Four neighbors gathered for a Bible study, sitting outside six feet apart, following COVID-19 restrictions. Nobody batted an eyelash as cat Jasmine wandered through. However, when chicken Ariel hopped in our midst, we all but cackled. It was fun to have one of God’s creatures join us briefly.
I looked in a concordance to see if cats or chickens were mentioned in the Bible. They weren’t; only a rooster had one reference.
[If you saw the original letter] I’m sure you can tell at first glance that our possessions arrived from the US. I found the typewriter, but not the proper paper or magic eraser gop from Loraine [John’s secretary in New York]. I’ll be eager to see if more replies come now that you can read the weekly epistle. Meanwhile, thank you to the regular correspondents who have been so faithful.
John doesn’t have better hours at work, but we do see more of him because the commute has been halved [compared to travel time in NY]. The weather has been cool and rainy. We’ve had the heat on low most days since we arrived. I think it is two or three miles to the railroad station. John $ has adjusted beautifully. The girls have done well, being forced to play together. There is a girl across the street Lisa’s age, but she is still in school. Her holidays begin Thursday. The church is large and full! We had to sit in chairs in the aisle today.
History has been made! Never before has our household received a letter from each grandfather!! In the same week, that is. I appreciate all your efforts to help me with my spelling, or lack thereof, but it’s hopeless. Just laugh and go on reading.
So far the weekly letter is going via New York, and our ally there is the one who copies it and sends it on. Eight or nine cheers for Loraine!! That’s about how many copies there are. [I thought there were only two copies being made!]
Mary H. came by Monday. Her husband had preached at church the day before, and we were introduced because they live on our street. She is so nice. She asked if I’d had trouble finding anything, and I said cocoa. She had it on her list, too, found some and bought me a tin of it, delivering it on Tuesday. At Mary’s prompting Vera P., a widow, and Gillian H. across the street (with the girl Lisa’s age) also knocked to introduce themselves.
Wednesday I picked up Anne-Marie N. and her three children to go to the train station, because she won’t drive here yet. We went to Victoria station, were met by our husbands and walked to the office for an official welcoming party. $ was marvelous. He loved his first train ride so much that he just sat on my lap, almost motionless. He loved the bits of rich tidbits we kept his mouth stuffed with. The girls were with the other children at a conjuring show (do you know what the translation for that is?) and were given T-shirts with the company flag on it saying, “I’m a Golar Girl.” They had ordered a tiny boy one for $, but he must grow a bit to fit it.
Thursday our things came from the States. John took the day off to direct operations. First three men came in a small van, and then the container came. The driver did not unload anything other than himself, but slept in the cab much of the time. They came after 9, left before 12, and their office girl called to say they wouldn’t be here until after 1. When John told her they were already here, she asked if it was the right shipment. Confidence builder. The movers were very nice, even moving some of the more hideous pieces of furniture into the attic to make room for our junk. They also offered to unpack all or part of the cartons.
I’m trying to think what one thing was most welcomed. We feel more at home with all our books, records and art. Still, I didn’t hug them as I did the pencil sharpener. Funny what you can appreciate when you’ve done without! Three weeks without coffee certainly sharpens your taste for that first sip! I looked through about six boxes for two days to find all the parts of the simple drip coffee maker. John exclaimed over big glasses for drinking iced tea. Kate was thrilled to get her game, “Drive Yourself Crazy.” I just asked Lisa, and she couldn’t think of anything. John replied to the query saying he was so relieved to see that van pulling in that he couldn’t pick out any one thing he was over-joyed to see.
Lisa has had two French lessons. Likes it. [The school asked that Lise be tutored, because her class had already had a year or so of French. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had a gift for languages. She now is comfortable speaking English, French, German, Danish, and Farsi.]
Yesterday we went to lunch with Renee (pronounced Reeny) and Max A. whom we’d met at church. They lived for years and years in East Africa until he retired from Barclay’s Bank and now is a grammar school bursar. Their four children grew up there and in boarding schools in England. All four children, three of them girls, were married within 18 months! They now have five grandchildren under the age of 2 ½ and expect two more shortly. They were so understanding of our children. The girls were urged to explore the lovely house, and John $ used the nursery. She served lamb which I was able to swallow, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, fruit salad for dessert, coffee in the living room, tea later with ginger cakes and Swiss tarts.
