England 40 Years Ago — June 6, 1981

Instead of “very good” when commending someone, you say “well done!” That is used so often in school that the girls have started saying it at home.

Early in the week I met Derek Bedford, the local rector, while I was walking to the village. In talking we got on the subject of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer. Derek says the man lived about five miles from here in Dorking! I looked for a biography on him in the library to see if that would be mentioned, but couldn’t find a book on him. He is one of my favorite composers.

Rescuing damsels in distress in loos is a speciality [specialty in American English] of mine. Philippa locked herself in our upstairs bathroom and couldn’t get the key to turn. She tried the key several times, and I did it several times, and it finally gave way. At least we could pass the key under the door!

This was a big week in our area – the Derby (pronounced Dar-by) was run at Epsom Downs. Mr. Clewes had been telling me for a year, even before we moved to this house, that we should make an effort to go because it is such a colourful affair and so close to home. Paula, John $’s cashier friend in Co op, mentioned wanting to go since it was her day off, but she couldn’t afford the bus fare from Redhill to Epsom. I offered to pick her up after I dropped the children at school, and she jumped at the chance. We walked down a village lane, over rolling hills, and over the grass track. We estimated it to be a two-mile walk on the map. From a distance we saw the grandstands, colourful fair with market stalls, and hordes of people flooding in. We walked into that surging mass of humanity to see gypsies telling fortunes, games of chance, BLUE cotton candy (called candy floss), and blaring carnival rides. John $ looked two ways at once to take it all in. Crowds in the fair area were so thick that cars couldn’t move. Scattered around were booths for placing bets. Until shortly before racing began, cars, buses, vans and lorries were pouring into the huge grassy area in the middle of the “C” shaped track. At noon all seemed intent on their picnics. Some people were dressed in jeans having food from Tupperware, while others a little more formally dressed, had lunch from hampers. I sat down on $’s plastic changing mat in a far area where there were few people and shared a dry sandwich with him. [I took only one photograph that day.]

There were a few small tents erected, but lots of wind shelters – stakes with fabric wrapped around. We had walked by the area where helicopters were bringing in the truly rich – one after another dropped down to the ground, discharged passengers, and flew off for more.

A woman with a camera hanging from her neck thrust a little monkey at $ and asked if I wanted her to take his picture with the monkey. I said no as fast as I could to save the poor animal from $’s clutches. Whew!

I couldn’t stay for any of the races because I had to get the car from its 10,000 mile servicing and the girls from school. I decided the English really know how to do things properly when I saw a man in morning dress (tails) directing traffic. He coaxed one van past another on a one-lane road inch by inch. As smaller cars began moving past after the block was broken, he and two others hopped in a posh car and roared off. They were just intent on getting to the royal box and weren’t to be stopped by a traffic jam.

Paula and I got back here in time to turn on the telly to see the Queen and her mother make their entrance in a royal procession of cars, riding where we had walked earlier! That may be as close as I’ll ever come to the Queen. Paula went to the school with me to get the girls, then we took her to Redhill. We saw a re-run of the race as soon as we got home.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day. I got sunburned on my face and could see colour on John’s arms, but neither of us were in pain.

The current craze here is a puzzle called a Rubic cube. I’m guessing on the spelling because I’ve not seen it written. Lisa spotted one in a gift shop for $10 and was dying to get it. I said it was too expensive. Several days later she said her classmates, who had been to the week-long fair at the race track, claimed the puzzles were on sale for $4. One of the first things I saw walking through the market area on Derby Day were Rubic cubes. I bought one for Lisa, knowing she’d pay me back from her own money. Kate had never seemed to want one. She did when she saw Lisa with hers, and Lisa wouldn’t let her touch it with one finger. I promised to go to the market in Redhill to see if there were one there, because I wasn’t about to walk four miles to the race course to get another. Luck was with me, and I got another for Kate.

Since then, we’ve hardly done anything but work with the silly things. The cube is made of 27 pieces put together with springs and screws so that 9 pieces rotate together. It comes with each side making one block of colour, but with two twists of the wrist it can be jumbled up and is seemingly impossible to put to rights. Kate’s is fairly easy to disassemble, so we did once take it apart and got it back to its original appearance. Numerous people have tried to solve Lisa’s with no success. Any of you soon-to-come visitors have this to look forward to!

