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Sample story: “All Souls’ Day”

“They said that matter was evil and the body was the prison of the soul. They were the elect, and the ordinary people existed only to work and breed and serve them.”

Centuries ago, the dead miraculously came to the village to rescue the living. Today one of them is about to do it again.

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All Souls’ Day

Captured in the palm of his hand, his life flowed past him. He waited for the right moment and tapped on the screen. Time stopped moving. His finger hovered over the instant that divides past from future. Above it were actions performed, appointments kept, and meetings held: each line, one more brick added to the edifice of his career. Below his finger were the bricks that were not yet ready for use: they were arranged in an orderly stack, line after line, each of them awaiting its turn.

He tapped the screen in a special place, laboriously wrote a few words, and tapped one last time. An icon changed colour. When he got back to the office, his note would be copied to his PC, then archived and backed up: permanent. In a day or two the signed contract would arrive. It too would be scanned and filed away: permanent. One more client would be on board. One more portfolio to manage. One more steady trickle of ½% of its value. If you put together enough small streams, they make a river. If you let the streams flow for long enough, they will fill a lake. Each brick is small, taken on its own, but if you have enough of them… The Romans used small bricks; but the Romans built Rome.

Outside the window of the train the landscape of Switzerland scrolled past, as silent as the screen in front of him and as orderly as his life.

It had been another successful business meeting, but there had been more to it as well. Dinner and an overnight stay, a leisurely morning and a late start. The new client was the son of a hotelier, and his father had given him a hotel to keep him out of mischief. A hotel to play with, and capital too. It looked good enough on paper, but it was only reasonable for the banker to meet the client and assess his prospects before taking him on. Documents would tell you his financial affairs, documents could be read on the train; but documents would tell you nothing about the man.

The visit had told him what the papers hadn’t, and it was all good. Energy and imagination and a fine sense of hospitality. Over some excellent cognac they had talked late into the night, about anything except money. They had talked about expensive sports like snowboarding and mountain biking, sports that brought you free-spending friends who were sure to come to your hotel in due course. And as well as those things, they had talked about art.

The banker’s economics degree hadn’t included a module on the history of art. It should have done. Among the presidents and chairmen, nobody talks about money, or finance, or politics, or the world economy. They have special advisers to do all that for them. The top people go to the opera or the ballet, to productions they or their friends have sponsored, and when they come home, to their comfortable, quietly furnished homes, there is an Altdorfer or a Lorenzo Monaco unostentatiously displayed. It may be worth more than the room it is hung in, or more than the whole house. The people who deal in these things will know. No-one else needs to.

It seemed strange at first to find a mountain-biking thirty-year-old son of a hotelier knowing so much about art, but it made sense when you thought about it. Where there is mountain biking, there are mountains. Where there are mountains, there are mountain villages, and mountain village churches; and that – especially in the Pyrenees – means wall paintings, frescoes, painted wooden ceilings, and the simple pure light of the Romanesque. You can’t train hard on your bike every single day, and art is a more interesting way of spending your time off than sitting around all day eating pasta.

Back here in Switzerland there were some good examples too. The church of St Martin in Zillis was world-famous: even the banker had heard of it, with its 153 paintings on the ceiling, and the mirrors on the pews that let you look up at the roof without twisting your neck. But there were other, smaller places that few people had heard of. ‘You really ought to stop at St Florian on your way back,’ his host had said. ‘Just three panel paintings, 12th century, but they are gems…’

‘Stop at St Florian.’ To do so would be anomalous. It was not on his list. It was not a previously timetabled action. It had not been assessed and approved two weeks in advance. In the closely packed mosaic of his life there was no room for sudden frivolous changes of plan.

He looked down at his screen and the orderly pattern it showed: the days his cleaner came, his three-weekly visits to his parents. There were gaps in the calendar for his girlfriend, the same as the ones she had in her calendar for him. He looked at the screen, and let himself notice what he had been trying to ignore: the tear in the seamless fabric of time.

Today was the first of November. It was a public holiday, the feast of All Saints, in half the cantons of Switzerland. In the other half it was a normal working day. Typical Swiss federal mess. In the holiday cantons half the people would be at work anyway, because their colleagues elsewhere were; and in the working cantons a lot of them would be taking the day off because the rest of the country was. In all this disorder it had proved impossible to make any meaningful appointments for today. The screen covered up the embarrassment by saying ‘Do paperwork.’ It was an awkward cover-up.

