England 40 Years Ago — January 18, 1981

I’m so glad I started last week’s letter early — did it because we’d invited company for Sunday night supper. John and Tina J came to play with the trains. John works for Gotaas-Larsen, and we went out with them a year ago when we were here house hunting. He loves trains, and I guess Tina tolerates them as willingly as I do. Had I waited for Sunday evening to write, it wouldn’t have been done because of the upheaval here. A 24-hour virus hit me, and it was upheaval, indeed. Don’t think I’ve been sicker since the last gall bladder attack 12 years ago. Dear John even sat up in a chair all night to help me! That is true devotion! He worked for half the day Monday, and the girls did everything for $ except change him until John got home. They fed him, played with him, and put him down for a nap. We were all glad to get back to a regular schedule Tuesday when the girls returned to school.

They didn’t even complain about going to school!!! We are definitely making progress!

John $ totes his Paddington bear around all the time by the tag that admonishes one and all to “take care of this bear”. Don’t think $ is following those instructions, but the bear is greatly loved.

I saw a milk bottle commit suicide! I opened the fridge and out jumped the full bottle, hitting my hand, a shelf, and finally the floor. Milk was everywhere! I was cut slightly on the downward plunge and John while helping me clean up. I shall certainly be more careful about stuffing bottles in.

Home group from church met at our house, and we had to lead a discussion on last Sunday’s sermon on discipline. The topic really dealt with SELF-discipline. There was a good group here — all but one chair taken. They all loved the trains, and John had to cut them off to make play cease. After the meeting was over, the people stayed longer than usual to talk. We found out that Marilyn worked for Cunard before she was married. She’d started out as a secretary and worked up to be the assistant to somebody so that she was the one who arranged launching parties. She’d met some of the big-wigs that John knows of in the shipping business. Small world!

Mr. Clewes cleaned out the small garage during a rain storm, and I spotted the giraffe toy that we brought over for $. He has had more fun playing with it. For the most part, he just leads it around and chews on its horns.

Strutting in our garden inspecting crumbs was a Pied Wagtail. It is the funniest black and white bird. I also think I saw a chaffinch. The chaffinch isn’t as colourful (British spelling) as the picture in the book, but maybe he was having a dull day.

The antique market in the high street has been shut. According to Mr. Clewes all those stores had short leases because there are plans for demolition and rebuilding. I was glad to see this week a sign in the window saying they will reopen in Reigate before too long. I just loved browsing in there.

Finally went to the butcher shop near the girls’ school that so many people have said is the best in town. Except for the very modern computerized scales, it was like stepping into another age. It was so spacious, had meat displayed in sparkling windows, was lined in the rear with dark polished wood and old glass, and the men greeted several customers by name and asked how they were. I shall certainly make a habit of going there! I’ll leave here early, park near the school, and walk to the shop.

The night of the butcher shop visit, EUREKA!, we had the first decent hamburgers we’ve had at home since we hit this country half a year ago. I would never have thought I’d rave over a juicy old hamburger, but this definitely is worth writing home about. The rest of you probably won’t appreciate it fully if you’re served a burger here, but half a year of privation whets one’s appetite.

I asked Enid G (Australian) how their Christmas in Germany was. Their family had taken a coach tour. She said it took an awfully long time to get there, but they enjoyed seeing the little town where they stayed, going to the big Catholic church at midnight, and trying the good food. They were a little disappointed to be served hare on Christmas day.

You future visitors will be glad to know I’ve finally purchased a cheap iron. As most of you know, I don’t DO ironing! However, it is becoming necessary for the girls’ uniforms to be pressed. We’ve gotten by so far because the fabrics were new, but are now starting to be “pruny.”

On a rainy day the girls took $ for his first walk outdoors. You’d think we’d choose a sunny day, but this was more fun to put on his Wellingtons and see him chugging away in and out of puddles. They let him walk down the shallow steps to the tennis court and lurch about on the level surface. He loved every minute of it.

All our children had trims this week – Lisa 2″, Kate 1.5″ and $ wisps. The subject is hair, by the way.

Last night we went to Sten H-L’s for dinner. He is the one who went to the church picnic with us one time years ago. He cooked steaks over charcoal out in the rain — a habit started when they lived in Florida. The steaks, not the rain. He’d also cooked potatoes and onions outside while Gunnbjorg (not misspelled) fixed sprouts, macaroni and cheese, and fruit salad inside. In the living room they served coffee, Krumkake filled with whipped cream and a Norwegian Christmas cookie (new to me) for which I requested the recipe. They took us on a tour of their house, and it is lovely. The girls played with their girls while their boy felt left out. We offered to let him play with $. We were surprised and grateful that $ went to sleep with no protest in our playpen upstairs in a bedroom. Whew! That meant much more enjoyment for us.

Today we drove to London, found a parking place with no trouble, and went to Westminster Abbey. The girls and I sat in the choir right next to the men who were singing, while John did baby duty outside. We were impressed with the counter tenors. Marvelous! The boys weren’t there, perhaps still on holiday since Christmas. John $ walked on his two little legs up and down outside. We went to Burger King — might not be your idea of Sunday dinner, but it surely hit the right spot with us! $ fell asleep on the way home.

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!

England 40 Years Ago — January 4, 1981

Got the date right the first time! [January 1 was a Friday in 1981 and 2021.]

All last Monday was taken by the driving home from Rotterdam. We did get home a little earlier, though, than planned. When we drove up to the ferry terminal we found the ferry was just about to disembark for Folkestone. Took that rather than wait for the Dover one; landing point was just a few miles south. The boat shoved off just minutes after our car was stowed. That’s the way to do things!

