out. We sat and had a coffee due to a short delay then finally to the transfer bus and back across the French border to an area called Haute-Sauvoi and the ski town of Morzine. The “Skiddy Gonzales” drivers were dressed in Mexican straw hats and false mustaches, out of place up there in the cold but that was the point I suppose. We hopped into a van already loaded up with bags, 12 other Chalet workers were on their way up into the mountains too
I don’t really remember the journey up to 1000 meters or the town of Morzine only that the road wound and we rocked from side to side. Nick seemed open and quite friendly, making efforts to chat with us trying to find the common ground, which was a relief. I noted his phone continuously buzzed and rang and my days at the Network field operations flooded back. They apparently had 17 other chalets with the staff arriving all that day, also 30 self-contained chalets to deal with too, I brushed all my feathers down and warmed to him.
The owner of the Chalet was still there when we arrived. He rented it to Mountain Heaven for the ski season whilst he traveled the globe in his retirement. Called Mike he seemed like a nice chap and at 70 he seemed to be doing great. He was going off to Dominica, Haiti and Jamaica for the winter via Doncaster a few days after we arrived.
We stepped fatigued and weary off the bus into a whirlwind and nothing to do with the weather that was sunny and blue skies right then.
The first week was absolutely overwhelming trying to get to grips and absorb what was expected of us and what we had to do there. We’d been coasting on our own steam for some time now, Whitby had been busy but easy going in comparison.
On the first day we were visited by the seasonal sports massage girls from “Massage Me” who seemed lovely. The laundry guy arrived from “Brad” with the first weeks towels and laundry. We wouldn’t have any guests until December the 22rd but we instinctively knew to count everything, the driver a tall friendly guy from Liverpool also gave us quite tips on summer time jobs across Europe if we needed it. At some point too the Mountain Heaven handyman Neil came from another town three hours away with a huge consignment of Baked Beans, British Tea and HP sauces.
We’d been down to have a look at the room we’d be staying during our time here. It was a shock. Nick & Mike seemed quite amused by it, called it the ‘Black Hole’ which it was. Just beyond the chaotic storeroom off the second floor corridor. It was cold and damp and had a small window that looked out onto a wall, the previous chalet hosts had unceremoniously dumped all their used stuff and a pile of old kitchen equipment onto the bed. It was a mess it was shall we say an unloved area. We came to understand that when the guests arrived and meals had been served and cleared, we’d be expected to go down there and leave the chalet to them. The ‘Chalet was not ours’ the guests had paid to be there, it was their space, there were a lot of pennies dropping and that one was going to be tough for me for sure.
The Chalet’s name translated is “the Golden Goat is on Rue De La Manche on the road out of the valley, a twenty minute walk from town. It lost the light before Morzine and so always seemed to be 2 or 3 degrees colder. Perched right above and looking down onto the Ski lift to Pointe de Nyon and all windows faced southwest looking out onto a pine forest and Mountains of Cornette de Nyon. It really was a beauty spot if you could use peripheral vision and block out the coach park below.
There had been a light snow a few weeks ago the remains of which were little islands rock hard ice but everything else was a dull brown, dark olive evergreen the mountains a dark grey and it seemed warmer there than North Yorkshire. Not at all what we’d expected.
The next day Nick suggested we bring everything up from the black hole into the lounge so we could see what there was and what needed to go where. The bedrooms and the rest of the chalet were on 2 levels below down a winding narrow tiled staircase. It was all under floor heating so all floors were tiled the ceilings wood beamed and paneled, on first glance it seemed really quite cozy.
We lifted everything up the narrow circular stairs into the lounge whilst Nick introduced us to the emails, the booking system, room allocation and laundry spread sheets, we ran at it of course with our usual energy but it was chaos. Everyone kept saying
“Oh you’ll get it, it gets easier” and “You just have to get over the first hump, the first 3 or 4 weeks are the worst”
Then ski hire company “Doorstep Skies” arrived to fit us with Skies and boots, it was bewildering. I’d never had ski boots on before and had no idea what to expect. In fact I hadn’t expected and we just sort of ended up down in the bottom of the chalet in the boot room, sat on a bench whilst two friendly patient laid back English lads strapped us in. They were so tight and restricting and actually hurt to get them on but would become easier and all make sense later on the slopes, but right then all bound up like Japanese Golden lilies and hobbling around like Frankenstein’s with a stones between the toes was so unexpected and surreal, we just went with the flow and onto the next thing, just trying to absorb.
