Mary-Lou and her chums were a set of jolly youngsters,
prepared to take life as they found it. They accepted Cherry's troubles
without remark, and no one "stared" at her legs, though Vi Lucy
hoped sympathetically that it wouldn't be long before she would be rid
of the irons.
"It means you can't play games or dance, or things like that, you see," she said. "I do call it horrid luck, Cherry. But when you come, we'll give you a hand when you want it till the irons are off."
(Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, The Chalet School and the Island, Chambers, 1950, p86)
Perhaps surprisingly, my experiences during my research
into women fans of girls' school stories
were more varied than were my experiences within the academy or medical
system. In contrast to my experiences elsewhere, I was immediately granted
the status of a researcher and an insider within the fan community,
regardless of the fact that I was disabled (and was also widely recognised
as being queer). The fact that my experiences were more positive was due,
not so much to the fan research being situated outside the academy and
medical system, as to the subjects of my research, who were fans of girls'
school stories, particularly Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series.
There were several reasons for this.
First, as women themselves, the fans did not equate my
being a woman with being "Other";
instead of being a barrier, my gender was a link between us. Equally, as
women they were able to recognise me as a professional, which gave them
greater confidence in me. Then, women have more experience of disability,
since both the majority of disabled people and those who assist them are
and thus have less fear and more awareness than men.
In terms of this specific group of women, illness plays
a central role in the Chalet School series. People with impairments are
treated with care and respect, and are included within the community where
possible by recognising and accommodating their needs. In particular, back
pain afflicts two characters as a result of accidents: one character brings
it upon herself but is redeemed by it; the other is injured as a result
of another who is also redeemed as a result.. Certainly Brent-Dyer's characters
become more passive and more feminine and their characters deepen through
illness, and this is a cliché. But it is a superior cliché
to the more common one, which is that illness equals ugliness and evil
and has a negative effect on character.
In addition, the same characters are often central to the plots and, in
many cases, favourites. All deserve the highest possible standards of medical
care, whether or not they can be cured and regardless of their personality.
This background must have had a profound effect on the way in which I and
disabled fans were perceived by the fan network.
Aside from the attitude of the fans, access to appropriate
equipment also played a crucial role in my being able to carry out the
research successfully despite the effects of my impairment. I wished to
record my research using video and to present it as a film; that this proved
possible, resulting in the film The Chalet School Revisited,
was partly due to recent technological developments. Lightweight, miniaturised
recording equipment is now available, while mechanical editing systems
have been augmented by non-linear computer-based systems. However, none
of this equipment was possessed by the University, and the equipment which
was available there was completely inaccessible to me. No help with obtaining
suitable equipment was forthcoming (although I did receive a small sum
from a research fund to pay for tape stock), but shortly before the filming
commenced, I was fortunate enough to be able to obtain a loan to purchase
a miniature video camera - a Hi8 "palmcorder" - which was then
the lightest available in the world.
My film diary records that:
The camera . . . has the lightest batteries of any Hi8 palmcorder. It falls short of 400-line resolution, the best picture quality obtainable with Hi8, but 380 is not bad for a palmcorder (miniaturisation affects quality). I then bought an expensive tripod . . . which should produce much better shots than hand-held and stop my back seizing up completely. The tripod is not light but was far from the heaviest in the shop. I had to improvise a bag as all [the bags manufactured for video cameras] came without wheels and with the tripod slung underneath. I needed one with wheels and so with the tripod inside the bag to avoid damaging it. Finally bought nylon wheeled bag of right size - £18 compared with up to £200 for real thing - and padded it with foam rubber. (4/4/1994)
Although, when taken with the batteries, microphone, tripod
etc, the equipment was too heavy for me to lift, I was able to use the
camera itself without any significant problems. However, while the tripod
was also very light, I was unable to lift it without help, so shot a great
deal more "hand-held" footage than I would have chosen. As a
result I deliberately enhanced the film's 1960s, "Super-8" feel,
rather than trying to mimic the look of a 1990s made-for-television documentary.
