Don Blanding Gets Large "Kick" Out of London
Gets Kaleidoscopic Impression of Metropolis;
Welcomed By Hawaii's Colony There
(Don Blanding, Honolulu artist and writer, and well-known in amateur dramatic circles, is off on "a year of great adventure" -- a year in London and on the Continent. On this year of travel, study and artistic experience, he will contribute a series of special articles to The Star- Bulletin, of which this is the first. He went to the Olympic games in Paris as a correspondent for this paper and will tell of them in a succeeding article.)
By DON BLANDING
LONDON, England, June 30,1924.
-- Aloha, Honolulu!
Just a month and a week ago I steamed out of the harbor of Honolulu for my year of great adventure. If the rest of the year is like the first month I'll be a genius or a wreck at the end of it.
My mind feels like a News Pictorial Weekly film -- a hopeless jumble of unrelated incidents. I shall have a fiendish time sorting out London busses, English gardens, Australian accents, Canadian scenery, French farces and bad language, and putting the lot into some sort of tellable order. Never have I had so much of beauty, interest, humor and horror crowded into a brief space of time. And I'm happier than any sane person should be. . . .
But to begin logically at the beginning. The departure from the islands convinced me again that there is no leave-taking in the world like the one Hawaii offers and no custom more beautiful than lei-giving. Years cannot efface the joy of knowing that each one of those lovely, fragrant flower-chains means a friend. I was grateful for the camouflage of leis, behind which I shed a few sincere, if unmanly, tears, when I stood on the boat and realized that I was really started on my year of study.
We left at midnight which was a disappointment for me as I had hoped to go out at sunset with the Waianae mountains silhouetted bluely against against a brilliant sky. Consoled myself with the idea of seeing the islands fade into the moonlight and mist at night, but I slipped below for a bit of a snooze before sailing and I slept busily through until I was awakened in the morning by an Australian voice saying, "Will you have your tea in your berth, sir?" First incident.
I turned my gaze inward to see if tea or anything else would be palatable -- usually I'm the world's worst sailor -- and I found to my extreme joy that I was not seasick. This happy state continued throughout the Pacific voyage for which I thanked the little finny gods of the sea. I can explain just how seasick I was not when I say that at breakfast an Australian opposite me ate a large plateful of a particularly deadly looking curry and I watched the process with quiet interest if not actual pleasure.
Meeting the Colonists
The Pacific trip was full of contacts with people from all parts of the British colonies. New Zealanders, Australians, Tasmanians and three splendid fellows who had just finished ten years' government service in Papua, New Guinea. All these people were heading back to England for the British Empire Exposition. They were greatly pleased with Honolulu, and the Australians in particular were concerned with our Japanese problem. They heartily kokuaed the stand America has taken and hoped that we maintain it.
The men from New Guinea had fascinating tales to tell of their life there. They knew Beatrice Grimshaw, who writes such fascinating tales of Papua. One of them remarked, "Down there we drink and then drink between drinks," which sounded lively. I took the statement with a grain of salt as they were remarkably fit in appearance and one of them told me that they really kept to a rather severe discipline in order not to succumb to the climate. I was invited to stop in and share "stout and crayfish" with them some day.
I heard English spoken with a dozen different accents; each colony seems to have a pronunciation of its own. One Australian remarked patronizingly, "You Yankees speak in such a queer way." As he had just said that his breakfast was "quite tysty" (tasty, I presume) I allowed myself a small smile.
But they were an amusing friendly lot and I gathered an immense amount of quite useless information from them.
A Change of Weather
The sea was smooth as Kalkaua avenue for the first four days. Then all the Hawaiian blue faded out and the water turned gray, as we struck fog and cold. All the Honolulu birds of paradise shivered and huddled miserably in secluded spots on deck where the chill did not penetrate but where the ship's smells did. We were mighty glad to arrive at Vancouver.
At first view Vancouver seemed horribly dirty. The air was heavy with gray smoke and the buildings were smeared with it. After an hour or so the impression wore off and the day was most enjoyable. There was a sharp sting to the air that made us all step lively. The foliage, the sky, the mountains and everything were strange and almost unreal after the bright clean color of Hawaii. Three years and a half in the islands makes one forget how the rest of the world looks.
There were tulips, rhododendron, apple blossoms and hawthorne in bloom. I enjoyed seeing old familiar flower faces again. The giant pine trees were especially impressive and the distant snow-capped peaks made splendid background for the city which was quite picturesque. Really enjoyed the stay there.
