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
Friday, 27th August, 1937
Just as we were settling into Fourends, we are packing our bags again. Last night we all held a ‘council of war’ with the Jenks family, and decided to keep moving. I still have this image of someone on the far side of the world aiming a monstrous piece of artillery (not necessarily physical) at us, looking up the equivalent of error tables and compensating for target motion. At first I was reassured that it was so many days between whatever hit Three Claws and the Greenland mine – as if such was the reloading time. But Helen pointed out that some parts of our route, such as the lakeside camp in the Canadian Rockies, could have had anything happen to them, and nobody would report it. We were weeks on Spontoon though, after returning from Kuo Han, and we would certainly have heard about anything disastrous hitting there.
Kuo Han. That name raises ugly possibilities, Helen thinks. We thought we left no survivors at that evil temple – we never thought of them having a sister temple on perhaps the far side of the mountain who would investigate and take revenge. We used our Warrior Priestess powers to their limit – and that would have left the equivalent of our scent all over the place, for anyone with the right talent. They may have our scent and our trail by now. Finding us on our route around the world would need something better than the ‘seeing through fires’ ritual Saimmi taught us – but on Kuo Han they have dark ancient rituals. Saimmi admitted that Spontoon lost so much of its lore centuries ago when the famous ‘Great Ritual’ went so hideously wrong – some other nations have kept their traditions alive, and have larger pools of talents to draw from.
It may be pure speculation, but we will go with it as a working theory – it explains how we have got exceedingly arcane and powerful furs exceedingly annoyed with us, somewhere far away enough to affect their accuracy. Our best bet might be to stay moving targets – though that did Greenland no good – we were there only two nights, and not even one in Three Claws!
At least that will fit in with our more local problems. Having told the Press we might look in on Barsetshire or the London townhouse, we will go somewhere else entirely. Miss Jenks got the maps out and we plotted a route to Barrow-in-Furriness where I may pay a surprise visit to those ‘trustees’ who are managing the main Allworthy industries. On the way we will call in on Miss Millwright if she is still at home. Last night I posted her a card first class, that Mr. Glynde drove to the main Lewes post office just in time for the last collection.
All being well a card should arrive in Yorkshire by afternoon post today; as return address I gave the Jenks family telephone number and added that Miss Millwright should phone from a public box and destroy the postcard afterwards. All very cloak-and-dagger maybe, but this seems to be what we need right now!
First, we need more information about the setup in Barrow-in-Furriness, and Mr. Hopkirke will probably not discuss it over the telephone. So another London trip is in order – avoiding the townhouse, which is sure to be watched. I telephoned to book an appointment tomorrow morning, so all the information shouls be ready to paw.
So: tomorrow London then the road North. This left today, and with fine weather Miss Jenks suggested we get our boots on and take in some fresh air on the Downs. A capital suggestion!
By ten o’clock we were all in ‘comfortables’ of hiking shorts, shirts and knapsacks, with our trusty Songmark boots on again. Jake had examined them (he and his brothers are keen hikers) and expressed surprise at their weight. It is something first-years certainly have to get used to, I explained – but they will be glad of the steel foot-bed and toecap when they step on a nail or drop an engine-block on their feet!
I am sure Molly would have gleefully added that a Songmark graduate wearing them can practically drop-kick an assailant’s snout clean off. Even so, I miss her. Miss Cabot is equally capable on those lines should the need arise.
As before, we piled into the back of the windowless van that left ten minutes ahead of the Jenks family in their open-topped tourer; having us being spotted ‘in convoy’ would be bad security. Our rendezvous was by the coast; half an hour we were on the Eastern side of the valley the Great Detective spent his last years in. This time we were taking the coastal path further East, after waving farewell to the transport (the tourer being driven home by Alceston, who apparently drove more armoured versions of the Rolls-Royce on the far side of the English Channel in 1914.)
A cheerful day! Fresh sea air, short green turf under our boots and plenty of interesting aircraft overhead, being pretty much underneath the Croydon-Paris route. The dry chalk valleys are an invigorating switchback, two or three hundred feet of constant ups and downs with scarcely fifty yards on the level all morning.
