And so, after an all too brief trip back to Liverpool to see my family, I found myself standing on Victoria station waiting for my escort to the Gornetz Platz and the Chalet School. I’d read the instructions sent to me by Miss Annersley so often that I knew them off by heart, but that didn’t stop my nerves. I anxiously fingered the heather pinned to my coat and glanced up at the clock yet again. As with all new beginnings in my life this one had begun that morning on Lime Street station, only this time it was all so different. By the time I’d returned to Liverpool from university the initial shock of losing me to Switzerland had worn off and I’d had nothing but support from Rebecca and Elizabeth, and Aunt Jane had hardly been able to hide her pride. Philip had teased a little, but he always did, it was just his way. All the same I couldn’t help but feel worried about how far we might drift with me so far away. You’re 21 Sharlie, Rebecca said to me, your life is your own, Carpe Diem nan said. Touch the sky, I replied quietly. I had always followed the advice given to me by nan and dad, I liked to think that they were looking down on me proudly.
Miss Andrews, a voice cut through my thoughts.
I snapped back to reality to see the owner of the voice, who I assumed to be my escort. Yes, that’s me, I said.
Oh good, she replied with relief. I’m Peggy Burnett, she stuck out a hand which I shook. I’m sorry I’m late, beastly train from Brighton got held up. I’ve been visiting an old college friend for a couple of days, have you come far?
Just from Liverpool, I replied. I’ve been staying with my sister. I didn’t want to give too much of myself away just yet.
Peggy looked up at the clock. Have you got everything you need? We should be making a move towards the train.
I nodded and we set off in the direction of the boat train to Paris. Peggy handled everything with the enviable ease of a seasoned pro, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous.
Have you ever been to Switzerland before, she asked once we were comfortably ensconced on the train.
I nodded. I visited with friends last summer, it was glorious.
We’ll be met at Interlaken rather than having to catch the train up to the Platz which will make life a little easier. I must say, it’s marvellous having the school back in the Alps after all this time; it’s not quite the Tyrol but I suppose it’s the closest we’ll get until politics sorts itself out.
I doubt it ever will, I said quietly. If life has taught me anything it’s that politics never sorts itself out.
We both stared out of the window at the passing urban landscape. Eventually Peggy broke the silence. It’s the juniors you’re going to teach isn’t it? I nodded. Why them?
I shrugged. I don’t really know. I suppose because you can still shape them at that age, or rather it’s easier to do so. Well, that and I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching the older ones just yet. I’m too close to my own schooldays!
Peggy chuckled. Where were you at?
St Monica’s in Cornwall, near Saltash, and then the Institute of Education at London University.
Peggy nodded. I’ve never heard of St Monica’s I’m afraid. But it’ll be nice to have someone else who isn’t an Oxbridge graduate on side! I was at Bedford by the way.
Oh my friend Tish is there, training to be a PT mistress.
Great, beamed Peggy. There aren’t enough of us out there.
We talked most of the way to Paris but I was careful not to give too much away about myself; it wasn’t that I didn’t like Peggy, I just needed to find my feet first.
I was awoken the following morning shortly before the train pulled into Basle by Peggy shaking me vigorously. I’d only fallen asleep a couple of hours previously and wasn’t too enthralled by the prospect of getting up. You can nap on the train through to Interlaken, said Peggy as we hurried through customs. I was amazed by Peggy’s German; I’d thought that my own was none too dusty, but beside Peggy’s it was elementary. Besides, I struggled to make any sense of the Schwyzerdeutsch the customs man spoke. You’ll soon pick some up, Peggy informed me once we were settled on the train to Interlaken, I understand a lot more than I’m able to speak. I tried to not fall asleep again but couldn’t help my eyes closing and was somewhat disgruntled to be shook awake at Interlaken.