Of the trip across Canada there's not much to say. It was beautiful but not new except for the Canadian Rockies. The day in the open observation car was tremendous. Nature seemed to have bared her mighty fangs in superb difiance to the very gods in that desolate region. Our train was like a wooly worm crawling around the base of some great temple. The air was clear and the sun unbearably bright on the snowfields. At times the cliffs rose so sheer that they seemed to be falling over on us. The views filled us with awe and the tunnels filled us with smoke until the end of the day found us partially stupefied with mised emotions.
By the way, speaking of mixed things, the world seems to be watching our prohibition experiment. Some people outside have the idea that America has become a nation drug addicts and that wood alcohol, gasoline and furniture polish are our chief beverages. Also the fame of "oke" has spread. One daring fellow bitterly bewailed the fact that he had not been able to try it in Honolulu. Has anything happened to our busy bootleggers? I couldn't understand it.
Spring was so delayed this year in Canada that I had a glimpse of it as I crossed. The birch, aspen and cottonwood trees were lovely with their delicate greens breaking through gray and black branches. In the fruit districts the trees were veiled with pink and white blossoms and all the countryside was spattered with dandelions.
Enjoyed Montreal. In the movie houses the sub-titles were in French and English as were most of the ads on the billboards. There was some old-world atmosphere but I didn't bother much with it for I expected to get the real thing soon. Spent a lazy day knocking around the city, then boarded the steamer Montcalm. The journey up the St. Lawrence was beautiful, and Quebec, which we passed at sunset, was like a page from some old fairy tale.
Most of the trip on the Atlantic was a mustard colored blank for me. Not until we arrived off the north coast of Ireland did life seem worth the living. I spent most of the time stretched in a deck chair, a picture of drab misery, hating the world and particularly the deck tennis players (their game was largely vocal). Also fervently wished that at least three of the ever-present ship children would fall overboard and create a diversion. We struck the tail end of one of the worst Atlantic storms and the consequent upheaval prevented the usual ship's concert, which gave us one ray of cheer aboard.
Like the Hawaiian Islands
The Irish coast was astonishingly like the islands in appearance. High forbidding mountains, long slopes of green running down from the heights to abrupt cliffs that fell sheer into the sea. The cultivated areas quite resembled pineapple fields and sugar cane. We had a beautiful sunset with afterglow lasting until 10 o'clock in the evening. As we were in quiet water everyone revived and enjoyed the last night at sea. In fact a few hardy souls, myself included, stayed up until we arrived at Liverpool.
With the morning I realized that at last I was really in England. Big thrill. The Liverpool docks were clamorous with whistlings, booms and confusion. Tremendous amount of shipping. The confusion of landing was over soon, thanks to the courteous customs officials. They were wonderfuly decent about everything, helping to root out lost baggage (pardon me, luggage) and acting as though their duty was a pleasaure.
Enter a Dickens Character
I didn't take the boat train to London as I wanted a couple of hours to get my land legs. Outside the customs house there was a hansom cab with a driver who stepped out of a Dickens story. I hailed him and told him to drive slowly about the city. Had a big kick from those two hours. As soon as we were out in the residential district I enjoyed every minute. The gardens were lovely -- walled in, of course -- with fascinating glimpses of roses, rhododendron, laburnum and flowering hawthorne. The houses, too, were interesting with their tight, conservative fronts, giving no hint of their interiors. Everyone seemed to be riding bicycles. Seemed so funny to see men, women and children pedaling along very seriously at a great rate.
Drove in one of the parks. Honolulu has a stiff competitor in English greens. The great trees in the parks were so cool and shadowy looking, I wanted to get out and walk under them. Of course, I was shivering with cold despite the bright sunshine. The cabby told me I must have brought the sunshine with me (that sounds rather Pollyanna) for it was the first bright day they had had in a month. I loved it all but particularly the greenery everywhere. Many of the gardens had stiffly trimmed holly trees.
During the trip up to London I found this same lavish green. The country was like a vast park, wonderfully attended, and the fields were as smooth as lawns. I began to understand a bit of what an Englishman means when he raves about England.
Too Much Conversation
The funny little trains which whammed across the country at such surprising speed were new to me as were the compartments where six or eight people sat solemnly toe-to-toe quietly ignoring each other. I had heard enough English comment on "cheeky Americans who speak to one" so that I sat tight and said nothing, although I was bursting to ask questions. Would you believe that for four hours the six of us sat in that compartment and the only word uttered was a "Sorry," when someone unfortunately stepped on another's toe.
I had beautiful views out of the window varied with interesting glimpses of the gold fillings in the back teeth of the man oposite me who slept open-face style during most of the trip. Tea was served en route, but the ding train lurched and careened so that I didn't venture it.