Paperwork was important, of course; but paperwork could really be done at any time. Perhaps he should let one anomaly accommodate the other: the dislocated time and the unscheduled detour. Exceptions call for exceptional handling. Besides, there was an important reception coming up next week. It would be good to be seen to be cultured and knowledgeable among others who were.

On the printed timetable St Florian was shown in italics. That meant a request stop: another Swiss mess. Either trains had time to stop or they did not – surely? Swallowing his irritation at the inconsistency, the banker pressed a button to call the conductor.

He knew all about arriving in places. If it was an airport there’d be a driver waiting, holding up a placard saying Dr Franz Bär. If he was arriving by train, he’d be more likely to go straight to the taxi rank and give the driver the name of his hotel. This time neither of these things was scheduled to happen. He would just have to arrive and see what turned up. It felt like being a student again. Back then, he just used to arrive in places because there was always bound to be something. In Milan, once, in the middle of an unsuspected trade fair, there had been nothing but a room in a brothel. He and Urs and Pauli and Maximilian had all shared it. Ten years ago, it must have been. It seemed shorter.

In St Florian, there were no brothels. There were no hotels either, and no taxis. Outside the station there was only the darkening twilight and an unhealthy-looking teenager doing wheelies on his mountain bike. Inside, there was a poster saying when and where it was illegal to pick mushrooms, and a machine selling chewing gum and bars of chocolate. The man behind the ticket window was as helpful as he could be – in other words, not very. No, there were no hotels open just now. There were plenty in the winter season, and guesthouses too, and quite a few in the summer, but now, between seasons, it was a different story. The nearest place that might accommodate him was the next stop along the line, 10km away. Trains passed every two hours. Would the gentleman like the next train to stop for him?

The gentleman felt disappointed that his spontaneous moment should have been squashed so soon, and then disappointed with himself for letting himself be disappointed so easily. He explained to the man behind the window that he had come here, to St Florian, specially to see the famous paintings in the church. The man reflected, and unbent a little. His wife had a room that she rented out to skiers during the season. They had just finished repainting it, he was sure she’d be happy to help. Only – looking the banker up and down – ‘I don’t think it’s quite what you’re used to.’

It wasn’t; but then there was nothing terrible about it either. The smell of paint was still strong, and the two single beds were narrow. Next door, the bath was tiny and the shower curtain was the plastic kind that wraps itself round your body and lets all the water spray on the floor. But it was only for one night, after all. This was an adventure.

Downstairs, he was offered cake and milky coffee. No cafés were open at this time of year, Mrs Gruber explained, and he mustn’t go hungry.

‘I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to see our paintings today,’ she said. ‘The church is closed because they’re getting it ready for tonight’s Mass. Our Trudi is going to take part, it’s very exciting. She’s going to be one of the servers.’

‘Not servers, Mum, readers,’ said Trudi in a how-many-times-do-I-have-to-tell-you voice. She sounded as if she used it often. No-one in history had ever been cursed with such thick parents. Trudi had straw-coloured pigtails and she was going through that stage your arms and legs have grown but not much else has. Her whole manner was that of someone who would prefer to be invisible for the next year or so. Hide inside your headphones and come out when it’s all over.

‘Would you like to come to Mass with us?’ Mrs Gruber asked; and Bär found that he did. It was years since he’d been inside a church for anything other than a wedding, but it would be a good opportunity to view the paintings without being too arty about it. Besides, it was better than sitting alone watching early evening TV quiz shows or looking through an illustrated book entitled ‘Outstanding Beauties of the Swiss Federation.’ Yes, the church was definitely the better choice.

In the square the church bell was tolling. It was dark and damp and penetratingly cold. Bär stood with his hosts, wrapped in the all-purpose family sheepskin they kept for lending to guests, and waited for the church doors to open so they could all go in.

The church square was more of a swelling in the road than a proper square. There was a Migros supermarket covered in money-saving posters, there were a few iron posts for attaching bicycles to, and that was more or less it. Not much of a destination, but now it was full of people. Little family groups were standing around, shifting their weight from one foot to another and waving greetings to their friends. Small children kept themselves warm by running around at high speed. Some of them were waving sparklers.

