21 Dec 2015, 10:56 p.m.
A post about a national Swiss pastime, which is clearly superior to the sunny seaside idling of my own youth.

Switzerland is a beautiful country with many fine aspects: craggy, snow-covered mountains; distant valleys in which quaint villages hide; wide, ethereal lakes; fondue. One thing it lacks, however, is a coast. There are no beaches here. One cannot surf in Switzerland. We are landlocked, and we can only dream of the sea.

Where I come from, the seafront is a heavily-used public good. All through the summer, the shoreline and the pier are full of tourists and daytrippers down from London. The Golden Mile is lined without a break by arcades, chip shops, pubs and stalls selling jelly sandals, bubblegum ice cream and humorous variations on the Baby on Board sign. There's no child in town who hasn't fallen on their face in the shallows or buried their siblings up to the neck in the sand. Here, there's nothing like that.

Here, they take the children sledding.

I can hear you now. "We go sledding too, Rae!" you say, just like I did when David first proposed such a winter outing for the two of us. "An old oven tray, a ten-foot hill down the park, a couple inches of snow — push the kids down it a few times and then home for tea!"

Yeah, no. Here's how they sled in Switzerland: down actual mountains. You grab your children and make sure they're wearing their adorable miniature snowsuits, ski gloves and woolly hats with pompoms on top. (Sidenote: ski gloves for adults are damned expensive here, but if you have small hands, the children's ones are very economically priced.) You grab your sleds, because every family has a full set, of course. Ours is a beautiful wooden one, which you'd call old-fashioned in Britain because we haven't had decent snow since 1950. It was given to us by David's dad's partner Maria; she hadn't used it since its maiden voyage twenty years ago, when she flew off and broke her coccyx. The bone still hurts her in cold weather. She decided it was time to give up her sled.

Anyway, by now you've got the children and their vehicles, which might be wooden, steel or plastic but are certainly highly engineered. The kids are starting to melt and go all runny in their cold-weather gear, so you jump on a train and head off to the mountain. If the train doesn't go all the way to the top, you catch a ski lift or a funicular railway. Just keep ascending until you're having trouble breathing and men with oxygen canisters are passing you on foot; then you should be there: at the restaurant. Schlager might be booming out, in which case I'm very sorry, but there'll be no escape from it all day.

The different runs down the mountain should be clearly signposted (this won't necessarily stop you getting on the wrong one): experts' skiing, beginners' skiing, sledding, walking. You step out onto the snowfield and your pupils immediate pull together into pinpricks. Everywhere around you is nebulous, shimmering white, a dimensionless land like a clean sheet of paper or a Morph film. Part of you remembers that you're actually several miles above the earth and there might be dangers up here, but it's a very small part. You've been sledding since you were four years old, after all. Your children will be fine; they just have to learn how to handle themselves.

At the top of the slope, you politely wait for the trembling, blue-haired English person whose parents evidently didn't do them the favour you're doing your progeny.

You wait.

After a while, you tuck your oldest child onto her sled and send her blissfully down the mountainside at a good sixty miles an hour. Ah, you are so proud. Your second child follows, leaning instinctively into the curve on his bright red plastic mount with its black go-faster stripes.

You approach the Englander. "Would you like me to give you a push?" you generously offer, indicating the puffs of snow that are the only visible indicator of the children's progress.

"Yes please," they shamefacedly reply. They are wearing a duffel coat and jeans, not a Goretex spacesuit and goggles like a sensible person. Every so often, the strains of schlager rise on the wind and they flinch. It's pitiful, really.

The English person squats on their sled and experiments with different foot positions, as if someone once told them to steer with the feet, and brake with them in extremis. Perhaps it'll do them some good. Perhaps it will let them survive, until they learn that the only true way to steer is with the power of their heart — a power one learns as a child, growing strong on meadow milk and bedtime readings of Schellen-Ürsli.

"Okay. Ready?"

They nod, jaw clenched. You notice that their lips have gone white. Ahead, bobbing up and down in the neon void, various landmarks appear: a cluster of pine trees, a barbed-wire fence, a hut selling glühwein, the Bodensee, a set of limbs and ski poles sticking out of mound of snow. It's just like it was when you were a child, and deep inside, you feel the opening chords of the national anthem prying their way out of your heart. You shove the English person with the strong arms of an eidgenosse.

They scream like a pig being stuck — "Aaieee!" — travel six metres down the slope and disappear into a snowbank with a soft whump. Your job done, you rocket away. There's another restaurant in only six kilometres, after all, and a mug of hot chocolate with your name on it.

Based on this prompt.