England 40 Years Ago — March 1, 1982

I heard a truck, a light tap of a horn, and went to look out the front window as a slip of paper came through the letter box. It was an emergency notice from the water company that water was being shut off immediately so that emergency repairs could be carried out. I ran to fill up some big pots while Kate went with the notice next door. A minute later Jennifer appeared in her apron wondering what it was all about. I thought it extremely considerate of the company to warn us. However, we never noticed any interruption of service! ?????

John and I took our first day trip without the girls, postponed from a fortnight ago when we spotted Kate’s chicken pox. We poked around Rochester in Kent, seeing the old cathedral and castle. For the second time we’ve seen organ pipes painted, though these were more uniform than the ones in Gloucester. I found a silver and ebony stick locked in a case that was shaped like a shepherd’s crook, but it had an odd extra piece sticking out. I wish I could have seen it better because it might have been a device for blowing out tall candles. Armin, a college friend, told us they use a blower in Germany – air blown into the tube and aimed at the flame.

The ruins of the castle are still impressive. People are allowed to climb the five or six stories on the old twisting stairs, and all the openings of windows are fenced in. What a marvelous view of the city from way up in the air!

Rochester Castle

It was good to speak to Harold, Aunt Kay, and Howard on the phone for a few minutes. For those of you who don’t know, Harold is John’s cousin who was getting married on Feb. 27.

We set out for Cardiff, Wales, in rain hoping the weather would change for the better. It did – we could see the moon and stars much of the way, but that was the last we saw of the sky for the whole trip.

Cardiff Castle, with a few Roman walls and additions from every century thereafter, is in the center of the city. We climbed up the steep hill to the round keep. The children were fascinated by all the peacocks, so John and I were left to concentrate on the history of the place.

Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Keep

Cardiff is noted for shopping arcades, so we dutifully walked through several. We discovered one of the crafts of this area – hand-carved lovespoons. We think a man is supposed to carve one for his sweetheart, but the stores help out those with five thumbs.

Outside Cardiff is a folk museum laid out like a little village showing Wales of the past. Cheerful log fires were burning in every house. One friendly guide invited the children to sit close to the fire, actually inside the huge chimney, and to look up to the way it narrowed at the top. We tried a picture upstairs in a thatched cottage, trying to get the lovely underside of the thatch. Even in fairly primitive houses there were grandfather clocks. We liked the beds in the more comfortable houses – a mattress completely enclosed in a large wooden box. Must have been cozy. One guide pointed to what we thought was a stone floor. “No,” he said, “It’s made of earth, manure, and blood.” That accounted for its red colour.

Underside of thatched roof
Hedge at folk museum

We drove into the Welsh mountains, but the fog was so thick we could only see the side of the road. My impression of Wales is of green and grey – lush green grass, grey sky, grey buildings, grey earth. Coal mining is the main industry in the southern part. It is a poor land, though the miners are better paid now than they used to be. We saw Aberfan. Do you remember the tragedy of 10 – 15 years ago when a slag heap buried a school, killing most of the students? We saw no scar on the landscape; grass must have covered it now.

We all laughed the next day, even Lisa. We said, “Can’t you just imagine coming into your hotel room after a pleasant evening, relaxing in bed, and then hearing someone in the thin-walled bath next to you violently vomiting? Poor Lisa had been asleep, woke in time to aim the first bit in her own bed and got the rest into the toilet. John helped her in the bathroom as I stripped off her sheets and pillowcases before the mess soaked in. Kate calmly slept through it, but $ woke up, peered over the side of his cot, and mischievously imitated the (w)retched sound.

John $ had had a coke the night of Lisa’s sickness and was wide awake after all the excitement. His father fell asleep, woke with a start when $ made a sound, leapt out of bed, grabbed the boy, ran with him into the bathroom and thrust his head in the toilet, thinking he was about to throw up. Then he stopped to look at $ – white as a sheet, shaking, and a heartbeat going a mile a minute. The poor mite was scared stiff! He hadn’t a clue as to what was happening. We must have sat holding him for an hour after that traumatic experience; he would lie back not moving a muscle, but his eyes were sprung wide open. Never did get sick!

