home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
Extracts from a Diary
by Amelia Bourne-Phipps
-edited by Simon Barber-
8 March, 1937 to 13 March, 1937
Monday March 8th, 1937
Back to hard work in flying classes, taking advantage of the fine weather to try things we would have come to grief at as first-years. Up in the Tiger Moths to five thousand feet till our Tutors announced we had engine failure – and from wherever we happened to be we had to contact the airport tower and come in for an emergency “dead stick” landing. Not for the first time I found myself wishing for a propeller that could be feathered in flight; this acts like the proverbial built-in headwind and knocks ten percent off one’s gliding range.
Landing dead-stick in a stiff Southerly cross-wind was an alarming experience; fortunately I remembered my gliding days as to always making sure one has plenty of height – in a glider one can never get the altitude and energy back if it is lost too soon. Of course Miss Blande in the rear cockpit was watching with the dual controls ready to re-start the engine (and tally up major demerits) had I been too far off the runway to make it. Still, when we landed she had various questions about alternative sites I had considered. The flatter part of Eastern Island has too many buildings to make a good emergency landing field these days, but I correctly identified the beach on the Southern area as being the best of a poor set of choices. Chances are that the undercarriage would have dug in and the Tiger Moth ended up on its back – but better that than missing the runway and ending up coming through the roof of Mahanish’s or Superior Engineering!
Although we fly at least three days a week, I notice I tend to fill in the details in my logbook rather than my Diary – except for celebrations such as my thousand hours of solo flight. It might be closer to two thousand by the time we graduate! The junior years are envious, but they will get their turn.
Having come in “dead-stick” in the Tiger Moths in the morning, in the afternoon we took turns doing much the same in the Sea Osprey, starting with single engine landings. This time the target was a runway-sized strip of sea marked out by buoys to the East of Eastern Island, as if we were coming down with only a restricted lake or river channel to aim for. The Sea Osprey is of course a lot heavier and less forgiving of sharp last-second manoeuvres. Certainly an aircraft where one needs to think an extra step ahead.
Most things went smoothly, but in the mid-afternoon the new Fokker float-plane the Ave Argentum bought last month, flew over where Susan de Ruiz had just landed in the Sea Osprey and dropped her a rubber life-raft! Susan recovered it and found it to be old and almost perished, with a taped-on note sympathising with her recurring engine trouble and recommending some “properly qualified mechanics” such as they use. Cheek!
Although we have standing orders not to let ourselves be provoked, sometimes it is very hard. According to the Spontoonies, the Ave Argentum privately call us the “storm troopers in skirts” which is rather off the mark since none of our official outfits involve skirts, unlike theirs. Plus according to Eva Schiller storm troops were a hand-picked elite that out-performed twice their number of regulars. Molly is fuming; she has come up with a dozen dirty tricks to play, but admits that if she gets caught they will do us far more harm than our rivals. She does quote some Cowboy film “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” which most Songmark girls agree with, and heartily wish Father Dominicus would go off and evangelise in New Tirana or somewhere. Aero-Iberia as they used to call themselves could just as well have relocated to Spanish Morocco. It is much nearer home, and until the price of sand increases a few hundredfold there is nothing much for anyone to fight about (although the native Berbers seem to think otherwise.)
Thinking of travels, we have seen the first and second-years’ plans for Easter (they are meant to file them with our Tutors like flight-plans, and we get to comment.) Crusader Dorm are heading out to Vostok, which is not amazing as that wolverine girl is a Vostokite in good odour with the Grand Duchess. I hope they have a more relaxing time than we did being chased across the island on the trip Maria dubbed “Tsar Trek” after the famous Boer Trek across the Transvaal. Our juniors may be carrying on our tradition of adventure, being a Tsar Trek of the next generation.
Third-years seem to be doing well in providing equipment for the rest of Songmark. Carmen is taking orders for her waterproof suits that did so well in the Aleutians, and in fact has enquiries from some of the Moon Island fliers who have heard about that. Although it is rather a waste of a Songmark graduate to devote her time to sewing, if Carmen can establish a company here with Spontoonie tailors making them off-season it will make our Tutors and the Allthing happy, as well as help finance her dorm starting up as an Adventuress. There is so much one needs to start up these days; it is a lot harder than after the Great War when many furs started off with demobilisation pay in their pockets, a crated military surplus aircraft and a couple of friends with the same. The performance of the aircraft they could afford was not wonderful, but nobody else had anything much better. Apparently these days some “Air Pirates” can afford to buy and arm racing Comet twin-engined racers, of the sort that run the England-Australia record attempts!