$ and I had a quiet day when everyone else went to the Tower of London on the 30th. I don’t think there were many tourists there, so they got good views of everything. That evening we celebrated Harold’s birthday. He had been given the choice of no dessert or the dessert of his choice. He picked a pecan pie and then keeled over laughing when we brought it out. I thought the candle stuck in a pie was funny-looking and was surprised he shared my feelings. When he could talk after all the laughter, he said what got him so tickled was that he suddenly reached the age of one candle. It must have made him feel ancient. It isn’t very funny in the telling, but we did get a kick out of it.

I can tell Christmas is almost over. Just looked over at the train card holders and see the caboose has collapsed its rear wheels and is sitting down like a recalcitrant mule.

New Year’s Eve Harold went to London alone to do more sight-seeing while John diddled around here. Kate, $, and I walked to town. I was planning to get something at Knight’s, but it was closed. We went to a grocery instead and stocked up on the cheapest peanut butter in town.

We didn’t plan any festivities to see the new year in, just stayed up talking. Shortly before midnight we turned the TV on and saw the camera positioned on Big Ben. The shows of various parties and entertainments continued soon after. They had no instant replay like we do in the states! The bells of St. Mary’s [the church we go to in Reigate] were pealing away on the windy, frosty air. That was one of the nicest sounds of the day.

I don’t know where in the world the new year was coming in when it was almost 4 AM here, but $ got up to celebrate at that time. Thank heavens he went back to sleep. He would not have had good company with me that day if he had stayed up!

During New Year’s Day Kate said, “I’m going to Royal my Smurfs.” ??? We watched to see what would happen. She made a paper hat for each one and crowned them. Now we know.

We know of nothing that was open on the first, so just stayed home. Poor Harold said he was suffering withdrawal symptoms because there were no football games on TV. He used his energies to play Monopoly with Lisa.

On Friday a family from church was here for dinner at noon so their whole family could come. Normally their girls, 4 and 6, eat their last meal of the day at 5 or 5:30.

P. explained that the older girl had asked her to tell me that she never eats much at noon. Her napkin never came off her plate! However, she did the thing most grown people don’t know to do when not eating, she sat and entertained us so that no one noticed that she didn’t eat. I was slightly shocked that neither girl would drink milk but would ask for and gulp soda. The parents are both medical doctors.

I’d been dying to ask A. if he started out in his medical training intending to write, and he said no. He was planning to practice, but along the way edited and wrote for medical magazines in school. After all his training was finished, he did practice for three years. He said it was terribly frustrating because he was not given enough time to treat people as he wanted. P. echoed that saying that she was given double time when she first started practicing because she was new. They allowed her six minutes per patient in general medicine instead of only three. She said it was faster to write a prescription for a cold than to try to explain to people that they would be better off to go home, drink fluids, and rest. They both talked as if they’d love to practice in the states but wouldn’t make a move, at least a permanent one, because of all the family ties here. [The last time I asked, probably in 2007, John said there was a book or so by Dr. S. on the shelf at Borders.]

Yesterday the girls and John took Harold to the airport. They were disappointed to find long lines and to learn that the computer was out of order. The good seat Harold had reserved was no longer his. We just hope he didn’t get stuck in a middle seat.

Also yesterday Lisa went to a party at Pippi’s house. The invitation said “fancy dress”, so Lisa had asked her if that meant a party dress. Pippi made some reply that Lisa took to mean yes. Turned out to be a costume party, but they said she could just be Alice in Wonderland in her graduation dress and with long hair. Don’t think it bothered her. She had not been feeling well, but we coaxed her to go anyway. Were we glad! Many of those invited had called up to cancel because of illness. She had a great time.

John brought pizza home for the rest of us last night. He began to feel worse and worse with the cold $ so generously shared with us. He went to bed before the girls and didn’t get up until 10 this morning. He kept $ while the rest of us walked to church.

About half an hour after we got home from church, John commented on how dark it had gotten. I looked out to see a very gray day. Soon we saw rain, hail, and snow coming down all at once. Not much later the sun was shining again, the sky was blue, and there were fluffy white clouds hung in the sky. Kate and I took $ for a walk up on Redhill Common, exploring some of the paths and finding a bricked pond on the north side. There was a fantastic kite flying with the longest tail I’ve ever seen. We all came home with frozen ears.

Now John has driven the car to church for choral evensong. I’m eager to find out what that is like. The rest of us are home listening to $ try to tell us it is tea time. Must stop and feed him.

Bed time for one and tea time for others. We’re thinking of all of you at the beginning of this year and hope to see as many of you as possible during the course of it. God bless you.

England 40 Years Ago — December 30, 1980

Editor’s note – When I read this in 2020, I realized I must have written it by hand in the hotel room. I was afraid of forgetting details.

After Christmas 1980 We started our trip before dawn on the 27th of December and watched people’s lights come on all the way to Dover. It was lovely.

The white cliffs obediently shone for pictures – think Harold got a shot of the moon and the cliffs from the ferry. There was just enough movement of the water to make walking a matter for conscious, careful thought. We began to realize we’d left home country when the announcements were unintelligible. Harold and I had a few uncertain moments when a waiter looked at our English money and mumbled lots of French to himself.

We were thankful to have Harold in the navigator’s seat, both to read maps and to remind John to drive on the right side of the road. He only headed left once. It took six hours to drive from Calais to Rotterdam. We couldn’t believe how absolutely FLAT the land is. The roads are marvelous – wide, fast and empty. We’d be willing to trade these for a few roads in England!

The situation of the Hilton couldn’t be better – overlooking a huge round-about for cars, trams, buses and bicycles.

Tram tracks are on the inside of the circle.