Parts of the Welsh mountains reminded us of the moors – no trees, sparse grass, marshy land, wild ponies and sheep grazing. Across major roads are cattle grids to keep animals away from villages. The sheep had long tails, even the ones penned in and obviously belonging to someone. All other sheep we’ve seen have had their tails docked.

Sunday morning we inquired at the hotel about the time of the service in the cathedral, but no one knew. We often get to church on time, though we never know if the service is at 9, 9:30, 10, or 11. There seems to be no set custom. This time we missed; the last hymn of a crowded communion service was being sung as we walked in at 10. We stood at the back until the processional ended, and a former headmaster of a school caught us to welcome us. He knew the history of the church thoroughly and had a knack of asking questions that would catch Kate’s interest. He showed her a picture in which a man appears to have six toes, a mouse carved in the underside of a kneeler, a squirrel in King David’s family tree, a stone carving of a pelican, and a peep hole from a side chapel to the altar of the lady chapel. He held us spellbound with the tale behind the six female angels and their placement in the church. Several times he made “witnessing” statements – if only all churches had such men alert on the front line!

The cathedral for Cardiff is called Llandaff Cathedral. The double “l” has a guttural sound, almost like “cl”.

On our way home, we went to Hereford to see the cathedral there. That church is very open; John spotted repairs in the marble floor where a choir screen once stood. In so many churches the screen obscures the altar and the whole front of the church.

Hereford Cathedral

We drove around Caerphilly castle, second in size only to Windsor, though it’s crumbling. We also saw the beautiful ruins of Tintern Abbey. The weather was against us most of the trip, but we had a good time. The hotel we stayed in two nights really has good ideas for family travel. We got a special rate for staying two nights at the weekend, and the price included breakfast for all and a three-course dinner for two adults. We paid one pound extra per night per child for the room and paid for their meals. They had a choice of things from a kiddie’s menu or anything from the regular menu at half price! It was not a costly holiday.

Caerphilly Castle
Tintern Abbey

Back at home, I was measuring milk for pancakes when movement from the back garden caught my eye. It was a fox! It had a pointed muzzle, dainty legs, red fur, and a paint brush tail dipped in white paint. Beautiful.

England 40 Years Ago — February 23, 1982, Part 2

We found the town of Delft with no problem, but would have missed the porcelain factory without Lisa’s sharp eyes. Most prices on the items for sale were not visible as we walked through the showrooms. There were pictures showing how the greenware was made, and two live artists in the middle of a room painting the blue designs by hand. Actually, the paint appears black and turns blue after firing. The artists did have a rough charcoal-looking pattern on the plates and a finished plate propped in front of them to which they constantly referred. After seeing that, we understood why each piece is so expensive. A guidebook explained the trademark – a pot with a line over it, a stylized letter “f” and the word “Delft” are on all the authentic pieces.

We had been along lonely stretches at noon and couldn’t find a cafe. At some teeny weeny town we ducked in a tiny grocery. There were as many fresh fruits as in Co-op and a cheese section as big as the old Cheese Shed in Stony Brook. I’d wager we were the first Americans ever to set foot inside there; the three people were as helpful as could be without knowing much English at all.

We had our picnic in the car in a deserted parking lot beside a school, out for vacation. We never saw another person in the whole town.

Several places we saw young trees where you’d not expect trees – on a narrow street with hardly any pavement (English for sidewalk) and outside that school where we ate our lunch. The trees were being trained to be flat! Their branches were tied to flat triangular frames, and their trunks trussed up with wrappings. I presume they wouldn’t look so bereft with a few leaves on them.

Kate with a flat tree

$ is good at putting on his own coat if it is laid on the floor facing the right direction. He thinks he knows how to do it all by himself, so usually gets it right half the time. The other times his hood covers his bum (English for that part of the anatomy which is used for sitting). In the car he put on his coat and played with Lisa’s swim gear. The picture he made with his coat upside down was so cute, but with the addition of a girl’s plain white swim cap worn slightly askew on the head, the effect was side-splitting. [I don’t have a photo of the side-splitter, but the one here shows $ hanging on the steering wheel with his coat upside down.]

We noticed that parents often hold a hand of their child or a handlebar of their bike as they roll along. John claims it’s to hold the mother up! Special bike lanes are everywhere, city and country alike. Hardly five minutes could go by without having a bike in sight.

