Woman on a bicycle, part 2

I rode about the West End and the City of London a good deal, and enjoyed the traffic. Once, in Manchester, I was cycling to a Hallé concert at which Joachim was to play, when, in a congested part of Oxford Road, I espied him in a cab, with two of my friends, to whom I waved my hand. In great apprehension, the kind old gentleman cried out, “But she will be killed! She will be killed!” Once I was returning from spending two sleepless nights in a caravan in Surry, and I was so tired and absent-minded that, crossing over from Trafalgar Square, northwards from Charing Cross station, I came into collision with a horse-van coming south down the Haymarket. When I picked myself up, a policeman was already there with his notebook, and he seemed puzzled by the flood of assurance from both the van-man and myself that, “It was entirely my fault; I could not decide whether he (she) was going to cross first.” So he asked me if I were hurt and I said no, and he departed. The van-man and I nearly embraced.

I was much interested in reflecting on what my thoughts had been when I saw the crash was inevitable. The interval of time between my realisation of this and the actual impact seemed long. I thought, “Well, this is an accident. Now I know what it’s like.” Then, “Here goes! Get it over!” I rode on to Kensington with only one useful hand, and on cutting of my left glove, I found a very swollen thumb-joint. I went at once to a surgeon who said he could do nothing with it while it was so swollen. So I kept it in a cold-water bandage for a wee and then, as it was still in a very painful state, I went to aManchester surgeon who remarked, “This ought to have been attended to at once; It’s dislocated.” You never know!

This was the only accident I every had that was due to my own carelessness, and I have felt, ever since, the extreme danger that people incur who drive a car when they have been suffering from insomnia. One is apt to go mooning about. Unfortunately, though one may, and should, refrain from driving a motor when one is not fully up to the mark, it is not possible to refrain from all walking on the roads unless one is in good athletic trim. This is a distinction which people are apt to overlook who are more desirous of “blaming the other fellow” than of finding a remedy for the present nightmare condition of the roads.

As recently as 1920, when motors had been on the roads for a score of years, my mother, then ninety, was accustomed to cross Kensington High Street alone with perfect equanimity. When her friends remonstrated with her, she said, ” I am quite safe. If I can’t get across, I just stand still and hold up my hand. No one runs over an old woman who stands still and holds up her hand.” You could not say that now. I developed a sound “road sense” when bicycling, and I always look both ways before attempting to cross a road, but, if I get half way across one of our terribly crowded arterial roads and, finding I cannot finish crossing, stand still and hold up my hand, the angry motorists, furious at being expected to slow down, hoot as if they wish they could blow me off the road, and I proceed only at my dire peril. Far too many motorists run it so fine that they can be sure of getting through only if everyone is mature, agile and alert. It is not possible for all pedestrians to be so, but no person should be armed with a lethal weapon like a motor-car unless he or she is.

Helena Swanwick I Have Been Young Victor Gollancz 1935

Woman on a bicycle 1891, part 1

In 1891 Fred and I took to bicycling and our lives were greatly enlarged thereby. The so-called “safety bicycles” attracted my husband more than the “penny-farthing” had, and the dropped frame adapted it to the skirted sex. By means of these machnes we were able, in ten minutes, to leave Manchester behind, and we scoured the Cheshire and Derbyshire lanes with a radius of twenty miles. There was only one other woman in our part of Manchester who took to bicycling in the same year, and I was frowned on by some of the college ladies until royal ladies took to riding round a London park, and I was suddenly in the fashion.

Near Manchester the boisterous mill-hands would play pranks on me, linking arms across the road to upset me. The only way to cope with this was to avoid looking at them and, putting down my head, charge full tilt, when they would scatter. In London, bus drivers were not above flicking at me with the whip, and cabmen thought it fun to converge upon me from behind. I was once pulled off by my skirt in a Notting Hill slum, and felt a bit scared till a bright idea struck me. I said to the loutish lad who had seized my handle-bar, “I say, they seem rather a rough lot here. I wonder whether you would kindly help me out?” He instantly clutched my arm with his other hand, and bustling along with great dignity shouted, “Now then! Make room for the lady can’t you?” He saw me through and helped me to re-mount with the recommendation “Cut away now, quick!” And I did.

