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
Monday 30th August, 1937
An astounding day. An August bank holiday where the fine weather held up, and any furs daring to walk along seaside promenades did not get knocked flat by rain squalls and blown out to sea! I woke at dawn in the old coaching inn (low ceilings, wooden beams of a previous era but a washbasin with working hot water in the room - a great innovation since the stagecoach days.) Dawn is definitely getting later; we are heading North again and it is only two days till the start of Autumn, after all.
After breakfast (some very sound kippers and plentiful toast and tea) we spread the maps out over the bed in my room and looked at the routes. The main cities of the North lie on our direct route (Leeds and Bradford, surrounded by a tangle of industrial towns growing together like ink blots spreading over the map) look like slow and complex navigation, and the big Bentley is not a great vehicle for winding through narrow streets. A longer route on the map might be faster for us, so we decided to skirt to the east of Leeds keeping to the major roads, and come into target making our approach run at low altitude up the Wharfe valley. After meeting our soon-to-be Songmark student, we can take that valley all the way through the Pennine Hills, the backbone of England, and once on the top at the headwaters of the River Wharfe it is perhaps fifty miles down to the sea on the far side and our final target of Barrow-in-Furriness.
I made sure the leather rain top of the Bentley was well waxed and we practiced putting it up several times, ready for a fast deployment – although the morning was bright and cheerful, when that happens on an August Bank Holiday it is usually just to lure trippers out far from shelter before the cloudburst hits them. How the weather knows to do this is one of the great mysteries of Nature around here. Still the sun shone, so we paid up at the inn, cast a worried glance at the cloudless skies and by eight thirty were on the Great North Road again.
While Helen drove, Maria was reading her magazine and translating for us one of the articles on Futurist cuisine, which seems to involve more than just food. She says the ideas have been around Italy most of her life, but she was expecting them to have faded away while she was in Spontoon, not to get official approval. Its chief propagandist Mr. Marinetti (presumably, ‘propagandist’ is a more prestigious job than plain ‘chef’) has dishes, or rather Dining Experiences such as: “The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the napes of the diners’ necks with a perfume of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent sound of an aeroplane motor and some music by Bach." Cutlery is banned in the new cuisine, and tables are to be polished metal shaped like aircraft with small working piston engines vibrating them to ‘add energy and dynamism.’ Farewell to dull dinners, ‘aerobanquets’ are the coming thing, with boring old-fashioned cuisine made obsolete by ‘nutritional art’. Apparently.
Helen says she will stick to ham and eggs, thank you, and Maria can keep her new cuisine and recipes – or ‘formula’ as they are now called. Kitchens of the future can probably do without a Futurist ‘colloidal mill’ to blend food to unrecognisable pulp, or an ‘ozoniser’ to make it taste of ozone. The article does not say why anyone would actually want ozone-flavoured food. It is very clear about the aim of overthrowing everything traditional and sacred (or ‘nostalgist, passéist and ossified’ as the article calls it) and I suppose the idea of families sitting together around a century-old wooden table while the head of the household serves the spaghetti is about as ‘sacred’ as home life gets, over there.
I recalled what Eva Schiller was telling me of Germany; her Leader keeps around a few highly public advocates of returning to the ancient Nordic religions, even though his Party officially has nothing good to say about religion in general. “Providence” is good though, apparently, as the Party say that is what put them in power for the good of Germany. And here I was thinking the voters had something to do with it. Eva has hinted that having a truly bizarre extremist cult semi-officially at hand to point at and say ‘if you think I’m extreme, just look at them!’ makes a good distraction for a Leader. Presumably Il Puce thinks the Futurists’ hearts are in the right place, however unlikely their ideas are to work out in practice. Maria hints that strategic questions are involved – much of the wheat used to make traditional Italian pasta has to be imported, and the ‘new cuisine’ extols rice instead, which is not. The League of Nations put import sanctions on Italy over the Ethiopian invasion, and anything that reduces vulnerability to those will make Il Puce happy. As far as I can see, Futurism is as they say, ‘a thing of the Future – and always will be.’
