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The Scrivener: Rain Through The Window

... I called the air-hostess, as stewards were then known, and asked her, 'Do you know that this aeroplane is leaking?' She replied, in a most reassuring manner, 'It's a wonder it's flying, never mind leaking!'...

After reading of diarist Samuel Pepys's discomfort on a rainy night at sea, columnist Brian Barratt was prompted to recall damp travel ocassions.

The impressive 80-gun three-decker ship of the British Navy, the Naseby, was about 40 metres (130 feet) long, weighed about 1,230 tons, and had a crew of up to 500. Samuel Pepys was on official Government business aboard this crowded gun-ship, the pride of the fleet, on 2 April 1660 when he wrote in his famous diary:

'After dinner I went in one of the boats with my boy before my Lord, and made shift before night to get my cabin in pretty good order. It is but little, but very convenient, having one window to the sea and another to the deck, and a good bed.'

11 days later, he recorded:

'After that done then to bed, and it being very rainy, and the rain coming upon my bed, I went and lay with John Goods in the great cabin below, the wind being so high that we were faro to lower some of the masts.'

('Faro' looks like a spelling mistake. It is thought that he meant 'fain'.)

Mr Pepys was probably quite accustomed to rain and wind coming through windows, as he frequently travelled by coach. This experience was not quite as cosy and comfortable as we often see depicted in costume dramas on TV. A creaking squeaking wooden vehicle. Wooden wheels battling with bumpy roads and muddy tracks. Lack of springs to prevent jumps and jolts. And no glass in the windows.

Come to think of it, I had a similar experience in the 1940s. My sister's fiancé had bought his first car, an old Austin 7. This was the vehicle which did for the British motor car industry what the Ford Model T did for the USA industry. It was a little black box on wheels. We went for a drive one evening to visit a gamekeeper on a country estate. It could have been Belvoir Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, but after over 65 years my memory fails me on that point. However, I do remember the ride.

The car might have been a two-seater or its rear seat was missing. As a small boy, I was able to squeeze myself onto the wooden plank behind the front seats. That was OK. But there was no glass in the windows, which is a clue to the age of the car. It came from the 1920s.

On a cold and darkening winter night, we drove through wind and rain and I shivered on that wooden seat. Unlike Samuel Pepys, I could not simply move to another room. The reward at the end of the freezing journey was a wonderful meal at the gamekeeper's lodge, in the warm flickering light of the open fire and oil lamps.

And now Lamborghini have released a new supercar which can legally be driven on the road as well as the race-track. It has a 6.5 litre engine with 12 cylinders, and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds. Its top speed is around 200mph, which is about 320 kph.The cost is around US$2.8 million. I think we're supposed to be impressed by all this, but wait: it has no windscreen or windows. Seems to be a vehicle for the rich and ridiculous who don't mind wind and rain. At least the Austin 7 had a glass windscreen.

In the 1960s, I was quite often a passenger on another type of vehicle which was almost in a 'veteran' category. Zambia Airways flew Douglas D-C 3 aircraft, more popularly known as Dakotas. I well remember how, prior to take-off from Ndola airport, the pilot would start one engine and get it revving up for a while, and then go through the same procedure with the other engine. I would peer through the port-hole and watch the wings flapping during this rather scary procedure.

During a flight to Lusaka, we encountered stormy weather. I noticed rain dribbling down from the window next to me. I called the air-hostess, as stewards were then known, and asked her, 'Do you know that this aeroplane is leaking?' She replied, in a most reassuring manner, 'It's a wonder it's flying, never mind leaking!' Oh, those were the days!

Well, thank you for joining me on a ride along the stream of consciousness which started with rain disturbing the good Mr Pepys so long ago.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012.

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