Last night John got us settled in our rooms and went to the ship (the excuse for our being here). He came back around 2 a.m. The rest of us watched the drama of traffic from nine floors up. There are special lanes, slightly divided from car traffic and pedestrians, for bicycles only. The reason – they are very well-used, attesting to the statistics of bike-riding in Holland.

We watched a heated argument between a policeman and people involved in an accident. From the motions being made, we think one car nipped another in the fender and drove off. We thought the man doing most of the talking was the driver, but someone else drove off as he walked on down the street. There must have been 15 spectators on the sidelines at one time!

We ate breakfast together and then split up. I elected to keep $ close to the hotel while the others went to the ship. If everything goes as planned, they’ll be on board while the ship moves from one berth to another. I took a two-hour walk and saw where a ship is on display, saw lots of barges, ships, yachts and beautiful sailing vessels and walked in a museum that was free. I thought $ and I would benefit from that free warm air to get thawed out. One can certainly speed through a museum when the language is foreign!

After that we walked to the Euromast – a building on a needle. There is an observation place and a rotating restaurant. I might have been tempted to go in if I’d had someone to share the responsibility of $. He began looking rather red, so I hoofed it back. Saw large umbrellas set up on the sidewalk sheltering hardy fishermen. There are apartment buildings built right in the water with barges tied up alongside. Must be some way to get there because cars were parked under the buildings.

I felt I could manage a meal at McDonald’s – golly! In the hotel room, I heard a little thump, and turned to see $ crawling away from the crib where he’d been. I mistakenly thought he might sleep. Don’t know how he climbed out. Anyway– back to the hamburger story. The place was two-story, and I couldn’t manage a baby, the stairs, and the food. Luckily there were high tables on the ground floor so that I could park $ underneath and throw him morsels as I ate. He put away all the meat and cheese from a cheeseburger!! His first McDonald’s hamburger ever – in Rotterdam!

One of the buildings $ and I passed while walking

The rest of the gang came in having eaten a hearty meal aboard ship and spent time in the recreation rooms. The ship did not change berths – may do so later when John and Harold are back there.

The Dutch people decorate their homes and apartments for Christmas in a more elaborate fashion than I’ve ever seen before. Lovely. Through almost every window we saw trees, wreaths, decorative hanging things, and white frosty designs on the windows.

All of us plus one Norwegian wife rode on a tram. You pay on the honor system! No one checked tickets at all while we made the round trip on Route #5, though John said they do spot checks at random as on British rail. We were amazed at the numerous canals and waterways all over this city. Amsterdam must be something special if it is noted for canals, because Rotterdam has plenty without that fame.

A view from the tram

We ate again in the hotel restaurant. When John $ got antsy, Lisa offered to take him to the room. John left because his taxi was waiting, but Kate was still eating and I had to sign the bill. Lisa suddenly appeared without $, saying breathlessly, “John crawled out of his diaper and it’s lying in the hall. Come quickly!! THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD! I think she’d left him with a Norwegian boy, but I’m not sure. I sent her back with instructions on how to put on a disposable one. Rushed up to find a Norwegian teenage girl coming out of my room. She may have done the job. It was on backwards, but that covered the problem. Might add there are two other families from Gotaas-Larsen having a total of seven rooms in a row. The seven children (not including above streaker) are having a grand time. I think they’re playing Uno in the hall. Must check.

Supposed to return to Reigate tomorrow.

England 40 Years Ago — December 26, 1980

Thought I’d start the letter early this week because we are planning to go away tomorrow. In the excitement of going to the continent, I may forget all about Christmas!

The recording of the lesson and carol service was not good. John wanted to keep the recorder out of sight so as not to distract worshipers, but it was too muffled. Too bad.

We began celebrating my birthday by getting up early. Thanks for all your cards, one of which arrived on the very day! I had an extremely quiet day with only $ for company, the others going to London and doing a bus tour with a good look at Westmister Abbey afterwards. They may have done other things; can’t remember.

Playing musical beds could be dangerous. So often if Kate comes in, I mumble something about getting her pillow and stumble into her bed. The thought hit me one morning when waking in her room, what if she had been sick all over the bed? What if she thought she saw a burglar in her room and I went down the hall to bump into something very real? I must remember to ask questions next time!!

We all went to Hampton Court Tuesday. What a marvelous place! And we had it to ourselves! Nobody in their right minds would be sightseeing the day before Christmas Eve. All the outdoor things were closed for the winter, but just seeing the inside was almost overwhelming. The guards had nothing to do but watch us, so they spent their time entertaining $. There was wood carving that I thought looked like the work of Grinling Gibbons, and sure enough, it was. The paintings, tapestries, beds, etc. were so elaborate.

The family from across the street came for dinner Tuesday night. Luckily we had set the time for 7, so I was able to get everything together after we got home from Hampton Court at 2:30. They didn’t know what to make of cornbread and pecan pie, but they gamely tried it. The information I gleaned from the evening is that barristers and lawyers DO wear robes and wigs in court! Both Gillian and John trained in law, though she does not work at present. She has a wig, too! Traditionally the wigs are made of horsehair, but most modern ones are of nylon. It lasts a lifetime if you take care of it – care being to flick the dust off and store it in its little container.

After cooking for that crowd, doing Christmas Eve and Day dinners for just five was a snap. We had roast pork the 24th and Christmas pudding steamed for hours — moist, and topped with brandy butter that Gillian had brought for us for the holidays.

On the 24th John and Harold went to London to see the Tower, but found it closed. They walked miles and miles seeing all kinds of interesting things and ended up at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. A retired guardsman picked them up as affluent tourists and told them all the details of the change and where to stand for the best pictures, also pointed out the Queen’s bedroom windows and offices, Prince Charles’ several offices and bedroom suite. He was a gold mine of information. In return, they treated him to lunch at his pub. It was probably a fair exchange for all the pleasure he brought.