Today we went home from church with Mary and Tony L. who have Helen, 15, and Peter, almost 13. He is an electrical engineer with Philips and went to Cambridge. She served turkey from the U.S., stuffing with bacon, bread sauce with a pleasant onion flavor, peas and broad beans [new to us], potatoes, and for dessert a choice of summer pudding, lemon meringue pie, or ice cream. Coffee followed in the living room. In both homes the meat was on the plates when we sat down and the vegetables passed around. Both places have electric kettles.
One lady uses scales for accurate measurements, and the other swears by a gizmo that has lots of measurements marked on it. Both are excellent cooks!
Would you like a description of our marvelous washing machine? It sits, ostracized, in a little room by itself. No wonder; it’s been naughty. It whirs, sighs, and sometimes tries to giggle, but usually gurgles. Being a front loader, it shows what is going on inside, but not what it is thinking. It tumbles one way for a few seconds, pauses to do nothing for longer than it does something, then changes its mind and goes the other way. I think it does one wash and four rinses; all I really know is that it takes one to one and a half hours for one load. [In the States, my machine never took more than half an hour to wash a load.] I take it easy on Sunday and do only two loads; two to three is the norm for other days. Today the drain got clogged, so the floor got an unexpected baptism. (Cross between Baptist and Presbyterian because it was more than a sprinkling and less than a dunking.) At the end of all this violent activity the machine sits smirking and absolutely refuses to give up the clothes nicely. Since the first day I wrestled with it, I’ve used a CAN OPENER to pry it open. Hope it hurts!
Then comes the fun of drying, or what passes for the exercise of drying. First, the clothes start out in the glassed over area beside the house hung neatly on the single line. If it fails there, it is brought in to the rack over the kitchen table and in danger of flying food. Third station is a rack in front of the water heater. Last try is for it to be stuffed in and around radiators. When the heat is on, things dry, only to be moved into drawers where they promptly feel damp again. It really isn’t bad; I’m just trying to make a good story. I think you can understand, though, that if good Catholics can give up meat on Fridays, our family should be able to give up clothes one day a week!
Parking was a source of frustration at first, but now, it too, is a joke. Being used to awful-looking parking lots in front of every store in the States, I didn’t like the idea of central parking with all the walking and lugging of things. What I didn’t realize is that there are nice little car parks tucked away in all sorts of places. Instead of meters there is a machine mounted in the center of the lot for everyone to use. You turn a knob to choose one hour or three, put in money, and sometimes get a ticket with the date and time stamped on it. This you are to peel the backing from and stick on the inside of the windscreen to show what time you paid. Just as often as the things work, they don’t work. The time I paid for 16 hours of parking near the railway station, I got a ticket, but nothing was printed on it. So far no five pound fine for us.
There are so many things one doesn’t think of when settling in a new place. For instance, we didn’t buy soap on that first frenzied swoop through the grocery. There are 7 (seven!) sinks in this house! There are 8 locks to check before going out. Also, there are all the thunks you have to learn – thunks being the amount of push it takes to make the refrigerator door shut fully, etc. So far the car doors take the most energy. Then there are the things you’d have to grapple with anywhere such as changing a very wet baby. John $ doesn’t LIKE to be changed, nor does he LIKE dirty pants. I wish he’d make up his mind. The nappy flip is the time you realize a different end is up from the time you started. You see, he really prefers to be changed bottom up. I’m getting better at it, but it is still hard to snap up 10 snaps on a stretch suit while he’s lying on it and pretending to swim the English channel.
That’s enough for now. All around me bodies are trudging off to bed.
Neighbor Holly shared some squash and a cucumber from her garden, sending Logan over with a heavy bag of veggies to let me choose what I wanted. I thought that a novel way of sharing in these viral times. While he was on my porch, he asked if he could come over to visit, and of course, I was thrilled. He got his parents’ permission and was soon chatting while I finished my lunch.
