England 40 Years Ago — August 10, 1980

The week started out normally enough with Lisa going to her French lesson and Kate shopping with me. When we came home, we put John in the play pen and went back out to bring in the groceries. Kate didn’t realize I didn’t have my keys with me and shut the door. There we three were locked out and could hear 10-month-old John locked in! We walked around the house twice looking for a way to break in; should have tried 7 times and a ram’s horn. Then we noticed our neighbor’s painter up on a high ladder and went for help. He so willingly carried the ladder over, reached through a window we’d left open to open a larger one and just walked right through from the guest room upstairs to the front door. We don’t dare think what we’d have done had the upstairs window not been open!

John C. came home that day fussing about the ineptitude of British stores. There in the department where 150 different shower curtains were sold, the store had no shower rings to hang them with. He came out with one of his good exaggerations, “A store like that wouldn’t last more than 10 or 15 minutes in the U.S.!”

Things were hopping Tuesday as well. Gardener Clewes was here, and the neighbor children came to play tennis. John $ cried a lot that day until I wrote in the book that he cried tears in his ears! Perhaps he didn’t feel so well because Lisa talked about how his tummy was “extended.”

Clewes brought us some tomatoes he’d grown at some other house where he works. You did pronounce that correctly, didn’t you? Toe-mah-toes. That was Wednesday, the day the push chair lost a hind leg. The poor stroller had had a terrific workout with the girls constantly fighting over it and running at break neck speed over roots, up curbs, etc. We must count our blessings that it wasn’t John $ losing a hind leg.

I knew I was grounded until I bought a new stroller; that baby is heavier than a sack of potatoes and much squirmier. We took Lisa to her French lesson, and Kate stayed in the car with $ until I’d gotten a stroller. Luckily I’d seen them in Boots (a drug store chain) and knew just where to go. Returned to the car and immediately put the stroller to work by going to the freezer center. Have I mentioned that there are stores here that sell only frozen goods? I think it’s amazing since there are many homes that still might not even have a refrigerator! Prices are good, as a rule.

Friday I went shopping while the girls were at neighbor Mary Anne’s. Then we all had lunch there. Alex lit the fire in the barbeque grill and cooked the sausages! He’s only 10!! Mary Anne had a friend staying the weekend, and the two girls were having a war with Alex and his friend from Holland who is staying 10 days. They were hiding hair brushes, setting traps with books on top of doors, and soaping tooth brushes. Carol had had it up to her ears. She had me take the girls here while she went to the library, and then all of us except the boys went for a walk on Reigate Heath. It was a lovely walk over rough terrain, and I began to feel sorry for the new stroller. We had a nice time. Saw a windmill converted to a tiny church where there are services once a month in the afternoon. We also saw a gaily painted gypsy caravan parked there. I’ve seen pictures of them and thought it something unusual, but there it was right before my eyes.

How would you think a weekend would work out when it began this way? I had just worked up a good lather of shampoo when I heard pounding feet and this excited statement, “John just threw up in the hall!” It was Saturday morning, and I knew there would be 10 pairs of eyes looking for full plates that night. I sighed, then yelled to the girls to just keep John out of the mess. I was greeted coming out of the steamy mists with a wail, “Lisa used my face cloth to clean it up!’ Well, I’ll set your minds at ease; we had a great weekend. It was spit-up, not throw-up, and the cloth went in the next wash. Before I could begin preparations for the dinner, I heard in the distance a child’s voice in a messy room, AVALANCHE! Crash! Bang! Bump! Roll! I never investigated that one. There was no loss of life because everyone turned up for lunch.

By 5 p.m. we hardly recognized our home. It was a pleasant time to have company late because we simply sat down and reveled in the neatness. It was such a heady feeling we nearly wallowed in it, but wallowing tends to produce a mess, so we restrained ourselves.

John said he invited Sten H-L and his family as a good deed to give them a rest from the rigors of moving. They had been in the country six days, living in a hotel half the time, and spending their days trying to remodel their home and clean up from the previous owners. I couldn’t help feeling a bit smug because we’d been through it and had a chance to recover. We could afford the luxury of feeling sorry for someone else.

I enjoyed talking with them; they had lived in Florida for years and so knew American English. Gunnbjorn (that’s the way it was spelled to me, not a typing error) said she can understand Americans better than the British. The children are going to school right now to learn English and were not willing to talk, though they seemed to understand much that was said. Helena, 13, has a mouth full of braces. They were told in Norway that England had great orthodontia; we were told that orthodontia was still in the dark ages and don’t dare let an Englishman get hold of Lisa. Wonder what the real story is? The boy Lisa’s age never uttered a sound. I presume he can talk Norwegian. Heidi was cute enough not to need to talk; she’s Kate’s age. After dinner they all played upstairs with the Fischer Price toys until 11 p.m.

