It didn’t dawn on me until about January that as a Guide, I had another home in Switzerland, Our Chalet, and that I could and should go and visit it. I found out how but for some reason, I kept putting it off. Then I had a free day today and decided that it was the perfect place to go, not too far but somewhere that would be interesting.
I had the foresight to get exact directions from the internet, but once I got there, via two trains and a bus, it wasn’t difficult to find the place. Cross the road towards the petrol station, turn left and keep walking uphill for half an hour.
The office doesn’t open until 2, so I was planning to sit outside for 20 minutes. I’d just hiked up a hill and I wanted to take a few photos of the spectacular scenery, then I’d go in at 2. Long before that, I heard voices and a crowd of about eight little American girls came along, singing very loudly, very enthusiastically and in tune, then came their three leaders. One of them sounded American, one sounded foreign and I didn’t hear the third one. They were leaving after just two nights, which surprised me, because it seemed a long way to come for two nights.
Someone from Our Chalet came out to say goodbye to them, then all the girls had to go to the bathroom before they left, so one of the leaders came over to me. She was delighted to find that I was not only a Guide, but a Young Leader and they gave me some presents, a wool and felt necklace which I wore as a bracelet and a patch which declared them to be USA Guides Overseas from Basel, which explained both the Americanism and the foreignism. The leader, Suzanna, asked if I had anywhere to put patches and wanted to hear every detail of my camp blanket. You have a camp blanket? What does it look like? What’s it made of? Do you use it inside the sleeping bag? Her children have got blankets made from old Guide t-shirts. The sleeves wear out so she cuts them off and sews them into a blanket, then the patches go on the seams, which seems a bit weird to me, but mine apparently seemed just as weird to her.
After they left, the woman from Our Chalet, Sol, took me inside and handed me over to Annie, a volunteer from Wisconsin. She showed me around the place.
It was once one chalet, set up by a woman called Helen Storrow, but now it’s seven chalets. The original chalet was the one I spent longest in. There’s a new big one, built in 1999 because the original was getting too small for all the guests and the offices. There’s a tiny little one which belonged to Helen Storrow, called the Baby Chalet. Apparently, they put the furniture in and then built the roof over it and Annie said that if you look inside it, there’s no way you could get the furniture out again. There’s a living chalet for the staff, which can take nine, but looks like it should be able to manage a lot more. There’s the shop chalet, which has very obviously been extended – half of it’s dark wood, the other half is very light. Then there are two smaller chalets which can take a few people as well, the Squirrelhouse and the Camp House and there’s tents too.
When the Chalet was first opened in 1932, a few people had a tea party in the Baby Chalet, including Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, Helen Storrow and the woman who introduced Scouting to America. Their tea set is kept in a cabinet in the new chalet. It has the trefoil on it and each cup has the initials of one of the people there on it.
After Annie had showed me around, I was allowed to just wander around wherever I wanted. “After all, it’s Our Chalet” I went to the T Bar first, which is a room that’s supposedly soundproof although Annie doesn’t know how true that really is. It’s a small living room with TV and stereo and chairs and tables for playing games and talking and relaxing.
Then I went upstairs and had a look at the Golden Book. It’s actually a copy of the real Golden Book, which is very old and very precious and is kept in the archive. It’s brought out for special occasions and written in and the pages are copied into this version.
There’s also an internet corner here. Then there’s the dining room, which was all set out and ready, with its Trefoil plates and cups and bowls too, although they weren’t out.
I went into the Great Britain room, which is the library. There’s lots and lots of books here, mostly English stories. There is also the Guestbook which I sat down and looked all the way through. This particular one goes back to August 2003. I found a Guide pack from West Moors, and also the group I met who were leaving. As soon as each book is filled, it’s put in the archive.
In the corner of the Great Britain room is the swap corner. There are a few baskets and they’re full of badges, stickers and email addresses that people leave. It’s the most cluttered room in the place. It seems that anything people leave for the Chalet is put in here. Above it all is one of those Swiss ovens like they have in the Institute. One side is in the Great Britain room and the other is in the kitchen and it’s part of the initiation ritual of the staff to squeeze through it. I’ve been through tighter things, but it’s awkwardly high off the ground.
Then I went into the America room which is next door and is so-called because a Guide group from America furnished it. It’s full of furniture which Annie described at “antique in the 30s, so very old.” She doesn’t go in there much because she’s scared of breaking things. In the corner is a bookshelf filled with Guide things from around the world, including a miniature version of the stone at the original camp on Brownsea Island.
Back in the dining room, there’s various things around the walls, including the most intricate scissor cut from the local bus company. It’s incredible, so much detail. I’d never be able to draw it all, let alone cut it all out. The guestbook is full of smaller scale scissor cuts.
In the new building, there’s a conference room, a ski cellar, a collection of Guide badges old and new from around the world and a bomb shelter. It’s Swiss law that all public buildings must have one. It’s the first time I’ve come across that one. They use it as the archive at the moment but they’re supposed to be able to clear it out in 20 minutes. 18 people can shelter there for 18 days apparently.
I think when I’ve finished my fourth year, I’m going to come back to Switzerland and volunteer at Our Chalet.