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  Upload 31 March 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

Wednesday August 18th, 1937

Dear Diary:
Well, I never expected my troubles to be over just because I made it back to Europe. The good thing is, now at least we know what is wrong with the Storm Bird’s engines. The bad news is – last night as we changed the oil filters we found just what no mechanic likes to see – fine particles of ‘white metal’ alloy from the bearings. The main engine bearings have done a superb job – considering the Storm Bird has flown right around the planet, and by no means the shortest route – but all moving parts wear out, and it is a big (and expensive) job to replace them. Definitely not the sort of spare part one can fit on the beach, even if we carried that level of spares.

    We are staying at the Lochbank Hotel, a newish building by the jetties that has a definitely military feel to it – probably built as accommodation during the War and sold off afterwards. The Houton base is just a few hundred yards away, and this morning we begged a look in its trade directories as to the nearest Cant and Alfa Romeo aircraft engine agent. It could hardly be further! Right on the South coast of England, Shoreham aerodrome has the main Alfa Romeo dealership in the country. It looks like our travels are not over yet.

    Just to make things worse, bearings have progressively accelerating failure – as they get rougher the friction increases, so the rate of wear increases and things generally go downhill fast (as does the aircraft). So just because we flew the last two hundred and fifty miles with no great trouble, does not mean the next leg will be so smooth. Rough bearings do not make for smooth running.

    Miss Jenks has no such trouble – and in fact her family home is only twenty miles or so from Shoreham, just inland near Saltdean. She very kindly offered to take us as guests, when she has settled various affairs in London. Now we are on British soil she has been busy on the telephone dialing long-distance, making arrangements for her return home.

    It looks like the ball is very much in my court, so to speak. I have estates in Barrow-in-Furriness to look at, plus business in London, and a home in Barsetshire I have not seen in three years. On top of that the Storm Bird needs attention, but at least with Miss Jenks we have a local base for that, and one fairly handy for London. I have lawyers to see and hopefully a House of Lords to avoid – fortunately Parliament is away for its Summer break, so there is no great hurry there.

    Getting the map out, I worked out a rough plan of action. First, to the South Coast, leaving the Storm Bird with the mechanics in Shoreham. There is no knowing how long that will take, if they have to wire for spare parts to be sent from Italy. Then – London, Barsetshire and finally Barrow-in-Furriness.  How any of this will work out is yet to be seen. If we catch her before she heads out, there is even a new Songmark girl, Christiana Millwright, living in Yorkshire who it would be good to see on the way to Barrow-in-Furriness and hopefully give her some useful advice. When I last raised the subject with Helen, she growled “Iff’n she’s not spent all Summer trainin’ up hard, least we can tell her she shoulda’.” Hopefully we will encourage this Christiana rather than scaring her off – considering what has happened to me, Maria and especially to Molly. Perhaps we should mostly tell her about the fine island views and the hula dancing she can look forward to, and let our old Tutors break the other sort of news to her. Hotel brochures usually boast about the quality of their beds and their fine cuisine – not Songmark’s strongest points. (Unless one counts the exceptionally ‘strong’ mattresses, that is. They were probably bulletproof by the feel of them.)

    Maria says she can stay with us until London, after which her Uncle’s patience is likely to run out. Certainly, she has headed back from Spontoon to Italy as fast as she could, as per orders – but there are boat trains leaving from London that can get her to Rome in forty hours, and she says she had better be on one without much more delay.
    This morning we spent changing the engine oil completely, the first time since Thunder Bay. Definitely a workshop job, and we were glad to be in hangars with tools and facilities to hand. At least any metal particles already worn loose from the bearings are out of the system – but we all know more will follow. Perhaps shutting down the centre engine after takeoff will be worthwhile in this case, as it has only a limited number of working hours left. Exactly how many, we will find only out when it seizes up or shakes itself apart mid-air – not something we are going to risk.

    Refuelling and acquiring up-to-date air charts took us till mid-afternoon, leaving us too little time to carry on flying today. Leaving Miss Jenks and her brothers to carry on working on their Dragon Rapide, a stretch of our legs seemed in order – the last decent hike we had was in Greenland, and we could use a breath of air not scented with oil or aviation spirit. A fine enough day with high, fleeting clouds and some blue sky so we headed down the country road around the bay, to the “metropolis” of Stromness. Six miles double-timing it around the bay, an hour and ten minutes for us.

    It may be the “second city” of the Orkneys, but Stromness is distinctly lacking in bright lights and tourist attractions. Casino Island will not need to worry about the competition. If the sailors of the Fleet are up in Scapa Flow, it is hard to see where they go on shore leave. The village has perhaps twenty shops, and two taverns, neither of which could hold even a single destroyer’s off-duty watch, even had they been open at the time. Apparently the locals are a sober and thrifty lot, and the taverns are all shut till seven and all day Sundays. I shall have to carry on looking forward to that nice glass of white wine for a little longer. Helen and Miss Cabot were puzzled that the local furs hardly sound Scottish, at least not as Hollywood portrays the dialect – but these islands and the Shetlands to the North are more Viking than Celtic, and once were ruled from Norway not Edinburgh. In Shetland they still have a ceremony of burning a sacrificial Viking longboat around New Year – not exactly orthodox Church of England (or indeed Scotland.  *)

    Still, we came, we saw what there was of the ‘city lights’ and double-timed it back again, having at least breathed in a lot of fresh Atlantic air on the way. Twelve miles at brisk pace certainly blew the cobwebs away!

*(Editor’s note: the intriguingly named ancient festival of “Up Helly Aa”, a fine Fire Ritual still held on the last Tuesday of January. When conditions are generally a little chillier than Spontoon’s “Hoopy Jaloopi”.)  

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