England 40 Years Ago — July 13, 1980

Talked to a fellow in church today who has an American wife. They are aware of weather in the States, and they say they (we here, I mean) get a watered-down version of your left-over weather borne on the Gulf stream. It’s watered-down because everything is so damp here. If it gets hot here, I’ll know who to blame!

One day last week the neighbor on the tennis side of our house came over to welcome us to the neighborhood! (Tennis side means the side Lisa keeps hitting wild balls over the fence toward.) The people had been away when we first came, so after ringing the bell each time, I had her climb over the locked garden gate. She hated doing it, but we have only the three balls we brought over on the plane. If we hadn’t retrieved them, we’d be buying our fourth can of balls by now. The people returned, Lisa shot one over, and we shouted to the man mowing the lawn. He threw the ball back and promised he’d return any he found because they’ve done so for years. He couldn’t hear well, so I didn’t explain what we’d done. I meant to confess to the lady, but I just couldn’t. Ugh! Embarrassing.

She wanted to get our names straight, so just came right out and asked. Then she went on to tell us their names – Sheena and Aubrey. Said Sheena is a Scottish name. She asked where the children were going to school and what kind of business John is in. I haven’t seen her since, so don’t know if we passed examination or not. She did vaguely wave her hands around explaining there was a lady doctor in residence cross the street, and further down, the chairman of Tate and Lyle (sugar). Aubrey was in insurance – Lloyds – and is now retired.

We went to the library Tuesday and were able to bring books home that day. Their system seems odd. For each person they write out three slips of paper. If you have three books out, those slips remain in the library. If you take two books, then you must take one slip home. They simply stamp the due date in the book and have no record of what book you have. Books are due in three weeks and are renewable by phone twice. Fines are 1p per book per day for children’s books and 5p for adults.

On cool days, even the gardener comes dressed in jacket and tie!! Our weather has been wonderful for weeds – so rainy. Clewes came twice this week when I least expected him. When it was raining instead of sprinkling, he and the girls ducked into the shed. He sent Lisa in to ask if I had an old mackintosh in the house. I was tempted to tell him the only old thing we brought was ME!! Lisa had the idea of cutting head and arm holes in a trash can liner, so there was our man out working in jacket and tie and garbage bag! [Clewes asked that I not take his photograph, and that is the reason I have no image of him.]

The dishwasher engineer (repair man) came and kept shaking his head over the machine here, calling it an antique. Said they don’t make anything like that any more. The only thing not ancient was the bill he rendered which had to be paid on the spot. I was able to scrounge the 50 pounds since John had given me grocery money. Whew!

We went to Clewes’ favorite grocery store in town. He hadn’t warned us it was so tiny – just a U-turn around two chickens and 24 hamburgers! Everyone politely glared at us for clogging up THE aisle. We squeezed ourselves out, took a deep breath, and walked down to a bakery. Later as we piled our purchases in the car, we realized John’s little rattle bear was gone. Lisa offered to retrace our steps since the parking time had run out. She returned 10 – 15 minutes later, having spotted it on a bench. Someone must have found it on the sidewalk and set it up to look for its owner. We were so happy to find it because we all like it so much. Below are three views of Reigate High Street, taken while we were house-hunting.

There is a tennis ball scavenger living with us. The girls won’t play together – the taller looks down her nose at the shorter. Result – I have to play every nice day. (People could blame me for wanting bad weather.) Taller takes every opportunity to keep a ball in play, thus preventing shorter from taking up time. Shorter quickly learned the only way she gets to play is to hoard all the balls. She scurries along the net like a rat, scooping up balls before lazy taller has a chance at them.

John $ is fine – always as wet as all outdoors (in England that’s WET!) Somehow he has inherited impatience where food is concerned. He can cry between mouthfuls that would choke an 8-year-old. Yesterday we outwitted him by feeding him in relays – Lisa would shovel in one mouthful and I another. We got a pretty good rhythm going. Should be good practice for stoking a steam engine with coal!

Yesterday at a company party I proudly proclaimed that for the first time I got everything on my grocery list the previous day. John J. said, “That’s just what Tina said after she’d altered her list several times.”

There was a huge party at the CEO’s mansion for many in the company. I don’t know how many were serving the buffet for the adults, but there were two girls hired to entertain the children. I talked to all kinds of people and usually had no idea who they were or how important. Afterwards I was telling John about some lady who talked of having lived in Hong Kong and the U.S. He said, “Wow! You really hobnobbed with the rich!” She claimed learning Chinese was easy – that with a 1,000-word vocabulary you could be at ease anywhere.

In that mob scene it was nice to see a few familiar faces. We met our closest neighbors, company wise, Norwegians who live in walking distance. The wife won’t try to drive yet, so I’ll probably pick them up when we’re all going to London on the train for a party in the office. I do hope I’ll be able to understand her. There were so many people milling about that we just nodded and smiled at each other yesterday. An hour of nodding and smiling on the train could be awful!