I know Maria is very fond of pasta; back at Songmark it rarely appeared on the menu, but she made a point of ordering the noodle dishes on the few occasions we got to Bow Thai on Casino Island. So she might be somewhat prejudiced, whether the new cuisine is silly or not. Or rather, its being demonstrably silly is not her main reason for disliking it.
By this time we were almost through Nottinghamshire, and Miss Cabot was asking me about Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, which is just away to the West. It is amazing what traditions get exported, and talked of in Detroit and Chicago eight hundred years later. I explained Sherwood Forest never was what most folk think of as forest; it had more open land and moorland than trees, and was designated ‘Forest’ as an area that came under the Forest Laws. Hence all the fuss about outlaws ‘hunting the King’s deer’, as nobody else had any hunting rights there. The Robin Hood legend is historically on shaky ground, even the historical background of Bad King John and Good King Richard. True, nobody liked King John but he was at least here, unlike King Richard (born to a Norman-French line in Normandy, lived in Normandy when he wasn’t Crusading, came to England about four times and never leaned a word of the language.) The main thing King Richard did for his country was to half bankrupt it, paying his ransom money when he was caught crossing Europe returning from yet another expensive and unsuccessful Crusade. Without most of the troops he started with.
Just inside the Yorkshire border we pulled off the main road around noon and found a village with a very decent butchers and bakers that provided everything for a good picnic luncheon. Scotch eggs, haslet and ‘savoury duck’ – I had to explain as Helen sniffed it curiously that no actual duck is involved, it being a species of large baked meatball, or small meat loaf. Haslet being much the same thing in larger sizes and sliced for sandwiches. Tasty indeed! Ginger Beer and Dandelion and Burdock provided a sober thirst quencher, and indeed the sun was definitely blazing down. I was getting quite nervous; the usual description of an English summer is “two fine days and a thunderstorm” and the better the fine spell, the more torrential the storm.
Apparently even the wording on Italian menus is to be changed, Maria says – her magazine tells her there is a purge on foreign-language words such as our ‘picnic’; in Italian now it must be a prandzoalsole, or ‘lunch-in-the-sun’ using only home-grown words and no expensive imports. Indeed, the skies kept clear and after a fine meal on the grass of the village green we were back on the main road looking at signs for Leeds to our left and the spa of Harrogate starting to show up on road signs ahead. Farewell to the Great North Road and we turned Westward into the Wharfe Valley, a wide low-sided ‘dale’ here with harvested grain and hay fields on the flat and the slopes all woods and pastures. A few of the leaves on the trees are starting to look a shade autumnal already.
Then – not ten miles from target, after all our care to keep out of the public eye, our luck ran out. Well, somebody’s luck ran out first, and far worse than ours. We came round a corner and I hit the brakes sharply – as I spotted a touring car just in front of us had failed to do, and they had ran head on into a wall! It was an awful smash, and we could see it must have piled in at some speed.
Well, the road was empty that minute and I know some furs would have driven on pretending not to have noticed, especially if they were trying to keep a low profile. Some furs we know sell people bridges they do not actually own, for that matter. We really had little choice but to pull over, grab the first-aid kit from the waterproof hamper on the back and see what we could do. There were two canine gents who had been in the front seats, but the driver was beyond any help – he had been pretty much skewered through the chest by the steel column of the steering wheel he was thrown forward onto. The passenger had gone through the windscreen and was lying on the crumpled bonnet, barely moving; he was still alive but an awful mess, cut up very badly. That new ‘safety glass’ they use on aircraft cockpits would be a nice idea to include in motor cars someday. Probably after the flying cars get on the market.
Helen and Maria untangled the poor hound from the remains of the windscreen and got him onto the verge – moving semi-conscious casualties is not usually recommended, but there was a runnel of petrol on the road from the smashed engine, and a chance the whole thing could go up in flames at any second. It does not take four of us to work on one patient – so Miss Cabot and me jumped back into the Bentley, and went to find a telephone box to call for help. Fortunately there was one only a mile or so away; the cheerful red telephone box in the middle of the village (Arthington) shone out as a very welcoming sight.