My long skirt was a nuisance and even a danger. It is an unpleasant experience to be hurled on to stone setts and find that one’s skirt has been so tightly wound round the pedal that one cannot even get up enough to unwind it. But I never had the courage to ride in breeches except at hight. Then, oh then, I sang, jubilating with Clärchen: “Welch Freud’ ohne Ende Ein Mannsbild zu sein!” (What glorious rapture to be a he-man!) In Dieppe we saw fashionable women in wide breeches like Dutchmen, strolling about the Casino grounds. But that fashion never caught on here.

Our first machines had solid tyres and only one gear, and no hand-brake or free-wheel. Yet we toured many miles on them. Some of our tours were in Norfolk and others in Warwickshire, the Western Highlands and Normandy. I never rode more than sixty-five miles in one day, but we used to do our forty and fity fairly often. Here again, owing to my husband’s weak knee, I was not a gret handicap to him. I gave up cycling after an operation I had in 1915, but the increase in motor traffic would, anyhow, have necessitated this sacrifice.

Helena Swanwick I Have Been Young Victor Gollancz 1935

Singing and memory

All her life, my mother sang a great deal, not only formally,
 but also at her needlework, to her children, or by woods
and water. When she sang to an accompaniment, it was
 always to my father’s accompaniment, and when he died – she 
being then fifty-five – all the songs she continued to sing
 to herself were German songs he had taught her during their 
married life. After the age of seventy, these gradually slipped
away from her and we heard her singing the French songs
 she had learned during her school days in Dieppe and Paris.
When she reached the age of eighty-five, these in their turn 
seemed to fade, but she still sang to herself, snatches of odd
 English popular songs which she had picked up in her childhood in London, from servants-street cries, sentimental broadsheets and the like, current at the time. The various stations of her life being well marked, it was possible to see a clear example of the way memory works.

H. M. Swanwick I Have Been Young (Victor Gollancz, 1935) p19

Lime trees and greenfly

17 July 1916

You may hear, as you walk under the trees, a continuous hum like the stop of an organ; it comes from the bees under the limes; there must be hundreds of them in one tree. The pale primrose-coloured blossoms are fully out, and hang in soft, thick clusters, shedding exquisite fragrance.

The common lime is not a very attractive tree, except for the tender pale-green of the first few weeks; the leaves very soon become infested with greenfly and get very sticky and dirty. They fall early, they are not good for autumn colour, and the habit and shape of the stem and branches are not particularly interesting. But one would not miss the blossoms; high above one’s head they foam under the leaves, tier upon tier of murmuring sweetness.

The honeydew which is exuded by the greenfly is said very often to ruin the real honey of the bees who eat it. Ants appear to be very fond of it. I watched an ant today which had stationed itself just behind a winged female aphis, and was stroking it with its front legs, a curious coaxing action, while it appeared to be sucking at a gland near the wings.

Restraining pedestrians

Pedestrians dodging traffic
Tottenham Court Road, 1927

In the controversy as to whether pedestrians should be restrained from crossing the streets except at certain specified points, it is well to realise that this is, in fact, to decree that those who are too poor to possess or to use motor vehicles must go round about in order that those who are rich enough to drive may drive faster.

We who have to walk to our business may find our time just as precious as those who can afford to drive. We may be infirm and find the extra distances as severe tax upon our strenght. Since our natural pace, which we cannot exceed, is the slowest, any extension of the distance we have to travel is relatively a much greater hardship to us than a roundabout way is to the motorist. He can whirl round Trafalgar Square in a few seconds; we, with tired limbs, must trudge wearily up a street or down a street to the destination exactly opposite us, from which we are debarred by the maniacal whirl of motor traffic. For, note, the crossing places must be far apart, otherwise the motorist will actually be slowed down by their introduction.

Editor’s note: 1538 children under 12 were killed by motor vehicles in the UK between 1919 and 1921. (Source: Hansard) Nellie’s disabled brother Robert was killed by a van in 1923.