Meanwhile, the girls and I went to Co op for a last shop before the stores closed for four days. $’s cashier friend handed us wrapped gifts for each of the children! I thought she might have something for $ because she kept asking if we were coming Christmas Eve, but I never dreamed she’d do something for the girls, too. We had given her birthday cut-out cookies for her birthday December 1, but we did not get her anything for this holiday. She gave the girls a doll in a little bottle (like ships in a bottle, but more appropriate for girls) and $ a shirt with a tiger printed on the front.

Harold offered to keep John $ while we went to the service for children at 5 Christmas Eve. I hesitated to let him, knowing how the little one can act when tired, but he insisted it would be fine. Wasn’t that kind of him? Harold still had his good-natured grin on his face when we got back, but $ had cried a lot. Harold claims he likes to be around children every once in a while just to strengthen his resolve to remain a bachelor. I’m afraid he got good reinforcement that night!

The service was alive, in fact, crawling with activity. All children were asked if they would like to take part, and those wanting to carried big puppets of the holy family in procession and shouted the correct responses. The organist preached the sermon! A good one, too, based on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. He is a reader in the Anglican church, so has had some training beyond that of normal laymen.

There were children of all shapes and sizes there. The one that got our attention most was a streaker – a little girl two months younger than $ that ran up the aisle on all fours every time the mother tended the two other LITTLE tykes. The funniest expression was on the face of the man in the pew ahead of the baby when she sneaked under his feet, picked up his hat, and tried to put it on her own head. The hat was being returned to the rightful owner when she nipped to the pew behind and tried to pinch the kneeler. For the sake of the organist-preacher, it was good the mum gave up and took all three out. Lisa told us later that their last name is Butcher, so guess that’s why they are cut ups.

We walked to church Christmas morning – a lovely blue-sky day. What a packed church! We were 15 or 20 minutes early and had to find chairs separately. $ was good due to mouthfuls of dry cereal. I think that’s the first service he’s made it through since we arrived here exactly six months ago. After the main service at 11, there was communion at 12:15 for those who wanted to stay. John and I stayed while the others walked on home. We moved up to the choir stalls along with about 20 or 30 others. I imagine most of the congregation had taken it at the midnight service. Harold and John started out for that service, but the car had been left out in the rain too long and wouldn’t start. By the time they had spent ten minutes trying to start it, they wouldn’t have gotten seats in church had they walked. They watched two services on TV instead.

This toy is still in our garage in 2020!

Today, Boxing Day, is another glorious day. It’s nice not to be rushing off anywhere. Couldn’t anyway, because we HAVE to get some washing done. All the stores are closed, anyway.

The children are enjoying playing with their new things and fighting. They must enjoy fighting because they do it so much! Harold has told them they can fight all they want today, but WATCH OUT when we all get squeezed into that car together! He’s good to have around.

England 40 Years Ago — December 21, 1980

Merry Christmas! We’ve started out the week in fine fashion with [John’s first cousin] Harold’s arrival. He landed almost an hour early and didn’t have any hassle with customs. He breezed in laughing and joking, and we’ve been having a great time. John is relaxed after almost clearing his desk Friday, staying until 10 and getting home after 11. The girls are so happy to be out of school and able to stay up later.

Cousin Harold — unmarried here, now 40 years later the grandfather of four

I bought a certain green vegetable in the freezer store by looking at the picture. I had the funniest feeling I suddenly couldn’t read. The label had three languages: Passierter Spinat which sounds like a cross between a football player and a piano, Epinards Haches which could be Innards Hatching and Gehakte Spinazie which sounds to me like you are rushing down to the pawn shop to hock something. You linguists will recognize Spinach.

Everyone has heard of New Yorkers, Riplians, Memphians, etc. but do you know who people are from Liverpool? Liverpudlians!! What do you do with Charlotte, Monroe and Stony Brook?

John $ had a cold early last week; he was like a time bomb. You didn’t know whether to run for cover from the fallout or advance like a bomb squad protected by a tissue vest.

The school Christmas program was marvelous. Kate’s form sang two long carols and used rhythm sticks. The second form also sang two selections, and then the upper three forms did a mime program. I think most of the performers were in the third form with the fourth and fifth doing all the choral work. There wasn’t a hitch in the whole program – everyone moved precisely where they were supposed to. The children acting out the Christmas story were so well-behaved; you could tell at times they found things amusing, but the giggles seemed to start rising, get to the throat, and were firmly pushed down again so that the face never cracked. The angel costumes were clever, and Gabriel had a more elaborate set of wings. I had a hard time with Gabriel, though, because she looked just like Big Bird when she folded her wings. The music was wonderful – interesting composed songs all done from memory with excellent diction. Discipline and hard work were certainly on display.

Christmas is a good time for homes to be broken into, especially if a lighted tree is visible with gifts under it. Here places are not burglarized, but “burgled.”

The greatest toys are free. $ likes potatoes! He sneaks into the larder at every opportunity to grab a couple. I must remember to look through them to see if any have teeth marks. He mainly likes to juggle them or use them as stilts for the hands when crawling.

The handwriting book arrived on Wednesday, the 17th, the day school was out. Thank you ever so much for sending it quickly. Kate has done 12 lessons so far and is doing very good work. Think the influence is going to help Lisa’s writing and mine! Please let me know how much we owe you.

The home group Christmas party was fun. Barbara C did baby sit for us, so we could be the last to leave and not worry. They wouldn’t assign us something to bring, so I took a fancy Christmas bowl full of pecans newly arrived from Tennessee. What a hit they made! One person had heard of the nuts before, but most had never known about them. We had a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, sprouts, carrots and steamed pudding. There were several other things, but we understand that sprouts are the mandatory vegetable. The pudding was very moist – I must steam mine just before serving and do it for hours. Penny says she steams hers five hours the first time and five hours again the day it’s served. We also learned how to serve it; it should be flamed, cut in tiny wedges and smothered in cream and brandy butter.