Molly and Helen have made a few spares to sell of our climbing shorts, the ones with cargo-strapping sewn inconspicuously into the seams which makes falling on a climbing-rope so much less painful. We have seen the newsreels of the Germans climbing the Eiger, some of whom are still up there unrecoverable having perished from long falls despite the rope not breaking. Helen speculates that an Adventuring suit with built-in tape loops would be a great asset, especially making for rapid rescues in confined spaces where it is awfully difficult to tie a rope round one’s waist. We will not forget those ice crevasses of the Aleutians in a hurry.
Tuesday March 9th, 1937
The first really hot day of the year – our dear Tutors looked up at the sun and announced it was time for us to get our packs on and go for five laps of Eastern Island. Much grumbling, but in our hearts I think most of us expected something of the sort. In five minutes the whole third year was equipped and heading out of the main gate, cursing under their breaths in a dozen languages.
The easy bit is the West side of the island, which is mostly over gravel roads and pavements. Straight South of Songmark is that “bulge” where pleasant bungalows in well-tended gardens house some of the airport staff and our Tutors. It is after that where we hit the beach – and we start to sink into the dry, loose sand. This must be one of the few times we could wish for pouring rain, to pack down the dunes a little.
Five laps left the fittest of us bone-tired and wishing we had gone to finishing schools instead where the main exercise is balancing books on one’s head to improve posture. But not for too long – as after a five minute rest we were heading out to Main Island. Miss Wildford led us on her cycle across from Main Village onto one of the ridges separating Chikloota from Vikingstown, to where we could see a crowd in the distance at the cliff top.
There are worse sports than jogging around sand dunes with a pack on. Cliff-diving is something is hardly likely to figure in any Olympic Games, as few athletes would live long enough to get that practiced. The cliffs were just right, a slight overhang at the top and the water plummeting down twenty feet and more just off shore – but we know a lot about wind gusts and their hazards.
The Spontoonies were practicing for the tourist season, a risky way of making a living but I suppose not much worse than going out fishing all Winter in an open canoe. Apparently furs do this in Acapulco which is well known as an exotic place Abroad, so when tourists pay good money to go to an exotic place Abroad they think they should see some. Much the same way that Spontoon is the only place in the Pacific that does Limbo Dancing, I suppose.
We had a long talk with some of the Spontoonies who were queuing up to dive; there are two techniques they use depending on just how deep the water is. The “Olympic” style is a head-first dive that depends on angling one’s body to pull out of the underwater dive and is liable to be fatal if there is an unexpected rock in the way. The way we are recommended is to go in feet first and pressed close together – and to brake by spreading arms and then legs, once underwater. We are warned that keeping one’s feet tight together is extremely important when diving from over thirty feet, especially in a skirt or lavalava. Diving off cliffs is never a wholly safe pastime, and the sort of thing one risks a broken leg or worse if anything goes wrong. Nobody is recommended to take this up as a sport, but if one gets in a situation where jumping off is less dangerous than staying put, it is just as well to know the technique. It certainly worked for “Soppy” Forsythe, and she did it as just a first-year.
Still, this is the place to practice with known deep water and a nearby rescue water-taxi handy. Miss Wildford called for volunteers – this is not a test involving points in the usual way. I could believe one could gain points for common-sense for refusing the offer, in fact.
Missy K volunteered first, though as a Spontoonie it would look odd if she failed to. She may live in Main Village but has never been keen on “traditional” pastimes, and regards performing for tourists as a pain in the tail. Probably this is why she goes to Songmark rather than shaking a grass skirt for the cameras. At Miss Wildford’s suggestion she went first, and definitely made a splash. Susan de Ruiz was next; being a Pyrenean Desman she is well used to much colder water and performed a swan-dive as elegantly as any avian.