We were also trying to get our heads around the different rooms of the place. Mike the owner had been travelling the world for many years and had it seemed been single handedly been supporting the local economy wherever he’d been. He had quite a collection of fascinating dust collecting articles, museum pieces, art works and strange ornaments hanging from all the walls and propping up corners. Each bedroom also had a theme Spain, Africa Australia USA & Costa Rica. Mike hadn’t spent to much time dusting the place and why should he when Mountain Heaven, came once a year to do it for him
Nick walked us into town a few times to help us get a feel for the place, showed us the scenic route along the small crystal clear river Dranse that runs through the woods past the neat graveyard on the outskirts of town continuing through and down along the valley eventually emptying all the way down in Lake Geneva. Our feet crunched on the hard icy snow all the way down and as we zigzagged through the town. We picked up our lift passes, whilst Nick briefly explained the pick up procedure for guests passes, pointed out good restaurants bars and took us to meet the charming ladies in bakery on the Rue de Bourg
We must have seemed like two little birds, a red one and a blue one, sticking close together, big eyed, curious alert.
There was also the Carrefour supermarket, the Promo-cash wholesale market and a trip down to the town dump where I would apparently need to go on a weekly basis. I was trying to get my bearings of the town but the only land mark at that point that stood out was a statue of First world war French soldier marching forward on a plinth in the middle of a one way system just across from the picturesque baroque Catholic church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine which would become our anchor point, the rest of the town right then was a blur of wood fronted 3 and 4 storied chalets that all looked like carved cuckoo clocks to me
We spent a few days in the Chalet with Nick and Mike and had a few pleasant evenings down in Morzine having a few friendly pints. The two of them seemed quite competitive, Nick winding Mike up mercilessly, Mike paid little attention to us until Nick left on the second day. He’d done this for the last 11 years so we were just another Chalet host couple who he’d probably not see again so fare enough I supposed. They told us stories of past hosts, of crookery and sex scandals. It was double edged of course, very entertaining but at the same time they’d seen it all “knew all the tricks”
Morzine seemed quiet, but had the same expectant vibe that many festivals had when we’d first arrived. Everything being preparing, carpets being beaten on balconies, work men sawing, drilling and sanding, electricians up posts, work trucks and hydraulic lifts parked all along the roadside, we sensed that in all these hundreds of chalets spread out along and up the sides of the valley there were people on their hands and knees doing just what we were doing. When we walked down too or through the town the sound of banging or drilling drifted across the undercurrent of tranquility. You sensed the place was going to be boom when the snow finally came
Nick set Orsi a task to cook a meal off the menu for us all one evening, stuffed chicken with roast potatoes, which she did with ease, both he and Mike seemed satisfied which made her glow. We had to search within ourselves when we first applied with regard to the cooking, it was a set menu all dishes were meat based and we are both vegetarian. We figured we could deal with it, it is our personal choice, perhaps we could quietly bless the food and if people asked we’d explain, but at the end of the day eat what you choose and be happy, and we were up for the debate
Two days later Nick left with Neil the handyman, that was our training over, he seemed happy with us and we with him. We felt right then we had arrived with a decent company, Vicki, Nicks wife who we’d met initially for the Interview back in West Kirby called a few days later, she sensed I think that we were a little overwhelmed, the call made us feel much better, as we certainly were overwhelmed
We had been left with a chaotic looking situation and weren’t sure where to start. The lounge was disarray and disorder, literally piled and scattered with all sorts of odds and ends. I’d begun to organize the storeroom and next I began on the kitchen. After that second day there we were already shattered and it didn’t seem like we’d even dented the place. The relief was we had a week to get ready.
Mike left the next day and we just got down to it, those next few days were a grind of endless cleaning. Honestly, it was grunt work, every surface every ornament and there were a lot, were dusted and polished, all floors and every step in the place mopped and polished. Every drawer in every room emptied and everything in them cleaned and polished, every pan plate glass knife fork cup and spoon were washed and dried. We thought we’d done quite well till we read one of the Operations Manager Carolyn’s emails about bathrooms.
“No matter how good your food and hospitality, no matter how good the wine or your conversation, if the bathrooms aren’t 150-200% you will be fighting an uphill battle with the guests approval ratings”
We’d be judged on them more than anything else. It made sense
So back down we went, I filled a few holes in some of the bathroom walls, the showers had had a refit and the builder had left some exposed raw plugs that looked to my eye anything but “High end Chalet” So I re-grouted, re-siliconed and plastered with what I’d found in the storeroom, which was a small Philips screw driver, a rusty Stanley blade a silicone gun, and a few tubes of grout and silicone.