Outdoor markets are a feature of English life. I love to walk through them looking at all the things for sale. That day in Redhill I found a coat rack that we’ve not been able to find anywhere else. Didn’t buy it until I could check with John, so will have to go back some Thursday soon. Clothes are most popular. There was even a stall selling greeting cards! Many, but not all, big towns have a market day. Reigate does not, but Epsom has one every Saturday. You can buy pocketbooks, jewellery, fabrics, notions, shoes, candies, carpets, toiletries, housewares, vegetables, fruits, meats and antiques. Prices are low because overhead is nil.

At right is the coat rack in our garage 40 years later. It is holding John’s train jacket and hats. Perhaps it will have a more dignified place in our next home.

$ has another friend at Co-op who is often in charge of the “till” when we check out. She’s taken to letting him sit on her lap and punch the buttons on the register!

Briefly met a woman from Green Lawn, NY, outside school. She’s married to an Englishman, so our girls couldn’t identify her daughter as half-American by her accent. Her last name is Rooney, like Mickey, she said. The girl had told her mother of us and said our town name began with “S”. She thought of Syosset and Smithtown, but not Stony Brook.

David’s Birthday

We began and ended the day with a cake and a candle. Grandson David brought home some cupcakes from work, and this was perfect for the breakfast cake. He didn’t eat it, but it was big enough for one candle and the singing of the birthday song.

As soon as he sat down, he knew that the mailing package held something he really wanted. It came from Aunt Lise, and it was the Set game he was addicted to while she was here. Evidently, it has been available in this country for years, although we had never heard of it. Even though I’m not good at it, I like playing. Neighbor Logan took to it immediately. He will be happy to know David now has it and is eager to play it with him.

After David’s work and taping Sunday’s service at church, we put out the big cake, big being relative. The proper number of candles (26) would not have fit.

Yes, it’s the same candle we used in the morning. I never looked for more in the drawer.

It’s good to take a shot of the crowd to remind me who celebrated that year. We each had an eighth of the cake and finished it the next day.

David, John and John $pencer

Memorial Day 2021

The purpose of the day is to remember those who died protecting our country. Many towns pay tribute to these people by putting out a cross for each one. We liked the display in Waynesville, beside a busy road into the center of town.

Together again! Neighbor Shawn organized our cookout on the street, and we were pleased to mingle freely, wearing no masks. Before Jeff turned on the grill, several people put up Logan’s badminton net. Joyce brought a light-weight game of horse shoes, and someone else provided Corn Hole.

I snapped a few photos to remind me of the lovely day and our wonderful neighbors. We moved the chairs throughout the afternoon to be in or out of the sun, giving us a chance to talk to everyone. We all brought our own hot dogs or hamburgers and something to share. The table was loaded with deviled eggs, spinach dip, pasta salad, potato salad, slaw, and watermelon. We ended with a chocolate cake and a hummingbird cake. The hummingbird cake was gluten-free and included bananas and pineapple – really tasty and refreshing.

Joyce wanted to try playing badminton, and so did I. We hadn’t played since we were young. Before we hit the first birdie, Jeff and Bob joined us. What fun! Bob was on my side of the net, and he was good. He returned serves well and hit things that would have been mine if I’d moved quickly enough. The “J” team, Joyce and Jeff, were hampered by sun in their eyes and a breeze that worked against them. I was relieved when Bob decided to quit. I hadn’t broken a bone, fallen, or tripped, which meant I won my personal game. Shawn, sidelined by recent foot surgery, took a photo of us. I love this shot, showing our mountain playground, the most level area on our street. I’m the one wearing red.

A lighthearted moment was Shawn’s having Ariel perform her trick. The chicken did a fly/hop to get bread from her fingers.

The party officially started at 1 pm, and we moved our chairs and equipment inside at 7:30. What a marvelous gathering it had been!

England 40 Years Ago — May 31, 1981

Our next door neighbors were here for dinner last Monday, a bank holiday. We were rather glad the weather was nasty because none of us could kick ourselves and say we should have gone to such and such on this particular day. That didn’t help all the people committed to going to fetes and fairs.

