We’ve been in Switzerland for four days. Our daughter has not asked for a cartoon. Not one. It’s a miracle. She doesn’t miss her toys. She doesn’t want a magazine. She’s genuinely, peacefully happy.
It’s a surreal experience to see my little girl live out my childhood holidays in Villard. Passed down through the family over years until it reached my mum and her siblings, very little has changed in the chalet. The fabric of the place has shifted and our half was renovated when I was a kid, with toilet doors that actually closed and a fire that actually heated. But the details, the stuff, has been the same since I can remember.
The games on the shelves are faded now, their boxes a little disjointed. But from the ornate animals of Pierrot Noir to the quaintness of the silhouette lotto, they’re perfectly playable and -if anything- an improvement on their modern counterparts.
The playing cards have the same issues they’ve always had. And in this family, it matters, because we play ‘crapette’. A violent card game played at the speed of light and preferably after a glass or two of wine, crapette has been adopted as the Forel battle of choice and strikes fear into the hearts of any newcomers. Each person needs a full deck of cards, which each come with their own particular grumbles. Someone always gets the tiny pack from a patience set, clearly meant for borrowers or hamsters rather than average-sized humans. Someone else gets the cheap ones, poorly printed and slippery as hell, lacking that handy tack the older packs have spent years accumulating. We could replace them all for under a tenner. Of course we could. But we don’t.
Villard is the place I’d binge read Dahl and binge eat toast, grilled in the wood fire and clasped between blackened metal tongs. It’s where I’d lay in bed at night chattering quietly with my cousins. Where we’d watch the thunderstorms rumble and flash around the valley. Where we’d pack picnics and make our way through the long grass before clambering down to the river to make dams and dare each other into ice-cold pools.
I know it all sounds a bit Famous Five, a bit too pure. And don’t worry, there were lows. There were almighty rows and family ‘debates’ and the time the dead mouse showed up and the winter the toilet froze and snapped in half. But generally speaking, it was amazing.
Which is why I couldn’t be prouder to say that Olivia gets it instinctively. Stripped of her beloved TV, it turns out she knows exactly what to do. I watch her, bouncing around on her bed and putting on a play for us, using the curtains for her grand entrance on her mattress stage. She wheels the dolls -one sporting an 80s Princess Di haircut, the other in make-up straight from Burning Man- around the patio in an antique wicker pram. She shrieks as my parents launch a rocket made with a plastic bottle and a balloon. She flies around on the swing that looks out onto the mountains, reinforced by her grandad so we don’t lose her in a field somewhere. She hangs upside down from the rope ladder at my great uncle Claude’s, blood rushing to her giggling head. She does jigsaws for hours. And at night, exhausted, she falls asleep in the room with the green floral wallpaper I remember so well, curled up with my cousin’s matted cuddly leopard.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not that there’s a lack of articles about the perils of the screen and the joys of living simply. It’s just not that easy to actually live by. What is easy, is to put on a new episode of Octonauts or buy the latest magazine with all its accompanying plastic tat. Just to fill the time. Raise a smile.
But temporary happiness isn’t really what anyone’s after. So maybe a step backwards to how things were could be a good thing. Villard is that kind of place. No trends. No shops. No new releases. An extremely dodgy internet connection. The polar opposite of contemporary life. And the kind of place we should all go to once in a while.