I scrubbed all tiled mirrored metal surfaces again with a toothbrush, I scrubbed shower heads and tap faucets around underneath and behind all the toilets, with a toothbrush, I kid you not, it was such hard work. I am so glad we did though as there was so much we missed on that first clean, just through sheer fatigue, we couldn’t see straight anymore. After two days of cleaning those 7 bedrooms the kitchen the lounge and the dinning room, running up and down those exhausting spiral tiled stairs, there was no calcium, no lime scale, no dust, the place absolutely sparkling, or so I thought.
Carolyn the operations manager came to stay with us mid week for a few days to go over the shopping procedure, the table seating and setting procedure and to see who we were and how we are doing. I was confident we’d pass the test.
The two of us were so tired and we’d clashed at badly one point about what, I can’t remember now. I think we were just in shock. We just got on with the cleaning in silence, me down below Orsi upstairs. To be expected I suppose under such an overwhelming situation. The reassuring thing is that every one had told us to expect it.
“You will be overwhelmed for the first month” they’d all said.
Mike had wondered past that last day saying
“I don’t envy you” and “You getting there yet?”
We definitely weren’t !
I’ve also been on hot tub training course down the road in another chalet with 3 girls from another chalet. I’d expected it to be a breeze, but in fact turned out to be quite an exact science and quite a responsibility. The girl who talked us through it was, slick and professional, and put the fear of god into me. Told us in stone faced biblical expression there was no way she would go in any hot tub without it being cleaned by her first. It snapped me to attention with all the possibilities of infection, with what can grow and multiply in there if left alone percolating for a day too long.
The tub had to be checked 3 times a day and records kept. I’ve been on high alert ever since. I emptied it next day cleaned and refilled it before the first guests arrived, it’d been on before we arrived, simmering away and I wasn’t sure for how many days. There was no drain near by and I genuinely couldn’t believe that I was to empty it straight over the balcony those waters to seep through the rocks and down into that pristine that river below. I felt terrible but I had no choice.
To have a breather we’d walked down into town a few times along the black tarmac road and a few evenings back up through the dark woods along the Dranse just to feel that the mountains, to feel that we’re on the very edge of a real wilderness.
We are just out of town in a Chalet bubble, there is Sky TV with British and local London news programs and UK weather forecasts, all the bars in town are manned by pretty English girls with hip English/US groove music playing on the systems, everyone is sweet lovely and energetic. We were a little puzzled, were we really in France? It is only when we went into the bakery or the supermarket attempted to read the labels or tried to work out how to work the washing machine that we came across France. It’s really quite strange, it made it easier of course but it didn’t feel too exotic, our good intentions to learn a little more French would take a little more effort than we thought as just about all of the 14 guests per week are going to be English speaking as well.
I found a place called Beanies on the high street Rue De Bourg. A good place to get a barometer of the town, a young crowd very cool ambient music, most of the men have clipped beards or goatees with beanie hats, the girls with head bands on or bobble hats, lots of hoodies and track suit bottoms hiking boots, long hair and dreadlocks, huge reflective goggles like a tank commander would, groups and clans sitting together, a casual rough looking but stylish crowd, but all English at one point a group of French came in and ordered a drink at the bar in French of course, the girl apologized and said in English that she didn’t speak French, none of them did. Quite outrageous really I wondered how it would feel in London or the UK to have to learn Spanish or German or Bangladeshi come to that to get a drink or a meal in your own country. They didn’t seem to mind though
In those first few days there we also noticed quite a few people around the town with smashed faces, bruised, grazed and gashed across noses and heads, people limping and others on crutches, they had to be skiing accidents, it was very noticeable and the Chalet literally looks down on the Telepherique du Nyon cable car lift, we’d see ambulances there just about every day and when I went to pick up guest passes there was regularly a person wrapped up in a blanket on a stretcher waiting to be picked up. Quite sobering
We have yet to ski and I am wary of it, we have no experience at all, so we shall see how we do. Most people have a week to get used to it, we’ll have 4 months so we plan to come down all in one piece, competent, fit and healthy. That’s the plan, slowly slowly.