Twenty minutes later the Police and ambulance had arrived to take over, and although they were full of praises, the Police of course took note of our names – and where we would be staying that night. If it keeps out of the local newspapers on a quiet Bank Holiday I will be amazed. Following the ambulance we drove on a few miles through the town of Otley, with a hill towering above us just to our left to nearly a thousand feet. Much the biggest we have seen in England so far and quite imposing. I had noticed the car which had crashed had a motor agency sticker from Lincolnshire, which is about as flat as an English landscape gets. Possibly they were not used to seeing anything with so many contour lines, and the driver had been admiring the view rather than looking at the road ahead. *
So; with all the delays it was after three when we approached our target along a road with actual heat haze shimmering on it. A rare sight around here, one for the cameras! Helen was quite unimpressed, saying in summertime in Texas, that is her native state’s default state.
To the South of us the hill rose steeply, above the town limits becoming wild moorland a thousand feet above us – to the North of the valley it sloped away more gently with thick woods. The tallest building in town is a brown brick gasworks; not exactly one for the tourist postcards even if it resembles an industrial castle. Having telephoned Miss Millwright while awaiting the police and ambulance, she was expecting us at a spot on the map we were not likely to miss. Down in Saltdean Lido near Miss Jenks’ home we had looked at a map of the other Lidos around the country – somewhat unusually for an inland town, Ilkley has one! Just North of the River Wharfe, two hundred yards over the bridge and we were pulling into the car park, managing to find room despite the bank holiday crowd. Being about as far from the sea as you can get in this part of England, the town is a handy resort for furs from the big industrial cities of Yorkshire who do not fancy a six hour round trip to the coast, and this Lido has a prospect of high, rugged moorland rather than coastal views. As for being rather far North for sunbathing – it is positively tropical compared to the Scottish one we saw on the way down near Aberdeen.
It was easy enough to spot Miss Millwright – everyone else was either entering or leaving the lido, and she was the only one standing on the corner looking out for someone. Us, actually. She had given us her description on the telephone, so we were primed to look out for a tall rabbit girl with fur mostly yellowish brown except for her cream coloured front and face. Similarly, there were not many open topped green Bentleys in town that we saw, and she waved vigorously at the sight of ours.
So: in two days, we met our third prospective Songmark girl. There may be more coming from England this year, but if so most of them will be on the way out already. Folk going the whole way by boat would have to have sailed last week at latest. If she is due to leave by air in two days’ time, Christiana will be quite pushing her luck to get there on time as it is, assuming no bad weather or other holdups.
Maria swapped positions with Miss Cabot and got in the front passenger seat, leaving ample room in the back of the Bentley for three. It is a good thing it was not a ‘baby Austin’ I inherited on the motor-car front – though Leon Allworthy could have scarcely fitted into one of those even had he wanted to. We followed Miss Millwright back over the river into the town centre, and drove into an old courtyard facing what looks like the original manor house. Not that she lives there exactly but one in of the houses around.
After a long, hot drive and the strain of handling the road accident, it was a great relief to get out of the sunshine, pulling off the road into a cool courtyard with two hundred year old stone buildings shading us from the August sun. Sunday high tea at her family home followed, meeting her parents and young brother, and an awful lot of questions about our trip here and our time at Songmark. After all, on one front I can hardly deny I left England straight from school and returned a titled heiress. Some of the less… desirable sides of that I might not have mentioned, and nobody asked. The punt-gun and ammunition we had unshipped and left in the family bicycle shed for safe-keeping, but as it is August shooting season on the moors it attracted less comment than it would in London. There are plenty of shooting parties heading into the hills this time of year.
As Miss Millwright has to be at Prestwick airport on Wednesday morning, and we have a car heading roughly that direction, it made sense to agree when her father asked if we could give her a lift there. Three years at Songmark and a return Spontoon air ticket are jolly expensive things, and if we can save her family the cost of a train ticket, that will all help. Yorkshire folk are famous for being careful with money, and saving a few shillings is nothing to ignore (her main trunk is already at sea taking the slow route, and its cargo ship should be somewhere near Panama by now). It also gives her more time to grill us about what to expect. Without her parents overhearing all the interesting details the Prospectus is quiet about.