The girls and I went to the open air market that is held every Thursday in Redhill. What a sight! People were milling about the stalls until we almost couldn’t move. Some stalls were nothing more than a make-shift stand while others had material stretched on a frame over and to the sides of them. It had the flavor of an old country fair; some of the merchants were actually hawking their wares, keeping up a running chatter to lure in customers. I think you could buy almost anything there from hand-carved coconuts for birdhouses to carpets. We saw sheets, numerous places selling jeans, a butcher!, two fruit stands, jewellery (I’m right on that English spelling!), antiques, handbags, materials, candy, toys, and even shoes.

It used to be a step up to travel by air while others crawled on the ground. $ found the airport to be a step up – the Fischer Price airport, that is! He pushed it to the sink and stepped up to see what he could see.

I was commanding Lisa to cease and desist saying, “Cut it out!” I couldn’t continue my anger when she solemnly looked me in the eye, raised her hand to eye level and made scissory motions and sounds in a half circle in front of herself.

We went to the party at toddler play group so I could play carols on the piano for them to sing. Don’t know what I would have done without the girls. Lisa had to hold the music because there was no music rack on the piano, and Kate held onto $. Penny, who runs the thing, had asked the girls to help Father Christmas by handing him the gifts. Penny saw my good carol book, browsed through it, and was excited at finding the Polish carols. She asked to borrow it to copy those pages because Andy’s father is Polish and she wanted to try to learn some for him. Penny brought the book back that afternoon, came in for a cup of tea, and we talked for several hours while my girls entertained her little girls. We all had such a good time.

$ is taking two to ten steps at a clip now. His trouble is that he’s trying to run before he learns to walk! One day he stooped to pick up a toy and was able to stand up again.

My walk has changed since we folded up the play pen – it’s a shuffle so as to avoid tripping over toys, with a quick flick to right or left to propel toys to the sidelines. There are no rules in this game!

John and the girls put up the tree last night. John said it looks German/American. We certainly haven’t seen any Christmas trees here pretty enough to write home about!

Harold slept while we went to church this morning. We ate dinner, went for a drive in the country and had tea. Now all but $ and I have gone to church for the service of lessons and carols. It is supposed to be like the one at King’s College. I may not miss it entirely because they took our brand new tape recorder!! If they are in a good spot, we’ll save it for the rest of you to hear.

Hope all of you will have had as wonderful a Christmas as we are going to have!!

England 40 Years Ago — December 14, 1980

Did you know there is no Santa Claus here? The English call him Father Christmas. His wife is Mrs. Christmas!

I heard Lisa calling for help and found her locked in the loo upstairs. Must run in the family. She was able to unlock it after I had tried several times from the outside.

Monday I went to lunch at Enid G’s (mother of Merrin who is Lisa’s friend). Met an Ann there who is also Aussie, but just came from six years in the Fiji Islands. She said she had to adjust to having a live-in maid. At first she couldn’t have the girl clean unless she herself was also working. By the time she left she could have the girl vacuum under her feet while she read a book. In talking about pets, I learned that Australia has a nine-month quarantine. That is, you can bring your animal in for the wait only after you have a permit to bring it into the country in the first place!

Kate’s class was doing a project in school Said Kate, “Mrs. Fitzhugh brings such small needles that you can hardly find them on the floor.”

Heard a commotion upstairs and ran to find the wardrobe doors open, vacuum hose down, various shoe polishes scattered about, and a wire hanger hung on $’s socks and his arms tangled in the straps for the Johnny-Jump-Up. A movie of that boy would run like a cartoon! The same day he turned over the laundry basket and proceeded to climb on top. Later he pulled the extra oven shelf from beside the stove so that I tripped on it.

John $ has learned to point. He sat at the table, smiled, pointed, and I turned around to see who he was smiling at. Nobody. Left me with the funniest feeling!

The church home group met at our house this week. I have no idea how many groups there are; must be scads. Five people came to ours that night.

The days can be so dark now as we approach the shortest day of the year. I usually have the lights on to drive the girls both ways to school and home. It doesn’t bother me, but it is enough to notice. If there are clouds overhead, it can stay almost like twilight all day. I think it makes homes and stores look so warm and cozy when it’s dark and there are lights on.

I was on the phone for a short while and came out to find $ brushing his hair with the toilet brush. Perhaps he thought it was the Johnny brush.

[I never mentioned $ in the cloakroom, so I’ll include his photo here. As far as I could tell, “cloakroom” was often used as the name for a half bath. Ours had a toilet and sink and certainly no place to hang coats. We kept the door open, because it smelled bad if air didn’t circulate there. This was the only toilet on the ground floor.]

School will “break up” for the holidays on the 17th of December. It breaks me up to hear that expression for school closing.

At the home group they discussed the Christmas party for this week. We were unsure if we could go, mainly because John gets phone calls at home, but the others thought it was because of sitter problems. The following day Barbara C called to offer to sit for us! She had stayed with Rob and Mary’s children while they came to our house; when they mentioned wanting us to come to the party, she called. Isn’t that something?

The light in the entrance hall has been out and we knew it wasn’t the bulb. Lisa learned how to turn it on – you flip the switch and run upstairs and jump hard in the middle of that hall. Makes you wonder about the wiring in this place!

Without looking ahead, try to define a play yard. I discovered it isn’t outside except in the summer. It’s inside mostly and measures about one square yard. Yep, a play pen.