I recall in our first year we jumped into the sea from one of those old Barling bombers that Rain Island bought off the Americans – and discovered that from a height the difference between hitting water and solid land is far less than one might expect. The books say one has more chance of surviving over land if a parachute fails – providing there is a thick pine forest and preferably a ten foot snowdrift underneath.
The locals were either wearing bathing suits or jumping entirely in their fur, grass skirts and the like not being expected to survive hitting the water at any speed. Of course, if there was a crowd of paying tourists around today that would be one of the attractions. And the tourists rarely realise the Spontoonies are not really surprised at such “accidents”. One vixen was giving a rather ham performance, with her “oh no my lei has broken, whatever shall I do?” Tourist Custom needs practice like anything else, as her laughing friends were telling her when she climbed back up to the cliff top.
After five laps of Eastern Island I could use a dip, so volunteered myself. It was something Miss Wildford let us make our minds up about, diving in with boots on or bare-pawed. Swimming with boots is extraordinarily difficult, but I was glad of their protection when I hit the water from forty feet up! Despite following advice and braking with arms and legs, it felt like I was heading to the bottom of the Nimmitz Sea before I started to come back towards the surface. As the impact rather knocks the breath out of a diver, I was very glad I had been hyperventilating well beforehand.
Half an hour was enough time for us all to dive and recover, then to dry our soaked clothes we were not at all surprised to trot over the hill into Vikingstown. The place was quiet, apart from the bustle of carts around Professor Kurt von Mecklenburg und Soweiter’s composting power plant. Considering there was a covered cart laden with fish waste from the cannery coming in, the operation is remarkably free of odours. Quite an achievement, given its ingredients.
I remember back in Saint Winifred’s Nature classes being taught from the standard gardening textbook * “Everyone knows that manure is revolting, but it is also true that almost anything revolting is manure. There is nothing in a tannery that could not be profitably mulched-in to the general benefit of the soil, probably including the beastly old Board of Directors.” The Spontoonies have certainly taken the advice to heart – but considering any other fertilisers have to be imported, it is a wise move.
Back via Main Village, where we cast longing glances at the big public baths which by coincidence are heated off-peak by the compost power plant. Having salt soaked fur is bad enough, but having salted clothing dry and stick to it is far more uncomfortable. But Miss Wildford chivvied us back to the water-taxi, with the cheerful promise that we had a nice meal of Poi awaiting us. Morale plummeted faster than any cliff diver, except for Missy K and Jasbir, the only ones in our year who actually like the stuff.
* Editor’s note: “Garden Rubbish and other country bumps”, © Sellars and Yateman. A classic work, being the first one to cater not only for the traditional garden lovers, but garden haters too. Introduced the concept of the Unpleasaunce to a world still reeling from the Depression, causing some parts of it to collapse utterly...
Thursday March 11th, 1937
Two incredibly busy days in the air! The Tiger Moths have hardly stopped moving let alone had time to cool off, and even my little Sand Flea was pressed into service. My dorm is still twenty hours flying time down from our Macao trip – and I could have told Molly there was no point in even asking if our cycling time on Tillamook could be used as an equivalent.
We have been so busy in the last month that we have scarcely kept up with the local news – hence I was surprised to see a party of climbers half way up the main face of Mount Kiribatori. The locals do not miss a trick; last year with Professor Schiller and G-U-U depriving the postcard writers of a local “unassailable peak” the main face is now an asset for climbers and film crews. Unlike most mountains it is sheer enough to have a chance at using a parachute, supposing one could climb carrying that weight. Regular cliff diving is bad enough, and I am sure we will never see furs parachuting off cliffs just for the sake of it.
Given some imitation Edelweiss, Maria says they could shoot Alpine epics here if they carefully chose the camera angles to miss out on the coral reefs and palm trees below. Though the local cinemas only show them as exotics, there are plenty of ripping mountain yarns being screened with do-or-die struggles to reach icy inaccessible peaks. Then, it is not too surprising given the fame that such conquerors get – our own Archbishop Crowley was the first and so far only fur to climb Kanchenjunga and he did that entirely on his own. Some people think he was fibbing, but they may be biased.
