England 40 Years Ago – July 6, 1980

I am embarking on a trip down memory lane and invite you to join me. John had a two-year contract to work in London beginning in July of 1980. I plan to publish the letters I wrote then, 40 years after I mailed them back to our relatives in the States. I had the idea when reading the blog A Hundred Years Ago. Click here to see her introduction. Sheryl posted entries from the diary of her grandmother 100 years after they were written. When she finished that material, she began posting recipes from 100 years ago.

July 6, 1980

Tymberlie [the name of our rented house] has hot water restricted! Notice to all potential guests: you have to reserve water ahead of time because the heater is on a timer. However, the device can be overruled. I have visions of being undressed, waiting for the water to warm and realizing I haven’t turned the switch downstairs.

Tymberlie the day we made an offer to rent it

We’ve had a busy week. Monday I decided to bake cookies, despite having only one broken American measuring cup. (Forgot to pack the measuring spoons in the suitcase.) The results were amusing, but edible. I think their flour and baking powder are vastly different. We’re blessed in having one cookie sheet in the kitchen – no pie plates or baking pans. Twice I’ve boiled a whole chicken, but now I’ve acquired a pan and can bake one. Once we had rhubarb downside up pie – stewed the rhubarb and topped it with pastry done on the cookie sheet.

Our kitchen in Tymberlie before we moved in

John stayed home Tuesday waiting for the car to be delivered. It was, and we went to the police station to be registered. John first drove to take the driver to the train station. I don’t know how he felt, but I had to drive John the next morning. What a shaky experience! I wasn’t sure where I was going because everything looked different on the way home with only Kate to hold my hand. John had the advantage of having walked the streets before. In any case, I’m glad the newness has begun to wear off.

I’d barely gotten myself home and my nerves steadied when the doorbell rang. It was Clewes, the gardener. He SAID he loves children, so I let the girls “help” him all day. The girls wanted him to eat lunch with us. Can’t you imagine the level of eyebrows of our high-class neighbors if they knew we’d entertained the gardener for lunch? Not only that, but I had him demonstrate how to make tea.

Thursday John stayed home to bake in the sun. He’s had a heavy cold and had lost his voice the day before. The head of the office over here was worried about him and thought a day off would be in order. John was concerned that sitting in the sun all day would result in his appearing to have been on holiday and mask his miserable head with healthy-looking colour (British spelling). He could have passed for one of the upper class sitting in a deck chair in the garden with his nose in the air.

Miss Kinman, Headmistress

Meanwhile, we girls and John $pencer went to Micklefield School for a look around. We chatted with the headmistress and saw several classes. It was suggested they might come in for a full day nearer the end of term. (School closes 23rd July!) They will not be tested until September, by which time their brains will have atrophied, along with my spelling.

Would you believe there are two (2) mail deliveries a day here? Yes, right to the house – right INTO the house, as a matter of fact. There is a slight rattle at the front door, and junk mail comes flying into the hall! (Junk mail because all our good stuff comes via NY.)

As you’ll see when you come to visit, much of the plumbing is outside the houses here. Not out-houses, just pipes. Several times I’ve heard gurgling noises, run to the window, and seen water from a sink disappearing into drains outside. I can tell when John is showering because his used water comes down, raising steam, in the area where I hang clothes to dry. The washing machine empties outside the back door along with gutter run-off. I can see it now – the house is full of people, all using water in their rooms, the rain is draining off, and the whole house is suddenly spouting water in all directions like a NY fire boat or a big fountain in a public park. We’ll float away in watery glory!

It’s common here to buy appliances without plugs! There are so many variations in European plugs that they’ve given up and just sell things with a wire dangling. You supply and install it yourself! Yesterday we became more American by acquiring a hair dryer, a mixer, and a TV. Now I feel right at home by saying every 10 minutes, “No, you can’t see what’s on right now!”

We went to the Reigate church this morning where there is a boy choir. The nursery for babies was across the street, so we decided to chance it with John $ in church. Now I know why the English frown so at babies in church. $ let loose during the prayers, and the screech echoed from wall to wall. I rushed to the back and couldn’t open the door! I glared at the nearest innocent man and ordered him to open it for me. Could have died on the spot. In a few minutes John brought out the stroller, and I walked that bad baby home. He made NOT ONE SOUND all the way home!

Below is a photo of Lise taken that month. She was 11 years old, and John $ was 9 months.

55 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago – July 6, 1980

  1. Love this trip down memory lane – especially from your perspective! I’m founding out things I didn’t realize then (too caught up in my own adapting to our life abroad).

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  2. I love this idea Anne. I’m looking forward to reading more. When my husband and I first met he was working as a mate on great lakes freighters and was gone for up to three months at a time. Much of our relationship developed through writing letters. We both still have the letters we received from the other. Maybe someday I will compile them into a book.

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  3. I love this. I’ve read Sylvia Plath’s letters home to her mother when she was in England and they were filled with the same issues of adapting. Along with praises for sending her premade baking mixes! Please post more.

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    1. I plan to post the weekly letters over the next two years. Hope people don’t get tired of them. We requested my parents bring us Cheerios, Oreos, and baking powder. Before we moved back, we could buy Cheerios in one supermarket.

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  4. What an incredible experience for you and the children. I love these letters and look forward to reading more. My husband was born and raised in York, England. I met him when he was stationed at a Nato base in Canada when he was in the British Army. When we would visit his family in the UK in the 80s I found it so different.

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  5. I, too, enjoyed a peep into your life in a “foreign” country. And your writing has the same wonderful, happy, descriptive narrative feel. thank you for sharing with us. You were a born writer! I love that.