The burglar alarm had its six-month check up. A man (called an engineer) came to test it, making all the different systems work. He had buzzes in the closet, clangs outside the house, and nasty bells inside the house. Bet a musical person could almost play a tune with it.

To save time, I gave $ his lunch to feed himself while I jotted a note. Without thinking, I held the pencil in the hand I picked up his cup with, and he went cross-eyed looking at the pencil while drinking.

John $ is a boy in a hurry. He actually slithers down the stairs! He stretches out his arms and legs, has his whole body undulating, and rides down mainly on his stomach. I must admit, he has plenty to ride on!

[This photo is an action shot, probably taken when he began taking several steps at once.]

$ has also acquired an English polish recently. Unfortunately I had to remove it as best I could with a tissue. I was polishing shoes when he suddenly galloped across the floor on all fours, jumped up, and struck three fingers all the way to the bottom of the gooey polish. Navy blue, for your information. Yuck!

People in the home group had talked about a float that would go all over town, and I was so glad they told me ahead of time what it was all about. Friday evening I heard a loud speaker and then Christmas carols. By the time the float came into view, we had our money ready. A car or truck was completely covered with a lit up house and Santa, I mean Father Christmas, gaily waving from the chimney. A dozen or more people were running along with it and darting down to each house to collect money for the Round Table. This organization uses the money to buy medical equipment for local use.

We’ve had one little group come caroling. The custom is for groups to go from house to house singing and collecting for worthy causes. When the three boys started singing at our front door, I first thought one of the children had turned up the TV too loud. Realized it was for real and opened the door to find these three lads cheerfully singing. I asked who they were collecting for, and they said, “Ourselves.” I was told you’re expected to give 5 or 10p to such people and 50p if you recognize the charity they’re working for.

In looking for a good source of heat, I decided to put the angel chimes over the stove (cooker here). Now when I have a meal under way, things are not humming, but tinkling.

Found out when and how to use Christmas crackers. They are small favors like ones we used to have at birthday time and are decorated for Christmas here. Just before the Christmas dinner everyone stands in a circle, crosses hands, and helps each other pull the crackers. I think they make a noise when pulled and have a hat, favor, and motto inside. You’re supposed to wear the silly hats during dinner. According to Mary G, that’s the one time English people unbend and act silly! We have them already, but I don’t think I’ll require cousin Harold to wear a hat during dinner! Can’t see John doing it either.

England 40 Years Ago — December 7, 1980

Last Sunday John and the girls went to an Advent carol service at St. Mary’s that was dramatic. The church, at one point, was in total darkness; one large candle in the center of the church was lit, and from it, others, until the youth group that was doing that part of the service had spread light into all the corners of the building. The hymns were all Advent ones that John was familiar with.

The new entrance into Co-op from the parking lot was open Monday. What a delight! It saves so many steps in this cold weather.

One of the Micklefield ladies, Eileen, invited me to a coffee at her house. She is Irish, raised in Dublin. Nichola, another guest, is an identical twin who never swapped identities with her sister. I asked her if they had ever tried to fool anyone, and she said they were required to wear identification bracelets in school to prevent just that kind of thing! Fanny was also there; she runs a farm shop where John went to buy our Christmas tree. I couldn’t believe she had a son named Angus. All I picture is a cow! And, last, there was Liz who is a church goer. She told the tale about her mother who always said, “Oh! Shakespeare!” when angry. Liz was almost grown when she discovered that was the name of a writer and not a swear word. Two of the four ladies had gone to boarding school; one loved it and one hated it. The two other mothers would consider sending their girls away when the time comes. All said it would really depend on the child as to whether they would be sent away. I really enjoyed meeting and visiting with these women. John $ got into the potted plants only twice. I solved the problem by feeding him cereal pieces VERY SLOWLY.

In the U.S. things are straightened out. Here people get things “sorted out.”

I was so glad John $ helped me clean house one day. He found a plate from his dad’s midnight snack under the living room chair and called my attention to it. Not much later the door bell rang, and there was a visiting health nurse. She said she had come to tell me about the services of the medical practice; I had the feeling she was also checking to see that we didn’t live in a hovel and that our children weren’t battered. I asked if they ever checked healthy children routinely. The place to go is Shaw’s corner clinic just down the road where they will weigh, measure and check $. It’s called a developmental check. I must make an appointment soon. The lady who came is a trained mid-wife, a nurse and is qualified to teach. She has 400 families to check on, is available to answer questions about child rearing, and gives immunizations.

I believe I’m right that they don’t do a 4th DPT here. We should be able to get the 4th polio immunization.

Names are something. I was introduced to Judy Catt from New Zealand. Her daughter is Victoria. She missed her chance. Why didn’t she name her Katherine and call her Kitty?

We were rather rudely awakened this week. $ was making noises about getting up, so I pried myself out of the warm bed, groped for slippers, and caught a Fischer Price toy instead, and it landed with a thump and a loud ring from a bell inside. Now you may not think it the usual thing to store such a toy in one’s bedside table, but in this house it is logical. Daddy John hopped up quicker than ever for the real alarm. I was more alert than normally! $ keeps us on our toes!

Fish report: both are doing fine, just as lively as can be. Wouldn’t have believed it a week ago.

So often I report what Kate says because she can get things royally mixed. This week it was Lisa: “Can we have a piece of John for bread?”

Mr. Wolters, the agent, arrived unannounced this week. $ came in handy as an excuse for certain things being out of place. He and I were standing in the kitchen as Clewes rolled the barrow by, and Clewes told me later he looked in as I waved to him and was sure the corrective collar Mr. Wolters wears was the collar of a vicar. He couldn’t figure out why I was bringing the vicar into the kitchen.

