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 Lidos
by Simon Barber
Thursday August 19th, 1937
Farewell to Scotland! A fine breakfast (kippers for us, porridge for the Jenks) and we were in the air by 8:15, heading towards the distant mainland. Miss Cabot had the pilot’s seat and I was co-pilot; once at cruise height Miss Cabot shut our central engine off. We are lightly laden after all, and the Storm Bird held a steady hundred and fifty knots even on the outer engines.
Then it was almost due South, with the coast under our starboard wingtip all the way down. We flew over the famous Northernmost mainland point, John o’Groats (I recall Beryl once claimed it was named after a ferry service run by some far-travelled Dutch sailor called Jean of Ghent. A likely story! We have the main merchant fleet in the world, and hardly need to import any Dutch sailors) * then a long expanse of lowland farms and moorland for half an hour till the next coastline.
Helen navigated, and pointed out the waymarks as we went. Soon we could see Inverness, the capital of the North by the outlet of the famous Loch Ness. A nice-looking stone-built city, and the first in really traditional style Helen has seen, not having been to Europe before. Reykjavik was more colourful than most cities, in the painted wood Scandinavian style. Helen asked if there was an actual Scottish word, ‘Inver’, so we could look down at the city and be impressed (or possibly shocked) by the sheer… Inverness of it all. Not sure, myself.
It may have been less spectacular than the Highland route but at least it was easier and safer flying down the Eastern coast, with no cloud-shrouded mountains in the way and a fairly regular coastline. The Western side is all highlands and islands, with such resounding names as the Aird of Sleet (probably a chilly spot), the Mull of Kintyre (mulled wine probably much needed but not available) and the Point of Ayr. It is a pity I have not been around this part of the world much - Miss Cabot asked what the point of Ayr was, but I was unable to enlighten her. With the weather what it is around here, I expect much of the time even the locals can hardly see the point.
We cut straight across the land from Inverness and passed over Aberdeen, admiring the sturdy-looking granite built city nestling in the granite lowlands. From two thousand feet (just under the cloud base) we could see most of the details. Just to the South by Stonehaven we spotted a patch of incongruously blue water, like a piece of Pacific lagoon that had rather missed its way and ended up next to the chilly grey North Sea. Maria got the binoculars out and declared it was a big new swimming pool crowded with bathers, with a great South-facing sun-trap of a building in fully tiled Art Deco style and hosts of deck chairs laid out to catch the sun.
For a change, I could tell her about this one – one of the wonders of our sun-and hygiene-worshipping age, a Lido. I remember reading about them being opened or planned up and down the country before I left for Spontoon. Sea bathing around Britain is generally decidedly chilly, and the beaches not always pleasant… so within the ‘seaside zone’ there are a lot of specially designed hygienic pools with sun-traps, where stylish and less stylish furs alike can enjoy the best of whatever Summer they can get. A bold venture opening one up near Aberdeen, but the local furs are hardy.
I rather doubt that whatever happens on this trip, we will have much time for sunning ourselves in Lidos. Still, after the turmoil of our last six months, at least it should be relaxing enough wherever we are. London has the reputation of the big, bad City – but we have survived Kuo Han. To some extent.
From Aberdeen we cut almost straight South across the Firth of Forth, our next landfall forty minutes later – England, proper. A very scenic cruise down in sight of the coast, past the grand old fortified towns of Berwick and Alnwick, the great shipbuilding yards of Newcastle, the moors and cliffs around Scarborough and we turned inland, South-West to our next stop on the Humber estuary, the Blackburn Aircraft works field at Brough.
Although the Storm Bird has the range to get down to the South Coast tonight, we wanted somewhere with facilities that we can use to check our ailing engines. The starboard one is sounding a little rough by now. At the worst, if our engines are unsafe to fly further we could leave her here and have mechanics and spare parts sent up to work on her – not something we could do on an empty beach somewhere.
