Chalet des Anglais Dinner 2020
The Chalet dinner held on Saturday, 1 February reconnected chaletites and celebrated Univ’s long association with the Chalet des Anglais in the French region of Haute Savoie near Chamonix.
Stephen Golding, a Chalet trustee, treated us all to a talk prior to the dinner on the renaissance of the Chalet and an account of how Univ came to share access to this gem alongside Balliol and New College. Certainly we have the generosity and vision of Francis Urquhart, a Balliol don out of central casting, to thank for this wonderful gift but there was more – an entertaining mix of British eccentricity, academic and college rivalry with succession-plotting worthy of the Borgias, and also tales of French peasantry, both loyal and cunning, feudal and feuding, with the whiff of possible resistance activity during WW2 when the Chalet was out of bounds to Les Anglais. It has the ring of a Waugh novel with more than a touch of Wodehouse. After some mission creep had occurred, a Herculean effort was required in the 1950s to re-establish the founder’s intent for student summer reading and walking parties, and the setup we now know evolved. In the 1970s a committed Univ legal brain set up the Chalet Trust to negotiate, or was that bypass, the labyrinthine French inheritance laws to secure its future for the three colleges involved. Brexit and climate change should hold no terror.
The dinner itself was the best kind of quintessential College event – lively, friendly and good-humoured. An attendee may not personally know others there but soon feels at home, as there is College life and a cultural Chalet experience in common. The Chalet attracts the good-natured, outdoor, convivial types who are happy to muck in and share the chores, and the wine, and that team spirit is still palpable. Some things have changed. I was invited to the Chalet nearly 40 years ago for what was then a strenuous walking and light studying holiday. Arts students predominated and I apparently was the first Mathematician to be invited; the chalet is now open to applications from the whole student body and the studying aspect is given more weight. The journey to the Chalet, my first foreign holiday, was an adventure in itself, involving a ferry and overnight train from Paris to the foothills of Mont Blanc. EasyJet now flies to Geneva and is probably the cheaper alternative. Some things endure. Holiday outlay is modest and funds are available to ensure no one misses out due to lack of means. The Chalet is still fairly isolated and spartan with neither electricity nor hot running water and chaletites take turns to cook for groups of 15 or so. The scenery is arrestingly beautiful and on a grand scale; you cannot but feel small in the scheme of things yet happy to be so.
It was a pleasure to be part of the Chalet family again. We are fortunate indeed to have it.
Dorothy Anne Quincey née Fraser (1979, Mathematics)
Please enjoy the video below of Stephen Golding’s talk and find out more on our Chalet page.