from a diary:
A TALE OF TWO LIDOS
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 LidosMonday August 16th, 1937
by Simon Barber
For a change, it was very encouraging in one way to wake up with rain pounding at the windows – if not exactly cheerful for a rest day, it means the weather forecast was spot-on. An excellent night’s sleep in a soft bed is something we still find a luxury to be savoured. Three years at Songmark accustomed us all to much plainer accommodation; in my case it came as rather less of a shock than for Maria and Molly, who were brought up with the best of everything. My dear School provided me with a fine grounding, but spent the money on providing well set out playing fields rather than soft mattresses.
It was quite something, realising I can decline all the day’s scheduled activities and spend the whole day in bed. Not that I ever would, of course – I recall Beryl describing me as “the sort of girl who always gets up at six, no matter what time it is.”Coming from her, I doubt it was meant as a complement.*
Having an evening and night to relax, gave me time to think things over. Just getting across the planet to Europe has taken all my attention lately – but two more days flying should get us to England, and things will be very different there. Three years ago when I was heading out the other direction, Songmark was all the future I was thinking about – and that took all my time. Unlike Maria, I have not been home since. Had things turned out better, I would be arriving as Mrs. Hoele’toemi, rather than Lady Allworthy.
Still, in more ways than one that is the map we have, and we have to plot the best course across it. For the time being, I will just have to grit my teeth and actually be the dowager Lady Allworthy – considering what folk would say if I turned up as merely the escaped slave of a Kuo Han warlord. Not a wonderful advertisement of three years of jolly expensive Songmark training! Saimmi and the folk who know us on Spontoon know and understand the story, but I can just imagine the tabloid pages at home. Coming back as a Lady (in whatever circumstances) and heir to rather more than the usual acres of damp farmland and expensively crumbling manor houses many of our aristocracy are stuck with, looks far better for next year’s prospectus.
Breakfast was at a leisurely eight o’clock; ryebread and fish predominated. We asked at the hotel reception about buses heading towards the site of the old Thing, and discovered they left every hour from the stop by the main docks.
Waterproof oilskins on, we headed out into the wind and rain. It may be August, but the North Atlantic can throw storms at you whenever it wants to. (Even in Britain, seaside resorts rarely make much claim as to sunshine – on our chilly Eastern coast, the resort of Skegness actually boasts ‘it’s SO Bracing!’ for want of a more promising description) There are far more folk about today despite the weather – the market stalls were already open on the way towards the docks, with stoic housewives chattering happily around the fish stalls. Our seaplanes have to be fed as well, and after finding Mr. Torrenson the harbourmaster, we negotiated refueling with the local supplier. Icelandic Kronor are not something we laid in a stock of, but both aircraft’s crew have a stock of gold sovereigns that have proved very acceptable worldwide.
Half a dozen burly locals hauled an aviation spirit bowser along from the main fuel storage area to the jetties we are moored at; all we had to do was get the hose in the wing tanks and they handled the hard work of pumping several hundred gallons of seventy octane. All in a day’s work for them.
So, by half past nine we were all fueled and ready to start as soon as the weather clears. Not likely to be today, the harbourmaster told us. Although we are due in Europe as soon as possible, Maria’s Uncle particularly wanting to see her, today we can be tourists with a clear conscience. Safety first, and the prospect of battling through forty knot headwinds and squalls to find the small target of the Faroe Islands in the middle of the North Atlantic appealed to none of us. Changing a couple of our sovereigns for local small change at the harbour, we found the bus waiting at the stop and were glad to get in out of
There were a dozen other furs on the bus by the time it pulled out; one of them noticed we were talking in English, and one of them, an Arctic Hare, introduced herself as Frida Ingasdottir. It is an interesting local custom, to have one’s family name change every generation. If Frida has a girl cub and names her after her grandmother, her name would be Inga Fridasdottir. I can appreciate the locals need to take great care choosing Christian names, as each one has to last two generations, one acting as the surname!
Frida spoke good English, and volunteered to act as our guide. We happily agreed. It is about thirty miles to the old ‘Thingvellir’ parliament by its lake, and as the gravel roads are somewhat rough, it took over an hour. Quite some scenery – grassy pastures and rugged volcanic hills, in between walls of lashing rain.
It seems we are not the first ‘Euro’ tourists this week – not that we are exactly pleasure-seekers. The previous furs Frida showed around were decidedly not. Half a dozen German academics, looking at the oldest records they could find, on a mission from Berlin to collect evidence the high ranking folk in their Government had ancient Nordic ancestry. Frida seemed puzzled why they would expect to. The Vikings famously settled everywhere from Ireland to Normandy and right through to Sicily, but any coming to Germany could have walked straight from Denmark without going anywhere near Iceland.
