England 40 Years Ago — August 31, 1980

I apologize for last week’s letter which John intimated wasn’t worth reading. I waited until too late at night to start, and we all know what happens to me at night!

We’ve had a good week, and I’m still enjoying the memories of my brother’s visit. Today I served Baked Grits to the Mary and Tony L. They loved the grits, wondered about having the recipe, but backed off when I said we’d had it flown over special delivery! [Susan and Bob brought the grits to us.]

Last Monday John was outside, and I saw him suddenly shade his eyes and look up. He is sure he saw the my brother’s plane go overhead! The time was right, and he said he could identify the Delta tail. That reminds me of when we were waiting for them to arrive, John having already left to go to the airport. Every once in a while Kate would say, “I hear a plane. It must be theirs.” It seemed odd to me, but then I thought that we have often listened for trains in Stony Brook or for the bus, and that is all she was familiar with. So often we are the ones flying and being met.

I’m not sure I mentioned it last week, but it hit home to me how far away all of you are. I had all the linens from the beds of Bob and his family washed, dried, and put away before they could have gotten to Atlanta. And as you might have guessed, one does not hurry the drying here!

[At some point we drove by a field for the game of bowls, which I think was near the shopping area of Reigate. We must have gotten out of the car, judging by the photo I took. I looked up the rules for the game, but there were too many permutations for me to get a clear idea of what we saw.]

Kate and I had a different shopping Tuesday at Co-op. We’d dropped Lisa off for her French lesson, parked and got a sticker, and realized we’d left John’s stroller at home. She agreed to help carry heavy things back to the car, so we set off with me carrying $. On the return I had one heavy bag and $ on my hip, like a bag of potatoes. Gee, come to think of it, he doesn’t weigh much more than a sack of spuds. I should have had an extra bag with me and stuck him in one. Wonder what he would have thought of that.

Wednesday Mr. Wolters, the agent, came here to discuss house business with us, John having taken the day off from work for it. Clewes said, “I hope he’s in a good mood.” Clewes dreads his visits and transmitted a little of that to me. Mr. Wolters is a very meticulous man. Let me describe him. He’s in his 60’s or 70’s, dresses extremely neatly, even wearing an ascot tie over his neck brace. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him! He appeared promptly that day bearing gifts!! He presented each girl with a “sensitive plant”, explaining that he grows them to give away. They are marvelous! They fold up their leaves if you touch them, and even droop on the main branches if you rub the branch. They also go to bed between 6 and 7 at night. That evening the girls checked every few minutes to see if there was something in nature that actually wanted to go to bed so early! They did. I thought the poor plants would be worn out much earlier for all the exercise they got, opening and closing. I was as guilty as they – great fun!

A little later before we did the grand tour of the house, Mr. Walters brought out another gift – a crown coin minted in honor of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday. He had one for each girl and handed me one for $. He said he thought it would be a nice keepsake since they were here in the country when the event took place.

We went over questions we had about the inventory book and discussed some plumbing work. While Mr. Wolters was here, some of the system went on the blink, so he immediately put in a call for a plumber. We also walked around the grounds discussing upkeep of the plants. We all breathed a little easier after he refused the invitation to lunch and left.

That night we went next door for an after-dinner drink to visit with that couple and meet the people in the next house down. We had a pleasant time, and I was just about to suggest we go home when they served coffee and cookies. Then we had to stay longer. The girls stayed home with John $, and Lisa stayed up reading until 11:30. We were home about midnight. Ken C. works for Phillips, as does Peter B. Ken seems to be upper management, while Peter must be much lower. Peter’s wife, Pat, is a teacher in the Priory School. Doris C. doesn’t work.

[I still remember a story Ken told on himself that night. He didn’t know what a big deal Thanksgiving was in the US. He was traveling on business and accepted two invitations for Thanksgiving dinner, one at noon and one that evening. He ate heartily at the first and could hardly bear to put anything on his plate at the second.]

Thursday I took the car for servicing, a much-dreaded job. We were waiting for the plumber, so the girls stayed here while I dropped John off at the station and drove on to take the car. Had to drive almost to Gatwick to get to the place and nearly lost my cool when I found the car they would rent to me was straight shift. The nice fellow must have noted my panic, for he managed to find an automatic for me. Got home before 9, and no plumber. In fact, he never came at all that day! What a nuisance! I could have told him what was wrong – the whole system has arthritis. There is a strange swelling of the joints in a pipe in the cloakroom. When the boy came the next morning, he fixed the problem (restoring water, both hot and cold, to all taps other than the one in the kitchen). Gradually, one by one, the taps had failed the days before until there was cold water, and that only in the kitchen. I’d heated water on the stove for John to shave and $ to take a puddle bath in the kitchen. His solution – to scrape calcium deposits off the holding tank valve in the attic. Now doesn’t it sound like arthritis? Poor old house. [Cold water came directly from the street to the kitchen tap and to that holding tank in the attic. After we had lived there a few weeks, someone told us that birds often fell in holding tanks, and that’s why you shouldn’t drink the water except in the kitchen. That advice was too late. We’d already established the habit of brushing our teeth in our rooms. Another odd fact for Americans – English houses often had a sink in every bedroom. I think there were four or five sinks upstairs in this house.]

