England 40 Years Ago — July 20, 1980

[If you saw the original letter] I’m sure you can tell at first glance that our possessions arrived from the US. I found the typewriter, but not the proper paper or magic eraser gop from Loraine [John’s secretary in New York]. I’ll be eager to see if more replies come now that you can read the weekly epistle. Meanwhile, thank you to the regular correspondents who have been so faithful.

Sanctuary of St. Mary’s, Reigate

John doesn’t have better hours at work, but we do see more of him because the commute has been halved [compared to travel time in NY]. The weather has been cool and rainy. We’ve had the heat on low most days since we arrived. I think it is two or three miles to the railroad station. John $ has adjusted beautifully. The girls have done well, being forced to play together. There is a girl across the street Lisa’s age, but she is still in school. Her holidays begin Thursday. The church is large and full! We had to sit in chairs in the aisle today.

History has been made! Never before has our household received a letter from each grandfather!! In the same week, that is. I appreciate all your efforts to help me with my spelling, or lack thereof, but it’s hopeless. Just laugh and go on reading.

So far the weekly letter is going via New York, and our ally there is the one who copies it and sends it on. Eight or nine cheers for Loraine!! That’s about how many copies there are. [I thought there were only two copies being made!]

Loraine with $ at our house three months before we moved to England

Mary H. came by Monday. Her husband had preached at church the day before, and we were introduced because they live on our street. She is so nice. She asked if I’d had trouble finding anything, and I said cocoa. She had it on her list, too, found some and bought me a tin of it, delivering it on Tuesday. At Mary’s prompting Vera P., a widow, and Gillian H. across the street (with the girl Lisa’s age) also knocked to introduce themselves.

Wednesday I picked up Anne-Marie N. and her three children to go to the train station, because she won’t drive here yet. We went to Victoria station, were met by our husbands and walked to the office for an official welcoming party. $ was marvelous. He loved his first train ride so much that he just sat on my lap, almost motionless. He loved the bits of rich tidbits we kept his mouth stuffed with. The girls were with the other children at a conjuring show (do you know what the translation for that is?) and were given T-shirts with the company flag on it saying, “I’m a Golar Girl.” They had ordered a tiny boy one for $, but he must grow a bit to fit it.

Thursday our things came from the States. John took the day off to direct operations. First three men came in a small van, and then the container came. The driver did not unload anything other than himself, but slept in the cab much of the time. They came after 9, left before 12, and their office girl called to say they wouldn’t be here until after 1. When John told her they were already here, she asked if it was the right shipment. Confidence builder. The movers were very nice, even moving some of the more hideous pieces of furniture into the attic to make room for our junk. They also offered to unpack all or part of the cartons.

I’m trying to think what one thing was most welcomed. We feel more at home with all our books, records and art. Still, I didn’t hug them as I did the pencil sharpener. Funny what you can appreciate when you’ve done without! Three weeks without coffee certainly sharpens your taste for that first sip! I looked through about six boxes for two days to find all the parts of the simple drip coffee maker. John exclaimed over big glasses for drinking iced tea. Kate was thrilled to get her game, “Drive Yourself Crazy.” I just asked Lisa, and she couldn’t think of anything. John replied to the query saying he was so relieved to see that van pulling in that he couldn’t pick out any one thing he was over-joyed to see.

Lisa has had two French lessons. Likes it. [The school asked that Lise be tutored, because her class had already had a year or so of French. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had a gift for languages. She now is comfortable speaking English, French, German, Danish, and Farsi.]

Yesterday we went to lunch with Renee (pronounced Reeny) and Max A. whom we’d met at church. They lived for years and years in East Africa until he retired from Barclay’s Bank and now is a grammar school bursar. Their four children grew up there and in boarding schools in England. All four children, three of them girls, were married within 18 months! They now have five grandchildren under the age of 2 ½ and expect two more shortly. They were so understanding of our children. The girls were urged to explore the lovely house, and John $ used the nursery. She served lamb which I was able to swallow, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, fruit salad for dessert, coffee in the living room, tea later with ginger cakes and Swiss tarts.

Today we went home from church with Mary and Tony L. who have Helen, 15, and Peter, almost 13. He is an electrical engineer with Philips and went to Cambridge. She served turkey from the U.S., stuffing with bacon, bread sauce with a pleasant onion flavor, peas and broad beans [new to us], potatoes, and for dessert a choice of summer pudding, lemon meringue pie, or ice cream. Coffee followed in the living room. In both homes the meat was on the plates when we sat down and the vegetables passed around. Both places have electric kettles.

One lady uses scales for accurate measurements, and the other swears by a gizmo that has lots of measurements marked on it. Both are excellent cooks!

Would you like a description of our marvelous washing machine? It sits, ostracized, in a little room by itself. No wonder; it’s been naughty. It whirs, sighs, and sometimes tries to giggle, but usually gurgles. Being a front loader, it shows what is going on inside, but not what it is thinking. It tumbles one way for a few seconds, pauses to do nothing for longer than it does something, then changes its mind and goes the other way. I think it does one wash and four rinses; all I really know is that it takes one to one and a half hours for one load. [In the States, my machine never took more than half an hour to wash a load.] I take it easy on Sunday and do only two loads; two to three is the norm for other days. Today the drain got clogged, so the floor got an unexpected baptism. (Cross between Baptist and Presbyterian because it was more than a sprinkling and less than a dunking.) At the end of all this violent activity the machine sits smirking and absolutely refuses to give up the clothes nicely. Since the first day I wrestled with it, I’ve used a CAN OPENER to pry it open. Hope it hurts!

