Each of us, now and again, should be allowed to indulge in moments of ostentatious heroism. In a lifetime spent being crammed to the brim with an aspirant cocktail of airbrushed romantic leads and real-world tales of unbelievable hardship and altruism, I would feel disenfranchised without the odd occasion of fabricated hyperbole. I’m too yellow-bellied for war, and I’m unlikely ever to find myself in a situation that demands my self-sacrifice in the name of destroying zombies/Nazis/the entire cast of The X Factor. Instead, such moments must be sought in the mundane, where inevitably they will go quite wrong.
My moment came on a school ski jaunt to Austria. With no previous slope experience, I opted for the snowboard. Snowboards are cool, and therefore I would be too. At the time I was too young to have worked out why businessmen bloated on their own wealth only ever split their weight between a pair of skis. It turns out that, with a circumference roughly equal to that of the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Man, carving the powder to the max (dude) on a board with any degree of competence is about as easy as resisting a third helping at the lodge buffet. To this day, informing people that I’ve been snowboarding feels a fallacy, as I spent far more time rolling uncontrollably head over man-breast than I did stood upright.
The first day on piste was dedicated to mastering the basics. I did not master them. The second day saw us unleashed on the beginners slope. I say unleashed; I never actually made it to the top.
The ski lift was an automated pulley with plastic harnesses to secure around your waist for a quick tug to the nearby peak. At first I wasn’t the only one to struggle. The beginners slope became a sort of slapstick montage, 14 year old boys bowling over furious Austrians, snapping harnesses and generally demonstrating to the world why our school had been officially classed as ‘failing’ for over a decade. Those that conquered the lift were soon painfully reacquainted with gravity.
After a morning of this, the mutinous murmurings began. We were being forced to learn too quickly. We were being pushed too hard. We had ice down our trousers. Snow was falling hard now, and we were getting fed up. I most of all. I hadn’t eaten for at least an hour, and was suspicious that all this might count as exercise. If only someone would raise an objection. If only someone were brave enough to stand up for the rights of these downtrodden...
A final conflict with the ski lift tipped me over the edge. In the process of falling over I managed to catch my ankle in the harness and was dragged ignominiously up the slope on my face. When I disentangled myself, I marched over to the instructor who was stood with the rest of the class.
With righteous anger I sternly informed him that we were not happy with how things were going. In fact, we were more than unhappy. We were sick of it! We demanded change, and we demanded it immediately!
For a display of ostentatious heroism to be successful, a certain level of solidarity is required. Like a wave of men raising up their voices to insist that they are Spartacus. Or a legion of sheep, raving and drooling, falling united on the necks of their canine oppressors. I believed that such support from my fellow disillusioned would be implicit. When my fevered rhetoric was complete, I turned, expectant of a cheer, a ‘hear hear!’, perhaps a smattering of applause.
The final rule is that, if your display has clearly not worked, take it gracefully. If your fellow boys are staring at their boots or taking a sudden interest in some non-descript vista of the white-out, don’t scream that they are all wankers and stomp away across the powder. Further, try not to cry and fog up your goggles to the point where, combined with the swirling snow, you become lost on your return to the lodge and spend two hours alone in -19c before you make it back.
By the next morning, each and every one of my betrayers had mastered the ski lift and the ability to reach the bottom of the slope in an erect and dignified fashion. I spent the rest of the trip secure in the lodge, rescuing those around me from early graves by heroically reaching the bottom of innumerable plates of chips, an alternative form of heroism far more suited to my natural abilities.