Lifelong Swiss Memories

Alumna Laura Wellington

Former student Laura Wellington looks back on her time at the Zug Anglo-American School (now ISZL) in the 1960s.

Two children standing on mountain side with their mother

Former student Laura Wellington looks back on her time at the Zug Anglo-American School (now ISZL) in the 1960s. 

My sister, Monica, and I were born in London and we lived in the Black Forest in Germany before moving to Zug, where we lived from early 1963 until Spring 1965.
 
Monica was one year older than me, and attended the local Swiss kindergarten for several months before starting at 'the Bevans' School'. I heard all about the school from Monica: how she went with the other children by bus to the Ochsen Hotel in town every day to have lunch, and came home by taxi every night. I saw all of the drawings she made, and how she took riding lessons after school with her new best friend, Carol Harvie.  Soon, my mother persuaded the Bevans to take me on early, after my even shorter stint in kindergarten.
 
Gwyn and Anita Bevan ran the school and they became family friends along with their two oldest children, Rhiannon and Paul. My sister and I were very fond of Mrs Bevan. She and her husband came from Wales originally and she spoke with a soft lilt. There was generally a softness and a gentleness to her and I remember her warm laughter. I liked to hold her hand during recess because her hands always felt cool, even on the hottest days. She often kept a handkerchief tucked up her sleeve and she instructed us to always cover our mouths and noses when we coughed or sneezed.  Later, I thought that the British actress Petula Clark (combined with Julie Andrews) had qualities that reminded me of Mrs Bevan.
 
The school consisted of a small set of rooms. Mr Bevan taught the older children in the first classroom off the hallway.  Mrs Bevan had a double room (a room divided by a partition wall) in order to teach the youngest and slightly older children separately, but together. My sister was on one side of the divide with her group of four and I was on the other side with a larger group of children, so my sister and I did not interact very much. At one end of this classroom was a room that could be closed off for German lessons and where we could eat our home-packed lunches (student lunches in the restaurant of the Ochsen Hotel had only been a temporary arrangement).
 
Mrs Bevan sat at a desk that faced into the room. It was perfectly placed so that she could keep a watchful eye over all of us despite the room being split in two. On her desk was a large pencil sharpener with a handle that you had to turn to sharpen your pencils. When she was a child in Wales, she told me that naughty children had to stand alone in a corner with all of the pencil shavings - but this classroom was not like that one. I was intrigued by the pencil sharpener and the fan-like shavings that came out of it into a little drawer.
 
I sat with the other young children at tables that were pushed together. We all had to keep diaries:  orange covered blank notebooks made by ‘Philip & Tacey, Ltd., London S.W.6.’.  I loved these notebooks that had originated in London, like me. They were stored in a cabinet on the side of the room along with all sorts of other school supplies. Every morning, the books were passed out to us anew and we had to fill in a single page, which we divided between words and a picture.  We each had an array of coloured pencils with which to draw, and we were told not to use brightly coloured wax crayons (my favourites) as they smeared

Childrens drawing

At first, because I was only five years old, I was guided by Mrs Bevan in my diary writing.  I would stand beside her while she sat at her desk and I would tell her what I wanted her to write in my diary.  She would write down my words onto the page with a magenta/violet pencil, leaving a space below each line where I could copy out the words when I went back to my table - and also draw a picture at the top or bottom of the page, to accompany the words. She would then correct the finished work: If I made a mistake with a word or in forming a  letter, I would have to write out the correction several times at the bottom of the page until I got it right. If the work was good, she would put a big tick with her magenta/violet pencil beside the work, or, best of all, affix a golden star onto the page with an added word or two: ‘Very Good’ or ‘Lovely!’.  Soon, my writing improved and I could fill out my diary all by myself.
 
I got on very well with the boy who sat next to me, and we often chatted away and giggled while we worked on our diaries. Sometimes he pulled pranks on me, which I found hilarious. If we laughed too hard, Mrs Bevan sometimes had to tell us to quieten down.
 
In my report card Mrs Bevan wrote that I was a ‘loquacious child’ which I thought was a beautiful word.  She taught us so many interesting words. ‘Marsupial’ was another favourite.
 
I remember sometimes sitting down in front of the blank page of my diary feeling daunted but somehow I always managed to think of something to write, whether it was an experience from the day before or something that I had noticed that morning. I sometimes mentioned the other children from the school (like Carol Harvie or Ben and Pierre Garneau) or my friends from outside of the school.

Childrens Drawing

The drawings could also be challenging for me because I was in competition with my older sister who was very good at drawing and was often praised for it. Sometimes I set off on a very intricate, time-consuming masterpiece, but then would lose patience with it halfway through. Sometimes I went minimalist and just drew a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling (1960s Francis Bacon style) over a simple scene of myself lying, death-like, on a black sofa being tended to by my mother because I had fallen and hurt my leg, or a dog may or may not have bitten me.  I drew pictures of myself wandering through fields or helping myself to cherries from a neighbour's cherry tree. The recurring theme in my diaries was that I just wanted to stay outside and play and have fun and never go to bed at night!  One day, in January 1965, my diary entry was more solemn:  ‘On Sunday, Sir Winston Churchill died in England. He was a very, very great man. He was 90 years old’.
 
In the afternoons, we sat in a circle around Mrs Bevan and we heard stories of different places in the world - like Singapore, where Mr and Mrs Bevan had lived before they came to live in Switzerland.  I was pleased when she told us that chocolate was good for us and could give us energy - particularly if we were stuck up a cold mountainside in the snow. She read to us from the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the adjoining room. I liked listening to her read aloud from books and turning the pages. We had an embroidery/sewing project - girls and boys alike - where we each made a pouch of folded cloth that we embroidered with cross stitches and straight stitches using brightly coloured, silken threads.
 
At Christmas time we all participated in a play which we staged at a neighbouring Swiss school.  Mrs Bevan was very keen on acting and wanted to introduce us to it at an early age. We also had an annual Christmas party where we all received a small present. I was pleased to get chocolates in the shape of a set of pencils, each wrapped in a different coloured foil.
 
I remember one day standing in the school's hallway waiting for ages to use the bathroom which was already occupied.  Finally, an older boy from Mr Bevan's class shot out of the door and, in passing, asked me to marry him. That evening I told my mother about my near accident and proposal of marriage. "So what did you say?" my mother inquired. "Mummy," I said, "I couldn't marry him, because if I did I would never be able to get in the bathroom!"
 
My sister was very upset when we learned from my father that we were leaving Switzerland in 1965 to move to New York. I took the opportunity to make a bargain with my father. "I'll move," I said, "if I can have a swing set". "A swing set you shall have!" my father replied enthusiastically.  With hindsight, trading my near-idyllic Swiss childhood for a swing set was not the best bargain.
 

Two girls standing in front of a chalet with their mother

We revisited Switzerland several times in my childhood and afterwards. In 1972, we moved from New York to Boston and I went to Heathfield boarding school in England.  I later started at Bryn Mawr College, then I moved to Paris, where I had previously spent many summers, studying at the Sorbonne and at the American University of Paris. I lived in Paris, New York, and London. I worked for Condé Nast, at German Vogue magazine in New York, and then House & Garden magazine in London.  I then took up photography. I have now lived in London for many years.

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