GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's London Letter

February 1 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's London Letter

February 1 1947

Beverley Baxter's London Letter

THE CUNARD CO. has been obliging. For £127 I can share a cabin with a male passenger when the Queen Elizabeth sails for New York next week.

The Treasury and the Bank of England have examined my request for U. S. dollars and agreed to allow me so many per day on the condition that my earnings, if any, shall be remitted to Britain in their entirety. The Bank underlined those words so I see no reason why I should not do the same.

The U. S. Embassy has also been obliging.

On my sworn declaration that I am not an anarchist, that 1 have never been insane and that I have no intention of disrupting the American form of government, I am to be allowed to visit the U. S. for a limited time.

To secure a passage in the Queen Elizabeth (you will observe that the English travel in a ship whereas Americans and Canadians travel on a ship) is to acquire momentary prestige like winning a sweepstake. It is said that there is a British waiting list of 40,000 for the two Queens.

Yet I remember a shipping man saying to me in 1940: “The Elizabeth was a mistake.

She’s too late by five years. I am not sure that even the Mary wasn’t too late. Who’s going to spend five days crossing the Atlantic in a ship when they can go to bed in an air liner and breakfast in Montreal or New York next morning?”

I wonder if he backed his judgment and sold his Cunard shares. If so, he has missed a steady postwar rise which recently became a spurt. Shipping shares are booming.

What has happened to the air age which was to burst upon us after the war? Has it paused for a moment to allow for the change-over from war to peace? Is this shipping prosperity no more than a phase created by the scarcity of ships and the multiplicity of passengers? Will the Queen

Elizabeth yet be a costly failure? Probably the answer is that people in a hurry will fly the Atlantic, and people who are not in a hurry will take a liner. Personally I do not want to leave here tonight and breakfast tomorrow in Montreal.

I met a Canadian last night who said that he was flying to Canada this morning and would be in Vancouver tomorrow night. Well if he wants to see

Vancouver that badly, good luck to him, but he won’t see much else en route.

If the clouds allow it he will be able to discern a wrinkled motionless dark blotting paper which is the Atlantic, and when he leaves the prairies he will look down on things like knuckles which will be the Rockies. Although he will have delightful glimpses of cities and towns looking like a toy world. There is exaltation too in the loneliness and the cleanliness of the sky with clouds like snow-capped hills in an arctic waste.

Those of us, however, who are making our first postwar visit to what used to be called the New

World want a little time to orientate our minds, to look back on England and to look forward to North America. Although I frequently crossed the Atlantic between the two wars I am making this voyage with eager curiosity.

I am travelling from Europe with its developing totalitarianism to a continent where free enterprise not only survives but is rampant.

It would be too sharp a contrast to leave Britain today and arrive in New York tomorrow. In five days at sea I shall no doubt get used once more to having bread with soup, for the habits of a lifetime are stronger than those of a few months.

Instead of a waiter at the Savoy saying with a flourish: “You will have soup, yes? Then a nice fillet of plaice and mushrooms on toast to finish. No, sir, you cannot have cheese if you have the mushrooms,” a steward will suggest a melon followed by a dozen oysters, then a minute steak and perhaps a crêpe suzette. I am certain this kind of thing takes getting used to.

Now soup without bread is strangely unsatisfactory, and in England one is always faintly hungry (those who live on rations are hungrier than that), yet indigestion has become almost a forgotten word.

Will we make acquaintance with dyspepsia in the Queen Elizabeth? Perhaps not if we eat carefully until we find our form. But what about the free and well-nourished U.S.? Do Americans still bolt their lunches, and drink so many cocktails before dinner that the palate cannot distinguish between beef and mutton?

There is another phenomenon of British life which is worth scientific study. Everyone was certain the bombing would leave innumerable cases of shattered nerves. Yet there were practically no such cases at all. Bombing inflicted dreadful sufferings but proved to be a stimulant rather than a destroyer of morale.