[We went to Dover on the English coast during August of 1980. I took a photo of the Roman lighthouse, said to be the oldest building in England. It must be the hexagonal ruin near the middle of the picture.]

Friday John took the girls to London to have them try on their uniforms for school. They had been delivered here, but we thought most of the things too large. The ladies reassured him that bagginess was the fashion! My only comfort is that the girls will grow and perhaps look better in the uniforms.

[This month I used all but three of the photos I took during August of 1980. The last is one of John. I have no idea where he was or why I took the picture.]

Yesterday John bought two carp, two eely things and two water snails to keep the goldfish company. They have been more active ever since.

Today, as I mentioned, Mary and Tony came for dinner after church. What I didn’t mention to you or them was that John was sick. He’d had a sort of stomach virus, thought he was over it, but had one last attack just at the time we were leaving for church. He wouldn’t chance going to church with the nearest loo across the road in the church hall. Of course, he wanted to go to church and also didn’t want to have to admit to the company that he wasn’t entirely well. We didn’t think he would give it to them, so we just blithely announced that he had stayed home with the baby. Luckily for me they had someone coming to their home at 4 because I began to feel green around the gills during coffee. [Going through the COVID-19 pandemic now, I’m horrified that we did not postpone the dinner.]

Served Lemon Rub Pie today, and Mary asked if there were any foreign ingredients before requesting the recipe.

Hope all of you are fine. We certainly do appreciate all the letters.

32 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — August 31, 1980

  1. Things I have never heard of and had to look up: baked grits, lemon rub pie, game of bowls, and sensitive plant. I have heard of grits, lemon chess pie, and lawn bowling of course, but not these terms. I suppose it is like biscuit for cracker and jumper for sweater? I did definitely appreciate all the sinks in the bedrooms in South Africa. 🙂

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    1. Baked grits was a family recipe, and lemon rub pie came from Jackson TN. I looked up bowling in England, and that’s where I found game of bowls. Lawn bowling was probably what English people called the game. Wonder if we have sensitive plants here??

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  2. It’s so interesting reading writing from so long ago, but with comments from today. That plant sounds fascinating. I’ve never heard of anything like that.

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  3. The funny names and ingredients and I laughed at this line: “Served Lemon Rub Pie today, and Mary asked if there were any foreign ingredients before requesting the recipe.” We took a tour to Dover to see the cliffs while in England. You were hitting the highlights of England while still setting in and getting acclimated to your new way of life. I cannot get over the pictures of John you’ve been including in your posts. I would not have recognized him in this picture after seeing the recent pics you regularly post in this blog.

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  4. Baked grits sound lovely. Have not tried it actually. And I laughed when I read you carried the kids like a bag of potatoes. Your aquarium must have been really interesting then with eely things and snails!

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    1. Grits is/are common in Southern states. I grew up with grits; John did not. He eats anything made with grits now.

      We were keeping the aquarium for a neighbor. I don’t remember giving the fish back! Maybe I’ll mention it in a future letter.

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  5. Anne, I’m loving your series of letters from the 1980s here in England… so much familiar! They were right about the school uniform baggy looking being in fashion! 😀 I remember mine well and we all made an effort to stretch it out a little bit more!

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    1. I’m glad now that baggy uniforms were “in”. The girls did not need larger sizes for the second school year.

      I never in my wildest dreams thought the letters from England would ever be read by folks living in England. My fingers are crossed that I won’t step on any toes.

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  6. Love these letters – the details!!!! Omg.
    Re identifying planes, I used to try that too, as where I once had a house, we were directly under the descending flight path. Hard to tell from just the undercarriage, though. 😀
    The game of “bowls” – I recognize it from your great pic. Here it’s called “lawn bowling” and there are a number of enthusiastic lawn bowling clubs, mostly with grey-haired members – of British origin I’m sure!
    Plumbing problems – so annoying! Dover pic – stunning! John – handsome devil! 😀
    Keep ’em coming. How long did you live there again? I forget.

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    1. We moved while we were in England, and the second house had sinks in two bedrooms. We looked at a number of houses to rent, but I can’t remember commenting on sinks at the time. Perhaps multiple sinks are not as common as I thought.

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