England 40 Years Ago — June 6, 1981

Instead of “very good” when commending someone, you say “well done!” That is used so often in school that the girls have started saying it at home.

Early in the week I met Derek Bedford, the local rector, while I was walking to the village. In talking we got on the subject of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer. Derek says the man lived about five miles from here in Dorking! I looked for a biography on him in the library to see if that would be mentioned, but couldn’t find a book on him. He is one of my favorite composers.

Rescuing damsels in distress in loos is a speciality [specialty in American English] of mine. Philippa locked herself in our upstairs bathroom and couldn’t get the key to turn. She tried the key several times, and I did it several times, and it finally gave way. At least we could pass the key under the door!

This was a big week in our area – the Derby (pronounced Dar-by) was run at Epsom Downs. Mr. Clewes had been telling me for a year, even before we moved to this house, that we should make an effort to go because it is such a colourful affair and so close to home. Paula, John $’s cashier friend in Co op, mentioned wanting to go since it was her day off, but she couldn’t afford the bus fare from Redhill to Epsom. I offered to pick her up after I dropped the children at school, and she jumped at the chance. We walked down a village lane, over rolling hills, and over the grass track. We estimated it to be a two-mile walk on the map. From a distance we saw the grandstands, colourful fair with market stalls, and hordes of people flooding in. We walked into that surging mass of humanity to see gypsies telling fortunes, games of chance, BLUE cotton candy (called candy floss), and blaring carnival rides. John $ looked two ways at once to take it all in. Crowds in the fair area were so thick that cars couldn’t move. Scattered around were booths for placing bets. Until shortly before racing began, cars, buses, vans and lorries were pouring into the huge grassy area in the middle of the “C” shaped track. At noon all seemed intent on their picnics. Some people were dressed in jeans having food from Tupperware, while others a little more formally dressed, had lunch from hampers. I sat down on $’s plastic changing mat in a far area where there were few people and shared a dry sandwich with him. [I took only one photograph that day.]

There were a few small tents erected, but lots of wind shelters – stakes with fabric wrapped around. We had walked by the area where helicopters were bringing in the truly rich – one after another dropped down to the ground, discharged passengers, and flew off for more.

A woman with a camera hanging from her neck thrust a little monkey at $ and asked if I wanted her to take his picture with the monkey. I said no as fast as I could to save the poor animal from $’s clutches. Whew!

I couldn’t stay for any of the races because I had to get the car from its 10,000 mile servicing and the girls from school. I decided the English really know how to do things properly when I saw a man in morning dress (tails) directing traffic. He coaxed one van past another on a one-lane road inch by inch. As smaller cars began moving past after the block was broken, he and two others hopped in a posh car and roared off. They were just intent on getting to the royal box and weren’t to be stopped by a traffic jam.

Paula and I got back here in time to turn on the telly to see the Queen and her mother make their entrance in a royal procession of cars, riding where we had walked earlier! That may be as close as I’ll ever come to the Queen. Paula went to the school with me to get the girls, then we took her to Redhill. We saw a re-run of the race as soon as we got home.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day. I got sunburned on my face and could see colour on John’s arms, but neither of us were in pain.

The current craze here is a puzzle called a Rubic cube. I’m guessing on the spelling because I’ve not seen it written. Lisa spotted one in a gift shop for $10 and was dying to get it. I said it was too expensive. Several days later she said her classmates, who had been to the week-long fair at the race track, claimed the puzzles were on sale for $4. One of the first things I saw walking through the market area on Derby Day were Rubic cubes. I bought one for Lisa, knowing she’d pay me back from her own money. Kate had never seemed to want one. She did when she saw Lisa with hers, and Lisa wouldn’t let her touch it with one finger. I promised to go to the market in Redhill to see if there were one there, because I wasn’t about to walk four miles to the race course to get another. Luck was with me, and I got another for Kate.

Since then, we’ve hardly done anything but work with the silly things. The cube is made of 27 pieces put together with springs and screws so that 9 pieces rotate together. It comes with each side making one block of colour, but with two twists of the wrist it can be jumbled up and is seemingly impossible to put to rights. Kate’s is fairly easy to disassemble, so we did once take it apart and got it back to its original appearance. Numerous people have tried to solve Lisa’s with no success. Any of you soon-to-come visitors have this to look forward to!

Outdoor markets are a feature of English life. I love to walk through them looking at all the things for sale. That day in Redhill I found a coat rack that we’ve not been able to find anywhere else. Didn’t buy it until I could check with John, so will have to go back some Thursday soon. Clothes are most popular. There was even a stall selling greeting cards! Many, but not all, big towns have a market day. Reigate does not, but Epsom has one every Saturday. You can buy pocketbooks, jewellery, fabrics, notions, shoes, candies, carpets, toiletries, housewares, vegetables, fruits, meats and antiques. Prices are low because overhead is nil.

At right is the coat rack in our garage 40 years later. It is holding John’s train jacket and hats. Perhaps it will have a more dignified place in our next home.

$ has another friend at Co-op who is often in charge of the “till” when we check out. She’s taken to letting him sit on her lap and punch the buttons on the register!

Briefly met a woman from Green Lawn, NY, outside school. She’s married to an Englishman, so our girls couldn’t identify her daughter as half-American by her accent. Her last name is Rooney, like Mickey, she said. The girl had told her mother of us and said our town name began with “S”. She thought of Syosset and Smithtown, but not Stony Brook.

23 thoughts on “

  1. Going to the Epsom Derby must have been quite exciting for you and having it seem like a grand market day would be good. The gypsies there trading their horses and maybe having a few illegal road races. The Queen and her Mother attending with assorted Lords and Ladies. Such a big occasion for us Brits. You could see us at our best and at our worst.
    Massive Hugs

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  2. I liked your Derby description and the pronunciation too. I remember when Rubik’s cubes came out. I never solved one or even came close. They were fun to try though. We had one around here for years, maybe two, but I have no idea what became of them.

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    1. We still have at least one Rubik’s cube. I learned to work them following written instructions. BIL Thom, who is coming here next week, could solve one behind his back!!! He was teaching math at a prep school, and he had the extreme admiration of all the teens in the school. He is one cool guy!

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  3. Very nice coat rack and has stood the test of time. I like the English pronunciation of everything and earlier today I watched a short video of Queen Elizabeth cutting her birthday cake. It is the official birthday, not her actual birthday (April 21st). She cut it with a sword as is a tradition. She was having a difficult time and Camilla and Kate were watching/commenting … the comments were as subtitles. 🙂 I had to laugh. This was Sky News – I really don’t think subtitles were needed to be honest. I’ve not thought of the Rubik’s Cube in ages.

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    1. We were surprised that rain didn’t stop people in England. There were times when we questioned our sanity, but we followed our plans no matter what the weather did. Often the rain was brief, and we didn’t miss anything.

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