England 40 Years Ago — January 9, 1981

Sometimes questions are answered before one launches a full-scale investigation. This happened to me about the custom of left-road driving. Kate read it in her reader from school. It said, “During the Middle Ages much of the traveling was done by knights and fighting men. When a group of knights saw other horsemen coming along the highway they could not be sure whether they were friends or enemies. If they were enemies the two groups would fight. Since most men held their swords in their right hands, the travelers liked to meet sword hand to sword hand. A custom grew up of riding on the left of the road, so that the sword hand was free.”

“In America goods were carried in enormous wagons. These wagons had no seat for the driver, who walked beside his horses, guiding them with a whip and a single rein. He used his right hand, so he walked to the left of the horses. When he passed another wagon, his wagon moved to the right of the road so that the drivers stayed in the middle. In this way Americans began keeping to the right of the road instead of the left.”

So much for that. Does anyone know why other Europeans use the right hand side?

We came to the right country for shoes! How I loathe white shoes for babies! They are pristine white only once — before they leave the shop. In England, they have the right idea and don’t even have white shoes. $ was offered a choice of blue, brown or red. Saleslady: “You don’t want brown yet, do you?” We correctly chose blue. They are the cutest things with holes punched near the toes for decoration and buckles to fasten them on. I’d say they’re for girls in the US, but it’s what all the boys wear here. The saleslady exclaimed over $’s narrow foot! All the rest of us have rather wide feet.

Blue shoes for J $pencer

$’s reaction was to stare at the shoes for a while, whimper, and then to sit in the push chair swinging his legs. After we got home, he tried to take them off, then kicked hard on the floor, shrugged and got up to play.

Early this week Kate and I walked to the Meadvale post office to maille the Braille. [I transcribed Lutheran Hour sermons into Braille using a stylus and slate. Postage was free internationally.] We found two new footpaths, one of which would make the steepest hill of Whitford Road seem almost flat. Whew! What a climb!

Lisa has spent much of this week trying to do her project — something like a term paper. I say trying, because she hasn’t really gotten much accomplished. I’ve spent more time trying to push her into a room to do it than she has spent writing. It didn’t help that she insisted on working in the dining room where she could spread things out, and Kate was adamant about playing with her Smurfs in the hatch, of all places! [The hatch was a cabinet with doors opening in the kitchen and the dining room.] It was most disconcerting to reach for a plate or mug and come up with a smirking blue face!

Girls in the hatch. No Smurfs in sight here.

Harold said his feet felt flat on the bottom after miles of walking the pavements of London. Today when Kate tripped and landed heavily on one of her feet smack dab on three of my toes, I thought my foot had been permanently flattened on the top. After this, no one can tell me she’s a shrimp — felt more like a whale.

We have now played the London game which the girls got for Christmas. It’s a tactical game with lots of mischance thrown in, made for tourists and should be sold to travelers before they get here. The board is simply the London underground map! Players have to visit tourist spots, avoiding closed stations and trying to block other players, and return to their starting railway station. At times it is as frustrating as traveling the real thing might be.

We went to the H’s for coffee one evening. They are the parents of Alexander and Marianne and live two doors up the street. I knew Carol had been a stewardess with Pan Am years ago, but didn’t know what Robert did. He is a maize broker and works in London. They have been to Normandy and loaned us some brochures about the area.

Sometimes one asks the right questions of the right person. That night I asked if they would say which pub was the best in Reigate. Robert took a deep breath, seemed to keep himself from rubbing his hands in anticipation, and launched into a description of several. He said he loves going to pubs! He said the best London type is the Red Lion on the round-about on the way to Redhill. The absolute best country pub is on a bad road near Reigate Heath named the Skivington Castle. I was intrigued. Just had to drive out to try to see what it looked like. He was right about the road — it was appallingly awful with huge craters in which you could see whole bricks sticking up. There was no place to turn around. Finally found the pub at the back end of nowhere with one little settlement of houses close by. It was not impressive to look at — appeared to be more of a little club for the neighborhood. How on earth could one do a good business there?

