The Time Travel Diaries of James Urquhart and Elizabeth Bicester – Vol 1, Out of Time.
Copyright © 2015 Bruce Macfarlane
Here is Elizabeth’s description of her first trip on an airplane from my Book, Out of Time.
I stood in a bright white hall, the size of a cathedral. Hundreds of people milled around me. It reminded me of St Pancras on the weekend of the newly introduced Bank Holiday or St. Lubock’s Day as it was popularly referred to by the working classes.
James was rather taken aback by the size of my luggage and blamed Jill quite unfairly in advising what I should take. He was good enough to carry most of it though not without comment.
“Are you sure you have bought enough there, Elizabeth?” Said James lifting my five bags into a cart. I played him.
“No, James, I have left three hat boxes behind as Jill said that you had your limits in this area.”
Poor man did looked suitably shocked.
“Actually I was more worried how Easyjet was going to fit it all in the hold and how many passengers would have to be left behind.”
“A lady requires a lot of effort to be acceptable in polite company.”
“But with your natural looks, Elizabeth, I didn’t know effort was required.” Before I bit he gave a smile that indicated he appreciated how much effort I had put in and proceeded to push my luggage along the hall. In this world compliments to a lady are so different but so much more rewarding.
We passed on our luggage to the female porter at the baggage reception who on regarding my items gave a surprised look similar to James and I’m sure almost took pity on him before she caught my eye. Then we went to the main hall for embarkation. It was almost the size of one of the new London train termini. On one side great windows almost thirty feet square, perfectly transparent and without blemish, allowed a view of the white and coloured sleek birds I had often seen flying high up in the evening sky. I cannot describe their size with their enormous wings swept back waiting in rows but I think the great transatlantic steamers I had seen on occasion at Southampton would compare. Then one began to move. It trundled across the field like a great beast and came to a halt. Then as though briefly surveying its surrounds it unleashed an immense hidden power which caused it to accelerate. I had expected steam or a rocket trail but saw nothing. Faster and faster it went until I became convinced that this great bird would never leave the ground. But just as I had almost given up hope and that it would end in a terrible accident, to my relief its nose lifted towards the sky and it rose from the ground so slowly that I thought it must still crash but up and up it went, until sharply turning, disappeared into the clouds.
I was much concerned that I might not survive travelling at such a speed for I had learnt that planes travel ten times faster than James’ carriage! Would the air keep up? Would we be able to speak or would our voices be left behind? And they fly so high that apparently if one went outside one would either freeze to death or die of asphyxiation for lack of air! I was not reassured by James telling me not to worry as passengers were prohibited from leaving the plane whilst flying. Soon it was our turn. James took me down a tunnel with dozens of other people. Some were with children who I could see were very excited at the prospect of flying, and seemed to view being catapulted into the sky as fun as visiting a Steam Fair. I resolved to be brave as them. But then children always think they are immortal. At the end of the tunnel was a door which I quickly realised was the entrance to our plane. The noise from what I took to be the engines was almost deafening. A uniformed usherette wearing more paint on her face than she probably needed showed us in. The inside of the plane was like a cylindrical tube with dozens of seats with a small passageway between them. Some were already occupied. I held James hand tightly for I was feeling a little claustrophobic.
We found two narrow chairs amongst a group who judging by their accents, manners and beachwear had come from one of the northern industrial towns and had overindulged on a trip to the seaside. Their familiarity was quite trying but thankfully humorous though their compliments towards me were rather direct. When they saw me blush after one rather crude innuendo, one suggested that James should take me for a ‘good night’ in Hartlepool which would ensure that I never blushed again. I looked at James for support who at first reassured me by saying that he had no intention of ever going to Hartlepool with me but then joined in the ‘banter’ by saying he was going to take me for a ‘good night’ in Helmsley instead!
I would seriously advise any other ladies from my time who find themselves stranded in this world to abandon all hope of finding a chivalrous gentleman who would defend her honour.
I asked James if he could afford to move to a first class compartment to which one of the party who overheard replied in their peculiar vernacular.
“You’re already in it, pet.”
At this point I had to laugh for I could now see there was no class at all.
James had sat me next to a porthole through which I could see the outside world. I could feel the noise of the engines and strange mechanical movements below me though I noticed no one was worried. Just as I had almost convinced myself that I would be safe, to my horror one of the uniformed usherettes decided to explain to us what do if we fell out of the sky! Why she wanted to remind us of what I feared the most I do not know. I listened intently but to my surprise she did not dwell on how to arrest a fall but on what to do in the unlikely event that one landed and survived such a disaster. She then pointed to two small doors through which we could escape if such an event occurred. The operation of opening the doors suggested it required a man of herculean strength which looked beyond the powers of the frail gentleman sitting next to them. Then when she produced a small yellow bag and told us it was an aid to buoyancy if we fell in the sea I began to suspect that this was some macabre amusement to test our mettle. This was reinforced by the complete absence of any fear or even, incredibly, any interest in this performance amongst the passengers and led me to the conclusion that either everyone had volunteered for the Suicide Express or such disasters were a rarity.
