Round Trip To England

BACK TO ENGLAND When I recovered enough to get out of bed I had to realise that action of any kind was going to be out of the question for a long time. I gave the remains of the Gipsy Moth to the local grammar school, and moved to Kobe in a small passenger steamer. I had a nightmare while on the way, and ended on the floor of the cabin. I think I had somehow jumped clean out of the bunk while lying full length there. I was immensely grateful that it caused me no more damage, especially as my face must have passed close to the sharp corner of a table beside the bunk.

From Kobe, I took a berth in a P&O steamer to England. In the East China Sea we passed through a typhoon, which was awe-inspiring. For a long time during that night I stood on deck at the stern, watching. The seas were not so impressive as in the small storm I flew through in the Tasman Sea, but they were more powerful. They looked immensely powerful as they swept past with long troughs; they would stand for no resistance by anything. There were no crests; these all flew off horizontally. The high-pitched scream of the wind in the rigging and passing over the steamer was the most thrilling feature. It was not a bad typhoon, and the steamer rode it well. On this voyage I found that one of the ship’s engineers had been in the Bremen on my voyage out to New Zealand in 1919, and it was he who told me the fate of my fellow trimmers.

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When I got back to England I visited my family in North Devon, and stayed with them. This visit was a failure; I was a misfit in their way of life. They had a settled existence, with due importance attached to various happenings; for example, how many people were in church each Sunday and who they were; I represented a way of life outside their circle of interests. Also I was a different person since they had previously seen me. My personality seemed to have been shattered or weakened; I was a poor thing. My nerves were in a bad state, as shown by the torture I suffered if I went for a train journey; I had constantly to look out backwards, terrified that another train would run into us from behind. Going through any tunnel I just sweated with fear until we emerged again. I think that it is much more difficult to be kind and friendly to someone who has lost his strength and personality. Unconsciously, the herd instinct is at work which will cause a school of fish or even a flock of rooks to attack an injured fish or bird. I expect that my change in fortunes had made me irritable and difficult to live with. The atmosphere indoors, which my family seemed to enjoy, was cold and damp to me, and I was critical of the way they met the change in social conditions which had occurred in England. I particularly disapproved of their breakfasting by the light of an ugly paraffin wall lamp from the scullery, now perched on an old biscuit tin on the table.

Happily, my cousins from Instow invited me to visit them. They were daughters of the Admiral of Manila Bay fame, and were amusing, interesting and immensely kind. Mary Renshaw found me a lodging with a sporting farmer behind Instow, where I stayed for nine months while I wrote a book about my flight over the Tasman Sea. I tried hard to make a good job of this book, Seaplane Solo, and I wanted the reader to feel the emotions that I had felt. I wrote some parts of it many times, until they made me feel exactly as I had felt during the flight. Reading this book now, however, it seems laboured. I tried too hard. I tried to force myself to become an artist, which I was not. Some of the things I wrote were perfectly true but they sound silly, like this about flying: ‘The thrill of life. Ha! Ha! Ha! Flying through space, devouring distance like gods -speed – up in the clouds, with life force dominant and throbbing in heart and veins.’

One day when I was working in Farmer West’s front parlour I had a visit from Lord Charles Kennedy. He asked me if I would crew for him in the club races of the Tor and Torridge

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