A tall rectangle of warm yellow light: the great west door of the church was being opened at last. Bär kept close to the Grubers so as not to be separated from them when the crowd surged forward. The rectangle swelled and became curved at the top as the doors opened wider. The light was so bright now that it was like firelight and you felt you could warm your hands at it.

No-one moved.

The bell stopped. Out of a nearby doorway came a tall skinny boy carrying a cross on a long pole, then a stockier one swinging a thurible. He was showing off his muscles by swinging it in long arcs with one unsupported arm. As the thurible reached the top of each swing it hesitated for an instant and left behind a fat puff of smoke that shone in the light from the church door.

Beneath the regular dots of smoke came a line of boys and girls in robes, walking two by two. People were standing on their toes or leaning sideways to see their children in the procession; fathers were holding toddlers high above their heads so they could catch a glimpse. The procession entered the church. The organ was playing and from inside the church singing could be heard.

At the end of the procession came the priest. His vestments were shining gold and the light reflected from them left his face in stark shadow. It was impossible to see if he was young or old. He was just a formal abstract golden shape that could have come straight out of an illuminated manuscript.

The priest went into the church, and still the crowd made no attempt to move. We are latecomers, Bär thought, and there is no room for us inside. He never went into churches, but now that he was left standing outside one, he felt left out. If I’d known, he thought, I could have come early and found a seat and kept a place for the others. Next year, he thought, I’ll come back and I’ll do better. Next year I’ll go in.

The crowd didn’t seem at all worried by being stuck outside in the cold. Bär couldn’t hear any grumbles or reproaches. People simply closed ranks a little, shuffling to get nearer to the warm yellow light, like guests getting closer to the bonfire before the fireworks start.

The strange Mass went on. From the outside, all that could be seen was that welcoming light. From time to time it seemed that there were shadows moving around in it. It was hard to be sure.

A couple of times there was definitely singing going on, because a few people in the crowd joined in. The usual suspects: some women (women will sing anywhere, even if people can hear them) and one or two old men who were evidently too deaf to hear the noise they were making. Not a Deutsche Grammophon moment.

The church bell tolled three times, and people bowed. One or two of the older ones knelt in the slush: without anyone noticing, a few wet flakes of snow had started to fall. The bell tolled three times more, and was silent.

The priest’s voice called something from inside the church and people began to turn to each other, shaking hands or even embracing. The children in the square ran about, having a race to see how many hands they could shake in the time. The adults were more restrained: Bär’s hand was shaken by Mr and Mrs Gruber, and by a shaven-headed youth with a mugger’s face; and by a bent old woman whose eyes, as he looked down into them, had nothing senile about them at all.

The children stopped running around. The snow was falling steadily now. More incomprehensible activity inside the church, and then the procession emerged. The cross-bearer was as tall and straight as ever, but the thurifer was surreptitiously using his other arm to prop up his incense-swinging elbow. Behind him the rest of the procession straggled in an end-of-term sort of way. Now it seemed nothing but a line of children in fancy dress. Finally the stylized shape of the priest in gleaming gold. He hadn’t changed. He didn’t look as if he was in fancy dress at all.

The dark doorway swallowed the gold as it had swallowed up everything else. The warm light from the great west door faded as the candles were put out. All that was left was an ordinary crowd without much purpose to it, in an ordinary street, getting cold and damp under the streetlights.

Back home, even the dim lamp that hung over the table seemed painfully bright in contrast. Trudi had caught up with them somewhere on the way home, and they all settled down to supper: thick soup that had been left simmering while they were away, and dense chewy rye bread, and heavy, nutty mountain cheese. The hot soup helped, but despite the family sheepskin, Bär felt frozen through and weary beyond endurance. If only I could throw myself on the floor, he thought, I’d be asleep in seconds. He forced himself to keep awake and seem polite and appreciative of the experience he’d been through.

Mrs Gruber, on the other hand, was bright and animated. Something about the whole thing had been very exciting for her and she was trying to get Trudi to share her excitement. To all her questions of ‘How did it go?’ and ‘Did your reading go well?’ and ‘What did the priest say in his sermon?’ Trudi replied in monosyllables that it was OK, everything was OK, she didn’t remember much of the sermon but it was OK. Evidently she considered that she had done enough performing for one night and the adults should leave her alone.

So in the end it was Mrs Gruber who told the story. ‘For the Mass for All Saints’ Day, we only ever enter the church once. Only once, in the year that we’re confirmed. Once in life, once only for each of us. The priest tells the same story in his sermon every year. I’ve never forgotten it. I hope Trudi doesn’t.’

