I cannot understand how these people exist without ice

Ralph D. Blumenfeld
Library of Congress

R. D. Blumenfeld is best known for being editor of British tabloid the Daily Express for twenty seven years—a role he took on in 1902. But for the first thirty years he lived in the U.S., and in 1887 was dispatched to England for the first time to report on Queen Victoria’s illustrious Golden Jubilee, which he was covering for the United Press. Blumenfeld chronicled his entire journey in a diary, later published, and the result is an amusing series of entries in which London is viewed through the bemused lens of a visiting American. The following entry, written shortly after he arrived, is a perfect example.

The Diary Entry

Friday, June 24, 1887

After lunch I went for a walk with Sir John Puleston, M.P., in St. James’s Park, which is a most fascinating place. In front of us near Birdcage Walk, about twenty yards away, was a young woman most fashionably dressed. She was leading one of those silly, clipped black poodles, and was mincing her way along when suddenly and most appropriately in Birdcage Walk her bustle, shaped like a birdcage, came rattling down from out of her voluminous skirts. She never deigned to turn, but walked on. Innocently and stupidly in spite of Sir John’s restraining hand, I ran on, picked up the contraption, came upon the owner, and proffered it to her, but she turned on me furiously and said: ‘Not mine!’ and walked on. I shall know better next time.

Came home late after an evening at the Argyll Music Hall in Piccadilly, where I heard a singer poke fun at the German princes who marry into the British Royal Family. Most of the artists appear to make their appeal with songs about “booze” or how they beat “the old woman,” presumably the wife. It was very warm in the theatre. I asked for a long drink of lemonade, which here is called ‘lemon squash.’ The waiter brought it, lukewarm. ‘Will you get me some ice please?’ I asked. ‘Get you what, sir?’ he asked in turn. ‘Ice.’ ‘Why?’ ‘To make this stuff drinkable.’ And then he burst into laughter. ‘We don’t keep it,’ he said indulgently. I cannot understand how these people exist without ice. I have not seen a chip of it since I landed. As for ice cream, they barely know what it is except at expensive restaurants. The poor only get ale and winkles.

Further Reading

R. D. Blumenfeld’s diary, spanning the period from Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee to the start of the First World War, was first published when he was still alive, in 1930, by Windmill Press. That book is now out of print but can be found at the Internet Archive. It’s not all entertaining, but enough of it is to be a worthwhile read.

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