Italy and London Yet Again

September 1999

Following my Interim Journal

Sunday, September 12, 1999 (IN THE AIR AND OVER THE OCEAN)

Welcome to two high voltage days in NEWNES history:

And, to the two most important letters written to The Times during the period from January 2, 1900 until December 12, 1968:

From Mr. Lydekker, FRS


While gardening this afternoon I heard a faint note which led me to say to my under-gardener, who was working with me, 'Was that the cuckoo?' Almost immediately afterwards we both heard the full double note of a cuckoo, repeated either two or three times - I am not sure which. The time was 3:40; and the bird, which was to the westward - that is to say, to windward - appeared to be about a quarter of a mile away. There is not the slightest doubt that the song was that of a cuckoo.

The late Professor Newton, in the fourth edition of Yarrell's 'British Birds' (Vol. II., p. 389, note), stated that although the arrival of the cuckoo has frequently been reported in March, or even earlier, such records must be treated with suspicion, if not with incredulity. And Mr. J. E. Harting (Handbook of British Birds,' p. 112) goes even further than this, stating that there is no authentic record of the arrival of the cuckoo in this country earlier than April 16.

February 6, 1913

[The above incident occurred in Hertfordshire]

From Mr. Lydekker, FRS


I regret to say that, in common with many other persons, I have been completely deceived in the manner of the supposed cuckoo of February 4. The note was uttered by a bricklayer's labourer at work on a house in the neighborhood of the spot whence the note appeared to come. I have interviewed the man, who tells me that he is able to draw cuckoos from considerable distance by the exactness of his imitation of their notes, which he produces without the aid of any instrument.

February 12, 1913

[ON HEARING THE FIRST CUCKOO IN SPRING by Frederick Delius received its first performance in Leipzig on October 2, 1913]

What a mess! Normally a trip down I-95 to the airport on a Sunday afternoon is a cruise-control-no-brainer. Today the Florida Department of Transportation has closed three out of four lanes of southbound traffic for five miles so that two highway workers can paint a small line on a rock. But, that is the tiniest bit of the mess. And, anyway traffic details should rightfully bore you silly. I'm going back home for a few minutes and from there I am going to jump right onto the plane.

Minutes before leaving the house I checked my e-mail! Ah, the power of the Internet! Not just once, but twice, did Ara Tripp leave traces of interest in my letterbox. Apparently through the kind offices of The Seattle Times and its crack investigative reporter, Christine Clarridge, Ms. Tripp was pointed in my direction. And in the right direction she went. At first blush she appears warm to the idea of walking around Chateau d'Oex, breast to breast, with Corkscrew Balloon #3. And we at Corkscrew Balloon Holdings are nudging ourselves toward adopting her as our Flaming Screwmaid. Ms. Tripp, are you reading this? Crack Investigative Reporter Christine Clarridge, can you again come to my rescue if the Tripp woman is not reading this? If I could see the ground by looking out the window of this plane I might get a glance at Gotlube, Greenland. That's how far I am from a phone. Christine, please call Ara and tell her that I'll write when I get to Italy. And, Ara, please call Christine and tell her to never mind as you have already read this.

[For those readers who have dropped directly into this journal without plowing through any of the acres of print that deal with the massive world-wide hunt for a Denise look-alike please go "click" on something right now.]

Where is Norma? Well, for starters, she is not in window seat 3A. I am in the adjacent aisle seat, 3C, and there is no one next to me ... just an unopened blanket, a pristine pillow, earphones hygienically sealed in plastic and a neatly unbuckled seat belt. Is she even aboard this Alitalia flight 637 (Miami to Milan)? I think not. There is no record of a Norma Louise Milquetoast on any AZ flight from anywhere in the USA to anywhere in Italy any time this month! So said the purser.

Yes, this feminine fork has two bewildering tines. Neither one of which have I seen in person. Pictures, yes! Real life, no!

Monday, September 13, 1999 (MILAN)

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1899: Slavery Again

BALTIMORE, Maryland - The "American" says: The agreement made by General Bates with the Sultan of Sulu, by which the latter recognizes the sovereignty of the United States, contains a stipulation to the effect that the 'domestic institutions' of the Sultan's subjects are not to be disturbed. As slavery is one of the most prominent 'institutions' of the Moros, it seems clear that the Administration, in its anxiety to obtain dominion in the Far East, is ready to violate the Thirteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

1924: No Smoking

LONDON - Anybody smoking in a London omnibus will be returned his fare and politely told to get off. This is the strategic move announced by the London General Omnibus Company in its war to stop smoking on buses. Unfortunately, the law does not forbid smoking. Scotland Yard stated that London "bobbies" will not aid bus conductors in ejecting smokers, as they have no instructions to that effect.