It was in the turbulent times after the Reformation (the story went). Civil and religious affairs were in chaos. Strange sects sprang up that everyone thought had died long since. They claimed secret knowledge that had been hidden for centuries. The common people were not expected to have access to this knowledge, or to understand it. It was not for them.

St Florian was isolated then: it was a day’s journey from the nearest road. When a Gnostic brotherhood started to take over, there was no-one to stop them. They were like the Cathars of mediaeval France. They said they had the secret of good and evil. They believed that matter was evil and created by an evil anti-God. The body was not the glory of the soul but its prison. The elect had lived through many lives of purification and with their hidden wisdom they were on the point of becoming pure spirit. The common people existed to work and breed, to serve and to obey. The elect ate only specially prepared food that would not harm their souls. They did not marry, and if one of their selected concubines became pregnant she was suffocated, to save a new soul from being born into the prison of a new body.

Late one summer a traveller arrived on foot, ragged and starving. The people welcomed him, as mountain people do. They fed him and looked after him and made him strong. When he recovered he told them that he was a priest. Quietly and humbly, over meals with trusted friends and friends of friends, he taught them – reminded them – that God had created both matter and spirit, that a human being was not a soul imprisoned in an evil body but a unity of body and soul destined for glory together; that for proof, God had become man; and that on the last day the dead would rise again, a perfect unity of spirit and glorified body.

A generation before, they would have known this so well that they wouldn’t have bothered to listen. Now, the priest’s words were words of liberation, and they listened more and more, again and again.

But no teaching can remain secret for ever. The second circle of power, the men who were not of the elect but hoped to be soon, heard the rumours. They told the elect; and the elect, too spiritual themselves to condescend to performing any material act, decreed that action should be taken. Family after family found it could not harbour the priest any more. After exclusion came attack, and at last he fled for his life and locked himself into the disused church. It was the 31st of October.

The next morning, the first of November, which had once been All Saints’ Day, the church bell began to toll. It went on and on. People came out of their houses and gathered outside the church: the older ones from habit, the younger ones from curiosity. Some people, of course, were there out of hostility. They tried the west door but it was locked and bolted. Some suggested fetching an axe, but others said that it would be sacrilege. Someone from the inner circle said that since matter was evil, attacking it could never be evil. Burn it, he said. They were still arguing when the tolling ceased and all that could be heard was their own quarrelling voices. They were embarrassed and fell silent. A child tried the handle of the west door, and this time the doors swung open and they were free to enter.

It was dark inside, and cold. Three candles burned on each side of the altar and between them stood the priest, in white vestments marked with mildew. Behind him, on the altar, was a gold cup and a massive gold monstrance with a piece of white bread displayed at its centre.

The people came forward and filled the church: the men at the front and the women at the back. The priest waited until everyone was in the church and standing silent, from awe or from prudence, waiting to see what would happen.

The priest turned to the altar, raised the monstrance and turned back with it to face the people. Holding it in both hands he made the sign of the cross over them. ‘The blessing of God the Son, of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, be on you all,’ – he paused – ‘living and dead.’

The men who were to take the final action had placed themselves carefully. Now they looked round to see that their neighbours were in place for a coordinated move; but they did not see the figures they expected. They saw their fathers. They saw their grandfathers. They saw their long-lost brothers who had died in childhood. All were kneeling quietly, their heads bowed to receive the blessing. The dead were everywhere. Their presence was not a threat but a reassurance, like seeing a familiar face looking down on you when you wake up from an illness.

It was getting crowded, though. The men who had come into the church moved back from the front to leave room for the dead. The church continued to fill up, and they moved further and further back. They found themselves among the women. They were not the women they had come in with, but others, some of whom they remembered. Some were old; quite a few were young and pretty and had babies in their arms. And still the church grew more crowded.

In the end the whole living village found itself standing outside the church while the dead took up all the space within. They heard the priest’s voice call out ‘Come, it is time to go home,’ and the crowd parted and left a broad lane in front of the west door, because the dead were coming out. The dead were smiling and laughing and from time to time one of them would spot friends in the crowd and wave joyfully to them. In the middle of the dead walked the priest. His vestments were bright now, with no sign of mould on them.

They turned left out of the square and went on up the hill towards the cemetery. The people watched them go. Later on some of the braver ones followed but there was no-one to be seen.