One thing my Sand Flea is better at than the Tiger Moths, is very low speed flying, especially hedge-hopping. Spontoon having few hedges, today that translated as dune dodging where I made my approach to the runway not over but weaving between tops of the thirty foot dunes that shield the Eastern coast. Definitely an approach where one of those autogiros would do well – I recall seeing them working in Vostok out of forest clearings, and indeed they could work off a very modest piece of flat ground or ship’s deck.
Thinking of autogiros, that is exactly what the Ave Argentum have now got, a brand new Cierva machine that they were showing off today. A lot of envious eyes were following its first flights, almost hovering against the stiff wind. That is something I cannot match – unless there is a full gale blowing, in which case it is likely to be too turbulent to risk it.
Beryl was the next to take my Sand Flea for a flight – she is actually a careful and meticulous flier, and though I hate to say it I trust her in the cockpit more than Molly or Maria. After half an hour of reconnaissance she came in for a beautiful three-point landing, pulling the top wing right down to brake as only a Flying Flea can do. Flaps are nice but there is nothing like turning a whole upper wing into an air-brake. If the structure could take the strain a Flea could almost stop dead in the air, a useful trick if streams of cannon shells were whipping past one’s snout. Sadly, with an engine like mine the lost speed would be very hard to regain without going into a vertical dive for a few hundred feet. Not a manoeuvre to try when threading through sand dunes.
While I handed over the Sand Flea to Susan de Ruiz for her turn, Beryl offered to introduce me to one of her old school chums whom she had spotted at the far end of the runway. I have heard something of this Masie “Crusher” Thynne, and we have been taught time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. So five minutes later I found myself shaking paws with a slender and quite respectable-looking vixen while trying to reassure myself this is probably safe, not being Krupmark Island. There are plenty of furs with whom one is advised to count one’s fingers after shaking paws – but on Krupmark if a recount shows all to be in order, one starts to worry as to why.
Miss Thynne was outwardly a perfectly nice-looking young lady, well-spoken and polite as Beryl can be. Her Ave Argentum uniform had the usual silver crucifix nestling in her décolletage, her shirt being open as befits a hot day and no gentlemen around. I did notice one odd thing about it; the cross had an extra hole at the bottom, as if it could be worn in more than one position. Beryl has reminisced happily a few times about her extraordinary Divinities and Scripture classes at Saint T’s, and I hate to think she was telling the truth.
Anyway, Miss Thynne seems pleased to be here and surrounded by so many wealthy and respectable furs – she cheerfully admitted she is one of the “penitents”, whom (quote) Father Dominicus has rescued from a life of sin and firmly set upon the road to righteousness (unquote.) I have not met their leader, but either Masie or Fr. Dominicus has a tongue firmly in cheek saying that. Likely both do. At least, Masie had a well-practiced pious expression as she confessed that should any rough work need doing in the cause of duty, she is one of the ones who will volunteer and keep their friends’ consciences and reputations unsullied.
As Molly would say, she is a torpedo in a sharp suit, and is not afraid to let the world know it.
(Later) We had just returned to Songmark when Ada and Belle came in, rather out of breath, with a surprising request for our Tutors and for me as well. All the previous day’s flying had attracted attention across the islands, and given some folk ideas. Apparently Miss Margot Melson had enquired of some locals who the Tiger Moths belonged to, and had just managed to catch the one dorm of us she has worked with before.
We have worked with the Barx Brothers filming before, but they are a perfectly respectable film company despite their zany antics (which are not all in front of the camera; I used to read such things of Blotto, Wino, Stinko and Dipso when Molly subscribed to Film Frolics). I was rather expecting Miss Devinski to dismiss the request out of paw, but she nodded and said she would talk with the other Tutors about it.