I knew some day it was bound to happen, but not so soon. I mispronounced a French word in front of Lisa, and she simply keeled over laughing. Every time she almost sobered up, she said the word again to fresh gales of laughter. I’ve had this problem all my life of recognizing words on paper and never hearing them pronounced. The funny thing about this one is that I knew it one way on paper (mispronouncing it in my head) and understood it when hearing it and never put the two together! My pride suffered terribly, but it brought knee-slapping mirth to my daughter.

We spotted some tiny Wellingtons for $ and bought them. They are the cutest little red boots I ever saw. He is walking more than crawling right now and will soon need dry feet outside.

I realized today that the birds are singing much more than they were for the past several weeks. I’d say by the sound of them, they think Spring is here. Birds aren’t singing much in the US, are they? I’ve decided both birds and people don’t believe in winter over here. In looking for the date of re-opening of school, I found the term that starts January 13 is called the Spring term! The last one was Fall, and the one after, Summer. They conveniently omit winter!

42 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — January 9, 1981

  1. I noticed the shoes in seeing pictures of Prince George and then Prince Louis, looking like they were wearing the same kind of shoes as Princess Charlotte! I must say the colored shoes make more sense than white. 🙂
    I learned all kinds of things in this post.

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      1. Me either, but then I only found out this was the British style today. I suppose it is not really different from the fisherman’s sandal which looked essentially the same for men or women? But those little blue shoes are so cute!

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  2. I´ve heard several versions of why some countries drive on the left and others on the right. Yours is very interesting and quite probable. I love $ little blue shoes.

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  3. I can’t think of a single toddler photo from the 60s or 70s that didn’t include white shoes! Maybe by the 1980s the US adopted England’s colorful ideas? How fun for you to find red! If only we could eliminate winter here on the east coast on January 9th❄️❄️!

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  4. Anne, I too am baffled why winter term is omitted … although it always sounds more optimistic with the sound of Spring term! Thank you so much for the excellent explanation of the different side of the road for driving! I had not idea for the reasons and this actually makes sense. My mother was still a relatively new driver in Sweden when one midnight they swapped from driving on the left and moved to the right – although the steering was always on the left! Very confusing! All the traffic lights had been prepared in advance and people were so careful in the following weeks there were actually less accidents than usual!

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    1. I remember reading about Sweden’s change. They did it so beautifully. You should have seen us in the mountains of Norway, with John driving an English car. I was cringing near the center line, and he kept saying he couldn’t get any further over without going over the cliff. As you might guess, we didn’t fall off the mountain.

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  5. You might want to check out the Trip Advisor rating today @: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1182810-d1776842-Reviews-Red_Lion-Redhill_Surrey_England.html Mary Agnes on our ventures to Europe, especially England and Ireland always tried to find a local Pub. Usually, it was a soup and 1/2 sandwich. Can not wait till we can once again make the trip across the pond. Be safe our friends. Virtual hugs and Happy New Year to all.

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    1. Wow! I looked at a photo of the outside of the Red Lion, but I don’t remember it. John might. We lived in Reigate, but he took the train to London from Redhill.

      I hope you can travel soon. You have more reason than most to fly over the ocean.

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  6. I found the reasons for driving left or right truly interesting the first time I heard of it. Did we never feel the need to change so we just stuck with it? Also, I felt your pain with the foot fall. Ouch! Just curious: what do your children think of these letters?

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  7. This post has everything, and not by accident. Now, I always thought that Americans started driving on the right out of sheer adolescent perversity– how absurd of me! I suspect at any time Britain had more farmers with horses and carts than knights– but the upper classes called the shots. Fascinating.

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  8. The Braille transcriptions you did was interesting and impressive. I’ll bet it took a long time to transcribe them – what a nice thing you did Anne. White baby boots do get scuffed so easily. I have not watched TV or movies with Brits in them in a very long time, but watched “All Creatures Great and Small” on Sunday night. It was the first hour of the series and I had a tough time deciphering the accents of James (a Scotsman) and the rest of the players, all British.

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