I work in a school, so for me this week marks the half-term break. Variously called Easter Term at Stonyhurst, Lent Term at Downside and Spring Term at Ampleforth, the name matters not. What matters is that pupils and staff can now take a break – from work and from each other.
This half term has been a hard one: mock exams, course work submissions, university interviews, outdoor games in dreadful weather. Making it to the end is the prize. One is reminded of the French constitutional theorist Abbé Sieyès. When asked what he did during the Reign of Terror he famously replied, “J’ai vécu” – I survived.
I have survived, just, and have celebrated by travelling to St Moritz in Switzerland to play in the rather wonderful “St Moritz Cricket on Ice” tournament. A blissful few days away.
The event is as sensible as it sounds: three consecutive days of cricket on the frozen Lake St Moritz, where six teams battle it out in a tournament which has been defying insurance brokers and personal injury specialists for more than 30 years.
The standard of cricket is – by virtue of the many variables – engaging, experimental and, at times, comedic.
It is very easy to fall over, batting or fielding. Running between the wickets for a quick single at an altitude of 1,822 metres (6,000 feet) is challenging. Launching yourself after a well-timed shot to land full stretch on ice is an education in bruising. This is an extreme form of exercise, even for Englishmen abroad.
St Moritz is famous for the beauty of its ski slopes and the adrenalin rush of the Cresta Run. But for sheer quirkiness, few events can beat Cricket on Ice.
The lake is covered in a blanket of compacted snow on a bed of ice 27 centimetres (roughly 11 inches) thick. That sounds like a lot until it starts to crack.
The pitch itself is AstroTurf, which has to be hammered into the ice each morning with 40 very long metal nails. Each nail, when driven home, calls forth a deep and thunderous crack not dissimilar to the sound created by the controlled explosions that trigger avalanches in the Swiss Alps. Nothing to worry about, then.
I was thrilled to be invited to play for St Moritz Cricket Club Invitational XI. A nicer group of people you could not hope to meet. I thwacked a pleasing 20 runs in my first innings – four fours and four singles. I should have retired then and there, but did not. Smaller scores and some agricultural bowling followed.
My wife, Victoria, travelled over with me for some skiing, making a cricket fixture on Valentine’s Day possible. Whereas I celebrated the day playing cricket, she celebrated by throwing herself down a black run. I spent the day with people shouting “Run!” at me; Victoria spent the day with people barking “Achtung!” at her.
In the evening we sat in the gigantic picture window at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, the most storied hotel in the town. Its founder, Johannes Badrutt, is credited with inventing alpine winter tourism, certainly for Brits. He built the town’s first curling rinks and the world’s first toboggan run. Previously a popular summer retreat for the weak and consumptive, St Moritz thereafter became home to winter sports and to the very active.
Impossibly chic, Badrutt’s Palace was full of impeccably dressed Europeans.
It was difficult to pick the nationalities of these jet set people. One imagines they did not have the same difficulty with us. Could it have been our bootcut jeans? The cable-knit jumpers?
With two young boys at home, we tend to mark the year as much with amusing family memories as by half-terms or the seasons.
Henry, six, recently told his mother that the inside of her car looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. That is a highlight that will live long in the memory. George, four, returned last week from a friend’s birthday with two temporary tattoos of superheroes on his arm. He earnestly promised to bathe well that evening because he knew from previous warnings from his teacher that tattoos are forbidden at school.
For the boys, half-term will be spent sheltering from Lancashire’s wild storms, building dens, reading, baking, scooting and watching Star Wars. I will try to hide for few days and work on my DPhil.
The dog will move between us in search of food. Meanwhile, Victoria will keep the whole show on the road, and, while cooking for our little wolfpack, will no doubt rub her eyes and wonder, did we just spend three days in St Moritz?
Stephen Withnell is Deputy Headmaster (External) at Stonyhurst College and a postgraduate student at Campion Hall, Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @WithnellStephen
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