I recall Professor Schiller shaking his head in bafflement at some of the ‘scientific’ missions he was ordered on – such as the one to gather proof of Horbiger’s (in)famous ‘world ice theory’ which claims the moon is only a temporary one made of ice and liable to crash as its predecessors had, bringing world-shaking catastrophe at the end of each Age. I scarcely have to be Alpha Rote to know regular science does not actually work like that. One gathers observations and finds a theory that might explain them, rather than the other way around. I wonder if the ancestor-hunting team found any suitable evidence, and how much of it they had to invent rather than risk the wrath of Berlin by returning empty-pawed.
As Helen muttered, “why let ugly facts get in the way of a beautiful theory?” Although I doubt she thinks the theory any too beautiful herself.
Definitely a wild, rugged landscape from what we could see of it. The small rift valley of Thingvellir appeared out of the rain, and soon we were all fastening our oilskins and heading out to see what is what. We were hardly expecting a Parliament building – the place was chosen for its natural advantages, and has generally kept them. Frida told us one of the large rocks along the cliff was the Lögberg, the ancestor of the traditional parliament, where any Viking could get up and address the assembly – although there are several candidates, and nobody seems too sure just which one it was. Evidently it was somewhere on the shores of Lake Thingvallavatn, which we saw being lashed with rain and waves a couple of feet high breaking on the shores. It is the biggest lake in Iceland, Frida told us proudly.
Definitely not a day to climb any mountains. Still, the roaring waters of the river going into it were quite a sight. Not something we have been used to on Spontoon, though the river coming down from Sacred Lake saw a lot of use for our river-crossing exercises. This one was fed from melting snows somewhere, by the look of it, and none of us fancied keeping up with those particular skills.
While showing up the bridge, Frida conversationally remarked this was the famous Drekkingarhylur or “Drowning Pool”, where unmarried or adulterous mothers were put into woolen sacks and drowned for their sins. Definitely not one for the postcards! I saw Miss Jenks cast a worried glance at her half-brothers, and it hardly took Warrior Priestess skills to guess what she was thinking, recalling what happened to her mother. Frida assured us that it no longer was used that way – for which I am very grateful, thinking of my own condition. We are certainly a long way from the friendly Pacific islands, in more ways than one. Maria was looking distinctly unwell, probably for much the same reasons. I must have a serious talk with Maria, but that can wait till we get to England – we have enough to think about on the next stage of our trip and distractions are definitely uncalled-for.
There is an old church and nearby an Assembly House, to which a small café is attached, and we all retired to it for refreshment but mostly to get out of the rain. Frida had her duties to attend to in the afternoon, so with a vote of thanks we bought her an early luncheon (pickled fish on ryebread – even the lepine folk eat fish here, there being a shortage of local vegetables) and joined her at the table.
Although it is stormy enough here, we certainly preferred the idea of looking out at the rain today through the tea-house window than being strapped into our cockpit and fighting our way South through the head-winds. The cold front was due to sweep past us in mid-afternoon, but definitely it will not be sunbathing weather even when it clears the island.
After thanking Frida profusely, we had only ten minutes to finish our teas and coffees, struggle into wet oilskins (when will someone invent a material that does not cling to wet fur like this?) and head for the bus stop – a definitely exposed and lonely pole by the empty roadside. We were all jolly glad to see the bus appearing through the rain on time; it was not a place to linger in this weather. I recall my Swedish pal Angelica quoting a proverb from her homeland “there is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing” – but a little more sunshine would have been nice.
Back to Reykjavik, and straight into the hotel for a change into dry clothing! Definitely a luxury, to be able to relax for an hour and have Room Service bring up tea and biscuits.
At four o’clock it was on with the oilskins again and down to the docks checking our aircraft were still secure at their moorings. All was well, so we checked the weather forecast with the harbourmaster again (clouds clearing tonight) so we could relax and dine at the hotel, with the prospect of an early night. It is odd, but in all the wilderness camps on our flight over here, I never felt the slightest urge to sample the medicinal brandy – but since arriving somewhere with Prohibition, that or a nice glass of white wine suddenly seems very appealing. An appeal I resisted; aside from use as trade goods, ‘Medicinal supplies’ on the Storm Bird means exactly that. I recall being puzzled when Molly told us that when Prohibition was introduced in her country the actual alcohol consumption went up – and now perhaps I can see how.
*(Editor’s note: in the margins of the diary written in clear text, is the comment – “What passes for wisdom with Beryl – ‘early to rise and early to bed, makes a girl healthy but socially dead.’ ”)