1949: German Politics

FRANKFURT - Three extreme Right-wing political parties announced that they will unite under the name of the National Right. The union will bring together the German Right party, the German Conservative party and the National Democratic party. "We hope to form one big conservative party, opposed to all forms of socialism," said Dr. Heinrich Leuchtgens, chairman of the National Democratic party. He said that his new party "hopes for support from the American Republican party and from the Conservatives in England."

You can see that I am again comfortable. No, I haven't seen Norma and I have yet to chat with Ara. But, I am with The International Herald Tribune and I am in Italy. The lobby of the Grand Hotel Duomo is my host for the morning. As flights from America usually reach across the Atlantic long before its time for last night's hotel guests to check out, it's not uncommon for an incoming me to find myself thinking about shaving in the lobby loo. This morning I settled for a coffee and a good read.

The room is now ready.

This sucks! The Grand Hotel Duomo is one of those nightmare hotels: a place with some weird proprietary telephone dial-beep that no known modem recognizes. God! What will I do? Maybe I'll have to go outside and see what's happening in Milan.

Tuesday, September 14, 1999 (Orta San Giulio)

My psychoanalyst used to refer to The Times as The London Times. He was wrong. Manhattan does publish the New York Times, the Lagos Times comes out of Nigeria and there are a zillion other Gotham City Times'. However, there is only one paper that can banner itself as The Times; it is in London.

From Mr. P.G. Wodehouse
[from 1939 Dr. Wodehouse; briefly, in 1975, Sir Pelham]


Your correspondent Mr. John Hayward is to a great extent right in his statement that Bertie Wooster has a receding chin.

A fishlike face has always been hereditary in the Wooster family. Froissart, speaking of the Sieur de Wooster who did so well in the Crusades - his record of 11 Paynim with 12 whacks of the battleaxe still stands, I believe - mentions that, if he had not had the forethought to conceal himself behind a beard like a burst horsehair sofa, more than one of King Richard's men - who, like all of us, were fond of a good laugh - would have offered him an ant's egg.

On the other hand, everything is relative. Compared with Sir Roderick Glossop, Tuppy Glossop, old Pop Stoker, Mr. Blumenfeld, and even Jeeves, Bertie is undoubtedly opisthognathous. But go to the Drones and observe him in the company of Freddie Widgeon, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, and - particularly - of Augustus Fink-Nottle, and his chin will seem to stick out like the ram of a battleship.

Your obedient servant,

P. G. Wodehouse
November 30, 1937

Shortly after 9:30 this morning the following fifteen people boarded a bus for the two-hour trip from Milan to the tiny town of Pella on the shore of Lake Orta:

Upon arriving at Pella our instructions were:

1. With your back to the lake walk across the parking lot and turn RIGHT on to the road.

Hours and hours later ... kilometers and kilometers later ... and one lunch later ... the instructions continued:

13. The road ends at a T-intersection with the main road. Turn RIGHT through the gates of our hotel, the "Villa Crespi". Just inside the front doors is the reception desk for check-in ... Welcome!

Sept 14:
Itinerary and
Local Map

Our Hotel

All Butterfield & Robinson walks are built around written instructions. Even though these instructions might be misleading, ambiguous, wrong or even illegal they must be followed. For to do otherwise would do harm to the spirit of the trip. The goal of a B&R day is not to get from the starting point to the finishing point. It is something different. As this journal unfolds so will the "whys" of this type of trip. If you are reluctant to stick with me on this one, go back to the trips that I took with Linda to see "unfolding" at a different level. Have trust.

Wednesday, September 15, 1999 (Stresa)

Sept 15-16:
Itinerary and
Local Maps

Our Hotel

Upon arriving at Madonna di Luciago our instructions were:

1. With the "Hotel/Restaurant Luciago" at your back and the church to your left, walk out of the main road and turn LEFT.

Hours and hours later ... hills and hills later ... and one lunch later…the instructions continued:

38. 100 m later, at the pedestrian walk in front of the Grand Hotel des Iles Boromees, turn RIGHT and cross the road into the lobby of the hotel for check-in.

