Looking back on my Swiss barmy life of the 1950s
PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:20 21 June 2019
Christian V. P. Dagnaes-Hansen
Keith Skipper has recently taken a trip to Switzerland - without even leaving his home
There's an old saying I may have just made up claiming thousands of people in Norfolk yearn for immortality but don't know what to do with themselves on a wet June day.
Well, I bucked such a worrying trend during the recent monsoon season by turning my back on a soggy Costa-del-Croma and heading for the glistening lakes, snow-tipped mountains and huggable St Bernard dogs of Switzerland.
I thank old sixth-form colleague Richard "Trog" Norton from Mattishall way for organising such a memorable excursion. It was his glowing report in our school magazine that sent me on this repeat journey of an early lifetime without moving from my comfy armchair.
Several pristine copies of The Hamondian covering my years at grammar school in Swaffham landed on my study desk from David Manning, a few terms ahead of me on the pupils' register. He thought I might like a few modern history lessons.
Ideal homework as rain and wind banged on the windows. I packed my satchel and borrowed a suitcase to join 35 other excited schoolboys in August 1958 for a holiday at Corseaux-sur-Vevey under the watchful eyes of headmaster Major IEN Besley and French teacher Mr Chick.
The Major, a graduate of wartime military intelligence, presided over what is now regarded as a golden era for Hamond's. Mr Chick, who acted as our banker on this trip, invariably hailed me as "Capitaine!". I was too scared to address him as "Monsieur Poussin" or anything similar.
"Trog" Norton's account of our adventures expertly fills in my memory blanks. Thankfully, he makes no reference to my nocturnal cries of anguish over a very painful earache and Major Besley's swift medical attention with assurance I didn't need hospice treatment.
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There is a passing mention of fruit and cigarettes among a few items cheaper than back home. I spent far too much of my holiday allowance on fags, mainly more exotic brands, and wedged them under my bunk bed for secret puffs on solo lakeside diversions.
My only previous breaks away from home were in Sedgeford at the behest of Uncle Harry and Aunt Amy and "over the border" in Sutton Bridge following an invitation from Uncle Herbert. So this venture into Europe took on epic proportions.
The boat train from Victoria Station to Folkestone and a smooth Channel crossing set my mind spinning towards dramatic incidents from Eric Ambler's thrilling spy novels devoured as part of my preparation for such stirring steps into the unknown. I had to be ready to be enmeshed in a web of international intrigue.
The night train from Boulogne to Basle yielded far more unlikely wartime plots than snatches of proper sleep. We blinked our way to breakfast at 7.30am before the final leg of our outward journey to Vevey. Our hotel on a hill gave a lovely view of the town and Lake Geneva. Eric Ambler could have been lurking in mountains above.
My dread of heights, a source of wry amusement to a few well-travelled colleagues, reached fresh peaks on a visit to the St Bernard Hospice about 8,000 feet above sea level. Some of our party had the audacity to go up by chair-lift which set them dangling 2,000 feet above the pass.
I refused to entertain any ideas beyond my station, settling for buying souvenirs, fussing big dogs, asking anyone looking official what time we'd be back for tea and ignoring a torrent of shrill calls to take in apparently stunning views aloft or below.
A tortuously twisting mountain climb by rail-car the following day again had me clinging to my seat and ignoring all overtures to embrace the sight-seeing routine. It was such a relief to board a paddle steamer for our final outing, across the lake to Evian in France.
We didn't even hint to Major Besley it might be useful to try a flutter in the giant casino there to help solve tricky maths problems when a new school year started. Well, our final francs were needed for a last-minute spree to buy gifts to take home.
I was almost tempted to treat myself to a copy of Wuthering Heights as a reminder of how hard it can be to go up in the world. Then I realised good old Eric Ambler had already summed up my experiences in Journey into Fear, Cause for Alarm and The Dark Frontier.