I recall a year ago when we went to Albert Island, the film crew there were taking hours of “stock footage” of generic shots of the sailing ship to be used in a whole series. Miss Melson said she was improvising the current project around whatever she could film of the “Jungle Girl” Megan, and presumably she can use some stock of aircraft for this and the next few of her rather peculiar films. Though I can imagine our Tutors would not want to be too publicly linked to such a controversial director, Tiger Moths are not exactly rare and it is not as if the aircraft will be towing Songmark advertising banners, after all. My Sand Flea has attracted some attention, being the only one of its kind around the Nimmitz Sea. Having such a short range and no floats, it is arguably not the perfect aircraft for this part of the world – very handy around Europe where one is never too far from an airstrip or at least a hundred yards of flat grass to put down on, but as it would be pushed to make it to Orpington or Albert Island in a stiff headwind, nobody else seems to have invested. Just the ticket for an adventure film though, should the plot call for the heroine to escape in a hundred yards of clifftop turf with pursuit close behind. From what I hear of Miss Melson’s films, the pursuers are likely to be screaming hordes from the Hays Office.
Friday March 12th, 1937
Definitely not a day to be flying. We woke up and were extremely glad not to have been on gate guard, with rain hammering on the roof and windows. Though the Songmark dorms are solid enough, there are still only two layers of wood and tar-paper above us between us and the drumming rain. The sound quite drowned out Maria, and woke us up a good half hour before our alarm clocks. In Songmark sleep is precious.
Maria has gained the useful habit of being able to go back to sleep for just ten minutes if needs be, but it seemed fairly hopeless for me to try. I dressed and went downstairs just in time to see Madeleine X and Adele Beasley coming in off dawn gate guard, absolutely soaked to the skin. Adele may have lost her excess bad luck, but sometimes a normal portion can be hard enough to live with.
At least they had time to fire up the water heater and warm up with a bath apiece before breakfast. Madeleine has been fascinated for months by the water heater that Alpha Zarahoff built; Madeleine is a radio and electrical expert and the more she examines the compact solid-state pump the more frustrated she gets as according to her it should not work. Madeleine is not the most open-minded of folk, and still believes that anything not recorded (or better still, invented) by the Academy de Science in Paris is not real knowledge. Then, she has never been to Cranium Island.
Just as we predicted, our Tutors cancelled the scheduled indoor lessons to take us out in the rain, back to the cliff faces to the North. We thought we had climbed everything here in all conditions the Spontoon climate can throw at us – but our Tutors do keep thinking of ways to enliven a dull morning.
Today we were told that half of the group had become casualties, and had to be evacuated. Evidently Saint T’s had come over for an Australian Rules hockey match, as Prudence whispered. So half of us were designated as “casualties” with genuine groans as we threw ourselves down on the soaking ground while the rest scattered in search of materials to improvise sledges and lifting harnesses. Despite her soaking earlier on today is the day Adele is finally in luck, as having changed dorms she no longer has to haul Missy K around when it is the bear’s turn to play injured. Having been in with only Beryl, our second lightest and Missy K our heaviest, it was even betting as to when Adele would strain something having to pull her dorm around on our usual rescue drills.
Not my idea of fun, being strapped into a makeshift stretcher made of driftwood and corrugated iron, then being hauled up the cliff face. We could have done nearly as well by putting the equivalent weight of rocks on the stretcher – but knowing one’s friends are depending on you to tie the right knots is a great incentive to do everything right first time.
A morning of improvising winches, pulleys and lifting harnesses in the pouring rain certainly put both our wits and our muscles to the test. Then, everything had to be dismantled and returned whence it came – or in the case of actual litter, carried back with us. A lunch of breadfruit mash has rarely tasted so good.
I had a surprise at lunchtime; Miss Devinski announced that we will be supporting the filming after all! Her argument was that we are encouraging the local filming industry, which is true enough – but we will not be asking any publicity on the films. Helen muttered that it probably means we have “plausible deniability” as long as we get left off the film credits. Nobody has objected to Prudence and co. appearing in the films with the South Island Formation Swimming Team, but that is not organised by our Tutors unlike our flying schedule. One supposes the idea is to protect Songmark’s reputation, but anyone who stays watching one of Miss Melson’s distinctive productions to the end is hardly likely to be shocked by us providing stock footage. Carmen was happily reminiscing about some of the scenes in “Daughters of the Dragon Queen” which she took part in as an extra.
