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Upload 10 February 2016

Extracts from a diary:

by Simon Barber

Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
  fly from Newfoundland across the Atlantic to Europe - August 1937.

A Tale of Two Lidos
by Simon Barber

Sunday August 15th, 1937

A good night’s sleep and a bright start with sunshine streaming down made the territory look a lot more appealing. Our hosts were up before us dressed in their Sunday best, Sigridur explaining their Church is an hour’s walk away over the hills. Had it been on the coast, I would have wanted to give as many of them as we could fit a lift there in thanks – but unfortunately not.
    Not trusting the innocently bright weather for long, we made our farewells and headed down to the beach – to find the tide mostly out for the next six hours, and our aircraft twenty yards aground. The usual problem with mooring on a tidal beach, as opposed to tying up like a boat in a deep-water harbour. Still, the beach was fairly flat so we all knew what to do about that – out with the shovels, and trench our way up the beach to the aircraft. The floats sank into the wet sand to water level as we dug around them, and in an hour we were able to pull them out into the shallow harbour. Hard work; the Storm Bird is a weighty aircraft even for us all hauling together. From the looks some of the churchgoers were giving us, they hardly approved of such work on a Sunday – not that we were exactly doing it for money, after all.

    Still, by the time the tide turned, the weather might have turned as well – and even if everything in Reykjavik is shut, we intended to at least get there and find out. So just after eight we taxied out into the fjord, not worried today about any floating ice, and fairly safe from driftwood with so few trees around here.

    Miss Cabot was piloting, with myself as co-pilot, Helen on radio and Maria navigating. Cloud level was up to four thousand feet, and we contented ourselves with a climb to two thousand, giving us safety margin in case of problems. Turning South-East, in the good visibility navigation was a dream, looking over the distinctive fjords and headlands and spotting them on the chart. In fact, by the time we reached two thousand the capital was in sight on the horizon, and soon we were descending again.
    The main docks seemed to be on the North coast of the peninsula the town is built on, with the approaches complicated by some low islands offshore. Engey, Vioey and other lesser ones according to the chart. At least they made for calmer waters; we touched down just offshore of Engey and taxied in towards the cranes and docks. All eyes were peeled looking out for other flying boats to give us a clue where to dock – unfortunately, none seemed to be in port today. We did spot a fairly empty jetty near some fuel tanks, and headed for there. Our own fuel tanks were low, with forty minutes in the main tank and half an hour in the reserve. Getting our thirsty engines switched off and the Storm Bird securely moored seemed like just the ticket!

    Five minutes later we were indeed moored and standing on dry land, breathing fresh sea air and listening to the seagulls. There was nobody else in sight to listen to. For a nasty few seconds I recalled our experience in the deserted village in Canada – then spotted traffic moving a few hundred yards away. Eventually we were hailed – the harbourmaster had of course seen us coming in, and ships come and go seven days a week. Mister Torrenson the harbourmaster spoke very fair English, and we negotiated a delivery of aviation spirit – tomorrow. The place really does shut on Sunday!

    So, our aircraft legally berthed and passports checked, we were free to wander. The city itself is nicely built of mostly wooden buildings, painted muted but striking shades of mostly reds, greens and yellows. A hotel near the docks (the Thoresby Strand Hotel) was open for business; in our flying boots and Sidcot suits we certainly attracted some attention. Strictly speaking the Sidcots are excessive for the enclosed cockpit of the Storm Bird – but had we been forced down anywhere, they would have been life-savers.

    I shared a room with Miss Cabot, while Helen and Maria took another, and Miss Jenks and her brothers two more. First on the agenda was a hot bath – the first since Newfoundland, and our fur was in a sorry state once out of the flying gear. Luxury! Relaxing in a generously sized hot tub (the waters here are naturally heated from hot springs) with the prospect of a leisurely afternoon and a night in a soft bed.
    Though Miss Cabot is an agreeable companion and has all the skills of a Songmark graduate – I find myself missing Molly more than ever. I would never have thought I would miss the ways her eyes lit up at the sight of something dear to her heart (such as a saw-backed bayonet, or a pile of unguarded explosives). And yet the Molly we knew is around, somewhere – safe from the FBI in the body of a snow leopard. I hope she has come to terms with such a body, especially as its… preferences were the opposite of her own.  I think given the choice Molly would have chosen the similarly vacant body of Henrietta, the Songmark skunk whose living body, but nothing else of her, was rescued. Henrietta being de-scented would have caused Molly no problems, perhaps the reverse – and she might even prefer that de-clawed and spayed body to the one of Sapphic appetites she is currently residing in. The fact that an ancient spirit is already in possession of that body is something I doubt Molly would have cared about much.

    In an hour we were bathed, combed and in our ‘respectable’ clothing again, ready for a Sunday afternoon promenade. First, luncheon! The hotel had laid out a very fine buffet meal, with some local Specialties the waitress was surprised we recognised. True, the scent of fermented shark, ‘hakarl’ is unmistakeable – it is something we have seen offered to unsuspecting tourists near Spontoon’s Vikingstown, much to the Spontoonies’ delight. One suspects some of these ‘delicacies’ are secretly for tourist-only consumption – oriental shark’s fin or bird’s nest soups, plus the famous ‘thousand year eggs’ always sounded more interesting to hand out straight-faced to tourists to watch their reaction, than to actually enjoy eating at home.

    Although Hakarl has been described as ‘like old sponges soaked in ammonia cleaning fluid’ by some furs – and one understands what they mean – I certainly ate mine. Better was the wind-dried smoked mutton, and the four kinds of regular fresh fish were quite a treat. Miss Jenks took one sniff, and declined politely, heading for the upwind end of the table.

    In the hotel lobby was a weather forecast. Our ears went right down, looking at tomorrow’s forecast – a major cold front approaching with gales and squalls, with winds out of the South – the very last thing we want! A quick discussion had us extending our stay here to two nights. I recall not far away is the site of the original ‘Thing’ – not something escaped from Cranium Island, but the parliament whose like we have seen in action in the Pacific this last three years. It should be worth a trip, if we can get transport.

    Two hours wandering around Reykjavik was enough to see all the town sights; the place is not that big. We saw open-air pools and hot springs, steam rising everywhere – and on the edge of town, about an acre of new glasshouses all steam-heated. With warmth and very long Summer days here, they can grow almost anything that can fit the greenhouse!

    Back to plan our route for Tuesday, and to just relax with tea and coffee on demand. Tomorrow looks like being a damp and stormy day – we will leave it to the wildfowl to do any flying tomorrow!
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