Maria conceded that there is something to be said for green fields and woodlands. Southern Italy this time of year is generally baked dust and heat haze in the countryside, and in the towns it is smoke and the scent of sewers that are not Il Puce’s main priority to modernise – though he has them on his list, she says. A showy Air Force is taking a lot of the budget, even though she has dissuaded him from disastrous projects such as the Lynx bomber. Which looked fine but independent Vostok engineers pronounced it un-fixable – and it was due for mass-production.
On her part, Miss Jenks told us of her travels (and travails) while we were in Brighton. Her Mother no longer being welcome in ‘polite society’ here (Jack and Jake being the reasons, especially as she legally acknowledged them as her sons) she is the only one who can run the estates. Which is a lot harder than having a list of tenants and just cashing their rent cheques every quarter-day! * There are property disputes to handle, buildings and utilities to repair, drains to be put right (Maria shifted uncomfortably at this) and a hundred and one things to do, just keeping everyone employed, suitably housed and reasonably happy.
Helen looked a bit uncomfortable at this – she had been brought up by Hollywood to believe the English countryside was still run by lords and dukes under the ‘feudal system’ – something we have not really had for six hundred years, else Miss Jenks’ tenants would be sending in crop tithes and oaths of fealty, not cash rents. That folk who own mansion houses actually support their people, came as rather a shock. Despite what I have been trying to tell her for the last three years.
Actually, it gave me a lot to think of as well. I am sure there is a seven-year list of urgent needs from the Allworthy Estate tenants awaiting me – or rather more, as I doubt Lord Leon and Lady Susan were exactly model landlords even when they were here. ‘Noblesse oblige’ means just that – accept the ‘nobility’ part and accept the obligations that come with it. It is an uncomfortable truth that Maria pointed out a few days ago – every penny I spend as Lady Allworthy with no intention of keeping the job, is making things worse for someone,
Still, ‘cross one reef at a time’ as the Spontoonies say – at least today we have set things in motion and can enjoy the summer air while the wheels turn elsewhere. Luncheon was taken by a cliff-top lighthouse that Miss Jenks tells me has had to be rebuilt twice and shifted inland, such is the speed of cliff erosion. Cheese and pickle sandwiches, plenty of tomatoes and ginger beer from cool stoneware bottles – just the thing for a picnic!
Jack Jenks told us that all Spring one could stand on this coast and watch the launches of Roedean’s “Congreve Club”. Sensibly, the girls do no launch off their own playing fields, being too near Brighton for comfort. A twelve-foot rocket landing in Kemp Town with the engine burning, fuel and oxidant tanks half full, might cause complaints. Hence they rented a cliff-top site just past Exeat Bridge and conduct their tests according to the sage advice of the British Interplanetary Society, running since 1933 – "Always assume the thing is going to explode.”
After lunch we pressed on Eastwards, climbing the highest hill yet, which is crowned with a golf course (always the sign one is approaching ‘civilisation’ or so they say) and once over the top we suddenly saw Eastbourne, one of the other main resorts of the coast.
It has been some years since I was around here, but I recall this is Brighton’s main rival to the ‘genteel’ holiday trade – hence I could explain why it looks rather unlike ‘Coney Island’ and has a definite lack of roller coasters and Ferris wheels. No Casinos either – having lived next to Casino Island for three years, it comes as a shock to realise there is not a single (legal) one in England! The nearest being on the far side of the Channel, at Deauville or Le Treport, which provide a roaring trade for the short-haul airlines. Gambling being what it is, I expect the airlines make sure they get paid for the whole trip (and keep hold of the tickets) before letting their customers near a Casino.