After lunch, we split up to head out to our various classes; I resigned myself to staying soaked as I went down to the docks and carried on my boating lessons with a water-taxi. There are half a dozen young Spontoonies practicing for their licence this year; though not as physical as small boat sailing this is quite tricky enough as it is. Interestingly, Songmark appears to be the only “Euro” organisation that has been allowed to handle water taxis. They are as basic a technology as can be imagined being usually a glorified ship’s cutter with an outboard motor, but we have seen some strange things associated with them. Only last year did Saimmi tell me and Helen the significance of the small bronze tiki statue that some carry at the bow, and Tourists blithely photograph as a “Quaint good-luck charm.”
Something that taxi drivers need to know is to judge time and distance – unlike in London the traffic is not the problem but the tides and currents are, and unlike in aircraft one does not have a navigator sitting behind with map, compasses and divided rulers working it out against the weather forecast. I fear it will be a few months before I qualify! It is all useful experience in taking our “day boat mariner” sailing license which we are due to do next week. After that, I will have the first stage of my Master’s Ticket, and if any tourist wants to sail to the Kanim Islands I can hire out to take them under Spontoon law. That will make two ways I can legally make a living on Spontoon having gained my Class B Pilot’s license last year – I am trying hard to forget the “hunting license” with my name on it that is secure (I hope) in Nuala Rachorska’s safe.
Thinking of which, Florence has heard back from her and has a Pass tomorrow, something I found hard to believe. But I have seen it; Miss Wildford signed off for her to return by gate closing time, purpose “investigate island professional standards” which could mean anything. Now, there is something we really hope the Ave Argentum do not get wind of.
Saturday March 13th, 1937
An alarming day, looking at Maria’s calendar – we have only twenty Saturdays left as Songmark students! Some of those will be spent down in Neue Suden Thule (whose advertising poster translates as “It’s SO Bracing!”) and some of them will be spent in the last desperate weeks heading up towards our final tests. Our free Saturdays will be few indeed.
Having realised that, we squared our shoulders and got on with making the most of an excellent Spring day, tempered a little by knowing we are on Gate Guard tonight. A full breakfast (there is never anything remotely edible left uneaten when a Songmark third-year class leaves the table) and a change into our Summer day-wear of local Ulaul cloth shirt and shorts, then we were out in the fresh air and sunshine to the water-taxis. Molly suggested I ask for a discount if I drive the water taxi myself.
This time of year the islands are starting to fill up with folk who will be supporting the tourist rush, including entertainers of all sorts. Every fishing boat from the Kanim Islands or as far as Mildendo seems to bring a few extra passengers who will be staying till September. The dance classes are crowded, as folk show off their local island styles and join in good-natured competitions. Spotting a Mildendo or Orpington Island dance would be to an average “Euro” about as difficult as telling two different Chinese dialects apart if one could not understand a word of the language. We are getting fairly fluent, so to speak.
It was quite a privilege today; there was a Basic Dance class with various folk in it who had not grown up wearing grass skirts and leis. When they started floundering, Mrs. Motorabhe called on us to demonstrate – pointing out that as we had learned from scratch, so could they. We finished off with the full-power version of the Orpington Island dance we won the last dance contest with; quite a few ears went up in amazement then drooped as their owners imagined just what it takes to dance with that energy. It took us three years of hard work at Songmark, but we did not like to tell them that.
There were even some furs there who the Spontoonies think of as exotic; I recognised Pring the oriental girl who works at the kitchens at Bow Thai, who presumably is out for some fresh air compared to the usual kitchen atmosphere of stir-fried vegetables and chillies. She was a very graceful dancer, and I spent an hour chatting with her and trading hints. I would dearly like to take my other pattern Kim-Anh Soosay out for some fresh air, given the chance. But I need more training in that role. At least I can answer some questions about Macao from first-paw knowledge, having been there.
Siamese subjects have definitely exotic names to “Euro” ears, as I discovered when talking to Pring. The only other fur I knew well from that part of the world was Prad Phao who was a Khmer rather than a Thai. Thinking about that encounter definitely had my ears blushing – though I often think of Kim-Anh as a different person, one could say it is me who pays her bills – and not just for fur dye. Kim-Anh came happily back from the French Sandwich Islands with a kitten on the way, but it would have been me as Amelia who was thrown out of Songmark for it and would have to write a rather embarrassing letter to Father.
Certainly I know I need better “background” if Kim-Anh is going to be useful. Pring said there are few Siamese stock girls here on Songmark, but she has met one called Malou who actually is from Macao. It would be useful to meet her – and Pring promised to mention it when they next spoke.