We passed through the Bahnhof at a great pace and into the fresh air. I’m dying for a wash, groaned Peggy as she scanned the crowds gathered outside, now where is Rosalie? I stood amongst the crowd, feeling somewhat lost and suddenly unsure of things. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the woman Peggy referred to as Rosalie join us. It was only when her this is Miss Andrews cut through my meanderings that I realised. Pleased to meet you, she said holding out a hand to me which I shook shyly, have you both got everything, I’m not coming back if you’ve left your wash bags on the platform. Peggy blushed deeply, did you have to bring that up, she asked as we began walking towards where the school’s car was. Once packed in we were off to the Chalet School.
Hidden in the back amidst various packages I soon lost track of the conversation in the front and indulged myself in the marvellous views. I was suddenly thrown back to St Moritz, and I knew that this was it; I had found where I belonged. Any nerves I had about the school suddenly faded, this was meant to be. The road twisted and turned, winding its way up to the Gornetz Platz, there were times when I wondered if we would make it all the way up in one piece, but somehow we made it. The Gornetz Platz, Peggy announced from the front, how do you like it? I gasped as I tried to take it all in, it was simply perfect. I nodded, dumbstruck by it all.
Out you two get, said Rosalie as she pulled up outside the school entrance, no don’t fuss about your bags, Peggy, I’ll sort them. We scrambled out of the cat and into the school building. We’ll let the Head, or Heads, know we’ve arrived then we’ll get a proper wash, said Peggy as she whisked me through a rabbit warren of corridors. There wasn’t time for me to take everything in, and I was convinced that I’d never find my way around. Here’s the study, announced Peggy as she stopped and knocked on a door, entering when we were called to do so. I followed Peggy into a room which was a far cry from the study Miss Fairacre had had at St Monica’s. I recognised Miss Annersley sitting behind the desk, but I didn’t recognise the almost white haired lady sitting to one side, I assumed she was Miss Wilson. Miss Annersley looked up and smiled, Peggy, she said, and Miss Andrews. I smiled back shyly, I had well and truly arrived at the Chalet School.
After being greeted we were sent for a wash and I was glad to feel the delicious coolness of the water against my skin cleaning away the grime of the train journey and change into fresh clothes. Once I was changed Peggy came to find me and take me back to the study from my room. My own room, the first I’d ever had all to myself. I’ll never find my way around, I groaned as we headed through the rabbit warren of corridors. You’ll be fine by the time term starts next week, returned Peggy, in the meantime I’ll be your sheepdog, so to speak. I smiled gratefully, feeling not so completely lost anymore.
Welcome to the Oberland Miss Andrews, Miss Annersley said as Peggy left me. We’re very pleased to have you here.
I flushed. Th… Thank you, I stammered, I’m very pleased to be here.
How do you like it so far, asked Miss Wilson. I suppose it must make quite a change from – Liverpool, isn’t it?
I nodded. It’s a whole world away.
I can well imagine, said Miss Annersley smiling. Miss Wilson and I know your background of course, but telling the rest of the staff is up to you. We didn’t think you’d want to start with any pre- or even misconceptions about you.
Thank you, I said gratefully.
Is this your first time abroad, asked Miss Wilson.
Oh no, I said, almost eagerly, I spent last summer in France and Switzerland with some school friends.
Miss Annersley smiled. Miss Andrews and I met in Interlaken next summer.
I… I didn’t think you remembered that, I said blushing furiously.
…Tish, I supplemented.
She certainly leaves an impression on people. I found myself grinning and hastily straightened my face. I see you kept up your French and German at university.
I nodded. My German’s a bit dusty though.
It’ll soon come, said Miss Wilson sympathetically. When you’re surrounded by it two days a week you soon pick it up.
I smiled, wondering just how much I’d pick up from the juniors.
As far as your form goes, put in Miss Annersley. You’ll be form mistress to the Thirds, there’s only eleven of them but Ailie Russell, Janice Chester and Judy Willoughby have the air of demons in the making. Ailie is Lady Russell’s daughter, she qualified, but she most certainly does not merit any special treatment for it! I smiled weakly, my nerves resurfacing. We’ve also timetabled you for a few Junior Middle classes, only dictée and précis really, but your timetable’s fairly flexible so you can keep up to date with your university work. Don’t be afraid to ask people to cover your classes if that’s suffering, and don’t be afraid to ask any of us for help if you need it. We’re all looking forward to seeing your graduation snaps!