Unlike Brighton, the Town Corporation has somewhat spit the town into First and Second Class, like a railway carriage. The beach promenade is on two levels, with no way from one to the other, the Western end we arrived at being the side with cocktail bars and the Eastern end that with pubs and fish and chip shops. I recall a music-hall track about that; ‘Don’t go East of the pier, m’dear.’ Still, nobody was exactly checking pedigrees to let us onto the upper promenade. Just as well; the last thing I want right now is to be publicly announced as Lady Allworthy.
Two minutes later our cover was almost ‘blown’ and in a way we could hardly have expected. I was pointing out a squat oval-sectioned stronghold just ahead, a ‘Martello Tower’ from the Napoleonic wars, when we all spotted something of interest a lot closer to hand. Just in front of us was a respectably dressed stoat gentleman who was sauntering along innocently – when I noticed him ‘dip’ a stout tabby feline lady’s purse from her handbag.
Miss Jenks saw him too, and by reflex shouted ‘Stop thief!” At which the stoat turned and dashed back past us, towards the exit. Unfortunately for him, his intended route took him past Miss Cabot – and he got no further. She efficiently tackled him round the ankles and used his momentum to execute a perfect ‘timber-toss’ throw – which sent him pitching head-first to the pavement with a most decisive impact.
We could see a policeman hurrying onto the scene (and the tubby tabby loudly identifying her purse in the groaning thief’s paw) so decided there were enough witnesses without us, and ‘declined interview’ vanishing back off the promenade, uphill into the Old Town.
As Miss Jenks said, trouble just seems to follow us around – even if it is not exactly aimed at us. I recall a similar encounter on Spontoon when I first met Nuala Rachorska, which was somewhat more violent. That assailant went over the side of the dock with substantial injuries, so today’s stoat got off lightly. I will be happy when I can leave all the Allworthy legacy behind, and follow Helen back to Spontoon, becoming another Mrs. Hoele’toemi like her!
Having barely avoided getting my face in the newspapers, we decided to jump onto the first bus out of town away from any curious police or journalists. A handy open-topped charabanc was just approaching a bus stop nearby, and took us a mile and a half back West. Open-topped vehicles give one the chance to spot if any suspicious cars or autogyros are following.
The rest of the afternoon passed more peacefully, with ten miles over the splendid, lawn-like grassland of the Downs before we spotted Lewes ahead and dropped down into town from the East. The day being hot and our supplies of ginger-beer exhausted, Miss Jenks suggested a refreshing stop at an inn she knows nearby. No complaints there! She led the way to an old tavern at the foot of a ninety-foot white cliff – old chalk quarries, actually. And there she told a tragic, if jolly interesting, tale.
It seemed hard to credit as we sat under sunshades in the inn’s garden with a hot August sun beating down, but around here and not in (say) the Highlands of Scotland, was the scene of the country’s worst avalanche disaster! In the last century, the quarry-workers thriftily saved the cost of a wall by building their crowded cottages right up against the vertical chalk face. All went well till one severe Winter storm when a huge cornice built up at the top of the quarry face high above – and collapsed, a hundred tons or so of snow falling straight through the thatched roofs below. I am sure most passing tourists never know the true tale of the innocent-sounding Snowdrop Inn.
Times do indeed change. Miss Jenks added that dressed as we are, ten years ago we would probably not have been served at a respectable inn. This, at a time when fashionable hem lines were far more revealing than our knee-length skirts! Mind you, ‘flappers’ were not too likely to be hiking in off the hills in fashionable dresses to drink pale ale in tavern gardens. Cocktails in opulent hotel lounges was more their style, by all accounts.
Suitably refreshed, we split up again for the return to Fourends – the Jenks to meet the car for Alceston to drive them home, and us to rendezvous with the closed van awaiting us in a back-street near the brewery. Then back for one more night before our travels continue.
On arrival, the housekeeper had received a telephone call from Miss Millwright in Yorkshire – she is leaving on September the Second, flying out of Prestwick airport on one of the new “Empire Class” flying boats. We had best get moving, if we want to catch her before she goes!
*(Traditional for long-term leases of farms and properties, also for hiring servants; Lady Day (March 25th), Midsummer Day (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September), Christmas (as usual.))