Fur dye is useful as a disguise, but of course the trouble arises when folk spot you are wearing it. I remember Molly’s enthusiasm in the first-year for disguises such as reversible uniforms – from what I have heard since, no professional Agent would be caught dead in one, though many amateurs have been.
Thinking of overly keen first-years, Meera Sind was dancing very well. All her dorm has come along to the dance classes, much as her sister Jasbir’s do. Getting involved with local customs and sports really opens doors here on Spontoon; one meets so many people. I have not seen the Ave Argentum show their snouts here, but grass skirts and flower leis are probably not in their respectable dress code.
An excellent luncheon at the Missing Coconut! They have Molly’s “Fizzy pineapple” now on sale here, and one half-pound tin per dorm of four is about right for lunchtime. Plus we are advertising it by eating it, and Molly’s bank balance can always use boosting. She has gone from riches to rags and back towards riches again – but this time she has earned it legally. When I pointed that out to her she seemed rather upset; “going legit” seems to be looked down on by her family as a last resort, much like folk who fail in other enterprises traditionally join the military. Her Father’s legitimate business selling PAMS, “Pressed Animal Minced Stuff” did not end happily – possibly because he was unused to paying taxes, and never found a convenient time to start. Molly says she ought to vote for Mr. Long, whose “Share the wealth” policies will leave criminals as the richest folk by far in the USA – Henry Fnord and the Carneagle family will be whittled down to mere millionaires, while the bootleg-based fortunes of such old family friends as Giuseppe “Three guns” Bomparini will be safe.
I noticed Eva Schiller at the dance club talking with some of the girls newly arrived from the outer islands; these were “classical” Polynesians and not Spontoonies. In fact, some of them had that feature Euros either find incredibly alluring or off-putting; one might say that if I need one flower lei for coverage, they need several. Eva’s Uncle told me last year about there being prehistoric statuettes and cave paintings of European ladies equipped to match, but with the exception of some throwbacks every few generations in ancient enclaves (the Basque territories and some mountainous corners of Eastern Europe) it has entirely gone from the bloodlines. And the Schiller family is always very keen on finding evidence of ancient days.
One of the Guides who comes to the dance classes says there is a new offering for tourists this coming season – for the more modern and energetic there will be cycle tours around Main Island, using the Eastern-Island made cycles. As the Vostok magnesium framed cycles will be lighter and handier than most cycles furs are likely to have at home, there will even be a scheme to buy the cycle one tours with and have it cleaned, packed and shipped home! As Molly says, it is not just does who look forward to the chance of getting an extra buck. Yesterday’s cycle club was quite fun, and Molly only fell off twice albeit straight over the handlebars onto the gravel road. The military green field dressing over her forehead should be able to come off on Monday, Miss Oelabe tells her, and in the meantime it adds a piratical air that she seems not to mind. Maria jokes that she needs a head like an armadillo; possibly the film costume department can help her buy a big synthetic forehead she can wear upon her real head.
Of course, the routes will only cover the established trails such as the old railway lines. Most of the areas that are “off limits” without a guide are far from easy access, and a fur on a bicycle is somewhat conspicuous if any rebellious tourists decided to strike out on their own as soon as the Guide stopped to change a flat tyre. Apparently in previous years tourists have complained that the Native villages are very nice but too far apart to take in several given the limited time they have between hotel breakfast and luncheon; trudging miles along coral tracks on foot is admittedly a strain for some furs.
Back via our usual shops, including that fine new delicatessen on Aloha Avenue. They have foods in there I have never heard of; of course we all enjoy the nice Scandinavian “Hakarl” fermented shark they make in Vikingstown, but I had never seen it on sale in a public shop before. I am sure Prudence is a big customer for the tinned tripe, which indeed is available in English, French and Spanish versions. Delicious!
