On Why You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks But Why A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots.


On Why You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks But Why A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots.

My most recent trip for work took me to Austria and beyond my comfort zone in a number of ways. I made a decision some years ago to try new things even if they scared me or I thought I couldn’t do them and by and large, I have succeeded in doing things I never imagined I could ever do. I have learned a lot of new skills in the last five years but my most recent attempt to master(or at least try) a new skill was probably my most monumental fail to date.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you what I decided I was going to have a shot at.


I decided that since I was out as a ski rep, I’d have a try at skiing.

Yes, aged a few weeks short of forty five, never having so much as glanced at a dry slope, I decided I’d try a day of skiing. I’m fairly fit, have a reasonable sense of balance and a sense of humour. What could go wrong?

Well thankfully for everyone, nothing went wrong that a week or two of hot baths and arnica won’t fix. I probably should mention that I was the oldest in the beginner’s group, which was made up largely of 16 and 17 year olds, all of whom had dry slope experience. The two adults were younger than I and to put it bluntly were both smaller than me. I’m not especially tall or heavy but when someone described me once as being built like a pit bull terrier, I was forced to admit the truth of it. The only person I crashed into was the instructor, who was six foot five. But even he winced. I fell over. I fell over A LOT. I was just about getting the hang of staying upright on the slightest of inclines when I fell over and landed rather like a human pretzel.

You see, the one thing I never factored in was the fact that I have double joints. I’m basically endowed with the ligaments and tendons of someone six feet one, on my five feet seven body. I bend in improbable ways. I can partially dislocate various joints virtually without pain or effort, until later. When I did the impression of a pretzel, I fell backwards, sitting down between my own legs, splayed outwards and then flat on my back. I felt my hip joints strain and almost pop out.

Still, I got up again and had another go. This time, I fell sideways and I felt my left knee twist hard.

That was the moment when common sense and self preservation slapped me round the head and tried to talk some sense into me, and I limped off, carrying my skis. I explained to the instructor and he agreed: I was going to really hurt myself badly if I didn’t admit defeat. So after lunch, I trudged dejectedly off to the ski lift and faced something else that took me beyond my comfort zone.

I really don’t like heights. It’s not that I am phobic, as such, but I get vertigo. But there was no choice, so I scrambled into the wretched thing and made the descent alone. I felt tears burning my eyes, tears of self loathing that I’d failed and in all honesty, that descent was less terrifying because I had the chance to think about what had gone wrong.

I’d made a very basic mistake. Not only had I failed to take into consideration my own physical limitations but I’d also failed to understand that the whole purpose of skiing is to hurtle down a mountain side at speed. There’s no less than two things there that are incompatible with my core self. I hate speed. And I hate heights and find that I get dizzy and a little sick at heights. So given that the main objectives of learning to ski are completely counter to what makes me tick, it seems indescribably stupid to even try.

So you may ask, why on earth did I decide I would try? Well, I guess it’s one of those times where even though you know that the odds are it’s not for you, you feel you need to give it at least a single go before being able to say with confidence, it’s not for me. I think I am also keen to push myself beyond what I am comfortable with; often it has proved less scary than I thought. But this was one of those lessons where I discovered that I knew myself better than I would admit and proceeded anyway.

Thank God and my poor grey haired guardian angel that the worst that came of it is a lot of bruises and a few strained joints.

22 thoughts on “On Why You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks But Why A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots.

  1. And this is why we love you, even those of us who have only met you through your blog. I didn’t laugh at your decision to try skiing. I think I laughed when you fell. I did that even when I was young, so I learned to sit gracefully when I knew I was going to fall. I did not take up skiing. Hot water bottles, and heat patches. I feel for you. Pit bull, huh?


    • Yup. But I don’t slobber as much. I usually describe myself as “legs of iron, stomach of jelly” or “legs like a racehhorse, stomach like a jellyfish”, and am always mindful of the line in a Paul Simon song, You can call me Al, which goes, “…why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?”
      I don’t fall gracefully. I can both ice and roller skate without falling often, I can even walk on stilts and have managed balance beams, though the tightrope of my blog is a metaphorical one. I think I thought I might just manage; I guess the fact that one of the objects of the exercise was to eventually move fast escaped me.
      I found out at dinner that Mags, the other adult female had deliberately pulled the instructor over on her. He was rather scrummy. And young enough to be my son!!! I think he was grateful for my decision to exit stage left with limbs intact. What I can’t quite fathom is how I bruised and strained both wrists!!
      I am touched that you say you(and others) love me and that you laughed at the right bits.Thanks.


  2. Well. I was wondering where you’d got off to. And you not only answered my question, but entertained me with your engaging story, as only you can do.

    I hope you’re feeling better. Or at least, less battered.

    Good to have you back.


    • Thanks Janell.
      I am ok, but tired; I went straight back into my other job, first thing the morning after I flew home and that has worn me out. No more work now for weeks, though.
      You know, the morning I headed for the slopes with the groups, I felt sick with fear. Maybe I ought to have listened. Oh well, lesson learned.
      Nice to be back.


  3. Hi Viv! Hello! Hello!
    What a brilliantly told story. My husband just kept looking over at me because I was laughing and saying out aloud “oh Viv! OH no VIV!!” I really hope you’re okay though. And I’m really impressed not just that you gave it a go, but had the grace to say “it’s not for me”. I need to learn to say that more rather than, rather like a docile silly pit bull, running into the same wall again and again and not ever learning my blooming lesson.
    Thanks for sharing your tender ( and bruised) story,
    With loads of love. X


    • Hiya Bethan,
      lovely to see you here again.
      I am a bit of a one for bashing into walls myself but there comes a point where if you haven’t worn a door through yet, its time to admit defeat!


