The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 584: The Final Flying Cloud Christmas Special

Bicycle jousting

June 29 was known to the Royal Naval Airship Service as Mayfly Day, anniversary of the flight of the British rigid airship back in 1911. At Cairns Royal Air Station, the officers, crew, passengers, and guests of the Flying Cloud had met on the lawn to celebrate Vickers, Sons, and Maxim's revolutionary achievement, and reflect on their own.

"These past two years have been quite the adventure," Clarice remarked. "It's hard to believe it's all over. I feel like I did as a child on Christmas day."

"Dinki di!" chuckled Emily. "Commodore Michaelson, how did you celebrate Christmas as a child?"

The Commodore glanced at the blonde in surprise, This was not a question he encountered during the usual round of his duties. But he supposed that as a civilian, Miss Wilcox might not be subject to the usual Naval conventions.

"It quite traditional, as you'd expect," he replied kindly. "My family came from a long line of staff officers, so every morning, we children would form up in front of the tree and unwrap our Christmas presents by the numbers. After each gift was opened, we'd record it in our inventories along with a preliminary evaluation report and a Requisition for Play Use -- I used to help my younger brother with that one when he was to excited to complete it himself. Then we'd file all the used wrapping paper by pattern, cross referenced by style and contents."

Emily looked at Michaelson to see if he was serious, then shook her head. "Good on ya'," she said skeptically. "What about you, Captain Everett?"

"I'm afraid our celebration was not as exciting as the Commodore's," the captain admitted. "Christmas itself was reserved for family, but on Boxing Day, the older boys in our neighborhood would all meet for some bicycle jousting."

Clarice and Emily glanced at each other. "Bicycle jousting?" asked Clarice.

"Of course," said Everett. "I'm not entirely sure how this tradition began, but by time I was old enough to participate, it was quite the thing. We wanted to use real spears, but for some reason our parents wouldn't allow this. I never did understand why. Instead, we had to use with coat racks. These might have been more cumbersome than a lance, but they did have some advantages. The base counterbalanced the length of the pole when you couched one for a charge, and all those coat hooks at the top increased your chances of unhorsing your adversary. Or unbicyling him, as the case may be. You could also aim low and go for his spokes, but that was considered unsporting. MacKiernan, I imagine you had the same sport in Ireland?"

"Aye," said MacKiernan. "It was brought to our country by the Duke of Wellington sometime after the Union. In the early years, they used velocipedes. That was fair test of the leg muscles! They switched to penny-farthings in 1870s. That was a time of glory! Many a song's been sung about those old high wheelers and the brave lads who rode them in the lists! But sometime around the turn of the century, they gave those up for modern safety bicycles. That's also when they stopped using shillelaghs and switched to shuffleboard cues. I suppose those were easier on the skull, but I always wondered what it was like in the old days. Abercombie, did you have bicycles in the Highlands?"

"Nae," said the Scotsman. "We spent our Christmas raiding across the Borders. It the old days, my ancestors would rode tae the fray, but when I was youth, we took the train. We'd muster at Aberfeldy, share a cup for luck, then take the 6:15 south on the Inverness and Perth Junction line. With the first first rays of dawn we'd burst from the station, fall on the hapless Southrons, and reive away their kine. Then we'd catch the night train from Glasgow, and be back in time for supper. "

Clarice looked at him. "The night train from Glasgow?" she said dubiously.

"Aye!" said Abecrombie. "They offered a discount for cattle if ye bought your tickets in advance. How did you spend your Christmas, Mister Iverson?"

"I fear that mine was not as exciting as yours," said the lieutenant. "There weren't many cattle in Leicester, so we had to settle for bicycle jousting as well."

"You too?" said Emily.

"one must make do," said Iverson. "Shuffleboard cues were too dear, so we had to use push brooms. Those could be the devil to manage. If you charged with the handle end first, it was herder to hit your target. Broom and first and they were harder to balance. But they did make it easier to clean up the lists after passage at arms."

"Right!" said Clarice. "Sarah, how did your tribe spend the season?"

Sarah smiled. "Our people didn't celebrate Christmas," she said. "The festival was unknown to us. But at the end of the old year, when the Sun was farthest to the south, we held a feast in honor of the Great Squidbat."

Clarice glanced at the island girl. "And who was he? Or she? Or it, as the case may be?"

"He was one of the Great Old Gods who filtered down from stars before the dawn of time, then sank beneath the waves," Sarah replied cheerfully. "Now he dwells in a hidden city under the sea, where he and his Deep Ones make toys and gifts in his sunken workshop. Each year, when the stars are right, he rises again to distribute these to good children everywhere."

Clarice seemed at a loss for words, but Emily was not ready to concede defeat. "Miss Perkins," she asked, "how about you?

The secretary shrugged, as if the answer should have been obvious. "Our family celebrated Christmas in the usual way. Every morning my sisters and I would wake early, rush downstairs, and start searching for the Christmas tree."

"You had to search for the tree," Emily said in disbelief

"Of course," Miss Perkins replied. "There'd be no sport in leaving it out where everyone could find it. There were always some puzzles -- ciphers, locks, mazes, or the like that we'd have to solve to find the clues. My favorite was the time my mother hid it in antiquities section of British Museum, next to the Elgin Marbles. Part of that year's puzzle was finding some way to smuggle it out without getting noticed by the guards."

By now Clarice and Emily were glancing at each other as unsure whether to protest or burst out laughing. Clarice planted her hands on her hips and turned to face Everett.

"Roland!" she said, visibly making an effort to keep a straight face. "Surely you can't all be serious!"

The captain smiled, "I must admit that it's traditional for members of the Royal Navy Airship Service to... elaborate on our stories on Mayfly Day. But stories are important. They're what define us, and what we remember each other by."

All this time, Lieutenant Murdock had been gazing at his superiors in wonder. At last he gathered the nerve to ask a question. "Commodore Michaelson, Captain Everett, Commander MacKiernan, Lieutenant Iverson... you did bicycle jousting too?"

The R-505 at Cairns

It' s been a wonderful twelve years, but now that our heroes (and heroines) in the Royal Navy Airship Service have finally met their foes and triumphed, they need a short break. So, I fear, does their chronicler. Will they return? It's too soon to say, but there will most certainly be more stories in the Bookstore.

I'd like to thank you for following our saga all of these years. I hope that you enjoyed it, and I wish you all the happy Christmas season and the very best year to come!

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