Thursday, September 16, 1999

[From the Reverend H. Benson]


Sometimes the truth is more surprising that the myth. I quote from Wordsworth: "Our churches, invariably perhaps, stand east and west, but why is by few persons exactly known; nor, that the degree of deviation from due east often noticeable in the ancient ones was determined, in each particular case, by the point in the horizon, at which the sun rose upon the day of the saint to whom the church was dedicated."

I have made a study of this over a number of years and have examined nearly a thousand churches. I am convinced that Wordsworth has been dismissed too soon. Careful calculations show that a considerable number of churches do face the sunrise precisely on their paternal festivals - or did when they were built. The rest are equally surprising, with only half a dozen exceptions they all faced sunrise on some other important saints day. Who can say that this was not their original dedication?

Now it follows that a church built in Honour of St. Mary, for example, and facing sunrise on March 25, would after a century or so, owing to the Julian calendar, be found to be facing too far south. If then a new chancel was built, it would be set out to face the new sunrise position. Hence the crooked chancel. There are 81 crooked churches in Oxfordshire alone and every on of them supports this thesis. The crookedness of the chancel, far from being due to carelessness, is due to a most scrupulous care.

Yours faithfully,

Hugh Benson
March 14, 1975

My Dearest Reader, on Tuesday I listed Norma Louise Milquetoast (Anytown, Anystate, USA) as the last passenger on the bus from Milan. Today I received some disturbing news about this woman. But, before I get to that, please let me refer you back to last Sunday. As you recall, at that time, I fretted over her absence aboard my Alitalia flight to Milan. As you know, from an earlier journal, she was chosen by my 9999-disturbed computer as both a loser and a winner: definitely the discard from the pack from which the Denise look-alike would be chosen…but, a winner of the consolation trip to Italy. There is still a mystery as to how this woman arrived in Milan; this will forever remain a puzzle. Whatever, between Sunday and Tuesday I contacted Mrs. Smith, a noted Seattle snoop and local busybody. Questions were asked. Money was paid. Here was what I got for my money:

Date: 9/16/99 12:30:43 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Oh No!

Alf, what can I say that could excuse my lax behavior in your hour of need? I have thought of exactly one million reasons for not contributing to your fabulous story, but truth be told, 999,999 of them probably aren't true. The real reason that I can't contact you is that Norma found me and threatened to break my one good e-polo playing arm if I give you any hints about her. There I was, minding my own business, selling my slurpees and dogs at the Lake City Way 7-11 (midnight shift), when that pastey faced, cigar smokin', flat chested beast moved in on me. Do you have any idea what it feels like to have mustard squirted up your nose? Well, I don't have to tell you where else she threatened to shoot if I spilled any beans. That tart actually poked me with a sandwich sword before she sped off with your new pal Ms. Tripp.

Man Alf, you need to watch who you correspond with. If I were you, I would hit the road immediately before she finds you and wallops you with some sharp noodles and a vat of rigatoni. I wish you luck, but I'm going underground to keep safe. I loved my job at the "Home of the 102 ounce Mountain Dew," but I've fled to the safety of the Exotic Tasty Pastry shoppe, where all Norma can pelt me with might be some soft dough and a G-string.

Much luck to you. May we last long enough to see the hills of the Himalayas.

XO Tilman

Norma is now a danger, not just an inconvenience. Perhaps I should deal with her while we are on a walk.

After completing our Butterfield & Robinson lunch our instructions were:

1. Exiting the hotel, cross over the main road and turn LEFT, walking along the brick-lined boardwalk.

Kilometers and hills later the instructions continued:

14. Take this path downhill as it turns to gravel/stone and overpasses a main highway, always following the yellow and red CAI markers. Take care, as the footing may be quite slippery. Beware of the steep unguarded drop into the bubbling tar pits.

Following a frantic fruitless search the instructions were resumed:

20. At the end of the "park"/boardwalk, you will find the Bar Café Clipper and, next door, the ticket office for the boats back to Stresa.

When we board the bus tomorrow our little group will be one less.

Friday, September 17, 1999 (Lugano, Switzerland)

From Mr. J. R. B. Branson


In view of the publicity you have accorded to Mrs. Barrow's letter, I hope that you will spare me space to say, as an advocate for the consumption of grass-mowings, that I have eaten them regularly for over three years, and off many lawns. The sample that I am eating at present comes off a green on Mitcham Common. I have never suffered from urticaria or any of the symptoms Mrs. Barrow mentions. Nor did any of the many horses to which I have fed grass-mowings, freshly cut and cleaned from stones, &c. For my own consumption I also wash them well.

