Fire and Ice

Stephen Senn

Sunday's children

I certainly needed skis-bindings too. I added a pair of boots to the pile. Then there was the question of sticks and what was I going to ski in? I found a fibre-pile jacket that fitted and a pair of trousers. Shirts, a pullover, casual trousers and underwear I had already got from the place down the road. What else was there? A hat, of course, and gloves and ski-socks. Waxes would be needed too and sunglasses and a daysack for touring. A hold-all to hold all was added and a ski-bag too. The pile grew and so did Victoria's and that of the others.

A little unusual you may say but not extraordinary. But I wasn't packing but "buying" and I wasn't leaving for holiday but already on it. This was no week-day but Sunday and the ski-shop in Gjovik and a department store not to mention a shoe shop had opened specially for the thirteen of us. We went back to the bus with some 20,000 worth of good between us - which we didn't pay for - and then, stopping off only at a service station to load up on chocolate and toiletries - which we didn't pay for - returned to our hotel.

Sverre Loken, lensmannsbetjent, his story.

I hereby confirm that on Saturday 27.03.93 at 18:50 hours I was called to a fire on a bus belonging to Vestoppland Bilselskap in Gjovik. The fire occurred on State Highway 250 approx 5 kilometres from the centre of Vingrom.

13 English tourist were on board the bus, on their way to Synnseter Fjellstue.

The bus was completely burned out, and all the ski equipment and luggage of the passengers was destroyed in the fire.

Nearly right, Sverre Loken, lennsmansbetjent: twelve English tourists and one Swiss.

The Swiss tourist, his story

We had dropped the other Waymark party at Susjoen and that left thirteen of us: Victoria and me, Christine and Mike, Daphne and Toby, Philippa and Clive, Eric, Hirsch, John, Julian and our tour-leader Catherine. It was snowing less heavily now. Christine and Mike were sitting on the driver's side (the left hand side) and furthest back. We were on the right hand side just in front of the doors in the middle. The others were sitting further forward.

On a hill some way out of Lillehammer the bus stopped and the driver got out. The doors were closed.

"Damn," I thought, "the bus has broken down."
"He's stopped to put on the chains," said Catherine.
"Fire," shouted Christine.


Indeed, the back of the bus was on fire. Mike tried the middle doors. They wouldn't open. There was a seat blocking the front door and no-one could get out that way. I looked at the window for inspiration and found none. There then followed some rather unpleasant moments. Mike succeeded in getting the middle doors open and we were out into the frosty night. Those at the front climbed over the driver's seat. The driver was still trying to get out the fire extinguisher.

We ran from the bus which was blazing merrily now and blocking the road. The bus from Bergen to Lillehammer was stopped on the hill and we climbed in it to keep warm. From time to time we heard bangs and whistles. "What was that?," I wondered, "an aerosol in someone's luggage, a tyre blowing up in the heat, my bottle of Knockandhu packed in my Lowe rucksack?" Sometime later, it may have been minutes, it may have been hours, and there was a metal skeleton of a bus resting on the road.

So it was that on Saturday night, with nothing more than the clothes we stood up in, we arrived several hours late at the Synsetter Fjellstue hotel wondering what the holiday would bring.

We needn't have worried. The people of Gjovik were magnificent. Waymark's local representative and the bus company between them arranged for us to be kitted out on the Sunday. Everybody was extremely helpful, this bus didn't burn and we returned to the hotel.

Monday the skiing began.

Monday's child

Probably the smartest Waymark party ever gathered outside the hotel on a sparkling Monday morning to be licked into shape by their glamorously attired instructress. Herringboning, of all things, was the first lesson followed by the snowplough. I was given a fair telling off. I have always found the snowplough tiring. Safely out of sight, as I thought, I braked a little adventurously. She heard it. "I see we have some posers among us." Five minutes on the snow and rumbled already.

Fresh snow, brilliant sunshine, cold still air and the wide open spaces of Norway. Is there anything more satisfying than cross-country skiing?

The afternoon saw us on the top of mountain at the back of the hotel and spying out our targets for the days to come.

Seventh Heaven

There then followed seven marvellous days of ski-touring. What were they like?

Pull the curtains at 08:00 to sunrise in a clear sky. (Outside there is a lone skier already clocking up the kilometres. His name is Eric.) Meet for breakfast, a generous Norwegian buffet, at 08:30. Receive Catherine's instructions for the day. (She has an alarming habit of waving her arm over the map to take in thousands of square kilometres and then adding the phrase, "and then it will be time to turn back for home") Wax up at 09:30 (green or blue classic or blue extra) and set off at 09:45. (A lone skier, well in front, leads the way. His name is Eric.) The summit of Snuhen one day and Spatind another (a magnificent tour across a rolling and sparkling plateau). Sometimes on loipe and sometimes off-piste. Sometimes in woodlands and sometimes on the summits. Across the lakes, and up the rivers, and over the moors and, yes, even down the roads and striding and skating and hurtling and sometimes even falling but everywhere white hills and blue skies. Return to the hotel at 17:00 for a beer folowed by a sauna. (Outside a lone skier clocks up some more kilometres. His name is Eric.) Stuff ourselves silly at the Norwegian buffet: cold meats and salads and, of course, lots of fish, followed by a hot dish and pudding. Retire for coffee in the lounge afterwards and dance to the music of the Hungarian duo: brothers by the look of them, If there is a lone skier outside clocking up the kilometres no-one can see him, whatever his name is.

On tour above Synfjell

The Hungarian drummer, his story.

Ten years at Synsetter Fjellstue. Daytime attend, attend ski-lift. Evening play music: Blueberry Hill, Midnight in Moscow, Yesterday, Georgia on Mind: all the classics. Ten years but never see thing so funny like this. It make no sense. All dress same but not uniform. Take the small dark one. First time she dance with one man then another but man's shirt is the same. Different sizes but same shirt. Then on ski-lift. Two women and one man. Man have same new jacket as woman but she not the one who he says is wife. Then he says he is Swiss but also speaks English. Make no sense.

The Hungarian Drummer (HD) and the Swiss Tourist (ST): a dialogue (Translated from the broken German.)
HD Very good. Nice ski. All ski nice. But which one is your wife?
ST. That one.
HD You Swiss, Yes?
ST Yes.
HD But she English.
ST Yes
HD (Looks round furtively and then says confidentially.) English women, what are they like?
ST Fantastic.
HD Fantastic, yes, but fantastic, how? Fire or Ice?
ST Fire and ice!
HD Aha. I see. YOU must be the fire.

Tuesday's children

The holiday is over: a wonderful skiing holiday in marvellous company and only rescued from the ashes through the kindness of the local Norwegian people. (Was it significant that our holiday had started in the hotel Foenix in Oslo?) Representatives of the bus and insurance companies have been to visit us at the hotel and we have been given full restitution for our losses with the cheques in our pocket.

On the way back in the bus we play Boticelli. Various fiendishly difficult posers are set, Rupert Murdoch, Trollope, Bucephalus, Pooh Bear and even Daphnes' Mother, but Julian's chocolate bar takes the biscuit. Then we are at Fornebu airport saying goodbye to each other and going our separate ways. Catherine lost her passport in the fire. Did she ever make it back into the UK we wonder?

So long Norway, and thanks for all the fish!

Wednesday's children

Wednesday's children full of woe
Wednesday back to work they go.

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