By the time that the filming began, I had been corresponding
with the organisers of the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations
for more than a year, and had met them briefly a few months beforehand.
I had always made it clear to them in correspondence that I was disabled,
and would therefore have special needs if I was to attend their planned
residential events. These included a hard bed, a comfortable chair, and
food which was egg- and dairy-free (as a result of food intolerances).
Most importantly, I would need assistance with carrying my luggage and
video equipment, since I was unable to provide this for myself. After my
experiences within the academy,
I was concerned that meeting these needs would not be possible, and so
that I would not be able to carry out the research as planned. Fortunately
the attitude of the organisers - and of the majority of the fans whom I
came into contact with - was that they would help me as much as possible
and do everything which they could to enable me to complete my research
Perhaps not surprisingly,
though, my first field trip revealed some problems which I had not anticipated
as a novice crip. The celebrations were beginning in South Shields in the
North East of England on the centenary itself. I was unable to drive so
far and could not afford to pay for someone to accompany me, so I decided
to travel by train. My partner helped me on to the train in London, together
with my bag containing my overnight luggage and my video equipment, and
I had made prior arrangements with British Rail to provide a porter to
meet me at Newcastle and to transfer me to the connecting train for South
Shields. This I assumed would go smoothly, and I also assumed that it would
then be easy to find a taxi to take me to my bed and breakfast hotel. Notifying
the transport authorities, I thought, would ensure that I had no problems.
I was soon to discover my mistake.
When I arrived at Newcastle, while I could see the porter waiting on the platform for me, he did not seem to realise that I was unable to get my bag out of the train without his help. I could not attract his attention, but eventually managed to get a passenger to help me out of the train shortly before it departed for Edinburgh. The porter then informed me that he could not take me as far as the underground platform where the South Shields train departed, since the train was operated by a different company to the one which employed him. My film diary continues:
Porter then put bag on trolley and dumped me in lift to Metro as [this was the] end of British Rail's territory, despite my being v. upset and saying I needed help. Eventually I dragged trolley out of lift and into Metro office (I couldn't get bag off trolley) and Metro transferred me to platform, and [then] after pleading on to train (normal transfer only goes so far as platform!). At South Shields I got bag off fairly easily because of platform height but [the station] was unpersonned on platform level. Pulled bag to lift to find myself in pedestrian precinct [after the lift had descended to street level] - good for wheelchairs but what about the rest of us? [I therefore couldn't get a taxi, but luckily found a phone box.] Phoned b&b and was collected from box - thank goodness for b&b owners who also catered for my food allergies. Pain [resulting from the physical strain of the journey] prevented sleep - had asked doctor for appointment re pain relief but just been given prescription for tablets which might as well have been sweets. (4/4/1994)
Luckily I found it easier to obtain a taxi the next morning,
which took me to the street where a commemorative plaque would be unveiled
by the local mayor on the site of Brent-Dyer's former school. With the
help of a fan who had stayed in the same hotel, I was able to set up my
equipment and start filming, with no problems other than those caused by
using unfamiliar equipment. However, I did find it difficult to avoid being
knocked into (my back is very fragile). I also found it difficult to transfer
my luggage and equipment on to the Town Hall, where a civic reception was
being held for the fans. Luckily, a male friend of one of the organisers
agreed to help me and I was able to carry on filming as planned. I did,
though, have to abandon plans to film at other local sites associated with
Brent-Dyer, since I was unable to find or afford a taxi driver to take
me round and I was also very tired. Fortunately Brent-Dyer's biographer,
Helen McClelland, helped to carry my luggage and equipment to the final
venue of the day, the local library which was hosting a Chalet School exhibition.