Then comes the fun of drying, or what passes for the exercise of drying. First, the clothes start out in the glassed over area beside the house hung neatly on the single line. If it fails there, it is brought in to the rack over the kitchen table and in danger of flying food. Third station is a rack in front of the water heater. Last try is for it to be stuffed in and around radiators. When the heat is on, things dry, only to be moved into drawers where they promptly feel damp again. It really isn’t bad; I’m just trying to make a good story. I think you can understand, though, that if good Catholics can give up meat on Fridays, our family should be able to give up clothes one day a week!

Parking was a source of frustration at first, but now, it too, is a joke. Being used to awful-looking parking lots in front of every store in the States, I didn’t like the idea of central parking with all the walking and lugging of things. What I didn’t realize is that there are nice little car parks tucked away in all sorts of places. Instead of meters there is a machine mounted in the center of the lot for everyone to use. You turn a knob to choose one hour or three, put in money, and sometimes get a ticket with the date and time stamped on it. This you are to peel the backing from and stick on the inside of the windscreen to show what time you paid. Just as often as the things work, they don’t work. The time I paid for 16 hours of parking near the railway station, I got a ticket, but nothing was printed on it. So far no five pound fine for us.

There are so many things one doesn’t think of when settling in a new place. For instance, we didn’t buy soap on that first frenzied swoop through the grocery. There are 7 (seven!) sinks in this house! There are 8 locks to check before going out. Also, there are all the thunks you have to learn – thunks being the amount of push it takes to make the refrigerator door shut fully, etc. So far the car doors take the most energy. Then there are the things you’d have to grapple with anywhere such as changing a very wet baby. John $ doesn’t LIKE to be changed, nor does he LIKE dirty pants. I wish he’d make up his mind. The nappy flip is the time you realize a different end is up from the time you started. You see, he really prefers to be changed bottom up. I’m getting better at it, but it is still hard to snap up 10 snaps on a stretch suit while he’s lying on it and pretending to swim the English channel.

That’s enough for now. All around me bodies are trudging off to bed.

37 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — July 20, 1980

  1. I love your description of the washer and drying the clothes. When i think about the antique wash board that I have in my laundry room I think I would probably make those same noises if I had to wash clothes with that. When I was in grade school in the early ’70’s I had a penpal from England. That was my first letter writing. I still remember her name and can remember what she looked like from the photo she sent me. I also have two coins she sent me one is 10 pence the other is 50 pence.

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    1. That is exciting that you remember your penpal from school days.

      Wash board — I remember a wash board being used at my grandmother’s house! It was a heavy job. I hadn’t thought about it until now. There was no laundry room in her house! A laundromat opened within walking distance, and that was where she washed her clothes in later years.

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  2. This is such an entertaining letter. We have front-loading washers here in Spain too. I really don’t like them. I always forget something and once the wash is started, you can’t open it up and add anything. It is also very noisy and sometimes goes walk-about. It sounds like you made some nice friends.

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  3. Oh, my, this had me laughing. I was out of my element for the most part in my one trip to London, but it was similar while I was in South Africa due to the holdovers from the British colonialism. I–fortunately–did not have to do my trip with baby in tow!

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  4. Your letters are like time machines! Imagine typing a letter without spell check. I would be doomed!!! I loved your comment about the lamb: “I could swallow it”. Ha!

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  5. jSuch fun reading about your time in England, You have such a flare for writing! I love the part about the water collection around your washing maching!

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  6. I remember receiving your letters when you were in the UK. Love reading them again. Thanks so much for sharing. Miss y’all!💜🥰💚

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        1. I’m so sorry, Suki. I don’t remember meeting cats in England. Most people, if they had any animal at all, had a dog. I wouldn’t be surprised if cats there had a marvelous accent.

          There was a cat/dog flap in our side door in the first house we lived in. I remember it vividly, because baby John $ tried to crawl through it. We emphatically did not have a cat door in NY, because raccoons would have come in. I was the door keeper for our cats. And yes, they thanked me.

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  7. How fun you have captured all these happenings and changes in your lives and now can look back with a fondness and a little lightheartedness as well. Do you marvel how you were able to adapt when you were there?

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  8. Laughing, and still grinning! Oh Anne, you’re a marvelous writer, especially with description and humour! Everything was so relatable; especially funny was your description of the washing-and-drying-clothes chore. Stirred up some memories of mine from 1971 when we lived in Greece for 3.5 a few months, no fridge, no oven, no washer dryer; sent out laundry including diapers, except when we were almost out of money, at which point i washed everything in the bathtub! You had what, 7 sinks?? We had two – one in bathroom and one in kitchen – for 5 adults and 3 children. Don’t ask! Kali spera! (Good evening/night!) When I came home I kissed all my appliances! 😀

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