Have you got much work to do, queried Miss Wilson.
A couple of essays, I replied. And my, well, I suppose it’s the equivalent of a dissertation.
What’s it on, asked Miss Wilson, seemingly genuinely interested.
The Jewish Question during the War, the politics of memory and the necessity for commemoration through education, I said feeling my cheeks burning. I just have to write it now, all my research is done, the plans are written.
Miss Wilson and Miss Annersley exchanged glances. Then Miss Wilson spoke, that’s a brave subject to be taking on.
There are still so many people who don’t believe though, I said passionately and at the same time suppressing a shudder as I thought about Julia, Anna and Dr Clayton.
That’s as may be, but you won’t find any non-believers here, returned Miss Wilson. Some of us have first hand experience of Nazi brutality from when we were in the Tyrol.
My curiosity was roused, but Miss Annersley interrupted. That’s a story for another day, she said as there was a knock on the door. Herein!
The door opened and a woman, only an inch or two taller than myself entered. Sorry to disturb you Miss Annersley, she said. But we wanted to invite you both to Kaffee in the staff room before Miss Wilson has to go back to Welsen.
Miss Annersley smiled. We’ll be along shortly, thank you Biddy. She looked at me. Miss Andrews – Charlotte, we may call you that unofficially? I nodded. Biddy, this is Charlotte Andrews, the new junior mistress, take her and show her the staff room, she came over with Peggy.
Biddy nodded and signalled me to follow her, and I did.
I followed Biddy to the staff room, she chattered away as we walked, pointing out things that I would need to know. I noticed a faint hint of an Irish accent in certain of her words and longed to ask her where she was from, but I was too shy. In the staff room I was confronted by the group of women who would be my colleagues in the coming years; they were sitting around in groups, chattering eagerly, catching up on holiday news and drinking coffee. Biddy steered me towards a group of three sitting by the window. Peggy was one of them, another a tall, well built woman with honey coloured hair, and the third a few years older than me with a friendly face and laughing eyes.
There you are, said Peggy with a grin. Have a pew. Biddy pulled a couple of chairs over, and I gratefully sat down. This is Nancy Wilmot – maths, and Rosalind Moore – geography, she indicated to them both. This is Miss Andrews, the new junior mistress. Nancy and Rosalind both smiled and nodded. I say, must we keep calling you Miss Andrews, or may we use your Christian name?
I was a little taken aback, I’d expected to have to wait for that sort of thing, but nodded anyway. It’s Charlotte, but my friends and family call me Sharlie. My younger sister coined it when we were little and it’s stuck.
Oh, may we call you Sharlie, asked Peggy. You don’t look a bit like a Charlotte, you’re definitely more of a Sharlie.
If you like, I replied.
Where are you from, asked Rosalind suddenly. There’s a tinge to your accent I can’t quite place.
I’m from Liverpool, I answered with a smile. I’ve just been back for a couple of weeks to stay with my sister, apparently my accent is always a little more marked when I’ve been back.
Rosalind smiled in reply. Really? I know Liverpool quite well, I spent part of my childhood in the Wirral. My father was a lawyer in Liverpool. I was quite sorry to leave there for London when I was fourteen. Where did you grow up?
Oh you wouldn’t know it, I said dismissively. It was in the docks area; well that was where I grew up before the war. We moved a bit further out after the war to live with my aunt, but I’ve only been back for holidays since.
Do you want some coffee, asked Peggy suddenly. Jeanne had just made some before you and Biddy arrived, her coffee’s like nectar, it’s simply marvellous.
I’ll get it, said Biddy leaping from her seat.
Peggy stretched luxuriously in her seat and gazed out of the window. It looks glorious out, she remarked. I should think we’ll be able to start tennis and cricket quite early on. Did you ever play either of those Sharlie?
A little tennis, but my school didn’t play cricket. I was reserve a few times for tennis, played a couple of times as well. But I preferred lacrosse by far.
Peggy grinned. Good, I can bag you for helping with coaching then on occasion, if you’re not too snowed under that is.
I grinned back, glad to be finding my feet in some way.