try a little kandersteg

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)

Kandersteg is located along the valley of the River Kander, west of the Jungfrau massif, 65 km from the city of Berne, Switzerland. It is noted for its spectacular mountain scenery and sylvan alpine landscapes. In 1922 Walther von Bonstetten, Chief Scout of Switzerland, discovered an abandoned chalet originally built for the workers on the Lotschberg tunnel in 1908. He proposed the creation of the Kandersteg International Scout Centre to Robert Baden-Powell, for which he received a very fetching ‘Chalet Finding’ embroidered patch which he could sew onto his khaki shirt.

And so it was that the 24th Glasgow (Bearsden) Scout Group, ‘Stag’ patrol, in the summer of 1972, found itself  hurtling through the north western corner of Europe by train.

In the Scouts, Patrols were made up of 6 or more ‘men’ led by a Patrol Leader, ably assisted by a Seconder (my role) and a descending rank of lesser beings with the minion at the bottom. The minion had an important role in the rankings. He was the one at the door (or flap) of the tent that kept the draught out and you could wipe your boots on. He was the one you used to test the depth of river crossings. He was the one whose legs we pushed through the small sliding aperture at the top of the train carriage window (purely OH & S research you understand) remembering to pull him back just in time when approaching the numerous tunnels en route. No minions were maimed or injured on this trip but a few became pretty legless later on !

Each patrol was named after a wild animal or bird of prey because……………..I’m not really sure why. The Primrose patrol or the Mighty Scots Pine Patrol isn’t – well – butch enough !

The Stags, along with the Panthers, Eagles, Ratty, Mole and Mr. Toad, Eeyore and Pooh, were all designated a compartment each and the sleeping arrangements were thus. Leader and Seconder across the seats, the next 2 in the hammock-like luggage racks and the minions on top of the rucksacks on the floor. Surprisingly comfortable.

After a day or two we found ourselves in the gobsmackingly beautiful valley of the Bernese Alps. It was like something off a fancy biscuit tin but not shortbread. And there were Girl Scouts in the chalet ! GIRL SCOUTS ! That just did not exist in Scotland in the 70s. Girls had their own paramilitary groups, the Guides and the Brownshirts – or am I getting a bit confused. There certainly wasn’t any dib dob dabbling down Dalriada way !

I shared woggles with a lovely blond Dutch girl who called me ‘gek’ which apparently means crazy. I have never had any trouble with people from the Netherlands since. I just point a spiraling finger to the side of my head and say ‘gek’ and they give me a wide bearth !

Most days were spent hiking the surrounds with Sleck our Scout Master who looked like he’d just come straight from the Boer War. If it was any hotter I’m sure he would have brought his pith helmet.

We would trudge slowly behind him like a slow motion video of Madness only leaning forward. One step beyond it certainly wasn’t but the views when you reached your final destination were indescribeable. One morning it was announced that we were going up a young maiden which got a lot of horny teenagers over excited until we realised it meant ascending the Jungfrau.

Let me introduce our glorious leader of the staggering Stags. Paul (or Piggy) was a year older and about 6 inches shorter than me. He was kind of street wise in a Bearsden sort of way (more boulevard or avenue wise I suppose). He had this incredible sense of timing – in a bad way.

The train had numerous stops, some as long as 20 to 30 mins. Time to pick up a snack or a fizzy drink but Paul would stroll into the station cafe and order a coffee, then amble over to the juke box and select a few tunes (The Doors if available). He would sit down just as the train whistle blew and then would have to retreat leaving a confused waiter with coffee in hand to the diminishing sound of  ‘Riders On The Storm’.

At one station there was an arty-farty craft shop that sold delicate glassware. Paul selected quite a few fragile pieces to take back to his mum when ‘toot toot’, this train’s a-leaving. Realising a brisk walk wasn’t going to cut it, Paul broke into a jog then a run to the increasing sound of tinkling coming from his backpack. Nothing left but shrapnel.

He was able to somehow get 6 under 15s copious amounts of beer at one establishment, so much so that this little seconder lost more than that. I’ve no recollection how we got back to the chalet that night or apparently decorating the dormitory with pre used pilsner. Needless to say Sleck was not impressed. His idea of a reckless night out was a couple of Kumbayas around the campfire and a hot cocoa.

Paul was stripped of his command promoting me to head stagmeister. The trip back home was a bit muted. Call it mountain air, hangover or the uneasy feeling of recent events.

I caught up with Paul on social media late 2009 and we chatted about that summer.

He thanked me for my “reluctance to join in with the ‘give Paul a kicking’ brigade” I’m glad I never excepted my fetching ‘Backstabbing Bastard’ embroidered patch. Where would I put it ? My sleeve’s full !

Finish your coffee and listen to your selection Paul, this one’s for you mate.

Paul M. 16th October 1957 – 20th April 2016

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