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  6. I love this! What a wonderful idea to blog these letters. Thank you for sharing them and your family experiences in Europe with us. The letters are treasures and family history for your children.

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    1. I have my history-minded husband to thank. He saved all the letters. I edited them ten years ago for the family, but this time I can look for photos to go with the narrative. It’s lots of fun for me, and I appreciate your coming along for the ride.

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  7. I am especially delighted to be meeting your children back in time. I also love all the details that differentiate life there from the US at the same time. Looking forward to more.

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  8. So fun especially after I remembered loving the originals. Now I must be a decade older than you were when you wrote this, which is also very fun.

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  9. This was a fun post Anne – I will enjoy reading this series of looking back at life in England. When we first moved to the States, there were many things that differed from Canada, among them the brands that were tried and true and my mom began a long process to find equivalent products for baking/cooking. Every time we went back to Toronto, my grandmother would have a supply of those favorite brands in a box waiting for her. One in particular was a lemon-custard powder which she used for lemon pie which she said was more flavorful and tangy than the Jell-o lemon pudding and pie filler – lemon was her favorite pie. We’d also stock up on Habitant French Canadian Split Pea soup and Digestive cookies as well.

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      1. I mentioned the Digestive cookies to a fellow blogger who is from England but now lives in Ireland. She says she buys them with chocolate icing. Looked them up on Amazon and sure enough they sell them. They were sweetmeal – popular in Canada and originated from the UK.

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          1. The word “sweetmeal” is amusing too. In England didn’t they call them “bikkies” for biscuits which was instead of “cookies”. A fellow blogger likes ginger biscuits which I think would be gingersnaps.

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              1. Well we stayed in a bed and board when we visited England and took day trips. It was called “Mrs. Simpson’s Rooming House” and was in Surbiton, Surrey. We were not far from London so caught a taxi to/from there and took a few day trips, like to Dover and another to Canterbury Cathedral. The woman who ran this bread and board was a little odd, but every afternoon when we returned home, she’d greet us with a pot of tea and cups and a plate of “bikkies” … that is what she called them. My mom had a queasy stomach when she smelled grease. Every morning, Mrs. Simpson would make these sausages for the eggs and the grease would permeate the area where we slept.

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                  1. Yes, my mom had a queasy stomach for strong smells – and that was just a problem later in life. Greasy smells did her in. The pork sausages for some reason left a really greasy smell all over the house. She had to go outside for some fresh air. I used to go to the grocery store for freshly baked donuts on a Sunday morning if we weren’t going anywhere. We liked those sour cream crullers. We knew what time they came out of the oven and one time, they must have been cooked in old grease and she got nauseous from smelling them. When I was at the dentist a couple of weeks ago, the dentist was wearing several layers of nitrile gloves. They had a strange smell to them – like fermented grapes. Maybe they were supposed to smell like grape? I remarked on it to him because it never bothered me before, but it did my mom and he remembered her having the problem. Whenever she went for a dental appointment and he used those gloves up by her nose, she felt nauseous. Hadn’t thought of that in years.

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                    1. You know it was strange – it just came on suddenly and my mom blamed it on her last hip replacement (but the trip to England/Germany was years before). It was actually a hip revision (removing the old prosthesis and putting in a new one). It was a very lengthy surgery with some complications. They wanted to give her light sedation due to the lengthy operation, but she could hear them sawing the old prosthesis and banging on the bone with a mallet to dislodge it and only a light sedative with music in the background – she heard everything they were saying. She asked for more sedation so they gave her a heavier dose of anesthesia and she was out cold for the duration and then she was sick after the surgery from the anesthesia and they put her on Tylenol 3 and she couldn’t keep it down. She had had over 40 operations in her lifetime and not ill post-surgery like that. Then suddenly the “smell issue” intensified – and it was more and more things. She associated it with the surgery as she never had it so intensely before. We went to the Toledo Zoo to see the koala exhibit. I don’t like to drive, especially on the expressway, but we got good directions and went and had a nice time, spent the day there and then we got to the hippo exhibit. We got into the hippo house and that beast smelled pretty rank. My mom turned to me and said “I have to get out of here NOW.” It was a little scary having that happen.

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  10. OMG this was so entertaining, Anne! You have a natural bent for capturing details, and – when warranted – describing them to a humourous (Canadian/British spelling) T! This entry was especially relatable to me, since I was in London in 1967 (with brand-new hubby, on honeymoon) and also in Greece in 1971, so I know what it can be like with different (more primitive?!) fittings! This was great!

    BTW, I don’t think i ever saw you mention what John did for a living…

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        1. Trains are a lifelong hobby. He applied for a job with a railroad before we were married, but it didn’t pay enough. John got his start in the maritime industry through his uncle. Uncle Haakon (a Norwegian who married his mother’s sister) recommended him for a job in the mail room of a shipping company. He did that for four summers and after college was offered a job in operations. A year or so later he moved to the chartering department.

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  11. Wow Anne. I am enjoying reading this . We moved continents in 2018. Initial days and the entire process of setting up a home is such a beautiful and memorable experience. I am heading to the other blog posts in this series now.. 🙂

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      1. Oh yes Anne. We did. We had fun discovering the place. We hit the parks and trails whenever we could. Staying in an extended stay place and then finding a house which we instantly fell in love with, buying everything required for a family of 4.. Oh my god. Every day was an adventure. We moved in summer and were thrilled to have such long days. I am sure wherever the kids move to in future, they will remember setting up this house from scratch. They will know that you can begin a new chapter anytime. 🙂

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