As a little girl, I was captivated by two films, both of which would live in my heart forever and have played no small part in my life. Released in March 1965, I was all of five years old – a Gretl look alike – when we drove to Edinburgh to the old ABC Cinema on Lothian Road to see The Sound of Music. I can still remember how excited I was, even more so to discover that we were sitting in our own box! Ah, the days of refinement and elegance, how I miss them. No boxes in cinemas anymore but, instead, enormous armchairs on which one can recline in comfort, most recognising an opportunity to consume their own weight in rubbish – and not quietly!
I have never forgotten that day – nor the knickerbocker glories we enjoyed in the Intermission – and, from then on, I longed to visit Austria, Salzburg and the mountains. I think I have mentioned before that I believe people fall into two categories: those who love mountains and those who love beaches. It’s true! I, positively, need mountains; they feed my soul. Beaches? Of course, I love to look at the sea and wonder at its wonderment; to hear the sound of the waves breaking on the sand, the seagulls flying overhead, that unique smell, the shells glistening on the shore tempting one to stop and pick up, only to immediately lose their lustre as quickly as their freedom … A beach holiday, though? Sunbathing on a sea of loungers bang next to someone else just to get a tan? Why? Who does that?! Yes, yes, 99% of the population. Need I say more?
Suffice to say, I was thirteen when I caught my first glimpse of my majestic mountains. Admittedly, in Bavaria but the opening and closing scenes of The Sound of Music were filmed right there. Believe me, I – and, subsequently we – know! The beauty is of another world. I was totally captivated. However, it was to be another twenty-seven years before I made it to Salzburg. My parents had visited a little village in the Salzkammergut in 1982 – St Wolfgang – staying in the White Horse Inn and Pop told me, then, that I must go. Who am I not to obey? Don’t answer that! Anyway … it was my first choice of holiday destination, when we could afford it, and I’ll never forget boarding the Lady Patricia (who knew I had a small plane named after me?) that rainy July morning in Gatwick all these years ago. Our excitement was tangible as we prepared to land in Salzburg. To see the mountains, the Hohensalzburg Fortress and then to descend the stairs onto the tarmac only to be engulfed in a wave of heat! It was as though we had stepped onto the film set and I was five years old again. My dream had come true … It was a magical holiday from start to finish and the weather was glorious – although, on their return to school, Becca and Manny were asked if they had been ski-ing?! We stayed in the White Horse Inn and were given quite a stern reception by Herr Benno, as we checked in, and for the duration of our stay. He seemed particularly displeased to see the children – there were no others in the Hotel – added to the fact that we had booked with Inghams! Very ‘non you’ at the Weisses Rössl. We learned our lesson and have always booked directly ever since; today, promised that, despite the obligatory ‘upgrading’, our Emperor Room and that adjoining will always remain as we like them – untouched. After all these years, we have made it!
Do you know, I went down this route – Austria – because in this awful world and these awful times, on Sunday, I received a very special phone call and one which cheered us all up so much! “Hello, Tricia? Benno speaking …”. Who would have thought that twenty-seven years on, a phone call from that stern Austrian gentleman on reception who tried so desperately not to like us would mean so much? Following that first holiday, we returned every summer for six years – independently, of course – and we grew on Herr Benno while, at the same time, he watched Becca and Manny grow. Returning for Christmas in 2016, it was he who collected us at Salzburg airport. Somehow it was entirely fitting. A bond renewed. Christmas for Three in St Wolfgang became our thing – continuing for the next three years – until the world stopped in 2020. We have other friends in St Wolfgang with whom we keep in touch but Benno is special to us all. So it was that, on Sunday, he was out walking with Tommy on the lake’s edge – the White Horse Inn in the distance, nestled beneath the snow-capped Schafberg – and he phoned to wish us a Happy Christmas. That, after all, is what it’s all about. Friends. Family. A time to reflect – and remember. In the words of Perry Como, ‘The book of life is brief’, and, inevitably, Christmas is a time of great poignancy, too, when those no longer with us are missed ever more keenly. Let’s face it, it’s an emotional car crash! Caught up in the increasing gloom of the past two years, however, Benno pulled me up sharp and reminded me that that little five-year-old girl’s dream did come true …
The other film? Well, Born Free, of course. One year later – in 1966 – I was touched by the true story of Elsa, the lioness, and the Adamsons. Aged six, I read anything and everything about them, vowing, one day, to go to Kenya and visit Elsa’s grave. That I did in 2000 with Virginia McKenna, visiting the sites of and re-living the most incredible story. Standing beside the grave, hidden in a clearing by the river, in Meru National Park – once the site of George and Joy’s camp – I was already pinching myself when a voice behind me said, “Tricia, would you like me to take a photograph of you?”. Virginia McKenna, aka Joy Adamson – or, to me, my dear friend, Ginny, who, now, has shared the highs and lows of my life for over thirty years …
Austria. Kenya. So different and, yet, both, so important to me throughout my life. I couldn’t quite believe it when I discovered Joy Adamson was Austrian, first visiting Kenya when she was twenty-seven, the country which became her home until her murder in 1980 and with which she is synonymous. Is it just an amazing coincidence that I was drawn to both?
Hearing Benno’s voice on Sunday, shutting my eyes, I felt I was there – in St Wolfgang. How I wish I was. When will we be again? ‘We have to leave Austria and this house tonight’. Captain Von Trapp. 1938. Who would believe that in 2021, Austria would be enforcing such segregation? Nothing short of imprisonment for the unvaccinated – no, not ‘anti-vaxxers’ but those who choose to exercise freewill with regard to what is injected into their own bodies – and the threat of extortionate fines for those who continue to be so come February. In a year of fear and lies, in a world which could not be more disconnected, Christmas is desperately needed. For the lucky ones, it is a chance to stop and spend time with family and friends; to drink and be merry. Sadly, however, for many, many more the unity it represents only serves to heighten the isolation and pain. Life. The embodiment of a double-edged sword.
My last post before Christmas, I am aware my musings have become somewhat erratic. Come January, my future best-seller must take precedence but I shall still check in. For now, the tree is up. Very real, Manny referred to it as short and fat. It is, actually, all of six feet although, as I told him, it does look as though it has eaten all the pies! Bauble-less, so far, and with antique white lights which Becca insists are rose gold – hideous – the voice in my head tells me, as ever, it will all fall into place. I’m sure it will. Meantime, I wish each and every one of you a Happy Christmas and may 2022 be kind to us all.
‘Christmas doesn’t come in a van. You can’t have it delivered. You have to make it yourself.’
A lesson learned. ‘Margo’ in The Good Life (1977).
This is Trish, signing off.