Finally arrived in London town. I was mighty glad to see a familiar Honolulu face there to meet me. Mr. Reginald Carter had arranged to pilot me about for the five days before he left with a Raymond & Whitcomb tour through Scotland, England and Wales and later the continent.
Welcomed by Honolulu Colony
London has been undiluted joy. Under the guidance of friends I have squeezed a month's sightseeing and pleasure into two weeks. There's a large Honolulu colony and they have all been fine about steering me into interesting events. Dr. and Mrs. Humphrie, Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Stackable, Mrs. Herman Focke, Mrs. Walter Dillingham and her son Lowell, Mrs. Mollie Wilder, Miss Annie Parks, Mrs. Walbridge, Mrs. Matson of San Francisco are some of the island people in London.
First the sights of London -- a few of them. Westminster -- I can't hope to describe it; the galleries -- read about them; the theaters -- I've glutted myself with shows. Some splendid productions are on now. Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan", Somerset Maugham's "Our Betters," which is a slap at expatriate Americans and very clever; George Robey's musical revue, "Leap Year," with stunning stage effects and well-trained choruses. Everywhere, though, I hear American jazz in the cabarets, revues and dancing clubs. Also nearly all the movies are American. De Mille's "Ten Commandments" is running at top theatrical prices and packed houses.
Prices here make one blush. Clothes, taxis, lodgings, etc., are about half what we pay at home. Incidentally, about clothes. I needed a suit and was measured for it. Wow! I understand that it is quite right and all that, but the trousers come clear up to my neck and the English shirts hang to the knees, so when I'm dressed I feel like a laundry bag. Suppose I'll get used to it in time.
Danced at the Embassy Club with the Buckley's, Honolulu visitors of last winter. This is a very smart club and there were many beautiful women and superbly groomed men. Lady Diana Manners Cooper was there after her New York appearance in the "Miracle." She is supposed to be England's prize beauty. She is, all right. We visited a number of the less doggy places and saw the different night crowds. Very amusing.
Troops on Night Review
One tremendous event was the Aldershot Military Tattoo, a night review of troops at Aldershot Military Camp. Left London at 6 o'clock in the evening in char-a-banc and drove through the beautiful country-side. Lovely beyond description. The grain fields were all shot through with orange and scarlet poppies and the hedges were heavy with bloom. Cottages along the way had gardens of delphinium and roses, and the locust trees made the whole trip fragrant with their perfume. We stopped at a little inn which Nelson used to frequent. In a low, smoky ceilinged room with a huge fireplace we had the most delicious dinner imaginable with -- must I admit it -- foaming mugs of beer to wash down good English beef.
The military affair lasted from nine until midnight with a continual change of gorgeous uniform and pageantry on a field that was made into daylight with powerful searchlights. The scarlet coats of the soldiers blazed against the vivid green fields.
There was a cavalry ride in uniforms of the Waterloo time, and a sham battle with tanks, aeroplanes, cavalry, infantry and artillery. During the last half hour a drenching rain came down but they "carried on" in splendid fashion and the crowd sat tight until "God Save the King." Showed good spirit.
Gold Cup Day at Ascot
Next day, as guest of Mrs. Matson and Mrs. Wilder, I went to the races at Ascot. It was Gold Cup day, the big day, with Papyrus running against the pick of the French stables. Beautiful day with thousands of people in attendance. The roads were solid with motor busses, cars, bicycles and carriages. Drove through Windsor and saw Windsor Castle. We had excellent places at the race in one of the enclosures near a royal enclosure where we could see the arrival of the king and queen with the Prince of Wales, Duke and Duchess of York, Viscount Lascelles and the rest of the royal party. They arrived in great state with postillions in brilliant uniforms, and with great pomp and dignity. The sight was most impressive. Everyone cheered and crowded to the fence. It was interesting to see these famous people at close range. The young prince is certainly popular. Everyone seems to love him and they cheered him loudly.
In the paddocks and in the enclosures came the parade of fashion. There were famous actresses, lesser royalty, mannequins from the style houses and painted ladies of doubtful background. One "pretty lady" in orchid shades (lavender for her past and purple for her future) carried a sunshade made entirely of ostrich plumes. There's a big drive on now to increase the African ostrich industry, consequently all the women are bursting out with feathers in the most unexpected places. Feather wristlets, garters, hat plumes, veil edgings, on handbags and (ahh) there were some very intriguing undies in a window with ostrich feathers tastefully decorating them.