We have hardly seen Logan since the pandemic began. I was impressed with his conversational skill, showing that he had been maturing all the while. Being ten years old, he also communicates silently with his face. I was tickled at his contortions and asked if I could take a few pictures. Bless his heart, he has always been very cooperative.
My favorite shows him touching his nose with his tongue. He said only a low percentage of people can do it. If anyone reading this can touch your tongue that way, I’d love to know it. You are special!
It would be nice to have a warning when fast food customers are going to be rude or demanding, acting like “Friday People”. Grandson David would never be goofy to a customer, but he fantasized about his approach if he knew a Friday Person were coming to the counter. He morphed into a goofball in front of my eyes, changing his stance and widening his eyes before leaning in close to ask if he could help me. My laugh was immediate, and I ask for repeat performances regularly. We decided we needed to record it. Happy Friday!!
Talked to a fellow in church today who has an American wife. They are aware of weather in the States, and they say they (we here, I mean) get a watered-down version of your left-over weather borne on the Gulf stream. It’s watered-down because everything is so damp here. If it gets hot here, I’ll know who to blame!
One day last week the neighbor on the tennis side of our house came over to welcome us to the neighborhood! (Tennis side means the side Lisa keeps hitting wild balls over the fence toward.) The people had been away when we first came, so after ringing the bell each time, I had her climb over the locked garden gate. She hated doing it, but we have only the three balls we brought over on the plane. If we hadn’t retrieved them, we’d be buying our fourth can of balls by now. The people returned, Lisa shot one over, and we shouted to the man mowing the lawn. He threw the ball back and promised he’d return any he found because they’ve done so for years. He couldn’t hear well, so I didn’t explain what we’d done. I meant to confess to the lady, but I just couldn’t. Ugh! Embarrassing.
She wanted to get our names straight, so just came right out and asked. Then she went on to tell us their names – Sheena and Aubrey. Said Sheena is a Scottish name. She asked where the children were going to school and what kind of business John is in. I haven’t seen her since, so don’t know if we passed examination or not. She did vaguely wave her hands around explaining there was a lady doctor in residence cross the street, and further down, the chairman of Tate and Lyle (sugar). Aubrey was in insurance – Lloyds – and is now retired.
We went to the library Tuesday and were able to bring books home that day. Their system seems odd. For each person they write out three slips of paper. If you have three books out, those slips remain in the library. If you take two books, then you must take one slip home. They simply stamp the due date in the book and have no record of what book you have. Books are due in three weeks and are renewable by phone twice. Fines are 1p per book per day for children’s books and 5p for adults.
On cool days, even the gardener comes dressed in jacket and tie!! Our weather has been wonderful for weeds – so rainy. Clewes came twice this week when I least expected him. When it was raining instead of sprinkling, he and the girls ducked into the shed. He sent Lisa in to ask if I had an old mackintosh in the house. I was tempted to tell him the only old thing we brought was ME!! Lisa had the idea of cutting head and arm holes in a trash can liner, so there was our man out working in jacket and tie and garbage bag! [Clewes asked that I not take his photograph, and that is the reason I have no image of him.]
The dishwasher engineer (repair man) came and kept shaking his head over the machine here, calling it an antique. Said they don’t make anything like that any more. The only thing not ancient was the bill he rendered which had to be paid on the spot. I was able to scrounge the 50 pounds since John had given me grocery money. Whew!
We went to Clewes’ favorite grocery store in town. He hadn’t warned us it was so tiny – just a U-turn around two chickens and 24 hamburgers! Everyone politely glared at us for clogging up THE aisle. We squeezed ourselves out, took a deep breath, and walked down to a bakery. Later as we piled our purchases in the car, we realized John’s little rattle bear was gone. Lisa offered to retrace our steps since the parking time had run out. She returned 10 – 15 minutes later, having spotted it on a bench. Someone must have found it on the sidewalk and set it up to look for its owner. We were so happy to find it because we all like it so much. Below are three views of Reigate High Street, taken while we were house-hunting.