We saw two Dutch ladies coming from a supermarket dressed in a national costume. They had voluminous black skirts, a small print apron, colourful shawls, and white lace caps. Their caps fit close to the head, though we understand in the area of Volendam and Marken caps have gull-like wings. The ladies we saw also had a hair-do to go with their dress, a big roll of hair atop their faces. We wondered how they kept it up; it looked as if there was a giant sausage roller inside. [I was trying to take the picture where they could not see me.]

We were tired and hungry by the time we arrived in Ghent, so we were thankful to get a hotel room in our favorite chain. It was the last room available and had one drawback – no curtain over the hugest picture window I’ve ever seen in a hotel. We were just careful to dress in the bathroom and scurried around in darkness like mice.

We heard the cock crow before dawn, thanks to $. He was tired of bed and climbed out. Kate and I took him to the lovely playground full of wooden equipment not far from our room, before 7:00 am! He loved the slide with a house at the top and had no trouble figuring out what to do. I was hoping the funny frozen things I could barely see were clods of grass instead of what I feared. As it became brighter, we found that it was just grass. Whew! We were certainly ready for a warm breakfast after our predawn romp.

Dutch houses that I liked:

We pushed on to Calais, got an earlier boat than we’d booked, and got home at the time we should have been boarding on the other side.

After some signs I saw today, I’m simply not going to worry about all my spelling mistakes. Somewhere in the world there must be someone spelling words like I do. The sign pointing to the capital of France said, “Parijs.” Truly! We saw it several times in Belgium.

England 40 Years Ago — February 23, 1982, Part 1

What an exciting meal we had! Lisa was kindly helping serve the plates with spaghetti and a juicy dark red meat and tomato sauce. We always serve $’s plate first and often put it in the freezer to cool a few minutes. She did that, took two plates over to our table, and when serving her father, discovered the momentum peculiar to moist spaghetti on a moist plate. It quietly slithered over the side of the plate, onto the table, and down in a red splat on the green carpet. John nimbly leapt aside, ran for a spatula to rake it up, and began cleaning as I opened the freezer door for $’s plate. Splat! The plate evidently slid to rest against the door when Lisa closed it and naturally exploded onto the floor. Kate shared with John, I shared with $, and we ate happily ever after. The moral is: the family that messes together mucks together.

Did you know that English people don’t have odds and ends? It isn’t that they are neater than we, but they have “bits and pieces”. They also have “odds and sods”, various things of little importance.

Also, though I’ve read of chain stores here, it can just as well be “multiple stores”. I guess that’s all right unless they abbreviate it to MS. Paula (friend I met as a cashier at the supermarket) had never heard of multiple stores. Perhaps it’s something written, not spoken, or it comes from a different section of the country.

The butcher said, “here I am standing like a lemon.” These things are easier said than explained! Roughly it means you’re in a hurry, but momentarily pause because you can’t think what to do next.

We left for the Netherlands Friday morning and returned today, Tuesday. Windmills are not dead! We must have seen at least 10 on the drive up to Amsterdam, one of which had sails and was actually working. This was an exciting drive for $ who recognizes and calls by name trains, tracks, water, windmills, cows, sheep, horses, boats, and trucks.

I knew this country was rich in canals, but I had no idea it was branded by grids of ditches. Open fields beside the highway had small ditches (less than one foot wide) every 50 – 75 feet and three-foot wide waterways after every three or four small ditches.

Our luxurious hotel overlooked the junction of five canals. There seems to be more traffic in waterfowl than boats in the winter.

Our hotel
View from our hotel

Our first morning in Amsterdam began like no other – John called an American in London as arranged and took a new job! He’d been interviewed on Thursday, and there were a few questions on both sides. He is supposed to start work May 1, having a chance to be with us when the girls have a month off from school. The company is downtown in Manhattan. So, we’re all headed back to New York eventually, though the children and I may stay in England for school and housing reasons for a while longer.

Amsterdam is the diamond center of the world. We walked to the van Moppes diamond shop from our hotel. To cut a one-carat diamond takes eight hours! Then it must be shaped, the facets cut, and the polishing done. We learned that a great percentage is lost in cutting, but that all dust is saved and used, mixed with olive oil, for cutting and polishing. Only diamonds are strong enough to cut diamonds.