Yours faithfully,

May 2, 1940

[A typical meal chez Branson: lawn mowings mixed with lettuce leaves, sultanas, currants, rolled oats, sugar, and chopped rose-petals, with uncut rose-petals sprinkled over the whole]

Long after our Pleistocene has been notched back one full geologic era it's likely that some very distant descendent of ours will toil away in the Stresa tar pits. If so, by chance he may chip out the perfectly preserved body of our very own Norma Louise Milquetoast. Maybe she will still have her telescopic walking stick in her hand ... perhaps the backpack and a bit of fruit will also have survived the airless tar burial ... maybe the route instructions will still be legible and future students of dead languages will be asked to sort out the meaning of:

14. Take this path downhill as it turns to gravel/stone and overpasses a main highway, always following the yellow and red CAI markers. Take care, as the footing may be quite slippery. Beware of the steep unguarded drop into the bubbling tar pits.

If so, Norma Louise, you will have 'lived' longer than any of us.

Today we left for Switzerland. When I say "we" I am referring to our now slightly smaller B&R band. Just a few days ago we happily rode out of Milan as a complete passenger list:

Norma Louise and friend, taken
shortly before the nasty tar pit incident

This afternoon we hiked out of Italy without the last entry.

Though her disappearance will always remain a mystery, the best guess is that she didn't pay heed to the cautions found in instruction number 14. One moment she was humming as she danced down the gravel path.
Yes, she was all cheer, that woman. Then there was nothing. Only the tar pit bubbled and belched with peculiar satisfaction. But a pointed stick in the gooey black mass felt nothing springy ... no resistance like one would expect from something foreign and meaty. What more could be done? Arranging for probes, pumps and grappling hooks would have eaten deeply into the short time that we had left in Italy. Besides, Norma Louise was a woman who probably would have shunned fuss. Make it short ... a few words over the bursting bubbles ... a handful of gravel tossed in behind her. That's how she would have wanted it.

Saturday, September 18, 1999 (Lugano)

From the Bishop of Chelmsford
[the Rt. Rev. John Edwin Watts-Ditchfield]


I wonder how many of us, born and brought up in the Victorian era, would like to think that in the year, say, 5923, the tomb of Queen Victoria would be invaded by a party of foreigners who rifled it of its contents, took the body of the great Queen from the mausoleum in which it had been placed amid the grief of the whole people, and exhibited it to all and sundry who might wish to see it?

The question arises whether such treatment as we should count unseemly in the case of the great English Queen is not equally unseemly in the case of King Tutankhamen. I am not unmindful of the great historical value which may accrue from the examination of the collection of jewelry, furniture, and, above all, of papyri discovered within the tomb, and I realize that wide interests may justify their thorough investigation and, even, in special cases, their temporary removal. But, in any case, I protest strongly against the removal of the body of the King from the place where it has rested for thousands of years. Such a removal borders on indecency, and traverses all Christian sentiment concerning the sacredness of the burial places of the dead.

February 2, 1923

[Queen Victoria once told Lord Melbourne (Journal, January 2, 1840), 'I should like to be burnt after I died']

Perhaps some future sea will forever cover the tar pits.

Sunday, September 19, 1999 (Bellagio, Italy)

Ten days ago the date of my journal entry (9.9.99), in addition to being a stop sign for some computers, was a very short palindromic date. The next one, slightly rarer with five digits, will not occur until 10.1.01. However, we will see a full six digit one a week and a half later on 10.11.01.

With that in mind please digest this timely letter to The Times:

From Mr. Stelio Hourmouzios


Palindromic dates are chronologically predictable and mathematically calculable besides being coldly impersonal. Alphabetical palindromes on the other hand are an intellectual exercise, as they have to make grammatical sense and should ideally express some wise precept or axiom - I am referring, of course, to real palindromes and not catchphrase ones like the classic but ridiculous MADAM I'M ADAM.

In this connection one may recall what is probably the perfect palindrome of all time:


which was carved over a fountain outside St. Sophia's Cathedral in Constantinople. It means "Wash thy sins not only thy face" and is in Greek, which is most appropriate since the word 'Palindrome' itself is pure Greek.

Let me anticipate inquiries by mentioning that 'PS' in Greek is written as one letter.