Vivien began telling me about hedges. The yew hedge is poisonous to cattle and other animals, so you usually find it in house gardens. It is very slow to grow; the one that divides our garden from the theirs in the back is a yew. He said it was planted at the time the house was built to divide the tennis court area from the pleasure garden area. They have the part that was the court – only holes for the poles are left; must have been a grass court. There is a huge beech hedge at the bottom of our garden. The yew is green year round, but the beech loses its leaves. Vivien pointed out that the plants making up that hedge are really trees, not shrubs. Common hedgerows dividing fields are usually hawthorn. The privet hedge is more of a shrub; I can’t remember what that kind looks like.

There is much to be said for rising early. By 7:30 one morning I had cooked breakfast, washed dishes, got clothes out of the washing machine and into the dryer, besides disinfecting all the lower cabinets in the kitchen and disposing of a dead mouse.

A record is about to be set for the number of rainy days in a row. I had hoped to do some outdoor things with the girls while they were off from school for a week, but it rained every day. We did towns instead. By now I think the count is 15 days in a row of rain. The day we went to Epsom to shop, it didn’t rain while we were in the supermarket, but began just as we stowed the food and prepared to wander about the town. John $ is always the driest one (except for one certain area) because the cover for the push chair completely closes him in, having a visored hood with a zip that leaves only his face exposed.

John $ in his pushchair, covered by the blue rain cover. This was taken at a fort on Hadrian’s Wall in 1980.

Catherine had an umbrella, Lisa a raincoat, and Kate a windbreaker that kept all but her head dry. She’d not put up the hood at first, then dumped rain on herself that had collected in the hood. My raincoat got damp all the way through. Wet!

After he put the girls to bed, John picked up the alto recorder he’s had for five years and never touched before. He sat there in front of the instruction book mumbling and grumbling that his fat fingers just wouldn’t work right. Soon Lisa came flying down the stairs saying, “Please stop!! Kate is scared stiff a ghost is trying to play a recorder!” John rolled his eyes heavenward and said, “I haven’t a ghost of a chance.”

The children, Catherine, and I went to Banstead, one of the closest of the towns around here. It’s a nice town – not too old, not too new – with a wonderful variety of shops. I found wooden spoons I’ve been looking for, a book store that had one book I wanted and ordered another. There are scads of news agents, several groceries, two fabric shops, chemists, a baby shop, and a small department store. There are no antique shops! We enjoyed our stroll there.

You know it’s time for a cup of tea when a neighbor brings back your baby after he’s played in a puddle in their garden, having walked out the front door left open by a daughter. Also,

…when the mouse trap is sprung, bait gone and no mouse.

…when a helpful child strips her bed, brings all downstairs to be washed and finds it isn’t the day for her bed.

…when the gardener comes after 11 consecutive days of rain and it rains again with a little hail for good measure.

…when your son is role-playing Daddy by making a fire with soft coal.

…when a daughter sits on her silly putty in her favorite jeans.

…when someone unexpectedly comes in and sees your husband’s shoes left under the dining table.

…when you find your son happily playing with the portable radio and the tape recorder.

…when you’ve sat down to enjoy that tea, cast an admiring glance toward the hedge and notice rain is coming between you and the hedge, remembering you left the push chair out in the sun a few minutes ago. Never a dull moment!

Catherine went with the rest of us to Redhill and Reigate to shop. We went to Co-op, talked with our favorite people there, and went to several places in Reigate. We exchanged our library books and came home.

Philippa (who also answers to Phillie, Phil, and Pips) was in school last week, but has days off this week. Too bad. We’re going to have some of that next year with our girls in different schools.

Yesterday John and Lisa went shopping all over the map. They were at Gatwick checking into renting a luggage rack for our summer trip, in Epsom, and as far away as Croydon and Coulsdon. After lunch we all went on a wild goose chase looking for a coat rack. We were assured this store had many to choose from, got there and found only one rickety bamboo thing put together with staples.

The sun actually shone for a while yesterday, until we started a charcoal fire to cook with, that is. John had set up the equipment out the back door. We started to move it around to the garage and managed to tip over everything. The fire didn’t seem to mind; all the coals cozied up to each other after their airy flight and glowed together. The sausages and hot dogs didn’t suffer from a dust bath and kitchen shower, and it all tasted delicious. There are easier ways of doing things!