I must say, even on a summer day the wide, shallow estuary of the River Humber does not look inviting. The tide was half-way out, and revealed great expanses of glutinous grey mud. Not the kind of beach that attracts sunbathers. I suppose we have become rather spoiled, living amongst coral beaches and warm lagoons for three years. The river was decidedly busy; Hull is one of the major fishing ports of the country, and there is a lot of industrial barge traffic up and down the Humber from the factory cities of Yorkshire upstream.
At Brough our airstrip and seaplane slips are part of the Blackburn Aircraft company’s factory, but like any good company they always welcome trade, even if it is our using their facilities rather than buying any aircraft today. Although they hardly have a showroom as such, the site manager was very happy to walk us round the various lines of new civil and military aircraft drawn up, and talk us through their finer points. Without sounding too sniffy about it, he dropped in a line about the company not having made any three-engined aircraft this decade, what with the better reliability and performance of modern engines. It is probably just as well we are taking the Storm Bird down to Shoreham and a more sympathetic audience.
We checked our flight details with the flight manager (who is in charge of actual flight operations here) and got updates on landing grounds, radio beacons and suchlike. Flying boats are really taking off in more ways than one – inland areas are no longer the hazard they used to be; what with British aviation making the most of existing gravel pits and suchlike inland waters for seaplane operations there are nearly as many places for a seaplane to touch down as one with wheels. The new taxi-way at Heathrow in the Thames valley is open – unlike building a paved, all-weather land runway which is an expensive undertaking, here one even makes a profit on digging out the gravel! Our winters are rarely hard enough to freeze a deep body of water kept moving by planes and their tenders. If the conditions were that bad, most paved airstrips would be sheer ice-rinks and closed to commercial flights anyway.
After we serviced our aircraft and filed our flight-plans for tomorrow, it was teatime and we strolled into Brough itself. Rather different to Kirkwall, a bustling market town surrounded by endless waving wheat fields and green pastures all the way to the distant hills in the North. A long way from the snow and ice of Greenland, or the windswept heather of the Orkneys! Miss Cabot was rather puzzled by the heat – from everything she (and Molly) had heard, she expected nothing but mist and rain.
True enough, although on Spontoon there is a composting power station, and on Cranium Island I have heard rumour of a lunar power plant, solar power is not usually an attractive proposition here. Should our Mad Scientists ever work out how to extract power from greyness, England will have unlimited power to spare, and it would be time to sell any shares in coal mines – England having the main world reserves of greyness. I assured Miss Cabot that should she be here in November, she will see all the rain and mist she could ever want to.
Something I have not done in three years – sit down in an ordinary Lyons corner tea-house and order plain English tea and cakes all round. At least, it felt ordinary back then – the uniformed lepine waitress (a ‘nippy’ as I remember they call them) looked startlingly like Missy Paphoroa of Song Sodas and I was about to address her in Spontoonie, which would have caused much confusion!
Another thing they have here is all the daily newspapers – which we gratefully seized and skimmed while awaiting our order. In a few minutes Maria’s ears went right down – and wordlessly passed me today’s edition of The Daily Tabloid. To quote:
Heiress returns to a cursed home? Readers may well recall the dramatic events of earlier this year, when our Eastern Colonial correspondent brought the shocking tale of the bringing to justice of the Peer of Crime, Lord Allworthy. Modern legal history was made, as the first time in a century an active Peer of the realm was executed by a full and official court, having previously been found guilty in absentia by the highest court in the land, but living at that time beyond range of extradition. As his sister suffered the same fate and there were no close known heirs, it was widely believed that in the coming Parliament that seat would be declared extinct and a fresh title declared, awarded to some other, less contentious family.