Feather Boa is Fashionable
Honolulu women will be safe in dragging grandmother's feather boa out of mothball for such is being worn by the smartest women. Mussy but fashionable, I call it.
As you know by now, Papyrus was scarcely an also ran. The French contingent was large and the betting heavy. Their favorite horse, Filibert de Savoie, led the field until almost the last, then Massine, a horse that was not mentioned in the betting, came in first. The French took first, second and fourth places, much to the chagrin and loss of English bettors.
After the big race I wandered through all the different crowds and saw the gypsies who were there in scores, and the holiday people encamped for the week with children, lunches, dogs in democratic confusion.
There were vendors of cold drinks; (the art of cold drinks is an American institution that is not grasped here). Everything is lukewarm and most sickening after some of the beautiful and wonderful concoctions of Rawley's, Benson, Smith's and May's. I longed for a good Honolulu grape mint-julep! Also the ice cream tastes like axle grease and sticks to the teeth like peanut butter. However, there were baskets of strawberries that surpassed the best of Wahiawa's finest. As large as plums and as sweet as wild honey. The day was a bully one.
But every day is fun now. The flower women of Picadilly Circus remind me of the lei women of Fort street. They sit behind huge baskets of roses, violets and daisies and they say "Gor' bless you, sir," when you buy a flower. They wear absurd, ratty-looking bonnets perched on top their heads and usually a faded shawl about their shoulders. They sling a mean line of repartee, too. I heard one smart buck get himself properly laid out when he tried to kid one of the old women.
Cherchez la femme!
A thing I noticed about London people in the restaurants, theaters and formal affairs the men invariably turned out more smartly dressed than the women. They seem to have the knack of wearing clothes to better advantage. The women are aristocratic, lovely, with fresh complexions, but they somehow just miss that smartness which American women attain. I think they wear too many doodads and fluttery things. Then so many of them are very tall, thin and slatty in build with rather too much nose. Delightful, though.
The English and American flappers differ. Here they are really "girls" and not the sophisticated young things that we produce. The church parade in Hyde park is a fascinating sight. All London seems to be strolling along the walks. Fine looking men in gray and black "toppers," black coats and gray trousers, with gloves, stick and buttonhole flowers; women with bright sunshades and festive clothes. Everyone seems to have a dog along and there are frequent canine arguments to liven the hour.
A History of Costumes
The history of English costume passes in this parade. Old gentlemen with "mutton-chops," elderly dowagers with hats of 1860 fashion or with Alexandria fringes under their diminutive bonnets. I took a sketch book but the crowd was too fascinating. Had to make memory sketches when I came home.
I must stop yarning but there's so much to tell. Mustn't overlook the day at Oxford, which was the most impressive and enjoyable I've had in England. Through the courtesy and kindness of Mrs. Wilder and her son, Alatau Wilder, who took his degree on the 26th, I was shown all the beauty that is Oxford. The wonderful old buildings, dating back to twelve hundred, in which the best minds of England have been developed, are gray with age and the very stones are steeped in the atmosphere of culture and learning of the centuries. There are lovely chapels, dining halls, libraries, old manuscripts, brasses, doorways, arches to fascinate the visitor for hours.
My friends took me to the "digs" or lodging of the students. We entered through doorways 300 years old and climbed stairs that are worn deep with the many feet that have trodden them. It is easy to understand the English respect for tradition after a day in this magnificent university city. No visitor to England should miss it.
Alatau Wilder's Fine Record
Alatau Wilder, besides showing well in his studies, attained excellent place in sports here. In swimming and rowing he won numerous honors. He also spread the fame of "Imi Au" and "Aloha Oe" with his ability to make the steel guitar sing. He has made Honolulu mean more than a romantic name to many people.
Wish I had the space to tell you of the English rose gardens, the rivers and lakes, the quaint streets, the busy busses that rush around like two-story cockroaches in the streets. Every moment is filled with interest and delight. I shall hate to leave it on July 6, my date for starting Parisward. Am going to fly from London to Paris. There's bound to be a thrill in that. Young Jimmy Wilder, son of Kimo Wilder, is flying at the same time. He's just up from Cambridge on his way home. He sends greetings, too.
Aloha to everyone. The enchantments of my new adventures are not making me forget a moment of my Honolulu days. Will write from Paris. . . .
This article appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on August 2, 1924 (Section 2, pp. 1, 4). Don Blanding left Honolulu about May 23 by ship to Vancouver, BC, then traveled by train across Canada to Montreal. From there he took the steamer Montcalm up the St. Lawrence River past Quebec, then sailed across the Atlantic to Liverpool and finally arrived in London.