Today we left $ in the creche (nursery). They’re smart at that church in Reigate – put all the noise in a building across the road from the church. The man who preached today lives on our street! He works in missions or some off-shoot of church relations. Several people came to greet us and found his wife to talk with us. She said she’d try to see us this week because they’re leaving in a few days to be gone until September.

As we were leaving church, Mary and Tony invited us for lunch after church next Sunday!! We accepted with alacrity. While we were eating dinner, the phone rang, and we were invited for lunch with another couple next Saturday!!! Can you believe it? That’s friendlier than any town in America!! We have a problem, though. We don’t know their names! How on earth are we going to bluff that one? Oh – Max is the husband’s first name. Their daughter is married to a minister who is now in South Dakota.

Cooking continues to be full of surprises. I tried something called Butterscotch Brownies using only ingredients I happened to have on hand and one too-large pan. It turned out more like almond macaroons by taste. And the Jell-o! Makes you giggle just to look at it! It’s called “jelly” on the box. Inside is a plastic packet filled with semi-solid goo. You’ll have to see it to appreciate it.

If your eyes have lasted this long, take heart – I’m signing off. Won’t you be glad when my typewriter comes?

51 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — July 13, 1980

  1. So much history here. Lise when she was Lise, etc. Love the grocery store story. Mr. Clewes taught me to waltz. I’ll forever be grateful.

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  2. Love that the nursery was across the road from the church. The first thing we did when we moved across the country was join a church. That way we had immediate connections, as did you.

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  3. The gardener in a jacket, tie and garbage bag!😄It’s only the second letter and I’m smiling while reading and envisioning how many marvelous and unique experiences you are sharing. Priceless!

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  4. You letters are delightful Anne. I almost feel like I was there. The “tennis side” of the house, keeping dry by wearing a garbage bag, and you grocery store experience all made me smile.

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    1. I’ve forgotten what you call a person who comes from Manchester. Anyway, we had a native stay with us here in NC two or three times. We often needed a translator to interpret his English. We never understood him if he talked at normal speed.

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  5. The letters are wonderful. It’s fun to read about your days in England 40 years ago. It makes me realize how much smaller the world has gotten in recent years – and how we now can have phone calls and video calls that don’t cost anything almost anywhere in the world.

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  6. This is fun reading and I realize that going on a visit to England for one week and living there two years is something to be admired for your adaptability. I may have been adaptable as a much younger woman, but as time has gone on, not so much. I went to Germany with my father at age 13 – my mom stayed home with my grandmother and did not travel with us. I came home with something odd in my suitcase – several samples of the toilet paper which a dark pink and had the consistency of the rough paper towels like one finds in dispensers in office buildings or a public bathroom (or used to anyway – I try not to use one if I can help it). Well the prim and proper Brits earn that moniker respectfully when I read about the gardener. My mom wrote her good friend and her mom when we first moved here but in later years, called every Wednesday night to my grandmother once the rates were cheaper (after 7:00 p.m.). Letter writing was more the norm, and I don’t recall if she wrote them in longhand or used her old Royal portable typewriter that I eventually used for school back in the early 70s.

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      1. Yes, but it’s been years since I wrote a letter. I used to correspond with some of my mom’s friends at Christmastime after she passed away. They never wrote back though and kind of dropped off the map and one passed away last year, so no more letters for me. I rarely write anything anymore, save addressing an envelope or writing the occasional check.

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  7. Anne, I had to do a double-take as I saw the photo of the tennis court – it looked exactly like the one in our park when I was young in the 80s. Haha … I’m laughing at your daughter climbing the gate to retrieve the ball – well done to her. It’s been lovely to read the writings of your time here in the UK – are these just the way you wrote them in 1980. Very well written, immediate and paints a vivid image of your life here and some of its characters.

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    1. Thank you, Annika. That’s amusing that the tennis court looked like one you knew. Generally, I wrote one letter a week that John’s secretary in New York copied and mailed to our mothers. I am dropping last names, but for the most part, the letters are just as I wrote them 40 years ago. I never tire of telling people that those years in England were two of the very best years of my life. English people were delightful — helpful, kind, friendly, supportive, and amazingly outgoing and accepting of us. One of them, the same age as daughter Kate, has seen the letters on Facebook and commented on one. She won’t appear in the narrative until next year. Thank you for reading and commenting. I pray there will be nothing to offend you.

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  8. $50?!!! Quite a bill for 1980!
    I love that you and your daughter were ‘stoking coal’ in a relay, into baby John $’s mouth! I LOL’d!
    I would’ve *never* remembered everyone’s names! But how fabulous the way they all welcomed you, so very friendly!! So nice!

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      1. Ha – I get it. Reminds me of the time in my young marriage when I ordered BBQ from a restaurant for the first time. The order was $10. I had no idea what to tip the guy. This was about 1969. I have him a dime! He looked at the lonely coin in his palm and then put it back in my hand… thinking, I suppose, “Here, you must need it more than I do!”

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