Now it can be told! In the month before his demise, Lord Allworthy married Miss Amelia Bourne-Phipps, only daughter of General Archibald Bourne-Phipps of Barsetshire. Although the wedding was not publicised, our legal consultant assures us that it was recognised under the traditions of the local nation (Krupmark Island, a disputed territory) and is accepted as valid. Our legal correspondent Sir Francis Hashwood QC, explains “a Native fur who marries in, say, a village temple in India in according to local custom, is regarded as wed in the eyes of the law no matter where they go afterwards – whether such a ceremony would be binding on British soil is immaterial, the wedding itself stands.”
Lady Amelia Allworthy has recently finished her education far afield in the Pacific at Songmark Aeronautical Flying School for Young Ladies in the so-called Spontoon Independencies, and is expected to return in the next few days. Reports of her aircraft leaving Newfoundland and Iceland have already reached our ears. She inherits numerous concerns in shipping and manufacturing, notably the shipyards in Barrow-in-Furryness that are significant in the defence of the realm.
Controversy has dogged the Allworthy family since the terrible events of October 5th, 1924 - since when the more credulous have claimed the line is cursed. Hopefully a fresh line of inheritance (Lady Allworthy is feline, whereas her husband’s family were canine) might break what looks to have been more than any family’s share of bad luck.
Considering that with Lord Allworthy’s criminal conviction and exile abroad, the enterprises and estates have long been administered by trustees who stood to gain a permanent position should the title be dissolved by the Crown (as was widely expected), the appearance of an heir may be a cause for considerable ruffled fur in the land. A legal heiress has the power to dissolve all previous arrangements and run the business how, and with whom, she chooses.
Oh dear. And I had been hoping to quietly enter the country and get on with things without too much disturbance. Having the Press nipping at our tails was not part of the plan. My reappearance is going to ruffle a lot more fur and feathers than I had thought.
I asked Miss Jenks if she knew just what had happened on October 5th all those years ago – she winced somewhat, and her ears went right down. She whispered that she had assumed I had been told what many folk think kicked off the Allworthy family’s decline. There had been a perfectly normal weekend party at one of their manor houses in the social season, with a glittering crowd of the local gentry and other guests – when there had been a murder.
I confessed myself rather baffled as to the problem there – it was a perfectly ordinary English country manor house weekend, with charismatic amateur detectives of good family standing ready and the full traditional setup – not providing a murder would have been a far greater social faux pas than failing to provide food for the weekend. But then my ears went right down as Miss Jenks whispered the terrible scandal – the wrong guest had been murdered!
Helen blinked somewhat, and swore that all these years she had been sure I had been making all this kind of social custom up just to tease her. When we first discussed this trip to England I had told her that she had no need to worry; according to all the unwritten rules as a foreigner she would be perfectly safe, as are cubs, couples married for less than a decade and of course the servants. (It would be quite impossible to find staff otherwise; by all accounts it is hard enough anyway these days.)
Miss Jenks explained the true scale of the social disaster; the police had to be called in, and two eccentric amateur detectives in good standing (one used dowsing for clue hunting, and the other supposedly uses an amulet of an almost unknown Celtic Goddess of Truth) had to go home without either of them getting to expound to the guests assembled in the Library on Sunday evening just how it had been done and by whom. A very poor show for all involved. Naturally, after such a social disaster the Allworthy family became as near to social pariahs as could be, given their wealth and rank.
Although the Daily Tabloid is not a publication to rival The Times, I could hardly argue with their reporter’s line on this. Maria has a few things to say about the paper as a whole, noting things that would be done differently if she was in charge – but every aspiring Editor says that no matter what they look at – otherwise there would be little way of making their mark.
Back for the evening through the busy town to the airstrip and slipways, grateful that the newspaper did not print a photograph of me. We all know this situation if far too good to last. And as the poet Mister Wolfe said so very truly;
“One cannot hope to bribe or twist
(Thank God!) the British Journalist
But, seeing what the man will do
Unbribed – there’s no occasion to!”
* (Editor’s note: another occasion when Beryl happened to be telling an unlikely-sounding truth.)