PJ racing
Your hero, suffering for his art…

No I’m not referring to my last birthday, but to this past weekend! What is it that stops us human beings from learning our lessons? What is it in our brain that makes us think that having another large brandy at 3am, when we are already very drunk, will somehow result in us having less of a hangover in the morning than not having it? What is it that makes us think without any foundation that, OK, last time this or that was a nightmare, but next time it will be better?

The late Sir Arnold Bax once famously said, “Try anything once, except incest and folk dancing.” I’m right with him on both of those. But I should have remembered his advice before embarking on the events of this past weekend… when I tried something twice…

Eight years ago I got a phone call from my good friend Arnie Wilson, the ski writer for the Financial Times, and the only man ever to have skied around the world, in 13 different countries, every day for a year. He is also the editor of the Ski Club Of Great Britain’s wonderful magazine Ski + Board.

“We’re a man short for the Financial Times ski team this weekend, for the Giant Slalom at the City Ski Championships in Courmayeur. Would you come along and fill the place?” he said, so sweetly.

“No thanks Arnie, I haven’t raced since I was sixteen”, I replied.

“Nah, it’s not serious racing, just a boy’s weekend, a big piss-up.”

So two days later I found myself at Gatwick Airport at 7am being introduced to my team leader, none other than the legendary Konrad Bartelski, who represented England three times at the Winter Olympics and is the only Brit ever to have achieved a podium place in a World Cup downhill race. Respect! But not serious racing? Ha! Konrad had me on the first cable car up, at first light, and practising all day long, for two solid days. Despite all his efforts, my time down the run was dismal… well, compared to his!

So I should have learned my lesson when I got another call from Arnie a few weeks ago.

“Ermmmm, we are a man short for the Mail On Sunday ski team for the Giant Slalom at the City Ski Championships – wonder if you’d be able to come along and help us out. It could give you great publicity for your books. “

“I’m not good enough to have Konrad Bartelski as my team leader,” I replied. “Do you promise he won’t be my team leader this time?”

PJ racing
Helen accompanied by by Konrad Bartelski and Tommy Moe.
Guess who they are laughing at…

Arnie solemnly promised. So I went. And…. Guess what… He was telling the truth. The immensely charming and self-effacing Konrad Bartelski was not my team leader, he was my team coach. My team leader turned out to be American legend Tommy Moe, who was the first American to win both a Gold and a Silver at the Winter Olympics…and my team colleagues along with him were Neil English, Ski Writer for the Mail on Sunday and former Evening Standard Features Editor Simon Davies. Included in our opposition was one Graham Bell, who along with his brother represented England at five Winter Olympics, and is now the commentator for Ski Sunday. So no pressure then….

In his first run Tommy achieved a best time of 47 seconds. Neil and Simon both achieved a creditable 1.05 each. Me, I was roundly trounced, with a dismal 1.26, largely on account of doing an Eddie The Eagle. Those of you old enough to remember, will recall the only British ski jumper ever to compete in the Winter Olympics was the plucky novice, who blamed his failure to win a medal on his goggles misting up as he hurtled down the ramp. Me, I went one better, I was busily chatting as I entered the starting gate for my critical second run, and forgot to put my goggles on. Hurtling downhill at 60mph + with my eyes watering, I was almost totally blinded. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!

This annual event is organized totally brilliantly by Momentum Travel. But will I go again? I’m a sucker for punishment so, yup, probably in a year or two my brain will have forgotten my humiliation – and hey, besides, these guys can’t live forever, can they???

PJ racing
Graham Bell commiserates with me…