There is a tennis ball scavenger living with us. The girls won’t play together – the taller looks down her nose at the shorter. Result – I have to play every nice day. (People could blame me for wanting bad weather.) Taller takes every opportunity to keep a ball in play, thus preventing shorter from taking up time. Shorter quickly learned the only way she gets to play is to hoard all the balls. She scurries along the net like a rat, scooping up balls before lazy taller has a chance at them.
John $ is fine – always as wet as all outdoors (in England that’s WET!) Somehow he has inherited impatience where food is concerned. He can cry between mouthfuls that would choke an 8-year-old. Yesterday we outwitted him by feeding him in relays – Lisa would shovel in one mouthful and I another. We got a pretty good rhythm going. Should be good practice for stoking a steam engine with coal!
Yesterday at a company party I proudly proclaimed that for the first time I got everything on my grocery list the previous day. John J. said, “That’s just what Tina said after she’d altered her list several times.”
There was a huge party at the CEO’s mansion for many in the company. I don’t know how many were serving the buffet for the adults, but there were two girls hired to entertain the children. I talked to all kinds of people and usually had no idea who they were or how important. Afterwards I was telling John about some lady who talked of having lived in Hong Kong and the U.S. He said, “Wow! You really hobnobbed with the rich!” She claimed learning Chinese was easy – that with a 1,000-word vocabulary you could be at ease anywhere.
In that mob scene it was nice to see a few familiar faces. We met our closest neighbors, company wise, Norwegians who live in walking distance. The wife won’t try to drive yet, so I’ll probably pick them up when we’re all going to London on the train for a party in the office. I do hope I’ll be able to understand her. There were so many people milling about that we just nodded and smiled at each other yesterday. An hour of nodding and smiling on the train could be awful!
Today we left $ in the creche (nursery). They’re smart at that church in Reigate – put all the noise in a building across the road from the church. The man who preached today lives on our street! He works in missions or some off-shoot of church relations. Several people came to greet us and found his wife to talk with us. She said she’d try to see us this week because they’re leaving in a few days to be gone until September.
As we were leaving church, Mary and Tony invited us for lunch after church next Sunday!! We accepted with alacrity. While we were eating dinner, the phone rang, and we were invited for lunch with another couple next Saturday!!! Can you believe it? That’s friendlier than any town in America!! We have a problem, though. We don’t know their names! How on earth are we going to bluff that one? Oh – Max is the husband’s first name. Their daughter is married to a minister who is now in South Dakota.
Cooking continues to be full of surprises. I tried something called Butterscotch Brownies using only ingredients I happened to have on hand and one too-large pan. It turned out more like almond macaroons by taste. And the Jell-o! Makes you giggle just to look at it! It’s called “jelly” on the box. Inside is a plastic packet filled with semi-solid goo. You’ll have to see it to appreciate it.
If your eyes have lasted this long, take heart – I’m signing off. Won’t you be glad when my typewriter comes?
I am embarking on a trip down memory lane and invite you to join me. John had a two-year contract to work in London beginning in July of 1980. I plan to publish the letters I wrote then, 40 years after I mailed them back to our relatives in the States. I had the idea when reading the blog A Hundred Years Ago. Click here to see her introduction. Sheryl posted entries from the diary of her grandmother 100 years after they were written. When she finished that material, she began posting recipes from 100 years ago.
July 6, 1980
Tymberlie [the name of our rented house] has hot water restricted! Notice to all potential guests: you have to reserve water ahead of time because the heater is on a timer. However, the device can be overruled. I have visions of being undressed, waiting for the water to warm and realizing I haven’t turned the switch downstairs.
We’ve had a busy week. Monday I decided to bake cookies, despite having only one broken American measuring cup. (Forgot to pack the measuring spoons in the suitcase.) The results were amusing, but edible. I think their flour and baking powder are vastly different. We’re blessed in having one cookie sheet in the kitchen – no pie plates or baking pans. Twice I’ve boiled a whole chicken, but now I’ve acquired a pan and can bake one. Once we had rhubarb downside up pie – stewed the rhubarb and topped it with pastry done on the cookie sheet.
