SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 The village of Ftan ( ff-tarn ) nestles in the Swiss Alps 1650 metres above sea level. On this particular day the temperature is a teeth-chattering -10.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 Walthamstow is located at the end of London Underground’s Victoria Line in Zone 3. On this particular day the weather is overcast with the possibility of light showers later.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 The chairlift scoops up the skiers in pairs and hoists them high above the powdery snow, carrying them effortlessly towards the summit. No such luxury for us, my fellow adventurers and I are walking up. Tally-ho, pip-pip, last one up’s a sissy.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 I turn left out my front door onto a street like the one 1970’s fancy dress fetishist Mr Ben lived on, but unlike his road, which always led to an adventure, nothing more exciting than work awaits at the end of mine.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 The footpath crosses the piste and we give way to ruddy-cheeked skiers and Stormtrooperish snowboarders. The gradient is gentle and setting a cracking pace, I lead the pack.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 I wait at the zebra crossing for a car to graciously stop. I don’t mind as it gives me time to catch my breath. Finally a driver looks up from writing a text message just in time to hit the brakes and allow me to cross. At a snail’s pace I pass Tommy,s Tuc Inn, my local café with its wonderfully apostrophed sign.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 All conversation has petered out now. We climb in determined silence. Despite the freezing temperatures, I’m sweating and decide to peel off my bobble hat and gloves. I pause a moment to survey the path ahead, which zig-zags up through the trees as far as the eye can see. My legs are tired. We’ve been walking just 10 minutes.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 I’m breathing heavily now and with my chin tucked into my chest, I concentrate on the exhausting act of putting one foot in front of the other. Lifting my head I see The Rose & Crown looming ahead. I’ve been walking about 5 minutes.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 Holy Mother of Christ, my lungs have deflated and are impotently swinging inside my chest cavity like a pair of rubber veruca socks. I can barely breathe. It’s steep now and we’re straggled out over a hundred yards or so. I’m bringing up the rear. It seems I may have made the schoolboy error of going off too quick at the start. We’re half an hour into the walk.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 Greggs! I’m only as far as Greggs! That’s it, I am going to suffer the humiliation of being found dead on the doorstep of Greggs the bakers, just inches from the resuscitating goodness of a tray of steak bakes. Oh, the tragedy. Old aged tartan trolley pullers are overtaking me now. I’ve been walking 7 minutes and I am cream crackered and my arse aches.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 I heave myself onto a bench. My legs feel like they’ve been filled with wet sand. I can hear my heart racing wildly, beating so loud I fear it might set off an avalanche. I estimate I’m about three quarters of the way up. I want to turn back, but I’ve come too far to quit now. I must soldier on and take my strength and inspiration from great British heroes like Scott, Shackleton and Eddie the Eagle Edwards.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 My hair is plastered to my forehead. Walthamstow Market falls away to the right. I steady myself on a railing as an invisible bully digs me in the belly. I flinch. Commuting to work shouldn’t be this painful, at least not until you’re on the Underground. With the Tube in my sights, I drag myself the last 50 metres, muttering words of encouragement to myself, along the lines of “Come on ya lilly-livered bastard.” That sort of thing.
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 With rubber band legs I finally reach the top. It has taken us an hour. Prui ( prr-oo-ee ) is little more than a café and a dropping off point for the ski lift. I fill my veruca socks with deep breaths of mountain-crisp air and take in the spectacular views down onto Scuol ( ssh-kwoll ). Before I join the others for burger and chips, I think back to May and how just walking up to Walthamstow Tube in the mornings had left me exhausted. And here I am now, on a snow-capped peak, a bit tired, but in a good way. A normal way.
LONDON, MAY, 2007 I reach the Tube station filled with bitterness. I’m in pain and I need to sit down. How much longer is this going to go on? When will things get back to normal? Will things ever get back to normal? As I descend the escalator into the bowels of London Underground I wonder, is this how it's going to be for me forever?
SWITZERLAND, JANUARY, 2008 As I make my descent on the chairlift towards Ftan, I let my legs swing freely beneath me – my legs that carried me up a mountain – and I wonder, is this how it's going to be for me forever?