Today we went to Westminster Cathedral. It is Catholic, but the service is more like the Lutheran one than the Anglican. The boys and men’s choir sang Ralph Vaughn William’s Mass in G in the appropriate places and two anthems. It was glorious. I was near the front with the girls and was feeling sorry for John having to grapple with $. I had assumed that he didn’t hear much of the service. He was waiting for us inside the church after the service, and we found that he’d walked with John in his arms much of the time, but actually sat down during the sermon. This is progress. He may not behave when it’s my turn, but we’ve made it through one, now.

Traveling is getting easier with the girls, too. Now they can go to the loo by themselves. Kate has always hesitated to go in strange bathrooms unless one of us is with her. Today at Burger King she announced she was going by herself. We wondered why she was taking so long, sent Lisa to find her, and soon saw Lisa hurrying back to report that she’d locked herself in. Sure enough, she was firmly ensconced behind that door, the stall being the kind that went all the way to the floor and the ceiling! I knew I’d have to talk her out or go to the manager. I asked her to try again, heard the lock being rattled, but nothing happened. Told her to wipe her fingers thoroughly on her dress to remove any hamburger grease and try again. No go. Try the other way. Ah! Kate was restored to us!

Walking with Logan and Sadie

First, we have a calm portrait of a walk with John, Logan, and Sadie near the stop sign.

Adding this boy and this dog brought excitement. It was the first day of summer vacation for neighbor Logan (10), and he was FREE! How marvelous it was to share these first heady moments with him! His dancing was explosive.

Logan engineered the fake crisis.

Even a mailbox became a prop for an impromptu limbo.

What pleasure this day brought us!

School is Out!

Neighbor Logan (10) ran over to share his pleasure on the last day of school. He and John played a game or so of checkers before we batted a balloon about. We were active in our armchairs, calling it geriatric exercise. Logan, on the other hand, was all over the place. He was equally at home suspended in the air or lying on the floor to hit the balloon. His exuberance knew no bounds.

He picked up a clothespin and aimed it at his face. I warned that it could hurt, but he had to try it. Does this look like a boy in pain? John suggested he turn his head for the full Pinocchio effect. I called it Pinocchio in a Pinch.

No photo session is complete without a silly face. Forty years ago I would not have taken this shot, because it would have cost money for film and developing it. Thank heavens digital photography set me free!

England 40 Years Ago — May 24, 1981

This has been sick week – nothing bad, just colds. Kate stayed home from school Monday and Lisa, Tuesday.

At the hairdresser’s I heard about the “rag and bone” man. They were saying the man passes with his cart several times a month ringing a bell. He will take such things as cookers, old TV’s and appliances. Some he might repair and resell, others he would sell for scrap. The dustman will take nothing more than normal household rubbish.

I was invited to Jackie F’s for coffee to meet a couple of other Americans. Margaret R’s husband works with the same company as Jackie’s; their son is 21 months with another baby on the way. Also there was a Tennessee girl!!! She grew up in Knoxville. The “e” in her name is long – Marketta S. She thinks the name is Indian, but doesn’t know how her mother came up with it. Marketta’s husband is the national sales manager for Wilson sporting goods. Their children are Erika 7, and Harrison 3. Marketta herself reminds me a little of Eleanor E – tall, thin, lovely long brown hair and brown eyes. Her accent was a little hard to adjust to! It’s been a long time since I’ve met any new Southerners (as opposed to family who sound familiar).

Thursday was a difficult day starting with a crash. I was turning out of our street taking John to the station when a motorcycle flew around the blind corner and hit me. Our car is so long that he was bound to make contact. The young boy hurt his arm, but seemed to think he was OK otherwise. We took him to his home in Tadworth. Later John went with me to Epsom to report the accident to the police. The rules here are to clear the streets after a crash, exchange addresses, and report to the police within 24 hours if there has been any bodily injury. We were all shook up and said very little in the car. When the boy got out, he thanked us for bringing him home!!! The policeman was very kind, but did explain that any time a car is coming out at a junction, the fault lies with that car no matter what happens on the main road.

I went on to drive the girls to school that morning; the only damage to the car is a big dent just before the front wheel that broke the turning indicator. I find I’m not leery of driving except at that junction – now roll down the window and listen before proceeding! So ends a 22-year stretch of no crashes.