I got tickled at the Norwegian views of the British ways of doing things. I presumed that since they are close geographically, they would be close in customs. Not so. They think the workmen are sloppy as well as slow. They were horrified at the tiny milk bottles.

Food is fun here. This week I noticed we had tuna from the Solomon Islands, peaches from South Africa, toilet paper from Finland, pears from France, oranges from the U.S., matches from Sweden, grapefruit drink from Germany, bay leaves from Turkey, and porridge oats from Scotland.

John $ was bad in the creche today. Screamed. Kate calls it the CRUSH, and I imagine that’s what the keeper thought of it today.

This afternoon we drove almost 60 miles to ride a steam train. $ enjoyed the ride and only had the heebe-jeebes when the steam hissed. He kicked his legs and snuggled in tight but did not cry! Kate, at that age, would have been hysterical. Today she just kept her hands over her ears.

John $ and John riding the Mid Hants Railroad

That’s enough of my meandering (me Anne dering). Hope all of you are fine.

41 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — August 10, 1980

  1. So glad John $ survived being left in the house alone! Maybe if the painter wouldn’t have been nearby with a ladder, you could have tried walking around the house 7 times and a ram’s horn. Worked for Joshua!


  2. Sounds wonderful. It makes me wish I had kept a diary over the years (I had no one to write letters to so that wouldn’t have been an option) but letters to myself would have sufficed. Loved the photo as well. And the part about tuna from the Solomon Islands was my favorite!


  3. A lovely glimpse into what was. I like the photo of your boys on the train. I do wonder how you could sell shower curtains without selling rings to hang them with. No Bed Bath & Beyond back then.


  4. I was intrigued by the frozen food store. When I was a kid the grocery store had frozen lockers that we kept our meat in. I guess lots of people didn’t have any more room than for that little metal ice cube tray. We didn’t.


  5. I sure would not have recognized John C in this picture. 🙂 I am wondering if John $ follows your blog or you’ve shared these letters with him? He’ll be apologizing for all his mischief and crying for sure. Lisa was studying French – was living abroad those few years which has prompted her to enjoy traveling and live overseas now?


    1. $ reads some of the things I write. I find it better not to quiz my children. Once in a while one of them will comment.

      I’d say Lise’s experience in England was a turning point in her life. It helped her skip a year of high school. She took German in college and later lived in both France and Germany. She met her husband in Germany. He was from Iran, and she learned Farsi so she could communicate with his parents. After they divorced, she moved to Denmark. I’m not sure when the travel big bit her — quite a while ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good idea not to quiz your children. 🙂

        That was a good experience to live abroad – the good experience may have contributed to Lise’s wanderlust. It is good to know multiple languages – Lise is a smart cookie for doing this. All my years of French in Canada and college has never been used. My father was German and my mother always said he should have taught me German.


          1. Anne – I don’t think I could understand anything in French anymore and that makes me sad as I took four years of it in college! Plus I had it as a required class in Canada for three or four years in grade school But I have not had any French classes since I graduated Wayne State in 1978. The first two years in college we learned French from studying the book and memorizing various dialogue and vocabulary words associated with each dialogue and had to learn word conjugations. So, although I had a wonderful teacher whom I kept in touch with for years afterward with a Christmas card as she liked to travel (as did I at the time), it was basically textbook work and memorization from Ms. Chrobak and taking tests. The last two years of college was more difficult and the last year I had the same professor who did not use a book – we were not allowed to speak English, and wrote book reports, movie reviews and gave speeches on various topics, all in French. So, you would think I would have retained the ability to converse … no I did not. I have through the years picked up a novel and the characters were in France or it had French words or food and I could pick that up, but what a waste of schooling really. Also, I could never trill my Rs. So I never sounded too authentic. I wonder if I was to learn French, just how much I’d remember after all these decades?


  6. “There was no loss of life because everyone turned up for lunch.”-Your sense of humor was present even in the chaos of raising kids in a foreign country, navigating new friendships, etc. How wonderful that you had such a light-hearted spirit with all the change and new experiences.


    1. John worked for a shipping company that moved from Manhattan to London. They took a number of Americans to help get the company settled over there. He had a two-year contract, which was wonderful for us. They paid to move us over and back and subsidized our housing and car. The girls went to an English school. One was determined not to pick up the accent, but the other came back to the US with a natural English accent. She lost it within two weeks of going back to school here.


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