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Sport 10: Autumn 1993


They travelled up in a windowless furniture truck. They lay in their sleeping bags like rows of chrysalises. The boys—Sandra did not believe for a minute they were farmers, some of them were not much older than her—drank from beer bottles and guffawed. The girls—fewer of them—said 'oh Kevin' or 'don't Bruce'. Their tones were reproving, their smiles encouraging.

She lay next to Gary. Sometimes he held her hand. Once she dozed off against his shoulder. From a long way off she heard the others: 'Hey Coxy, have another beer. Are y'scared of brewer's droop?

They stopped in a small town and Gary came back with two pies. She bit into hers and the contents dribbled down her arm. They stopped again. Desperate to orient herself, she got out while the boys formed another row at the roadside and relieved themselves of several pints of beer. She supposed the fact that Young Farmers did things in herds was what her mother might call an occupational hazard.

The air was sharp. She pulled her new padded jacket around her and looked up at the sky. It was vast and deep. She could see all the way into outer space and didn't like it much.

'Great, eh? It was the gangly man—the word came naturally, he wasn't a boy—who had lain at the end of their row, sometimes reading, sometimes page 123 smiling at the boys' antics.

'Look. Up there. The Southern Cross.'

She frowned into the chaos of stars. The sky over Hendon had been modestly suburban. 'Where are we?'

'The Desert Road,' said the man, pulling his straggly beard.

'Desert ... ?' said Sandra. But the boys were piling back into the truck and the driver was revving impatiently.

They arrived at midnight. 'Put your boots on,' said Gary, lacing his own. 'It's a fair walk to the hut.'

Sandra had imagined something like the forts she used to build at the bottom of the garden. She had assumed they would pull up at the door. Instead she was given a carton of baked bean cans and another of beer to carry along with her pack, and expected to stumble in a crocodile of drunken yelling boys and dazed girls through the dark and several feet of snow. Up ahead someone waved a torch which kept blinding her. She fixed her eyes on Gary's back and plunged on. Once her leg sank icily up to her thigh and she dropped the box. 'Here, give it to me,' said Gary, and she passed it over, grateful for his kindness and relative sobriety. She felt sorry for the other girls.

The but was huge and cold, like a school hall. 'Where's the toilet?' whispered Sandra, when she'd finally hauled off her sodden boots and socks.

'Outside,' said Gary. She put them back on again.

When she returned there were a only a couple of boys and the gangly man left in the big main room. 'Night,' he said. 'You look bushed.'

She peered shyly into the darkened bunkroom marked Women. It was full of thumps, yells and giggles, by no means all of them female.

'What'ya doing?' said Gary from across the hall. 'I've got us a bunk in here.'

She felt the flimsiness of her shortie nightie and stuffed it back into her pack. It seemed inappropriate for a ski hut, especially a room marked Men. She climbed up to Gary in her jersey and knickers.

She struggled with the zip of her new sleeping bag. 'You don't need that,' said Gary, 'Get in with me.' There was an explosive noise in the darkness and a 'Shh, Barry.'

'I don't think. . .'she began.

'You're frozen,' he said, grabbing her hand. 'Come on. Rattle your dags.'

She wormed her way in. It was unbelievably cramped. She sighed with page 124 relief when he put his arms tight around her and the sides of the sleeping bag retreated by several inches.

A few minutes later, she was forcing herself against them again.

'Why not?'

'Because I don't want to.'

'Why not?'

The darkness was full of muffled sounds. A bunk juddered for several seconds and when it stopped, a male voice said, 'That you, Coxy?'Someone else honked with laughter.

The two of them lay still and Gary held her hand. Sandra wriggled the other one out of the sleeping bag and saw the luminous face of her watch at quarter past three. Gary sighed and slipped their joined hands deeper into the sleeping bag. At last he was going to sleep. Then like lightning his grip tightened, and for a few incomprehensible seconds, she was grasping an unwrapped, warmed up chub of luncheon sausage.

She uttered a loud noise of disgust and outrage. 'Whoa, Coxy.' 'Shh, Kevin.'

She kicked her way out of the sleeping bag. 'Where'ya going?' said Gary in astonishment.

'Away from you,' she hissed. He grabbed her arm. Halfway down to the next bunk, she yanked it away, lost her grip and planted a foot firmly in the face of whoever was lying underneath. 'Ooofuck,' said whoever it was. Sandra didn't say sorry. They were all as bad as one another.

She felt her way through the darkness to the big main room, dragging her sleeping bag. She groped around the furniture and finally identified the long back of a couch. She got into her bag standing up and lowered herself with a groan.

'Couldn't sleep, eh?' It was Artie, the gangly man. 'I'm on the other couch. Too much snoring and carrying on in there.'

'They make me sick,' said Sandra, 'I thought Gary was different. But he's disgusting.'

'Oh dear,' said Artie's disembodied voice. 'I wondered if you knew what you were in for. When I hung up from speaking to your mum, I said, "If she goes up the mountain a virgin, she certainly won't come down one."'

Sandra gasped. 'Do all the girls, you know ... ?'

'Buggered if I know. The boys say they do.'

'They didn't in England,' said Sandra and her eyes watered.

page 125

'I was homesick once,' said Artie. 'They sent me to boarding school when I was ten because the farm was in the wop-wops. I used to lie in bed after lights out and pretend I was home. It made my bones ache.' There was a rustling as Artie rearranged himself in his sleeping bag. 'How'd you meet Coxy, anyway.'

And Sandra told him.