England 40 Years Ago — January 17, 1982

We came back to this country just in time for a total rail strike. According to the paper, only 5 percent of the riders depend on rails for getting to work. I find that hard to believe, but probably only because it affects us.

John went to work the day after our return, worked until early afternoon, came home to pick up clothes and went back to a hotel room his secretary found for him. He told me over the phone that it was a nice room – I had visions of his being stuck in a miserable dump of a dorm as happened one summer in Oslo.

Of course, it’s never convenient to have one’s routine disrupted. The day John left, I had a virus – the kind that gives you a headache so that being hit by a hammer would be welcome. The night after he left, Kate sat at the dinner table breathing heavily over the vomit basin. Nothing happened; she fell asleep in the living room, and I had to carry her upstairs. Then Lise woke me at 5 a.m. wanting medicine for a heavy cough that developed during the night. John returned at the weekend (English would say “at” rather than “on”) having been away for three nights.

I wouldn’t wish anyone ill health, but I’ve wanted to get inside a hospital since we moved here. I knew they were vastly different from American ones from reading English novels. I got the chance, and for the best of reasons. Paula [a young woman working in the supermarket who flirted with $ as she checked us out] had her baby a week and a half ago and was still in hospital. (They keep them for a long time for the first baby. Second and subsequent babies and mums are chucked out after one or two days.) I was told that visiting hours on maternity were from half past three to half past four. The hospital in Redhill is a conglomeration of odd buildings, most not connected to each other. I had to ask the way three times. “Straight ahead, turn right, go through that building, straight ahead, through that building, into the next, up the stairs and turn right” is what the first man said, I think. I might be there still if the way out hadn’t been marked. A nurse looked on her list for Paula’s name and directed me on the last turn. I saw a kitchen as large as mine with a cooker and a huge kettle sitting on it. I think the nurses make tea for their wards. Then on into the ward. There were about eight beds, four on each side and quite large windows. Past a glass partition were another eight beds. I tried to peer at each patient unobtrusively, but I couldn’t find Paula. One patient in the far ward didn’t know her name. Then I found one in the first ward who had known her. I was stunned when she said Paula left to go home half an hour before. I left in defeat only to return to the car park for more punishment. I couldn’t get the car up the icy hill! In only a few minutes one lady tried to help, joined shortly by a man. I was so grateful – the man put sand before the rear wheels, and the lady produced two pieces of card board.

Soon after I got home, I was able to get Paula’s mother on the telephone. She chatted for a long time explaining that Paula’s brother-in-law had taken her to the other hospital to see her baby. The baby had a spinal problem, was taken to this other hospital in Carshalton for an operation, and will be released in a month. Two weeks before the baby’s discharge, Paula will go to that hospital to live in for two weeks learning how to manage the baby. He will never walk, but his brain is fine.

I’m still adding to my vocabulary. Would you hazard a guess as to who the “roundsman” is? He’s the man who delivers milk to the front door.

Lisa has been teaching $ his first lessons in manners – shaking hands. One day he solemnly walked up to our bare old Christmas tree, with his right hand shook a branch and said, “How da do?”

[There were no photos linked to this letter, so I’m adding one of $ in the garden with the gnome. He loved the statue and probably talked to it.]

I’d used $’s usual mugs and gave him one of Kate’s for lunch. He didn’t want to drink from it, saying all the while, “Kate. Kate.” I was shocked that he would know whose it was since we have 20 to 30 mugs.

To put it in the words of the English, John has been made redundant. This week they gave him notice that he is not to work beyond 29 January. We knew it might be in the offing since a big company had been called in to do personnel studies. I think there will be only one American left after June. John is telling everyone he’s been given a five month vacation; the terms of the contract are that he is to be paid until the end of June. I don’t know the details, but the company has been most generous, and we won’t land in the poor house unless John fails to find a job by March 1983.

What we find odd is that they are willing to pay out all this money, getting no work in return. After the two next hectic weeks, John plans to do some of the school driving and concentrate on helping Kate with her homework. He does have a definite job interview next week with the president of a company in New York, and all his broker friends are feeding him with tips of other positions. At the moment, all our plans are up in the air. John hopes to travel as much as possible in Europe before starting a new job. (I should quickly add that the interview will take place in London, not New York.)

Don’t know yet what will happen about mail. Stay tuned, and we’ll let you know. Stay tuned means keep writing. Don’t use the above as an excuse, PLEASE!

Far from being upset, we are looking forward to this new phase of life, trying out retirement. We know the Lord sent us here for a reason; we know we will be taken care of, and if we do land in the poor house, then we know there is a mission there, too. Please save your sympathy and worry for someone who needs it, but do pray for guidance for us.

32 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — January 17, 1982

  1. Anne, such wonderful detail in your letter and how typical of you to add the major news of the redundancy to last. Your positive spirit shines through and I’m glad all worked out for you. Awww … why not greet a tree, chat to a gnome! It must have been a worrying time for Paula. Haha! Roundsman, eh?! Long time since I heard that word, no wonder there is confusion! Hope you’re having a lovely week, Anne. Xx

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    1. Thank you, Annika, I am having a lovely snow week. I wonder what those old letters would have been like if I had had a computer. There was no editing or rereading. I typed on Sunday evening and handed John the two sheets to take to the office.

      I often wonder what happened to Paula and her baby. She wouldn’t have had the money to spend on letters to me in the States, even if she had been a writer.

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  2. Loved the last paragraph. We have lived that for many years now…at times halfway into the poor house with one foot and the other on a banana peel. God has always been so good!

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    1. God is good, indeed! My brother said it was nice knowing we lived well all these years since England while he is reading the suspense. I told him I wish my faith was like that, being able to KNOW all will be well because you’ve seen the end. We have been told we will go to heaven if we believe in Jesus, but I don’t live like I know the true ending. Nothing like a do-it-yourself sermonette!

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  3. I didn’t see this situation coming. Obviously you landed on your feet, all of them, but you do have to give it to the British for the phrase “has been made redundant.” What happens next?

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    1. John got the job for which he had the interview, and he went back to NY. He lived with his parents while waiting for the renters to move out of our house. I stayed in England until the school term ended for the girls. John came back to supervise the move. We lived in the NY house until we moved to NC seven years ago. 50 years in the same house!

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  4. It seems like there was never a dull moment for you and your family. I love that $ shook hands with the tree and chatted to the dwarf. So cute. It will be interesting to hear what comes next in your adventure. I think John would have been too young to retire.

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    1. John took the job for which he interviewed and enjoyed working there for a few years. He was hired back by the company in London, and he worked out of our basement. He said his commute went from the rediculous to the sublime.

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  5. What a twist to the end of this post … there we were going along, laughing at $ and his garden gnome friend and wondering why a milkman was called a “roundsman” then sympathizing with Paula’s baby and then the news of John’s job. But since you have often expressed how much you enjoyed the total experience in England, I’m going to assume that it ended well for your remaining time abroad.

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  6. I do love reading your posts from so long ago. How much has changed since then? England is no longer the England I knew growing up so many years ago. I really wouldn’t want to live there now.

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    1. I’m sure England has changed, but I never went back to see. Children from two of the families I’ve written about have read some of these old letters. We met the most marvelous people, and there are bound to be many still there.

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  7. A very interesting view of the era, Anne. The socio-economic difficulties, the hospital wards,(I remember them well as I worked in a few as a nurse), sand to combat ice and how companies and families reacted to redundancy.

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