  4. Hi Viv
    I enjoyed your post too for loads of reasons. I’d like to rename it ‘Yoga on the Slopes’.
    First, I loathe the idea of skiing for the same reasons as you – I’m scared of heights and speed, and the combination is lethal. I can imagine having a similar experience to yours – but I would never never go there!! I trust my sense of what’s not possible for me – perhaps I trust it too much. I have a 70 year old friend who skis every year despite breaking her wrist quite seriously two years ago and now having a metal plate in it. I just don’t get it.
    I have double-jointed thumbs, thanks to my maternal grandmother, but that’s as far as it does. Your description of your first pretzel landing sounds like an abrupt and inelegant way of landing in a restorative yoga posture called Supta Virasana, or the reclining hero pose. This pose stretches the quadriceps muscles in your top legs, helps open your hips and stimulates your digestion. On the ski slopes a rapid progress into it may also stimulate an adrenaline rush and a sense of nausea! I’ve tried to upload a picture of it here, unsuccessfully so look it out on the internet.


  5. I didnt know you were skiing.
    Wouldnt have guessed it.
    It was good to try and, I think, good to quit.
    I have never tried, mainly because there are so many arrogant jerks I have known that love it . I know that is a bad reason and lots of good folk love it too so if you like – I am too poor to waste that much money and maybe break a leg and not be able to work .

    My kids wanted to go with the church group a few years back.
    I said sure, you pay and if you break something you will pay all medical bills .
    Never heard anymore of it 🙂

    glad your back and healing
    your friend,
    the skigrinch


    • Hehehe.
      Yes, it was an expensive experiment. I borrowed skis, boots and poles from the skifit shop for nothing but I had to pay 44 euros for the day pass, getting 3E back as a deposit.
      And yes, I have met a lot of arrogant jerks too, of both genders, who seem to believe that the ability to hurtle at speed down snowy slopes somehow makes them Jesus.
      Lesson learned!!


  6. My first attempt at skiing was much the same Viv. I, in my naivety, had thought that skiing was as shown on Ski Sunday i.e. point my self down hill and go!

    First wipe out later my instructor pointed out the merits of criss crossing the slope to control my speed… he didn’t explain the powdery nature of the snow at the very edge of the piste. I traversed expertly then found myself face first in a huge mound of snow. Picking myself up I couldn’t help but laugh at the cartoon-like human shaped hole in the snow!

    I persisted however and now I’d say I’m a complete novice skier who will never be a Franz Klammer. I will never speed gracefully down a black run and I will never ever feel completely at ease on Skis. Having said that I would ski again and I would enjoy the experience – and I would ache for Britain for weeks after!

    Glad you’re back safe and sound!



    • Hi Dave,
      no, I never imagined it would be easy!!!
      Glad you enjoyed it though! Am giggling at the Loony tunes image of the Dave shaped hole in the snow!!


  7. Hi there, Have come to your blog via ExmoorJane. My OH is a real big ski fan, I have never been too keen though I feel that I “should” like it so we can share the experience together. But, like you I am not fond of heights and I don’t like hurtling at speed – I guess I don’t like the loss of control!! Hmmm… now I’m thinking should I try it or not?


    • Hi Nic,
      nice to have you visit.
      Right, my thoughts are to have a try but give yourself plenty of time on dry slopes first before committing to snow. If your OH is already proficient, then it’s gonna take a long while before you can ski together, if at all.
      In my opinion, doing something because you feel you *should* is almost always a mistake!!!


  8. I am over visiitng from Jane’s blog, which I adore, so thought this would be a fab read, you had me in stitches describing your skiing debut. I am very in awe of you pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, wish I had such courage. So glad you didn’t beat yourself up when the skiing didn’t agree with you, but were able to weigh up why it didn’t work out….sigh another strength I envy. Lovely read.


  9. Ditto from Jane’s blog and thought this post wonderful. Sometimes you just have to do things even though you know deep down it’s not agood idea. Soemtimes it works and other times well we put it down to experience. If I didn’t try to do things I know I would die little which seems bonkers when I am so much alive…


    • Hi Tattie,
      I do know exactly what you mean about trying stuff. I’ve done so many crazy things that have pushed me (life modelling anyone- now there’s a challenge for the over 40, size 14+ woman, and yes, I have!) in the last five years. It is in confronting our mortality that we feel most aware of the life coursing through our veins.
      lovely to meet you; sorry for delay, have been ill.


  10. Pingback: seven spirits of god - lord jesus christ - good foundation - Characteristic - becoming a man - act of faith - power of god - supreme act - man jesus - Christ - Jesus - Faith - Lord

  11. Oh FUNNY! But a) kudos for trying stuff that scares you! sometimes it turns out to be excellent fun after all. and b) further kudos for knowing to say ‘stop’ in time – nothing is worse than being so determined that you WILL do a thing that you go on doing far past the point of common sense.

    Glad you didn’t injure yourself though! Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to look up that yoga pose and go “oooyah!” to myself!

    Take care;


  12. Pingback: The Year in Review: highs, lows, triumphs and tragedies of 2011 « Zen and the art of tightrope walking

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.