I had to say to Miss Millwright as we tucked into the fine spread of cold ham, pickles and cheese, that she should enjoy her family food while she can, as poi would feature a lot in her future. Her mother was somewhat shocked about all the ‘mucky foreign food’ her daughter would be expected to eat, having read in the Songmark prospectus that Spontoon had British settlement, even if it never became a proper Colony. It would have been spared the Gunboat Wars and much else, if it had.
Maria reassured her with the usual sort-of-true line that the food was all locally and freshly grown, exceedingly wholesome and that the native Spontoonies are famous for their good health and robust physiques. She did not add that ‘hunger is the best sauce’, but Miss Millwright is what her father beamingly described as ‘a canny lass’ and I am sure she will work that out. Private stocks of anchovy, soy, HP and chilli sauces are allowed by our Tutors, and greatly enliven poi and pastefish.
There is plenty of money in that household (her father being head of an engineering company that, as the family name suggests, makes textile and other mills) but their house is no bigger than it needs to be, without spare rooms we could use. So after tea we left the car and walked round led by Miss Millwright a few hundred yards up the road to a hotel, a solid Victorian stone place where we booked ourselves in for the night. Just overnight bags were required – not that we are carrying much more in the Bentley.
I must say, it was a pleasant evening, with only more one drive to plan between here and Barrow-in-Furryness. We might take the scenic route getting there, hopefully dropping in to take the Trustees by surprise. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But this evening we spent briefing Miss Millwright, who brought out her copy of the Songmark Prospectus where she had pencilled in a few queries we were happy to help with. While we talked we took a stroll down from the hotel down to the river in the evening light – the original bridge is a strongly arched stone affair, which she calls the ‘New Bridge’. The scattered stones of the Old Bridge are visible just downstream, wiped out in a flood in the 1680’s. (Helen and Miss Cabot were duly impressed with its antiquity, Maria far less so. Even when we were shown the earth banks of the Roman fort still visible; Italy has so much standing Roman architecture Maria’s uncle needs to clear some away just to put working roads through Rome.)
Helen grilled our new Songmark girl pretty thoroughly; Christiana has fortunately been taking very seriously the part of the prospectus that says one cannot be nearly fit enough on arrival. She has been swimming vigorously in the Lido every day this Summer, plays tennis often and hikes twenty miles over the hills with a knapsack full of water bottles. Plus, she grew up a keen Girl Guide and has the badges to prove it – so she is way ahead of many furs on things like first aid and knot tying, plus general outdoor living.
Thinking of first aid, she had noticed the definite scent of blood about us when we met, even in the open air by the lido. Rabbits sometimes get extra-sensitive about that. Though we had cleaned up as best we could, it is very hard to get the scent off the fur without a thorough bath involving soap. We reassured her somewhat, and told her about helping out at the road accident just down the valley. She assures us she will keep an eye out in tomorrow’s local papers, which might make a fine souvenir for her family to keep if we feature in them. We might be famous, she said brightly.
That had four sets of ears going down, as right now we are trying to avoid that. Just to make the point, a two-seater autogyro flew by at about three hundred feet, slowing down considerably over the town. I was glad the rather conspicuous green Bentley was parked in the deep shadow of Miss Millwright’s family courtyard, not out on the open street where such a search might easily spot it. We will be gone by this time tomorrow, vanishing into the hills.
Still, until the papers hit the newsstands tomorrow we should be fairly safe. Back up the hill to the Ilkley Moor hotel, while Christiana taught us the local song about the perils of their moorland and folk who perish of exposure up there. On a scorching August evening, it looked perfectly harmless.
Farewell to Christiana till breakfast-time tomorrow, when she will be packing her bags and joining us for the trip West!
*(Editor’s note: this is Otley Chevin, the first big hill coming from the East. Every Summer on the roads around there one can see parked cars with Dutch and Belgian plates on, having come off the Hull continental ferry, driven two hours across the flattish lands and stopping to point and take pictures of the strange vertical thing the like of which the Dutch rarely see…)