But the story does not end there. Today the British people are tired, insufficiently nourished, starved of sunshine and worn out by standing in queues. This shows in irritability and a lessening of the courtesy which used to be in full supply. But admitting all that, we never hear of anyone having a nervous breakdown. In fact that is a term which seems to Continued on page 40

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Westward Ho!

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have passed from our language.

Are there any nerves in the U. S. and Canada? I read recently in an American magazine of the large number of young American soldiers who had to be treated for shattered nerves after they had been in battle only a short time. No one can do anything but pay tribute to the bravery of the Americans but the writer was trying to discover what there was in American life which turned so many youths into potential neurotics.

It will be strange to visit countries again where advertising exists with all the vitality and variety that comes from having something to sell to people who want to buy Here in Britain you may read of the merits of a certain brand of whisky but there is not the slightest suggestion that you can buy it.

You get what your wine merchant can spare from his meagre allotment and you remind yourself that whisky, like the rose, does not depend for its attraction upon its name.

Ostentation Out of Style

I have before me this morning’s Daily Express consisting of six pages of eight columns each, making 1056 inches in all. One fifth of the space is allotted to advertisements which are mostly reminders of well-known products. There is not one that urges the reader to buy or suggests that supplies are available

Advertising agents spend their time persuading clients to cut down their advertising appropriation. Advertising managers of newspapers have all become Molotovs who keep on saying “No.” The man who would purchase a

otor car files his application with a

firm and waits for months and even years. When it is delivered he is allowed enough petrol per month to cover 300 miles.

I had hoped to astonish my Canadian friends with a new suit costing, with purchase tax, £35. The tailor had the cloth, 1 happened to have the money, but I was short of coupons. He still has the cloth.

These things may seem trivial but they make up the ihythm of life and I am wondering what it will be like to see shop windows filled with goods that are actually for sale. Will the radio offering Beethoven by the courtesy of Smith’s Liver Pills seem strange after the lethargic dignity of the BBC?

There is a curious numbing quality about existence under a Socialistic government, a quality which is as soothing to some temperaments as it is exasperating to others. There is even a sort of tranquility in shortages, at any rate to people whose homes are established.

There is no longer any question of keeping up with the Joneses. Ostentation is out of fashion as it is impossible, and if we travel abroad for pleasure we can have foreign currency once a year up to £75. “You should visit Scotland and discover the beauty of the Highlands,” says Chancellor Dalton blandly.

One could argue that there is a soothing sanity about all this but unhappily it comes into conflict with human nature ’which is acquisitive, competitive, ambitious. A tired old cab horse still has the instinct to race if another cab horse tries to pass him. The foxhound follows the scent as foxhounds have for a thousand years, and greyhounds will run madly after an electric hare.

Can man, then, lose the urge which made him cross the mountains to search for the treasure hidden in the

rocks? Men will risk death in battle for an inch of ribbon. Industrialists will work like galley slaves to build more factories.

Can we learn to run in the race for which there is no prize and say that the running is all that matters?

It is because of all this that I shall embark as a student who knows that in his coming travels he will not only learn much of other people and other lands, but learn new things about himself. And no doubt I shall set down my impressions and give them to you as I go along.

Back to Canada

Unhappily my American visit is so comprehensive that I shall not be able to do more in Canada than call in at Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. I had wanted so much to visit the Maritimes and meet some of the people who have become friends through the medium of Maclean’s. But perhaps next year I shall do myself that honor

Canada . . . Canada ... It is a country of which everyone speaks well and no man speaks evil. It is a country which has never threatened the safety or well-being of another nation but which has twice played a vital part in saving the world.

It is a country which is twice-blessed in having neither the hereditary rich nor the hereditary poor. I wonder if in its own way the Canadian way of life is not the truest form of democracy the world has seen.

It is 27 years since I sailed from Saint John, N.B., to adventure for a while in London. It is good to be going back to the land of one’s birth even for a few days before returning to the great old sprawling metropolis on the Thames —the mighty Bagdad of the West. +