I finally saw a sign pointing to the antique market in Reigate. It has been closed because the building it was in is being demolished. It is now in the basement of a chemist shop. There are a few stalls open, but there isn’t nearly the array of things there was before.

As I parked my car in the car park, I saw a little old lady searching the ground. She came up to me to ask me to help her find her keys. They had dropped between the shift stick and bucket seat, and I found them within two minutes. She thanked me profusely and said she hoped someone would help me some time. I said I was glad to be of assistance and could find things easily because that is my main job in life at home.

Catherine (next door) spent the night with Lisa. She’s fun for me to talk to.

John $ was enjoying seeing Kate in the tub having a bath. He suddenly decided she needed the company of her towel, so he dumped it in with her. Grrr!

This morning Kate and I went to church around the corner; John and Lisa are going for Evensong this evening. Tomorrow is a bank holiday, and the neighbors in the other half of our house are coming here for dinner.

Visit Draws to a Close

Daughter Lise’s next-to-the-last day was filled with fun things. She took a video of Jonathan Creek, claiming that the sound is so much better by the water than up on the bank. I liked this photo showing Lise at creek’s edge and shadows of John, Sadie, and me. The real Sadie is also visible.

Lise’s face erased by the sun

We had lunch at a favorite barbecue place, Haywood Smokehouse. Grandson David demonstrated how big his brisket sandwich was.

The rest of the day was pure visiting pleasure. We enjoyed being with neighbor Joyce on her back porch. We talked for hours and drank in her view of the mountains. Her house is next to ours but higher up the hill. Our visit ended with a grand tour of her newly-refurbished shed. We loved the sign on the door that neighbor Holly gave her – She Shed.

The day was ending when we walked toward home. Shawn and Bob were swinging on their front porch, and we couldn’t resist joining them.

When Logan came out, Lise asked if he liked playing a card game her friends play in Denmark – the Set game. David taught him how to play the day before. He was so enthusiastic that she fetched it from our house. He played well, and Shawn caught on faster than I did. I left them battling it out when I went home to heat up David’s supper. The game is now packed to go to Denmark.

Happiness and sadness are so close together at the end of a wonderful visit.

Just Released! Amanda in Malta

An exciting new book, Amanda in Malta, by my friend Darlene Foster has just been released. Instead of a regular book tour, she is having a virtual tour via blog posts. You can participate just by reading this!

Amanda in Malta is the eighth book in the Amanda Travel series. Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents. Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

I asked Darlene about animals in every book in this series, and she replied, “Amanda loves animals, as many young people do. She would love a pet, especially a dog, but her parents say they are too busy to look after a pet. She makes a friend of Ali Baba the camel who she meets in Amanda in Arabia. In Amanda in Spain, she helps a Spanish rescue her dancing pony, Pedro, from horse thieves. In England she meets a Maine Coon cat, Rupert, who lives in a bookstore and in Holland, Amanda and Leah find an abandoned puppy for whom they try to find a home. In Malta, Amanda visits a Falconry and gets to hold Tinkerbell, a sweet tawny owl. Amanda may not have a pet at home, but she meets special animals in her travels.”

My young neighbor Logan (10) enjoyed reading a short story by Darlene that I printed out for him. It was set at Christmas time, which was very appropriate that day.

Following is a list of the books in the Amanda series:

1. Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask
2. Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting
3. Amanda in England: The Missing Novel
4. Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone
5. Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music
6. Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
7. Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action
8. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady

You can buy them at:

Amazon Canada here

Amazon UK here 

Amazon US here

Barnes and Noble here

Chapters/Indigo here

Darlene’s bio:

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories about a young girl who travels to interesting places. Over the years she worked in rewarding jobs such as an employment counselor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, writing whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a house in Spain where she writes full time. When not traveling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she enjoys spending time with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.

See Darlene on her blog at https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/.


I did a stretch with the resistance band Lise gave me a year ago, and it snapped! I stood there for two seconds, looking from one hand to the other in disbelief. I’ve walked sneakers to death, but this was the first time I wore out exercise equipment. My pink friend had been faithful, stretching herself twice a day for my benefit.

The next-heavier band is waiting in the wings, purchased last year for this occasion.

There was only one thing I could think of that would be better than breaking exercise equipment. That would be breaking a bad habit. I don’t feel like nominating one just yet. It’s time to celebrate getting a little stronger.