Then, abandoning the underground system, we took a taxi to Newcastle where
she helped me on to the train, and I was met by my partner at the other
This set the scene for the rest of the project: my main
problems were always lack of official assistance, lack of money and subsequent
fatigue, and I also found it difficult to cope physically with the crowds
of fans. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that throughout the
project I suffered from the after-effects of the sclerosant injection which
I had been given in error
a few weeks before the celebrations began, meaning that the effects of
my impairment were at their greatest. This turned the entire project into
a physical endurance test, which is reflected in the excerpts from my film
diary. I did receive a lot of help with carrying equipment and so on -
from three women in particular, Rosemary Auchmuty, Joanne Hedge and Joy
Wotton, as well as more generally - but this inevitably broke down at times.
And I was very wary of asking fans to help me when they might already have
their own impairments (which in fact Rosemary and Joy did) but find it
difficult to refuse me, or might damage their own backs by lifting my luggage
Equally, the fans had their own luggage to carry and their
own agendas; the fact that they were willing to assist me did not mean
that I should have had to ask them. My agenda was different, and what I
really needed was a personal assistant. If I had received a grant, I would
have been able to apply for additional funding to pay for this.
As it was, I could have found volunteers to help me, but without a grant
I could not afford their expenses (fares, hotel bills and so on). No help
was forthcoming from the University; there was no mechanism even to apply
for any. My partner did give me a great deal of help, but this was not
particularly fair on him and there was a limit to how much time off he
could afford to take.
Luckily I was able to travel by car to the next event, a residential weekend in Hereford, sharing the costs with Rosemary Auchmuty who did all of the driving and assisted me with my equipment. Between returning from South Shields and arriving at Hereford, I had written to the women going to Hereford to tell them about the video and to ask if they would telephone me if they were willing to be interviewed; I had discussed the fact that I was disabled with some of those who had responded. My diary records:
Rush to do mailing - unwell and just discovered had been
given wrong treatment at hospital. Friday night - after Thursday night's
osteopathy - [was the] first good night's sleep had for three weeks. Awoken
9.30am Saturday by phone - forgotten said [in mailing that I was] available
9.30am-9.30pm all weekend! [Received calls] Saturday and Sunday (total
12, 13?) . . .
Letter set out introduction to me and my interests and invited further questions about my career, work, research etc. Decided therefore not to offer more information [when answering calls] unless requested, so as not to set agenda and dominate conversation about them. Do share some info when seems appropriate . . .
[With] two [of the women who phoned] - one - Jenny - is
overweight following an accident and one - Eileen - is disabled following
a brain haemorrhage - I share info about my own disability as I know that
it is awful to always have to include that information as one of the first
things to know about you. Is that why I didn't put any info about my disability
in the letter, although Polly, Sue etc are well aware of it? In Eileen's
case we have a long chat about our personal experiences and promise to
stay in touch - we have both lost friends and become isolated as a result
of being disabled. Friends of the Chalet School [the fan organisation]
has obviously offered members a great deal in terms of networks, friendship
- including me as I was getting v. isolated before starting the degree
and know no-one who is interested at UKC.
I have drawn a comparison between myself and Stacie Benson in letters to Polly and Clarissa - a [Chalet School] character who injured her back through disobedience (and later got a PhD, although that wasn't the comparison I made). Identifications/comparisons with characters are a theme in the newsletter, both self-mocking and serious. (8-10/4/1994)
The Hereford weekend was particularly hard going physically. Events began on Friday evening and continued until Sunday afternoon without a break except to sleep; and the venues were overcrowded, since the event had originally been planned for forty fans but had swollen to 160 in the same venue. (My diary notes: "Lesson - don't work with 160 people!") In addition, I found it difficult to get enough to eat: the crowds on the Friday night prevented me from getting to the dairy- and egg-free food which had been kept for me; and on Saturday I missed lunch altogether due to the demands of the filming schedule. However, it was clear that other disabled women were participating in and enjoying the weekend, and that I would have had far fewer difficulties if I had been there as a fan rather than a researcher. My diary records:
Impressions from weekend - . . . lots of overweight women - [in their interviews they] made a point of mentioning their weight - so must be self-conscious - but actually didn't stand out at all. Must mean weekend felt genuinely accessible and safe. Several disabled inc. one wheelchair user, one woman on crutches, one recovering car accident, one recovering brain haemorrhage - as above must have felt safe. (17/4/1994)
In terms of the difficulties which I faced, my diary also
notes that "Really good assistant would have helped although Rosemary
and Joanne were indispensable", but due to the help which I did receive,
particularly from Rosemary and Joanne, I was able to cope and complete
the filming and research successfully. Rosemary's help also enabled me
to travel with the fans to Austria the following month and complete the
trip and filming successfully, despite the fact that I found it extremely
difficult to keep up with the fans. My diary records
the following experiences of disability during the trip, as well as how
this affected my thinking about the research.