I’d had a powerful dream on the very first night we arrived as I often do in a new place. Alvin Gibbs had offered me a support on a UK Subs tour if I could get The Fits together, I was really touched at the offer but I knew I just didn’t have tiume to get it all together. It was at a party and I’d gone down a set of spiral stairs and was looking for Ravens, they were hiding in all sorts of dark rooms I had to go in and search for them and chase them, I eventually caught one, it was powerful and strong and struggled as I brought it back up to the party. As I did so a girl across the room had taken aim and shot it. Everyone looked at me. I was absolutely mortified, I was lost and somehow powerless. I shouted at her
“You don’t shoot Ravens.. You will be visited”
I woke in almost paralyzed with tension and fear in a cold sweat. Ravens are about a change in consciousness. Death and rebirth. Complete change and my Raven had been shot for all too see. It would all make sense as these things always do.
We went out for a little drive one afternoon to Montriond lake a few miles away. It was such a beautiful scene the lake frozen solid. We walked slowly around it and were relived that we’d actually got out into the mountains. We watched awed by men sawing holes in the Ice with a chain saw planning to go under the Ice diving. We we’re both very tense, both of us wondering how we are both going to make it through these next few months, not only with the guests, but with each other.Another afternoon we decided to walk up to Pointe de Nyon just to get out of the Chalet. It seemed quite natural, it was right there, right above the chalet in front of us, so we just set of walking up the ski runs, seemed an obvious path, but turned out to be quite a climb.
No snow but in places was ice bound, and in others the exposed dusty brown earth, up at the top a the few clustered bars there had again that same expectant preparation vibe, but it was just us two we had the whole mountain to ourselves, definitely no skiing yet
Back at the Golden Goat, reality check, I had thought I had cleaned the chalets perfectly but then Carolyn arrived. I will state here we liked her very much she is wiry, sandy haired lady, fit looking and on first glance you could tell she was a super professional.
I went into anaphylactic shock when Orsi her began going over the shopping, Orsi was super prepared and overwhelming, it put me to shame, I had been working so hard on the last piece that I had fallen behind and right then the two of us were not communicating that well at all. Orsi had prepared an XL sheet of the shopping we’d need, she had of course experience or restaurants and kitchens, I of course had none. I felt like I was drowning in the deep end a pool or a little too far out to sea. It brought up such a lot of deeply uncomfortable feelings for me. I was floundering trying to reach the shore, an exhausted long distance swimmer, the shore in sight and I felt like I couldn’t reach it, I was drowning in full view of them, awful feelings of inadequacy. That even as I edit this, weeks later, those feelings resurface. Nobody to throw me a rope. Awful
Then next day Carolyn went over the bathrooms and the toilets, I thought I had done so well, but she of course spotted so many things I would never have spotted, and so they all had to be done again, with a fresh tooth brush on hands and knees, whilst they went out that afternoon to get more shopping, to be honest I was glad to be left alone. Orsi had I felt had been barking orders and I couldn’t respond as we had people around. To be honest it was my lowest point of the whole year, I was so shattered, on the ropes exhausted, I just wanted to run, Orsi too I am sure. I took the loo seats off and re scrubbed every one scrubbed under every one, every tap and behind the plastic on every shower rail, I even re scrubbed the hems of the shower curtains and down every plug hole in every sink in the place.
That evening Orsi cooked the duck at Carolyn’s request and we sat getting to know each other a little. We liked Carolyn very much she seemed like a person you could rely upon in an emergency, I hadn’t taken offence at her at all, she’d been absolutely right about the finer points of rooms. I learnt a lot from her.
After she left on the third morning Orsi left me to sleep in and boy did I sleep, but we still had a lot to do and prepare, sweeping and moping again.
We are both numb.
The electrician maintenance man came across that day too and chap called Peter originally from Hull who hadn’t come across too well on phone the day before and reminded me of another moaner from Hull, he turned out to be a good guy though, I was glad he’d come out and walked me through the place.
So here we are sat waiting, it’s 4.30pm the place is absolutely sparkling, the table is set, ski passes collected and paid for, food is all just about ready a Lamb tangine, I have been trying to remember what wines and champagne we have. We are nervously waiting. It’s December 22nd I’d been noticing on face book that people were wishing me/us a Happy Christmas, it hadn’t even registered in the fog of fatigue, I’d honestly wondered why people kept saying it, the snow has still not arrived, I kept pinching myself, was it really Christmas? It was only the Sky TV with the Christmas films that brought it home, we hadn’t even thought of buying a present for one another. The first guests will be here soon. Gosh!!