‘Did the priest disappear as well?’ Bär asked.

‘No. They found him later and they disposed of him. But their power over us was broken, and when more settled times came, a real priest came out from the city to look after us.’

‘He wasn’t a real priest, then?’

‘Who knows? He might have been a priest. Or a tramp pretending to be a priest. He might have been an angel, or Christ himself.

‘It doesn’t matter. The power of the brotherhood was broken and we could live once more. Once a year we commemorate our liberation. We can go in only once, like Trudi tonight, but we remember always. That is why we talk about it afterwards, for remembrance.’

Mr Gruber spoke. ‘Trudi, what did you see in the church tonight?’ He had been quiet for a long time and it seemed to Bär that his question had a bite to it. He remembered that Mr Gruber had come to St Florian as an adult, fallen in love with a girl here and stayed. That meant he had never been in the church on All Saints’ Day. He sounded edgy. Did he disbelieve? Was he jealous? Did he disbelieve because he was jealous? There was an undercurrent here. A long-running family argument was being brought to the surface in front of a stranger.

‘I don’t know,’ said the girl. ‘I was concentrating on doing my reading. I didn’t look.’ It was a lie, of course; but asked to provide a weapon for one parent against the other, what else can a child do except pretend to be empty-handed?

There was a certain tension. Diplomatically, Bär broke the silence. ‘What about tomorrow? Do you have any special customs for All Souls’ Day? In some parts of the world they visit the graveyard, they have parties, even…’

‘No,’ said the mother, ‘bless you, that would be a strange thing for us to do. It’s an ordinary day and we get on with the business of it.’

‘We start the maintenance of the lifts tomorrow,’ Mr Gruber added. ‘Some of us even try them out once they’re working, if there’s any snow. It’s a grand sight if it’s a nice day. You should have a look before you go.’

The conversation was on safe ground now. How many lifts, what kind they were, how long the season was, how much the maintenance cost. The tension was forgotten and Bär thought that it was a long time since he had had such warm, unaffected people round him. No-one was trying to impress anyone. He thought that perhaps he would be able to squeeze in the lift-mending as well as a glance at the famous ancient paintings in the church. It would be a mark of respect to his hosts, and it would make the adventure complete.

Skiers have a joke about the age of ski lifts. The Swiss buy them and use them, then they sell them second-hand to the French, who use them and sell them to the Italians, who use them and sell them to the Bulgarians… What order you tell it in depends on who you’re drinking with, and what mood they’re in, and whether they’re bigger than you; but the Swiss always come first.

The people of St Florian seemed not have cottoned on to the fact that for this joke to work, you have to sell your old ski lifts and not keep them running for ever and ever. The T-bar at the bottom of the hill looked as if it had been in place at least since ‘the turbulent times after the Reformation.’ Now workmen were crawling over it and doing their best to bring it back to the 21st century after its summer break. The motors were running already. Bär recognised the shaved and pierced mugger from last night, climbing among the pylons, his bright yellow scaffolder’s belt full of tools for banging things with or wrenching them. On each pylon he would put his ear to the pulleys, tightening one thing, loosening another. On the ground, other people were testing the T-bar more directly, by using it.

Last night’s snow had left no more than a dusting on the ground under Bär’s feet. If he wanted, he could push it aside with his shoe and see the tired end-of-season grass underneath. But a little higher up there was one of those odd little snow-pockets that the mountains are dotted with, where something about the shape of the hills means that snow falls harder and stays longer. It happens even on the largest scale. When Méribel is all windswept ice dunes, St Anton, at a lower altitude, is buried under deep snow.

Here was a St Anton in miniature. It must be, because the people using the T-bar had no problem going up it and no problem at all coming down again. Bär, being an orderly character, was mildly shocked at the idea of riding a lift without a signed and current safety certificate for the year in question, but he reflected that unless the cable actually snapped and cut someone in two, a T-bar was a fairly safe device.

They were a ramshackle lot, these skiers. They were mostly quite old. He supposed the younger people would be at work today, but now and then one of the kinetic immortals, the twenty-year-olds with no notion of danger, would shoot down with complete disregard of the shape of the landscape, people’s safety, or anything else.