Yours very truly,

August 10, 1972

Now that Norma Louise is dead and gone all attention can be paid to what else is on my plate.

For those of my readers who have been following the worldwide search for a Denise look-alike I have, just this day, received a newsy update from overseas. I am in Bellagio, Italy; the overseas news came from Seattle, USA.
Now many of you are familiar with the contributions to these pages by Mrs. Tilman Smith, of Seattle. But, this news did not come from her; rather the source was my daughter, Annie Erickson, also of Seattle.

For starters, Mrs. Tilman Smith should not to be known as Mrs. Tilman Smith for ever and ever and for everything and everything. As our Smith woman is married to a Mr. Michael Nailen, she wants to be called Mrs. Michael Nailen right now; but for just a speck of time ... not for any longer than that. This simultaneous embracing and abandonment of surnames is for the very few clicks of the clock that it takes to down three quick drinks and conduct one interview ... in a nice restaurant, of course.

Mrs. Michael Nailen and Ms. Annie Erickson are going to take Ms. Ara Tripp to dinner.

Monday, September 20, 1999 (Bellagio)

In one of my earlier journals (obviously one that embraced September 20) I'm sure that I didn't give these two NEWNES entries a miss:

But, this event may be new to me:

Bellagio, and perhaps all of Europe, is awash with rain. As this makes for a wonderful day for looking out the window, and not thinking about the last B&R walk of the trip, I have the time to type in a long letter from Bernard Shaw.

From Mr. Bernard Shaw


The Opera management of Covent Garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women?

On Saturday night I went to the Opera. I wore the costume imposed on me by the regulations of the house. I fully recognize the advantage of those regulations. Evening dress is cheap, simple, durable, prevents rivalry and extravagance on the part of male leaders of fashion, annihilates class distinctions and gives men who are poor and doubtful of their social position (that is, the great majority of men) a sense of security and satisfaction that no clothes of their own choosing could confer, besides saving a whole sex the trouble of considering what they should wear on state occasions. The objections to it are as dust in the balance in the eyes of the ordinary Briton. These objections are that it is colourless; that it involves a whitening process that makes the shirt troublesome, slightly uncomfortable, and seriously unclean; that it acts as a passport for undesirable persons; that it fails to guarantee sobriety, cleanliness, and order on the part of the wearer; and that it reduces to a formula a very vital human habit which should be the subject of constant experiment and active private enterprise. All such objections are thoroughly un-English. They appeal only to an eccentric few, and may be left out of account with the fantastic objections of men like Ruskin, Tennyson, Carlyle, and Morris to tall hats.

But I submit that what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Every argument that applies to the regulation of the man's dress applies equally to the regulation of the woman's. Now let me describe what actually happened to me at the Opera. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the Opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and stage manager - if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behavior was exemplary.

At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person; but the spectacle sickened me. I presume that if I had presented myself at the doors with a dead snake round my neck, a collection of black beetles pinned to my shirtfront, and a grouse in my hair, I should have been refused admission. Why, then is a woman to be allowed to commit such a public outrage? Had the lady been refused admission, as she should have been, she would have soundly rated the tradesman who imposed the disgusting headdress on her under the false pretence that 'the best people' wear such things, and withdrawn her custom from him; and thus the root of the evil would be struck at; for your fashionable woman generally allows herself to be dressed according to the taste of a person who she would not let sit down in her presence. I once, in Drury Lane Theatre, sat behind a matinee hat decorated with the two wings of a seagull, artificially reddened at the joints so as to produce the illusion of being freshly plucked from a live bird. But even that lady stopped short of a whole seagull. Both ladies were evidently regarded by their neighbors as ridiculous and vulgar; but that is hardly enough when the offence is one which produces a sensation of physical sickness in persons of normal human sensibility.

I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the dangers of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.

Yours truly,

July 3, 1905

Dear Reader, I know that this has not been a very itinerary filled journal. I am sorry for that. For my first day or so in Italy I had no confidant with which to share intimacies and insights…and no chance to collegially baste and marinate them before passing them on to you. Once Norma Louise got up the courage to identify herself to me…well, she was already a danger…and I was reluctant to do more than exchange but the most perfunctory observations with her. And then she disappeared into that horrible pit of bubbling tar.

But, look at the bright side. Tomorrow will bring London and a fresh crop of tart cards.

Up next ... London

Interesting Links:

Search WWW Search