28 May 1994:
[before leaving there was a] delay while looked for Naproxen which I had had a lot of trouble getting as the surgery left a 500mg prescription instead of 250mg. Computer then printed out [prescriptions for] 2 x 250mg, another of 500mg, 100 Co-Proxamol and a bottle of eyedrops! After all that couldn't find [the Naproxen] in luggage - put in remainder of old bottle but had to repack to fit it in. Later could not find new bottle, so good thing checked.
. . . [After arriving at the hotel in Austria I was glad] to find could eat most of meal and that people's German was up to asking if the meals contained butter, cheese or cream.
. . . [That night I] woke a few times but bed better than Hereford etc, particularly with feather pillows and quilt . . . Back bad and took one Naproxen - could have been worse as legs and spine very painful on coach [from the airport to the hotel] and taken two Co-Proxamol in end, making six - total allowed - that day.
29 May 1994:
R admits to liking tourist shops, a mutual interest, so parade slowly through as many as possible. Buy stick at her encouragement . . .
Met up with others at 11.30am . . . Had Fanta at 20 schillings - over £1 - as still felt dehydrated. [The group] decided to walk to Gaisalm - decide not to take camera as so wet and still very stiff . . . Take stick . . . still dehydrated . . . Soon got into "rearguard party" and discovered Anne is on same medication as me. May have to borrow some - still can't find new bottle . . . By end of walk very tired and sore . . . talked to Lorna about my disability . . .
Very tired and sore when got to landing stage, walked back via shops and bought souvenir badge for stick, a novel concept. Will get badges wherever go and walk - trophies! Asked if wanted card stamped at Gaisalm as can buy bronze, silver and gold badges when completed so many walks, but fear it would be used in evidence to withdraw my Orange Badge! Didn't realise how far hotel was - very tired by time got back, and dismayed to discover the sauna was shut. Luckily Julie offered me the use of her bath, and then provided biscuits to accompany anti-inflammatories . . . very stiff . . .
R, Daphne and others went for after-dinner walk, but very tired and sore.
30 May 1994:
Very wet, so I went to Innsbruck with everyone bar R, Christine and Daphne who went climbing at the head of the lake . . . Walked up to church where Bernhilda [a Chalet School character] got married - long way and very tired by the time got there (had not slept well with lots of bad dreams). Stayed in church while others walked round . . . I was able to think a lot about Elinor sitting in the church, and decided that she must have been absolutely overwhelmed with Austria and fallen in love at first sight. She didn't want to go home but to live there forever . . . By creating the Chalet School she could stay in Austria, and did stay with the school - if not in Austria - for the rest of her life . . . At the beginning of the series I think she identified with Madge more than Joey . . . Joey was Hazel/Henzell . . . [Hazel] was not delicate but Henzell the beloved brother was, and Elinor must have thought often about protecting him and saving him by taking him away from South Shields to live a healthier life. Joey is often threatened, but always survives, unlike poor Henzell and her other friend who didn't. Not a fantasy of sickness but of health and saving life . . .