John stayed home Tuesday waiting for the car to be delivered. It was, and we went to the police station to be registered. John first drove to take the driver to the train station. I don’t know how he felt, but I had to drive John the next morning. What a shaky experience! I wasn’t sure where I was going because everything looked different on the way home with only Kate to hold my hand. John had the advantage of having walked the streets before. In any case, I’m glad the newness has begun to wear off.
I’d barely gotten myself home and my nerves steadied when the doorbell rang. It was Clewes, the gardener. He SAID he loves children, so I let the girls “help” him all day. The girls wanted him to eat lunch with us. Can’t you imagine the level of eyebrows of our high-class neighbors if they knew we’d entertained the gardener for lunch? Not only that, but I had him demonstrate how to make tea.
Thursday John stayed home to bake in the sun. He’s had a heavy cold and had lost his voice the day before. The head of the office over here was worried about him and thought a day off would be in order. John was concerned that sitting in the sun all day would result in his appearing to have been on holiday and mask his miserable head with healthy-looking colour (British spelling). He could have passed for one of the upper class sitting in a deck chair in the garden with his nose in the air.
Meanwhile, we girls and John $pencer went to Micklefield School for a look around. We chatted with the headmistress and saw several classes. It was suggested they might come in for a full day nearer the end of term. (School closes 23rd July!) They will not be tested until September, by which time their brains will have atrophied, along with my spelling.
Would you believe there are two (2) mail deliveries a day here? Yes, right to the house – right INTO the house, as a matter of fact. There is a slight rattle at the front door, and junk mail comes flying into the hall! (Junk mail because all our good stuff comes via NY.)
As you’ll see when you come to visit, much of the plumbing is outside the houses here. Not out-houses, just pipes. Several times I’ve heard gurgling noises, run to the window, and seen water from a sink disappearing into drains outside. I can tell when John is showering because his used water comes down, raising steam, in the area where I hang clothes to dry. The washing machine empties outside the back door along with gutter run-off. I can see it now – the house is full of people, all using water in their rooms, the rain is draining off, and the whole house is suddenly spouting water in all directions like a NY fire boat or a big fountain in a public park. We’ll float away in watery glory!
It’s common here to buy appliances without plugs! There are so many variations in European plugs that they’ve given up and just sell things with a wire dangling. You supply and install it yourself! Yesterday we became more American by acquiring a hair dryer, a mixer, and a TV. Now I feel right at home by saying every 10 minutes, “No, you can’t see what’s on right now!”
We went to the Reigate church this morning where there is a boy choir. The nursery for babies was across the street, so we decided to chance it with John $ in church. Now I know why the English frown so at babies in church. $ let loose during the prayers, and the screech echoed from wall to wall. I rushed to the back and couldn’t open the door! I glared at the nearest innocent man and ordered him to open it for me. Could have died on the spot. In a few minutes John brought out the stroller, and I walked that bad baby home. He made NOT ONE SOUND all the way home!
Below is a photo of Lise taken that month. She was 11 years old, and John $ was 9 months.
I was sitting at the computer when movement caught my eye. Golly Pete! There was a black cow grazing around our burn pile. I was alone and knew I had to do something, because cow pats on the lawn are not good. I texted neighbor Dawn, hoping Jeff was home. He grew up on a farm and has no hesitancy in herding cows where they belong. I wrote Dawn that I didn’t know which way to shoo the beast and said this was out of my comfort zone. Just then David came in from work, and I immediately shared the problem with him. I started to go on the deck to take a picture of the cow, but since he was willing to go outside with me, I went.
We made noise, and I flapped my hands at the cow. She ambled along the fence, which I thought was good. I didn’t know how she got in our yard, but cows used to walk in the stream around the fence. I was heading that way, felt for my camera, and knew I couldn’t use it when the cow came back toward us. She was not fully grown, but she looked pretty solid at eye level. We shouted and flapped. She turned and trotted along Dawn and Jeff’s fence. All of a sudden she turned and jumped through the barbed-wire fence! David and I couldn’t believe our eyes. We walked up to see if there were an opening, but there wasn’t. We were going back to our yard when Jeff and Dawn came outside. They examined the fence with us. There were three or four strands of wire firmly anchored to posts, but Jeff pulled two apart. That must have been enough for a desperate cow.
