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.