I looked out of the porthole for distraction and had a weird sensation that the buildings outside were beginning to move! I grabbed James’ hand before I realised rather foolishly that it was us. Lights flashed, bells rang and a sign appeared telling us not to smoke. Why anyone would think of smoking a cigar at this moment and in such a confined space I have no idea. Then James told me to sit back in my seat and ‘relax’ for we were about to ‘take off’. His checking of the strap across my waist did not aid my relaxation. I was conscious that I was squeezing his hand very tight. Suddenly the noise of the engines started to grow louder and louder. I closed my eyes tight. The engines sounded like they would explode. What power is needed to lift into the sky such a gigantic bird? Then we started to move faster and faster. I could not believe the speed. The plane started to shake. I opened my eyes momentarily and saw buildings and planes rushing past. Then the wings changed shape! But before I could say anything an invisible hand pushed me back into the chair. My head pressed against the cushion. I could not move! What incredible force held me? Buildings flashed by. I was almost convinced that we would not lift off the ground and end in a mangled death but then we began to rise leaving the ground. My stomach churned. If someone had told me I was on a charabanc that had shot in the air and detached itself from its moorings I would believe it.
Then, Oh my god! I was leaving the earth! I forced myself to look out the window. The land, the houses, dropped away becoming smaller and smaller. What speed were we going? I looked up and could see clouds then wisps of mist fly past us which grew thicker until we were in a complete fog. How could the driver see for I could see nothing? Suddenly the plane almost turned on its side. There were mechanical noises and the sound of groaning metal. My stomach churned again. Just as I thought we were really going to meet our maker a little earlier than expected, I was floating above the clouds and the invisible force pressing me into my chair abated. I ventured to look out. There was nothing below me save white fleeced clouds scurrying across tiny fields and hedgerows and up above a blue, sunlit sky. I was flying like a bird! Oh, who would imagine such a thing could really happen? I was a wondrous child. What power had been harnessed?
We were floating far above a sea of clouds. An immense calm came over me. I felt we were on a sailing ship or a balloon. Only the occasional tiny silver bird darting across the sky reminded me what speed we were travelling.
The landing of the plane, however, I prefer not to describe for we descended for what seemed an eternity through a thick fog and the only indication that we had returned safely to Mother Earth was an almighty jolt followed by much pitching about which gave me the distinct impression we were all riding a gigantic Wiz Bang set off by a malevolent, demonic child. If this was not enough to make me think about my Maker we suddenly all lurched forward to a stop as though we had hit the buffers at the end of a train station! This was met by spontaneous cheering from the passengers which suggested that falling out of the sky was not as rare as James had implied.
We were the last to leave the plane. The fog enveloped us affording no view through the port hole.
Apparently we had arrived or should I say dropped out of the sky at a place called Durham-Tees Valley. James said its only claim to fame was that it wasn’t in Durham or in a valley.
The usherette waved goodbye and hoped we would come again. I thanked her for her offer though with not much conviction. We walked down a steep portable stair case on to a wide concrete surface. The other passengers must have gone ahead for we found ourselves on our own. Our luggage was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps.
I commented that I was surprised there were no porters to help us,
“That’s weird,” said James, “There’s usual a truck to carry the bags to the terminal. Perhaps there wasn’t room for all yours.”
“Perhaps that’s the price one must pay for not travelling first class.”
Before James could reply I said, “However as no porters are to be found we must carry them ourselves.”
James did his best to carry what I thought was his fair share.
The fog was thick upon the ground. I could not see the other passengers but I could just see a building ahead of us. It looked remarkably like a provincial train station.
As we approached the building I was sure I could smell something familiar to me. I asked James.
“I think it’s the local farmers muck spreading.”
“No, James, something else.” Then I remembered – it was steam, the smell of a steam engine.
We were back in the nineteenth century but in the wrong clothes!
I never thought when I first met James on that cricket field at Hamgreen that it would result in finding myself in a coal yard at the back of a train station in a state of considerable undress with him in a similar state trying to change our clothes. I can only tell you that the thought of being caught by the local constabulary wearing a modern skirt which reached only to my knees spurred me on. Thank God for the fog!
This time travel might sound like a wondrous adventure but one needs to be prepared to abandon all modesty when the need arises.
I was quite surprised how quickly Elizabeth was prepared to remove her clothes when the need arose, though I kept that thought to myself.
End of excerpt