I wanted to point out that the school has non-uniform uniforms. This being the year of the change of suppliers, some girls have the old uniform and some the new — a motley group.

In deploying Christmas decorations around the house, I dropped a small candle over the banister. The race was on – $ at the bottom of the stairs and me at the top. I could just see him reaching it first and chomping on it like a cigar. I won, however.

You know how I often laugh when I shouldn’t? This time I did it to myself. In putting $ in the push chair, I got the shoulder strap from my purse tangled in his feet. The more I tried to undo it, the more twisted he became. I got tickled, began to laugh aloud, and looked up to see a Micklefield mother staring at me. Made me laugh even more. Finally $ had to be taken completely out before I could get him untangled.

The generation gap in our house is amusing. It was shown in a non-verbal controversy over toys. Kate was having her hair washed, and $ decided she needed toys to play with. He threw in all he could reach, and she just as quickly slung them back in the toy tray.

John $ has a casual disregard for clothes. He is constantly crawling out of his booties and would probably leave his pants behind as well if they weren’t firmly anchored over his shoulders with straps.

We had a busy weekend. Chris G, who works with John, came out Saturday afternoon to see the sugar shakers in the antique/junk shop. She’d been wanting one, was aghast at the prices in London, and was eager to see the ones here. While she was looking, I bought a toast rack, a neat gadget that will keep the toast from getting soggy! I had seen one a few days ago but forgot to buy it while concentrating on something else. This one was 50p cheaper. We walked along the High Street just looking and came on home. I enjoyed walking without my usual encumbrances.

Chris spent the night with us, and this morning we went to Canterbury Cathedral. The weather was very cold. They got chilled sitting in the choir during the service; $ and I got cold walking around waiting for them. Warmed ourselves with hot tea, sizzling chips and steaming hamburgers. Then we felt warm enough to walk along part of the old wall. The music was glorious in the church and worth the effort. Drove around the town and home. $ was so good – only cried about two minutes the whole day!!

Canterbury Cathedral

England 40 Years Ago — November 30, 1980

When John $pencer plays with a ball, it reminds me of a baseball player, only $ does his sliding while he’s chasing the ball.

I knew it! I knew someday when we played musical beds no one would be in the right place in the morning, and it finally happened! There had been a scary show on TV that we watched about natural phenomena. First Kate came, then Lisa. The girls were in our bed together, and we in theirs separately. At 5:30 John $ woke up – it was terribly cold, so I think he’d been running around his crib to keep warm and ran into something. At any rate, at the getting up time, he and I were out of bed. Several nights this week the girls have elected to sleep in the same bed, partly for company and partly to keep warm.

$ got his measles vaccine and didn’t bat an eyelash while getting it. We’d made the appointment ahead of time, were ushered into a hallway to wait, and taken almost immediately by the nursing sister (not a religious term) who gives all the immunizations. Didn’t cost a cent, directly, that is. I’m sure we’re paying through the nose for such as this in taxes.

Our fish pond was poisoned. We can’t prove it, but we think one of the men working on the trees washed a can of petrol or oil in the water because it had a film on it. Clewes was the one who discovered it, because one of the fish was floating on the top of the water, and the others gasping for air at the surface. Lisa and Kate rescued two, but one is not doing well at all. John bought them a rectangular fish bowl made of plastic, a green bridge and two plastic plants. Looks nice. At first the girls were upset for the fish. Then Lisa said, “Think how Mr. Clewes must feel because he put so much work into the cleaning of the pond. We’ll clean it out ourselves next spring.”

We got something on Thanksgiving Day that you didn’t – regular mail delivery! Of course, it wasn’t a holiday here. However, we got the Thanksgiving card from Stony Brook on Thursday. I was thinking of all of you in the states as we were getting ready for our feast. We ate in the evening, so we were probably stuffing ourselves about the same time as you were.

Shortly after the girls and I came home from school, John arrived with Chris from New York, John from North Carolina and Phil from Kansas, all people who work with him in London. Chris had brought paper plates and napkins with big turkeys on them, two Hallmark cookie cutters, decorative posters which the girls had taken to school with them and brought home in time to stick up before they arrived, canned pumpkin and sweet potatoes. All this John had brought home days before, but Thursday she brought gifts for the girls – chocolate turkeys!

We began eating shortly after 5. They ate so much that they asked if dessert could be delayed. We all got sleepy, but Lisa and Kate kept us awake. The guests got up from the table after having pie and went right to the station to get the 10 p.m. train. We all had such a good time.

During the night of Thanksgiving there was a terrific storm with rain blowing ice at the windows to make a big racket. I woke and knew someone would be with us soon. Yes, Kate came first. As she was getting her pillow, Lisa invited her into her bed.

$ has found he can open the door where the tennis rackets are kept. There are holes drilled at the bottom of the door, probably for ventilation, and he can open the door by pulling it with one finger. He had a merry time among the sports equipment and spider webs until I found him. Put up the gate inside the door to keep him out. That was fine until the weekend when we wanted to hear the Christmas records playing in the study and had to use the gate at that door.

Have we ever had snow!!! It is supposed to be fairly rare here, but we had it anyway. Friday afternoon I looked out the window and saw the Downs looked white. The thought went through my mind that it could be snow, and sure enough, in a few minutes it was snowing mightily until the trees in the next street were blotted out. I ran to pick up as many apples from the two far trees as I could. I even called a mother of a girl from school to see if they ever dismiss school early. She just laughed. She said when it snows during the day, it’s always gone by tea time. It stuck more up here on the hill than elsewhere, but the mother said they never close school early for anything! I was concerned about getting out of the driveway. Should have gone out there earlier, but I thought I could make it. Backed up repeatedly, only to slip and slide half way up. Finally got a broom – don’t think there is a snow shovel in Reigate – and brushed off as much as possible. We made it! Other sections of the town didn’t have much sticking, but ours lasted several days. Had more during the night, too. It was fun having Merrin in the car on the way home, because they hardly ever see snow where she lives in Australia. She said they had none to speak of last year here, so this was the most she’d ever seen.