Shrewsbury flower show 1906

The Flower show at Shrewsbury
Some notable exhibits

The Manchester Guardian 24 August 1906

The remark which one overhears most often at a flower show is that it is “a perfect picture”. As a matter of fact it is even more difficult for a flower show to be a beautiful thing than for an exhibition of pictures, and that is saying a good deal. One comes away feeling that one has seen an infinite number of beautiful compositions, but the huddled crowd of plants obliterates form and the colours are too man and too unharmonised to give an but a confused kaleidoscopic impression.

One may learn a great deal from a good show like the Shrewsbury show, and one may enjoy it immensely from a horticultural point of view, but it is not really a beautiful whole. Far too much is crowded into the space, and where a large number of varieties of one flower are shown (as, for instance, the herbaceous phloxes of Messrs. Gunn and Sons, which were magnificent) the colours quarrel in proportion to their brilliance. The flowers which tolerate this sort of mixing best are sweet peas, and there were great quantities of these which were not only very finely grown specimens but which made a very pretty, airy show.

It is next to impossible in such intense heat to show cut flowers in a free and natural manner. `one hates to see carnations with their heads served up on cardboard plates and pansies set out like butterflies in a case, and dahlias with paper collars on, yet one can see the advantage of these ways when the heat is such as to cause long-stemmed flowers to hang their heads and droop their petals till they are unrecognisable. Wild flowers, perhaps, suffer most, but roses are destroyed in a few hours, and so are the flowers of may herbaceous plants.

The pot culture of specimen plants has been carried to great lengths, and shows great patience and skill. Nothing could be more beautiful than the fruiting trees, vines, peaches, plums, in pots, and that noted grower Thomas Rivers sent some perfect specimens. But there is something that should be contrary to a gardener’s instinct in forcing plants with such very different habits as the hard-wooded ericas, which are stiff shrubs, the graceful, scandent Bougainvillea, and the opulent Allemande all into the same rigid balloon shape. This form is a convenient one to show in, but one hopes that none but trade gardeners may waste beauty in this way. The characteristic habit of a plant should be used to draw with.

Colour should be just as carefully studied as form. Gardeners do not half enough realise the importance of a background, and many people think they dislike certain plants because they have always seen them used in crude and violent combination, such as the too-familiar lobelia-calceolaria combination; but there are few plants which have not their place in some well-planned colour scheme; the wonderful broken pinks and reds of caladiums might be put to far better use than they ever are, and even crotons have a barbaric splendour which one may admire though it is hard to love them.

Gardeners persuade plants to do strange things there was a fiery orange carnation in Shrewsbury and another with the precise combination of soft mode and bright pink which one sees in the young red cabbage. The cabbage is really the more beautiful but there are also many less curious and lovelier development of border carnations and picotees as well as tree carnations Malmaisons for the carnation and its relations are decidedly in fashion and one is glad of it. A yellow arum lily was well shown; it is rather small, but a true self yellow ,much deeper than the so-called yellow sweet pea. Sweet Sultans have been coaxed into beautiful new shades of lilac and yellow while the sweet pea named after the great hybridiser the late Henry Eckford is of a most curious colour that may perhaps be described as “flamingo.” Wonders are done too in shape as well as colour. Begonias are made like camellias, there is a rugosa rose which is fringed like a pink while other roses are like ranunculuses and anemones.

In the vegetable tents carrots are said to have been of record quality. This tent was not so crowded as some of the others but it was delightful to see the enthusiasm of those who were there. One man was lovingly rearranging the French beans in a dish “so as they might look their best; another was gazing at the Spanish onions of a more successful on arrival and sighing as he said “How does he get him without a spec on the skin?” Leeks was a shining or whiteness and the polish on the potato was enhanced by an application of milk followed by a rub with a leather. There is in fact a great deal of art shown in good staging. In this great show there are many items worth noting down, but the things that you find you remember without any notes at all, the things that were really effective, were either cunningly isolated or showed some well-planned design.

One regulation enforced at Shrewsbury one would be glad to see copied at all shows – no smoking is permitted in the tents. In Manchester the scent of the Roses is completely extinguished by the smell of tobacco in various degrees of nastiness.