Wednesday 29th September 1954
From a letter:
|“It is just incredible, I am dazed and dizzy with loveliness. If a place in this
world can be as exquisite as Madeira is this morning, must the other side be
like? It makes me cry to think of. I am sitting out on my own little private
balcony in my dressing gown with a coat around my shoulders having my breakfast
all on my little own. Coffee, toast, rolls, and butter and marmalade.
“I specially ordered a “Breakfast Portugaise” though most of the others seemed
to be ordering eggs and bacon!
“On my right a banana grove in the hotel grounds slopes up almost level with the
balcony, with masses of bunches of fat little green bananas. I tried a banana at
dinner last night. You know how I loathe the big coarse bananas one gets in
England, well you and Aunt Janey were perfectly right: these short little green
fat bananas are as different as chalk from cheese and are perfectly delicious.
“I have a corner room in the annex, facing west and south. The banana grove
slopes up hill to the west ending yards away. There is some sort of small
building with a cascade of mauvey–pink morning glory all over it. To the south
immediately below my balcony is a vine covered walk leading to the main hotel
about 60 – 70 yards away with lawns to the left, and what will be a glimpse of
the sea when the mist has cleared. Also a huge candelabra cactus reminiscent of
that in the Pass of Angostura. The sun is just breaking through the mists; the
air is full of the scream of swifts, and the tap – tap – tap of workmen laying
cobbles. The car horns would take you back, back to wherever they always do – is
it Santiago? Last night the cicada were screaming themselves, and me, quite
silly; but I don’t mind them, it is all part of it.”
After breakfast I set off down the big avenida leading down to the town.
Near the Miramar it crosses a very deep ravine, filled with trees and
vegetation, which we are told is a favourite place for committing suicide. There
are several of these ravines, about four I believe, running through the town
from the mountains behind. The others are smaller than this one and at present
are dry, boulder filled water courses, but at certain times of the year the
water comes down in spate.
was intensely hot walking down, and I kept dodging from one patch of shade
old woman wrapped up in a black shawl begged from me as I passed, my first
experience of what was to become an all too familiar routine.
went first to the Tourismo in the square opposite the Governor’s Palace, and
booked up trips for Friday and Saturday.
on past the cathedral seeking for the Carmo,
the old ancestral townhouse of the Phelps family, of which Aunt Janey Phelps had
told me so much.
I found Largo do Phelps, a square named after Aunt Janey’s eldest sister, my
great aunt Elizabeth, who founded the embroidery industry here in 1858. At the
corner of the square is the Carmo Church, and just beyond is the great old
house. The glory is now sadly departed, as it is all made over into offices
etc. and an open-air cinema is being built in the patio.
Despite that, it was one of
the greatest moments of my life to see the actual house of which I have heard of
so much, and in which the furniture used to stand which I came to know so well
when living with Aunt Janey just after I left school.
English visitors can’t move anywhere in the town without being pestered by touts
and I had a lot of trouble to shake off several who firmly attached themselves
to me, clamouring to show me wine stores, embroidery shops, the market and
anything else they could think of. However I eventually got a taxi back to the
There are quite a lot of busses, but they are such frightful old bone shakers,
all apparently tied together with string, besides being appallingly crowded,
that I avoided them like the plague. I did go in one on about two occasions,
which was quite enough. I was very much struck by the youthfulness of the
conductors. They looked like boys of 14 or 15 and probably were, as education is
at a very low ebb in the island although efforts are being made to raise the
My table companion at meals was a most interesting girl, Diana Cragoe. She had
worked for many years in Madrid and spoke Spanish like a native. She had also
travelled a great deal, so we found plenty of interests in common.
rested during the afternoon as I was frightfully tired with the heat, and my
feet were already blistering from the cobbles.
on Janet Smith came round from the Savoy and invited me round there after
dinner. I introduced Diana, and we arranged to meet. After tea Diana and I
strolled out towards the Lido, but it was so hot that we didn’t get there.
The vegetation was fascinating, vines growing on trellises everywhere and
melons trailing over the roofs of cottages. There were also groves of sugar
cane and of course bananas everywhere.
In the evening Diana and I went round to the Savoy.
It is a far larger and more
dressy place than the Miramar, but looked very pretty in the dark with
illuminations along the terraces and spangling the trees.
about trees look garish and crude in Brighton, but in the warm exotic dark of
Madeira they fit with the atmosphere and are most attractive.