Thinking about Elinor was the best bit of day as felt very tired and could hardly walk . . . Apple strudel and black coffee for lunch again didn't help [I was unable to eat or drink the bulk of the items on the cafe menus] - oh for ordinary food from Nick . . . bought Innsbruck badge for stick as trophy to prove had staggered round. Doubted whether would ever walk without stick again at one point . . .
Very tired after dinner and just lay on bed . . . Bad day except for theory - continuing long conversations with others are very inspiring.
31 May 1994:
Slept better and so felt a bit better . . . Went to get fresh rolls and mineral water for lunch from Spar - unfortunately breakfast "ham" as filling and no spread, but still better than apple strudel!
Met at lake and caught boat to end of lake - started videoing in earnest and enjoyed it . . . but if people made allowances for film-making [it] would make my life as a disabled person easier as [filming becomes] more physically demanding the less people wait or move to let you get different angle.
Steam train next . . . more good footage, although all from one place. If more energetic could climb over seats etc to get different shots, but on the other hand it is film showing one person's viewpoint, and that person would usually be no more or less static than the others being filmed . . .
Changed on to a second train . . . very long uncomfortable journey. D happy not to be on modern train but I would have found it much easier. No-one realises how hard I find it because they are mostly elderly and have health problems too. (A has arthritis as does Christine, and L and J-A have diabetes. Gillian has hurt her foot, and W is quite frail and stiff. Unfortunately I am more decrepit but don't look it. The waitress . . . thinks I am someone's daughter.)
. . . filmed others walking up river path . . . six of us then went for a stroll through the town while the rest climbed for a bit, although we later found they did not go very far (the heat probably and we are all tired still). Got . . . another trophy badge for my stick . . . Had cola in nice hotel garden (others had very elaborate icecreams but at least I should lose weight and be fitter at the end of the week).
. . . very tired by end of afternoon. Luckily got modern train most of way back. Got boat with few while others walked . . .
suddenly felt very tired and homesick during dinner . . . [Later I developed] burning eyes and lips so evidently goulash suspect - good thing I couldn't eat much of it . . . feel tired and depressed because of diet . . . hope can put lenses in tomorrow . . .
1 June 1994:
Slept fairly well . . . felt a bit better. Had the usual breakfast of orange juice, three cups of black coffee, roll and jam and roll and reconstituted ham. Not good, but at least it's liquid, carbohydrate and protein of a sort . . .
Got some good shots [on the Bärendbad alm] . . . sound track may need reorienting . . . some heavy breathing [recorded accidentally] as the thin air and pace - [first] stopping behind [the group] to film, then hurrying ahead - made me very breathless, due to my ribs being so tight . . .
Others had lunch but I hadn't brought any as couldn't face another roll with ham! Hut served similar fare so just had muesli bar of B's . . . definitely dehydrated again . . . . . . bought badge for my stick - four now (Pertisau, Innsbruck, Zillerthal and Bärenbad).
[Later] went to Spar and bought half-litre of Fanta and some pistachios - all the lunch I could find! . . . On way back bought two litres of diet coke and sweets for emergencies . . .
Did exercise routine for first time and pleased to find could do it and some muscles appeared stronger. Trousers needed belt for first time . . .
Dinner - suspect-looking soup and chips with veal fried in breadcrumbs. As usual left half, which offends others as all "brought up to eat everything on my plate" (repeated often and loudly). After previous night's reaction good thing though. Bought wine spritzer instead of soft drink - alcohol did help pain. Only drink we get with meal is what we buy, and no coffee afterwards. No wonder I feel peculiar often . . . Slept badly.
2 June 1994:
. . . Walked to Achenseehof ("Seehof") for lunch. More desserts! I had apfel strudel again - best yet but getting sick of these sweet lunches . . . [Luckily the dinner was a] buffet so had meat with potatoes, onions and tomatoes - healthier than usual menu . . .
3 June 1994:
Must have got about five and a half hours sleep, as usual. Second bad night. Very upset about everything, but was able to think more about EBD, and comforted by thought that would have wanted a sick person to be her biggest academic expert!