I was not so sure about the Kuo Han specialities such as Grass Jelly, the dried jellyfish or the “rice birds” that seem to consist of a whole nest full of newly hatched fledglings killed and deep-fried whole. I happily eat eggs but this is taking “whole foods” a little too far. *
We stocked up on less controversial foods for our next trip – metal tubes of honey, condensed milk and the like that nowhere else on the island is selling, not even Eriksson’s Outdoors. I could see Molly’s ears go right up; in the cartoons one would have seen a light bulb flash on over her head. She started to muse about producing an Adventurer’s Meal that was actually edible and not something designed to stimulate one’s interest in eating seaweed and lichens off the rocks rather than having to tackle the “Iron Ration.” Spontoon is a perfect place to sell such, being the transport and resupply point for the whole North Pacific, and Adventurers do talk to each other about the pros and cons of the equipment that keeps them going. I suggested she try a canned version of the classic rural “Bedfordshire Clanger”, but she just grimaced and pointed out she was not planning to enter the ship’s ballast market.
Helen mentioned there was a military Aviator’s ration being sold as surplus a few years ago consisting of a sealed tin of biscuits with pressed dried powdered beef tablets (nuts for the non-carnivores) designed to fit in a shirt pocket. I have seen one myself, labelled “Armor ration.” I hope the pilots were better at navigating than spelling or they would end up on the ground somewhere miles from nowhere having to dine on it. But Molly wants something that furs would pay to eat and could live on for a week without being too tempted to invite the supplies officer round for dinner in the traditional Albert Island style. What they call a nice trick if you can do it.
(Later) For a change we had a half decent rice dish at the weekend, as some of the first-years without Passes were “volunteered” for kitchen duty and told to get on with it given a shelf of ingredients to choose from. Having the customers judge the results and hand them over to Miss Blande was no doubt a good incentive for them to excel. That Persian feline Seria may not be the keenest at crawling through swamps but she is a very decent cook in her local style. The “Peas Pilau” was interesting but I would never have thought of raiding the Maconochie supply, salvaging the soggy meat chunks and grilling them separately as kebabs on bamboo skewers. Rather decent, and for the mostly vegetable soup left over – it is a fact that almost anything can be made edible given enough curry powder.
It is light now till well past teatime, which is most encouraging. Molly and I were on first gate guard, having filled our vacuum flasks with surplus ersatz Mulligatawny for our small hours supper and Helen and Maria’s early breakfast. It was the usual thing, checking in the returning girls against the Pass list, and hoping everyone would be back on time. Florence Farmington was the last in – I spotted her approaching and suggested Molly take a tour round the far side of the fence. Molly has been honing her M1873 Trowel Pattern bayonet most alarmingly enthusiastically, of late. Her earlier suggestion that we make Florence scrub all over tonight with a scrubbing brush and floor soap before letting her into Songmark was one of her milder ideas.
Actually I had a few minutes to chat with Florence after signing her in and closing the gates behind her; she decidedly scented of vixen rather than her own canine scent. By her blushing account she had spent about her week’s allowance on an afternoon where she had at least no complaints about value – having perhaps incautiously asked to try everything. I hope the Ave Argentum never get to hear about this! One might think it unlikely they would deign to know any “huntresses” but I recall that missionary Mrs. Critchley who first got me into Krupmark running a mission for “fallen” girls.
Anyway, I made sure Florence was safely back in her second-year hut before Molly returned and “accidentally” mistook her for an intruder. Molly is sometimes not the easiest fur to live with, and this year she has had a lot of shocks. Finding out about the Priestess Oharu’s hopeless love for her was bad enough, then there was her cherished revenge against Captain Granite not turning out to be at all satisfying. Getting dressed up and trained as a maid was humiliating, she says, and the Macao trip was more of a strain on her in some ways than the rest of us. Now I am helping Florence, Molly sometimes looks at me rather oddly as if wondering if our second-year is not the only one getting curious (decidedly not. I have absolutely no interest in playing golf either, but if Florence had wanted to take the sport up I would have done my best to point her in the right direction for that as well).
Not a relaxing evening! At least I can report that the first-years can cook up a rather fine curry soup from the most unlikely materials. This is just the sort of practical skill an Adventuress needs to know; definitely deserving a few points and gate passes.
*Editor’s note: canned Chinese “Rice Birds” were on sale in England in the mid 1980’s, and Amelia’s description is all too accurate. The Editor ate none, but the editor’s non-sentient canine proved less squeamish.