In the interests of Harold’s head, John relocated the angel mobile. John’s cousin Harold is coming for Christmas, and he is tall. I’d always wanted the mobile in a stairwell, and that is where it is now. Those angels really fly around and around. After a birthday party yesterday, John tied Kate’s huge balloon on the mobile, and that makes it go even faster.

We walked to church, walked home and left the push chair in the hall. Later I heard $ being too quiet; found him standing in that stroller helping himself to papers on the table. While I’ve been writing this in the dining room, $ opened the cabinet with the china and put a salad plate on the floor — gently, thank heavens! Just now he opened the door with the glasses for the first time and had his hand on the handle of a ship mug when I shouted at him. I’m glad he let go before withdrawing his hand.

Lisa and I had a long walk this afternoon with $. Found the public bowling green hidden away by a footpath! Love this town!

Both photos in this letter were shown before, but they really seem to belong here.

England 40 Years Ago — November 23, 1980

Lisa says of her brother, “He’s a clever little freak.”

The uninitiated would wonder why the toilet brushes are on the backs of the toilets, the bathroom waste basket is on the hamper, and the bed crowned with a clock, hand lotion and a tissue box. Things on tables recede inch by inch, as if the tide is going higher week by week. I’m afraid the passerby will soon think the refrain here is, “NO!”

Guess who John saw this week – no less a person than the Queen of England! The King of Nepal had arrived at Victoria Station, was met, and processed by open coach to Buckingham Palace. John was waiting for his lunch appointment to arrive at the restaurant and could look out the second floor window with the clearest view. I saw it all later on TV, but seeing it in person was marvelous he said. Also saw Prince Philip and Prince Charles.

Bet you think you know how to pronounce the names “Launders” and “Saunders.” In America, yes, but here the “d” is pronounced as a soft “g”. Comes out “Laungers” and “Saungers.” Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

This week our car had her 5,000 mile check-up. I had a little blue Renault to drive. Wouldn’t start very well, but once you got your foot on the gas pedal, away she went! The electric locks were the most fun. Instead of a button there were plastic jiggers in which a red stick would pop up when the lock was engaged. I unlocked the car to put John $ in and discovered undoing one undid them all!

We’re getting ready for Thanksgiving. This past week I de-cobwebbed the house with the special wire brush on the end of a bamboo pole. I try to think of this as just removing cobwebs and not dwell on the fact that they were once INHABITED!!

I almost witnessed an accident. When I got on the scene a little red VW was overturned, and I could hear the screams from quite a distance away. In reconstructing the event, I think $ stood on the toy car, reached in the toy box, and tumbled in. When I got to his room, all I could see under the partially open box was a pair of streaming eyes and one little hand trying desperately to push up the top which was resting on his head. The shock of it wore him out – sang him two songs, and he fell asleep!

The old dead tree at the front of the property was removed this past week. The tree surgeons also “stopped” the row of trees between the back garden and the tennis court. They trimmed 5 or 6 feet off the tops and squared off the bottoms. Certainly looks different. I comfort myself that most of it will have grown back by the time the owners come back. Looks scalped.

I finally got everything together that we needed to begin getting a doctor. Didn’t take much, but I kept forgetting to do it. Here you have to ask a doctor if he will accept you on his register. I made the first call and got a very friendly and informative lady who told me just what to do. She explained that Dr. Ingram, who I think lives on this street, would accept us. It helped to give our address and the assurance that we wouldn’t be here more than 18 months more. She told me to hang up and call for an appointment. Did this, and the appointment lady asked if I was the one who was just talking to someone else in the office. They work not more than three feet apart, but have no switching equipment for the phone, so you have to hang up and dial another number.

Took $ to see about his immunizations. Dr. Ingram was interested in seeing what is being done in the States, but explained that they don’t do rubella for boys at all and they don’t do mumps. He didn’t think he could even get the serum for that. He did agree to do measles, polio and DPT. He wrote down the measles vaccine and told me to come back this week because they do shots only one day a week. There was nothing like a routine examination – no weighing, no looking at ears, etc. I was just asked if there were any questions or anything he should see.

I had 45 minutes to kill after dropping off the girls for school and the time for the doctor. The two things were only one street apart, so I couldn’t see battling rush hour traffic for that. $ and I took a nice walk and discovered a whole block of offices and workrooms for the blind. The shop wasn’t open, but there were some nice looking things inside.

Have I mentioned that there is a super drying rack hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen? Now that the heat is on from time to time, it is an excellent place to dry things. All the clothes get hung on hangers before dangling from the rack, and we have to eat without getting the coat tails of things in our food. (Usually things are removed before breakfast, and we eat in the dining room at night. It is mostly me dining among the clothes.) The other day Kate and I were eating, and she’d moved her stool under a particularly long nightgown. We hadn’t been there long before she was playing with the hem of it and finally tied it in a knot under her chin!

Yesterday Lisa went to Natasha’s birthday party which lasted from 1:45 until 7!! They assembled, went to the school which her brother attends for three short plays put on by the boys, and came back for a meal of hamburgers, chips (French fries) and cake. Today she went to Andrea’s party. Philippa’s parents were going somewhere and asked us to take her, and they’d pick the girls up. Merrin also needed a ride. So, we had Philippa go to church with us, picked up Merrin, and drove a fair distance to get to the party. It was nice to put the car away and have Lisa delivered back home.

Kate was angry, came storming up the stairs and said, “I’m going to give up my temper!”