The song: A Forest by The Cure
The place: Claviere, Italy
Date: February, 1986
If there were ever a band less likely to evoke thoughts of skiing, it’s probably The Cure. Has Robert Smith ever snow-ploughed a blue run, resplendent in primary coloured salopettes and blood-red lip balm? Can you imagine the web-haired Goth holding onto a draglift? Fair to say that no form of sport or indeed exercise seems to suit the melancholy Goth-father. Yet when I hear, what I consider to be The Cure’s finest track, I instantly think of skiing.
It was 1986 and I was 16. Somehow my parents had found enough money to finance a ski trip with the school. The company was called Just Ski and we were given shapeless, electric blue sweatshirts with the late Just Ski embroidered upon the heart. The destination was Claviere, in Italy somewhere (I still don’t know exactly where it is and I prefer it to stay that way). It was a coach and a ferry and a coach from my hometown of Norwich.
I had just departed the ‘man cub’ phase of adolescence and was just beginning to veer from the mainstream. Acts like Dire Straits and Robert Palmer were all-consuming at the time It was all about getting on, and looking successful. Aiming high. A friend of mine was selling highly-inflated Tip Top drinks his dad had bought wholesale. The air was high with hair gel. Young folk wore ties to nightclubs. I on the other hand was proudly wearing a Half Man Half Biscuit T-shirt from the Back In The DHSS tour (although I did own Brothers In Arms and used hair gel). I think I felt that if a butterfly’s wings could cause a tsunami then sporting Half Man Half Biscuit merchandise could actually stop the world we knew from spinning.
The trip was largely boring. I couldn’t ski very well and trying to learn with a group of competitive teenagers – some of whom had been many times before – didn’t exactly help the learning curve. However, my motivation to head for the slopes lay with a spate of ‘ski/stag’ films around this time. Porky’s on the slopes if you will. A film called Hot Dog… The Movie rings a bell (it might be the only ski/stag film). No, I don’t think it was the skiing that inspired me to sign up at all, but the more the Hollywood promise that the après ski would follow the plot line of this American buck-fest, where a topless woman could emerge from an all-in-one ski suit at any moment.
I wanted to be an indie-loving malcontent, who also wanted to moonlight as a fun-loving jock, who chugged brewskis and rolled around with big-haired cheerleaders called Candy.
If the teenage years represent confusion, then mine was a cultural crossroads. On one hand, I wanted to be an indie-loving malcontent, who also wanted to moonlight as a fun-loving jock, who chugged brewskis and rolled around with big-haired cheerleaders called Candy. If this trip had been a few months later, the soundtrack would have been (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!). But it wasn’t. And there wouldn’t have been any snow.
Goth ruled our sixth form at this time, and The Cure, Cult and Sisters of Mercy papered the sixth form common room walls. So, the music was introverted and difficult and totally at odds with the rather Pagan ski-based antics I required. As I said it was a crossroads.
There was underage drinking of course in the only way the young know: hard liquor consumed quick. There was the drunken dropping of trousers – which I have still not really ever understood – and the odd bunk-up of which I played no part. Damn you Hot Dog… The Movie! I think someone jumped from a third floor window into the snow, but I could have imagined that, or seen it in a film (maybe Hot Dog… The Movie). I remember drinking champagne in ice cream and feeling very well-to-do with the seemingly millions of lire at my disposal.
One boy plastered the walls of the bedroom with images from a foreign jazz mag, where on reflection the women seemed to resemble Heather Mills (in the hair department, not the limb). During ‘Mexican Night’ I drank an entire silver salver of Tabasco sauce which I wretched up soon after. It was all pretty tame stuff, but fun of sorts.
The coach trip across France to the Italian border was my favourite part of the entire trip. The getting there. We travelled through the night and I was sat upstairs with my red Sanyo ‘Anti Rolling’ personal hi-fi system. A friend of mine had lent me The Cure’s Staring At The Sea compilation, which on cassette had an entire extra album of b-sides. Of course back in the day, with proper batteries, you couldn’t afford to listen to something that would represent a waste of Ever Ready, and so people were monogamously tight with their music.
It was whilst everyone else slept that I popped in Staring At The Sea. The wheels were spinning. The heads started whirring. The cheek pressed against the glass of the window. I was in.
The song A Forest has no distinct connection to any life-changing events, like the birth of a child, or the death of a friend, but it does always take me back to that coach trip. The dimly-illuminated cabin, and the street lights and the headlamps rolling by outside. Forget the japes I thought were coming, this was the moment. Away from home, staring at foreign road signs and feeling quite cosmopolitan as the guitars swirled and the drums fizzed.
I’m not sure if I’d heard A Forest before – I probably had as it was six or seven years old by this stage – but the moment it kicked in, a trail started to form. Such a beautifully, all-consuming sound – particularly with ear-phones – its lyrics threw up dark dreams of unrequited love, and the allure of the unknown; which at 16, and at that particular point in time, was exactly what my future represented. OK, so things turned out pretty sweet, but certainly for a few awkward years, life seemed to be much more like Robert Smith’s fruitless jog through the trees, than the non-stop thrills promised by the debonnaire Mr Palmer [btw Google ‘Robert Palmer’ and ‘A Forest’] and Hot Dog… The Movie.
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