National Geographic : 1935 Aug
GREAT BRITAIN ON PARADE The Eton wall game antedates wide playing fields. The goals consist of a small door and an elm tree at opposite ends of the wall. Since not one goal has been scored in more than 30 years it is no wonder that commentators find funmaking easier than fact-finding about this annual contest be tween eleven King's scholars and an eleven chosen from the Oppidans. Not nose guards, but ear muffs, are worn. They save aristocratic auricles from being scraped off against the wall. The aquatic festival attracts large crowds. The ten boats parade rather than race, but there is always a good chance that at least one straw-hatted crew and its "cox," togged out like a Tom Thumb admiral, will over turn while rising in their seats in mid Thames. Last year the spectators and press photographers had no luck. Every bright ribboned and beflowered straw hat finished the day without a wetting (see page 169). Beside the Thames the Brocas was long considered as an Eton, and hence a male, preserve. But times have changed. Every Sunday in summer this green meadow along the 140-mile Thames-side towpath is a rendezvous for women cyclists in shorts, and scores of swans stretch long necks to beg food of stenographers from the city. Once a year there is an aquatic round-up, called "swan-hopping," or "swan-upping," when the year's cygnets are caught by crews representing the King, the Vintners, and the Dyers. The beaks of the birds are nicked-no marks for the royal swans, two for those of the Vintners, and one for the Dyers. This branding of the mavericks of the swan world is a splashy and turbulent occasion (see page 142). THE HENLEY REGATTA But the choice event of the Thames year is the Henley Regatta, "that garden party in a punt" (see page 172). Over a course a trifle more than a mile and a quarter long sweep speedy waterbugs propelled by the finest of amateur oarsmen. Strict interpretation of what constitutes an amateur has caused individual disappoint ment, but the name of the Royal Regatta remains unsullied, and the water-borne picnic surrounding a rowing race is the Thames' fairest spectacle, celebrated on a day when Anglo-American gatherings are conspicuously cordial-the Fourth of July. When first I knew England, the summer King George was crowned, the Thames af- forded the most aristocratic popular river spectacle I have ever seen. Erect, broad shouldered men stood proudly in their punts, while lovely ladies in chiffons and droopy broad-brimmed hats arranged the tea things or dipped lazy fingers in the cool stream. Not a Thames steamer or noisy motor boat do I remember from those days. Pearls dripped from the punt poles, gay parasols were twirled behind dark eyes. But times have changed. Today the figure tossing the punt pole may be that of a young girl as splendidly alive in her backless bathing suit as was Fayaway in Melville's "Typee." If woman has gained independence, man has achieved no added dignity. Cranking a phonograph in the bottom of one of these punts, a young man let loose upon that romantic river near Clive den the strains of "Parlez-moi d'Amour." THE DERBY A "COUNTY FAIR" The Grand National is pure horse rac ing; the Derby is a county fair. For days before the race, gypsies move in with testi monials brightly painted on their motor coaches, and the various catchpenny de vices of carnival time are set up on the bare heath which on Derby Day will be hidden beneath a million feet. The course, shaped like a horseshoe, inspires an atmosphere of good luck (see page 168). I left London immediately after an early breakfast, but thousands of people were already crossing the racecourse on strips of matting, laid there to protect the path way of the three-year-olds that were to run in the 151st renewal of the Derby stakes. Hundreds of motorbusses, from whose roofs the passengers would later view the races, already lined the rails. "Pearlies" wandered about, gathering funds for hospitals in Lon don's East End, fortune tellers with bor rowed babies graciously accepted the trifling sums which would bring fortune to the giv ers, and tipsters, clad in parti-colored shirts, with racing saddles on the turf beside them as visual evidence that they were "in the know," dealt out envelopes containing the names of different horses, each bound to win. Few are allowed to visit the weighing and dressing rooms at such a time, but a photog rapher manifestly lacks the wherewithal to "fix" a race, and the General Manager, Mr. E. E. Dorling, whose royal day it was, took the time to show me the private dining rooms of the Jockey Club and the royal guests.