Rummaging about the book-shelves in search of books to loan the Eldest of the Darling Daughters (she is so good at loaning me books, I need to return the favour) and I came across Elinor Brent-Dyer’s book “The
Chalet School.” The pages have all turned a strange murky brown colour and the picture on the cover is very faded but the book itself is still perfectly readable. I sit down on the bed in the spare room and immerse myself in the past.
Oh, the Chalet School books! How I loved them when I was a youngster. Not only were they about a boarding school but a boarding school high up in the Austrian Tyrol. How
romantic was that! Mr B, who actually went to boarding school, would have been quick to disillusion me but I didn’t know him at the time so there was no reason for reality to get in the way of imagination.
I picked up the book with even more interest because, you may remember, we have recently returned from a holiday in Austria. How near had I been to Chalet School country? I feel impelled to unfold
and consult my super-duper map of Austria which I bought in a Visitor Information Centre in Innsbruck. But, no, I can’t find Tiernsee anywhere...
is something so very seductive about books, don’t you think? They suck you into the story until you imagine you are a part of it – or, if you don’t quite get that far, then you yearn to be part of it. Even if you know you would absolutely
hate it in real life.
Take “Heidi” for example, another favourite childhood book. She, too, like the pupils at the Chalet School, spent her life
in the mountains, though in Switzerland, rather than Austria. Every day her Grandfather would pour her a bowl of fresh goat’s milk and cut her a hunk of goat’s cheese for her meal. It sounded just SO delicious to me – despite the fact that
I hate cheese of any variety but goat’s cheese marginally more than any other. What would have happened if Heidi had taken one sip from her bowl, one mouthful of cheese and said: “Yuk!” Would the Old Grandfather have marched her back down
the mountain forthwith? There didn’t seem to be any other food served up there. At least nothing that wasn’t Goat-Related.
Then, Heidi readers
among you will remember, the Old Grandfather made Heidi a bed out of straw, with an old sack for a blanket. Ah, bless, the child that was me thought – how wonderful that must have been. Except that I was a wriggly kid who could never get to sleep in
a normal bed let alone one made out of a bale of straw with an old sack for warmth.
Having failed to find Tiernsee on my Super Duper Map, I resort to Good Old
Google where I discover – wonder upon wonders – that Tiernsee is actually Achensee and the place where the first fictional Chalet School was founded was Pertisau. And, guess what, we were there! We took a boat trip the whole length of the Achensee
when we were on holiday, we visited Pertisau and we travelled on the very mountain railway mentioned in the book! I am so excited. Mr B has had a narrow escape. Had I known, I should almost certainly have become Joey Bettany, walking in her footsteps and (quite
possibly) adopting many of her more annoying mannerisms.
I only wish I’d realised I was there, when I was there, if you know what I mean.