Daughter Lise was eager to walk to the creek, knowing she would be sitting for almost 24 hours flying to Denmark. On the way, we spotted a wild berry bush extending unripe berries toward us. It’s a common bush, one that we had in our woods on Long Island. The berries look like raspberries until they ripen and turn dark. That’s when they look like miniature blackberries. Lise and I tasted one each. They were slightly bitter, so I’ll wait a few days before trying another one.
That afternoon we took Lise to the empty Asheville airport. There are few flights these days, so only a few people wandered to the check-in counter. When her bags were checked, we went outside before saying goodbye. She took off as we were food shopping on the way home. We have many lovely memories of our time together and look forward to her next visit.
The next evening we had a lovely rain storm, one that Lise would have enjoyed. John and I were with David on the porch as he ate his dinner after work. I jumped up to take a photo of the brilliant rainbow through the screen, because I didn’t fancy getting soaked. Despite the distortion of the screen, you can probably see that the end of the rainbow appears to be in the pasture.
A minute later neighbor Joyce sent me the picture she took from her porch. She clearly has a better claim to owning that rainbow. It ended in the corner of her back yard. We both wished there had been a pot of gold for her there.
Grandson Nathaniel was with us about 45 hours – not long enough to raise and lower the hall mirror! John picked him up in Charlotte on Friday, and daughter Lise and grandson David took him back on Sunday. The day between was July 4th. The time may have been short, but we visited with him intently. This was the only picture for which he posed, taken as the three were setting off for the return trip.
The day before Lise left, we had lunch at the Pisgah Inn. John and I have eaten there at least once a year since we moved here, but Lise had never been there. The restaurant is closed during winter months, which is when she usually comes to visit. We had a lovely drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to reach it. Our table was the one in the corner with the best view of the mountains. Since only half the tables could be used during the COVID-19 restrictions, the room was not crowded, and we had excellent service. We could see rain clouds in the distance and watched them as we ate.
After lunch, we went outside on the deck to take a few photos and look at the mountains again. It was a lovely day out for us. When we got home, Lise packed to go back to Denmark.
Despite neighbor Shawn’s phone being broken, word got around that we would have a cookout on our street. People converged on Shawn and Bob’s lawn, because they had the largest flat, shady space.
Logan had a grand view of us all.
We had a three-armed toy that Nathaniel threw with Logan, and it sailed into our Bradford pear tree. Nate and John carried the ladder around and set it up, supervised by Sufi.
The first retrieval attempt failed, so Bob and Nathaniel extended it before Bob climbed up with a long pole and knocked the toy out of the branches.
Lise asked Logan to show us his pond down a steep slope behind his house. We knew Bob had cleaned out the weeds and that they had been swimming there. Water flows into the pond via a pipe from the creek and out again through an overflow drain.
Logan ran down to the dock as Lise and I watched tadpoles swimming in the water.
Logan was looking for Herbert, the turtle, under the dock. Lise stood beside Logan and took a photo from above as he fed Herbert some bread. I also liked Lise’s selfie with her feet.
As the sun moved, we picked up our chairs to get in the shade again. People stayed outside a long time. When thunder moved closer, we took the food back to our houses. Only when the first raindrops fell did we fold up the table and take our chairs home. As heavy rain fell, Shawn, Bob and Logan stayed on their porch, while Lise, Nathaniel, and I retreated to ours. (David was working.) It was fun to share that storm from a distance. It had been a most satisfying party.
We had a small continuation of the party after the power went out. Joyce came to recharge her phone, since our generator was running. The rain was over by then. It was fun to chat with her in a smaller setting. Her phone was charged, and she went home when folks up the mountain began shooting fireworks. Most public fireworks in the area had been canceled, so we were thrilled to have a free show that we could see from our chairs on the porch.
My name is Suki, my human is a writer, and this is about my world. The world according to Suki The Cat. My humans smell funny, look weird, and I can't understand a thing they say, but they feed me, so hey, what are you gonna do?