EBD obviously cared a great deal about sick people, and wanted them to get better or at least to be more comfortable and not to suffer, and had great faith in healing qualities here. Probably I am fitter, anyway, with all the walking . . . Trousers certainly much looser now.
Obvious that EBD's concern over sick related to the death of her brother and friend . . . Still, whether or not she was channelling her love of Henzell and her friend and trying to care for them by caring about other sick people, the books do present a unique view of illness and concern for the sick. Sick get priority, even if not as characters. Attitude in reality is very different, unfortunately.
Several people at Hereford said they had been ill a lot as children and enjoyed reading the CS series, partly because of the theme of caring for the sick that ran through the books . . .
3 June 1994:
Woke at 7.30, felt a bit better . . . Apparently rain started at 2.30am, so I must have been dozing by then . . . Rest went walking while stayed behind to rest - knees bad and had said yesterday that would stay if had had another bad night, so no-one thought unusual . . . Went to Spar as shuts at 12, bought two twisty rolls which turned out to be moister and sweeter [than those served in the hotel], banana, pistachio nuts and peach juice. Returned and ate on balcony . . .
[That night] Problems started shortly after lights out when whole body seized up. Eventually had to get R to talk so I could relax. As felt better storm started, so still didn't sleep. Then [another party] arrived back at the hotel singing! Did sleep after that though, although mortified kept R up . . .
4 June 1994:
Up at 7.30 despite everything, didn't feel too bad considering.
[Later, at 4pm] Went back to bed and dozed until 5.30pm when R returned from her climb. Changed for dinner but never really woke up again, especially after spritzer with the meal . . .
Went to bed and slept better, although felt sick from dreadful fried fish square fed for dinner. Had nightmares and felt sick all night, but only woke twice, so relatively good night.
5 June 1994:
Last day . . . Bit apprehensive [a long walk was planned] . . . But wanted to do it and reasoned that must be at fittest (if tiredest). Stopped at hotel and bought stick badge - nicest yet which was appropriate . . . V. much enjoyed it . . . conscious not only that won't be able to afford to come back soon, but that may never be able to walk so well again. Then again may, but have to take advantage of the present as don't know what the future will hold. Changing attitude that way . . .
Rest of walk cold and not so much fun, all grumpy by end . . . Originally decided to lunch at hotel, then D changed her mind. However, changed it back again when found out serving goulash soup, so R and I escaped to the Hotel Post - Chalet location - and had spaghetti bolognese. Also bought buns for tea - best lunch all week . . . Planning Chinese Monday night! Be very surprised if not lost weight! Hope Alison [osteopath] thinks muscle tone is improved . . .
Has been a very interesting trip. Haven't felt very comfortable at times, physically and mentally, and so have been very homesick. As always, in retrospect could have relaxed more but both physically and every other way was unknown at beginning of week . . . enjoyed feeling fitter and being able to be independent . . . If another trip is arranged before end of PhD will try to come again.
Less than a week after returning from Austria, I travelled
to Edinburgh to film an exhibition which the fans had organised at the
Museum of Childhood and a local fan meeting. On this occasion my partner
was able to accompany me, acting as my assistant to enable me to complete
the filming and research successfully. I was also fortunate enough to have
friends who provided me with accommodation and took a great deal of trouble
to ensure that I was comfortable.
Later, in September 1994, I travelled to Guernsey, where
thirty-five fans were visiting the sites of Brent-Dyer's "La Rochelle"
series. This was more difficult than earlier trips, since I could not afford
to pay for my partner to accompany me and neither Rosemary nor Joanne were
joining the party. I was also taken aback to discover that there are no
lifts in Guernsey hotels. However, a number of fans offered assistance
with my luggage and equipment, and one changed rooms with me to enable
me to stay on the ground floor. Mo Everett, who organised the weekend,
also took a great deal of trouble to meet my needs, ensuring that egg-
and dairy-free food was available and that transport arrangements were
made to prevent me from having to walk further than I could manage. She
also invited me to rest in her own home before the Saturday night festivities.