One man in a fur jacket evidently shared Bär’s distrust of untested lifts. He was walking steadily up the slope carrying his skis. He must be quite fit, because he didn’t look as if he was getting tired. A teenage snowboarder (the first Bär had seen) carved a steep semicircle round him, dipping his glove in the snow as he went. Spiky hair, earring: he looked refreshingly modern.

Suddenly Bär’s attention was caught by a movement high up the slope on the left. When we know someone really well we can recognise them from movement alone before you’re even close enough to see their face. Even when the mind then hesitates for a long time on the cusp between recognition and identification. Even when you haven’t seen each other for ten years.

Pauli had been his best friend at school. They had gone to university together but then, as so often happens, they had grown apart. Or rather, Bär had grown further and Pauli hadn’t. That was where the distance had come from. Pauli was the one who drank, and smoked dope, and disappeared for days on end. He’d relied on his intelligence and charm to keep his studies going without opening a book. It had worked, for a while.

The end of Pauli’s university career shouldn’t have been the end of anything. There was no reason for it to. Once a friend, always a friend. He’d kept Pauli’s number in his phone and he’d always been meaning to get in touch. To go for a drink and catch up. Yet something had always stopped him. Fear of embarrassment? Fear of having nothing to say, when once upon a time they couldn’t stop both talking at once? Fear of discovering their friendship was obsolete? Whatever the fear was, it worked. When in the end he had rung, the voice that answered hadn’t been Pauli’s. He had deleted the number after that.

And now here Pauli was, coming down the hill towards him. Bär forgot all his fears and shyness and jumped up and down waving his arms and yelling on the top of his voice. The skier showed no sign of noticing. Perhaps it wasn’t Pauli after all. Bär stopped jumping around. He felt rather a fool. The skier came closer and he saw that it really was Pauli. Pauli was looking fit and happy, but he showed no sign of recognising Bär, and by now Bär felt shy again. He stayed still. Pauli skied across to the T-bar and rode the lift up and out of sight.

Bär waited, and waited; but Pauli never came back.

He saw the paintings in the end. They were good. His mind was too preoccupied to appreciate them properly, but they were good. He would come back and see them again one day when he was in a better frame of mind for art.

They requested the train for him. It stopped. He got on it and went on to Zurich. His life was still there, waiting for him. It was just like on the screen. A regular life with a regular pattern. He got through it steadily. It continued to scroll past him, one line at a time.

Of course I saw you. I’d have seen you even if I hadn’t been looking out for you after last night, I’d have seen you, Mr Dignified Banker, jumping up and down and yelling like some crazy fool. It’s been a long time and you haven’t changed. Well, you have and you haven’t. I hope you still have someone to get drunk with. You need that, you know. You don’t know you do, but you do.

We’ve got a lot to say to each other. Everything – and nothing. Especially nothing. We need to spend a lot of time saying nothing. It can’t be done in a hurry. It can’t be done when I’m here skiing fast before the snow melts, and you’re not. It’ll have to wait a little longer till we’re together again.

Now you’re back on your railway line to Zurich. You’re back on your little hamster wheel that you’ve made for yourself, going round and round. You’re back to being orderly and respectable and not offending anyone. Back to making appointments, keeping appointments. To lists and tasks and tasks and lists and files and files and files.

Where is that line taking you, that line you’ve chosen to follow? You know a little about art, you must know about perspective. You know that when you look along the tracks you see two rails converging to a point on the horizon. But where is your line going? You don’t know. What is at that point on the horizon where the rails meet? You don’t know.

Were you never curious about where it was all really leading you? I was. I needed to know. All the time I was finding out, you went on like a chicken pecking a line of grain laid along the ground, never looking up to see if it leads to freedom or being cooked in the pot. You still don’t know which.

I needed to know where the line was going; and you can’t see it in true perspective unless you go off the rails. So that’s where I went.

It’s rough ground away from the line, I can tell you that. It’s broken pathless ground, a lot of it, and often no-one to tell you which way to go. When you do meet someone, they mostly just tell you to go away.

When you are off the rails there are rocks and sliding screes, and ravines that go nowhere and take you miles off your path. Sometimes you see a peak and you climb it and for a moment you can see the landscape all around, but then the clouds come in and again you don’t know where you are.

There are cliffs to fall off, too. As I discovered.

I don’t resent it. Well, perhaps I did at the beginning, but not any more. I know my journey was worth it. I hope yours will have been. I hope you’ll tell me all about it when we get together this time next year – on All Souls’ Day, when the dead come out to ski.