As a result I was able to complete the filming and research successfully,
and was well enough to attend the final event, a memorial service for Brent-Dyer
which took place in Surrey the day after we returned from Guernsey (my
partner drove me there and helped me with the equipment).
When I reached the editing stage, I was fortunate enough
to be able to extend my credit enough to buy time on a digital editing
system, Avid, which is based on an Apple Macintosh computer and which I
highly recommend (full details of the editing process are given elsewhere).
This allowed me to control the entire process using a keyboard and mouse,
whereas the traditional mechanical process - as used in the editing suite
provided by the University - involves a great deal of physical effort and
would have caused me significant problems. However, access to the system
still caused me some difficulties. Since I had to make a block booking
when I hired the system, and since hiring the system was very expensive,
I had to work every day for three weeks (in addition to the editing, I
also had to carry out my weekend professional research contracts which
were my main source of income). This was physically very tiring and caused
my impairment to become greater as the process continued, and inevitably
had some negative effects on the final outcome of the film. Later I was
given free access to an "online" Avid system by the manufacturers,
but this necessarily had to be at a time to suit the company and coincided
with a period of illness. Not only was I unable to finish the edit as a
result, but I was also ill for some weeks afterwards.
Following the end of filming, I found it difficult to
continue the links with the fans, because the need to carry out paid work
alongside my research left me increasingly fatigued and in pain as time
went on. For example, in 1995 my impairment prevented me from attending
almost half of the fan meetings within London or commuting distance; and
in the July I had to return early from the fan trip to the Swiss Chalet
School sites because the kinds of problems described in the excerpts from
my Austrian diary were overwhelming when combined with the summer heat
and high altitude. (Following my return I began to use a stick much more
heavily and my general health remained very poor, eventually resulting
in my moving temporarily to Cornwall.) The fans, though, responded to these
difficulties by offering me increased help - from providing me with a comfortable
chair at meetings held in their homes to carrying food and water for me
in the Swiss mountains - and this enabled me to participate to a much greater
extent than I could otherwise have done.
There were, however, additional problems to those described
above. The stress of going into debt in order to carry out the research
was very draining, and increased as the research continued. (I remained,
aware, though, of how fortunate I had been to obtain access to the necessary
equipment at all, which was due entirely to my professional background
and would not have been possible for the majority of disabled people.)
Then, unsurprisingly, fans did not always remember that I was disabled,
and in addition, I did find it difficult to have to explain that I was
disabled, to "come out", as soon as I met anyone new. And while
the attitudes of fans were more positive than within the academy, disabilism
was still evident and marked. I initially received a hostile or disbelieving
reaction from some fans after coming out, and often heard comments about
how dreadful it must be to be a burden on someone else. And I was particularly
upset in December 1994, after the end of the conference, "Studying
Girls' Popular Fiction",
when the women with whom I had travelled to Austria chose to eat at a restaurant
which was inaccessible to me because of the menu.
However, it is undoubtedly true that the fan clubs attracted
women who were in sympathy with much of the ethos of the Chalet School
series. Many had been members of the original Chalet Club, to whom Brent-Dyer
had written in the newsletter of May 1960 that: "I should like our
Club to have a hand in helping those who are suffering . . . because they
have to carry the burden of physical disability all their lives."
The fact that the books provided the reason for their coming together also
meant that this ethos was uppermost in their minds at the time when I encountered
them. This must have contributed heavily to my overall experience of the
research being positive, if challenging. The occasional differences between
the fans' behaviour and their avowed philosophy were only to be expected,
particularly as they were mostly unaware of the concept of disability rights,
and it was personally encouraging to note that awareness and discussion
of disability issues among fans progressed during the research period,
along with awareness and discussion of sexuality - which could, of course,
been an equally valid research identity.
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