Our little Japanese guide spoke fractured English, but much of what she talked about was on signs. She and I talked quite a while after the tour, and she said though she’d lived in Holland for seven years, her Dutch was atrocious. She claimed that people who speak English will try their best to understand, but the Dutch people insist you speak their language perfectly. If she mispronounces a Dutch word, she will be told bluntly that she is not understood.

Dutch people, unlike the English, eat publicly all the time. Restaurants are open earlier than in England, and informal snack bars are everywhere. There are pastry shops, cafes, burger places, pizzarias, doughnut stores, and coffee shops galore. Not only are the eateries there, but there are always people inside snacking.

We rode the tram into the downtown area and took the hour-long canal tour of the city. When the recorder tape broke, the man in charge announced things in Dutch, English and German, and a passenger volunteered to translate to French. We were impressed with their linguistics. We found that Dutch children are required to study those four languages in school.

Below are photos of a bridge over a canal, a wide canal, Central Station, interesting facade of a house, and a tiny white building that is only one window wide.

The canals do not stink, being kept flushed by the tide. Only one river is a natural waterway; all the canals are man-made. I used to feel sorry for these people having to cope with water, and now I find it is by choice in Amsterdam!

John spotted the highlight of our walking tour – movers using block and tackle from a hook at the top of a house to lift crates through the wide upper window. A majority of the buildings seem to have these hooks on beams.

Three windows removed for moving furniture in

Most canals have one-way streets on both sides, and cars are parked by the squeeze method. Wherever you think a car wouldn’t fit, there is a car. A pedestrian’s life is in almost as much danger from bicycles as cars – the bikes WHIZ where the cars only speed.

We saw the grey stone royal palace from the outside and Rembrandt’s house from the inside. R’s house is full of his etchings and has a good display showing how etchings were made. A copper plate is coated with an acid-proof layer, that layer is scratched away by the artist to expose the metal, and an acid bath eats into the exposed lines. The plate is cleaned, inked, and then printed on damp paper.

Royal palace
Rembrandt’s house

We went in one large church that made us appreciate more worshipful attitudes elsewhere. Chairs were faced toward two organs rather than the altar, social action signs were hanging from the rafters, flower prints were sold from stalls, and there were vending machines and tables set up for coffee drinkers! We were impressed with the HUGE carved wooden canopy over the pulpit. It had angels, religious figures, windows with people inside, and little people hanging over balconies. Our overall impression of church life in Holland was that few people bother. One lovely old church had been turned into a water sport place, and many of its windows were broken. Sad.

We’d read that the Dutch do not guard their privacy as the English do. On a long rambling walk after dark, we found that we could easily see into living rooms. On a cold clear night, they all looked cozy and warm.

On a clear day we drove north of Amsterdam to Volendam, built on the water. Two rows of houses were built on top of the dyke – tiny houses that we could see right through on either side of a one-way lane. The rest of the town was set down below sea level behind the dyke.

Edam, where the cheese of that name originated, was a small community built around a canal. We also poked around Hoorne before driving over the biggest dyke – the one closing off what used to be the Zeiderzee. We made a big circle around that water, driving on roads where the land on both sides was newly reclaimed and not yet productive. It was so empty – empty of plants, animals, and houses. Swinging toward Amsterdam, we were almost relieved to be among living things again.

Hoorne Museum
Family on largest dike we saw

In each country travelers like to spot local colour. Many times national quirks are hidden or minimized in larger hotels. Most places we’ve been serve croissants for breakfast from the French custom, bacon and eggs from the English, porridge from the Scots, and cold cereals for Americans. In addition to the above, in Amsterdam there were pots and pots of sprinkles – milk chocolate, dark chocolate, vari-coloured, white, white and pink mixed. I couldn’t resist asking what they were used for. The waitress in national costume replied, “The Dutch have a peculiar habit of sprinkling these things on buttered bread.” Later that day I saw shelves full of sprinkles in a tiny grocery store. Each package had a picture of a thick slice of bread with these sprinkles being poured on top of the butter.

England 40 Years Ago — February 14, 1982

You can live for years in a place and not know something is available until the crunch comes. Kate forgot to go to the bathroom in the morning, failed to take time at school, and was in dire distress when we were checking books out of the library. It would have been another 45 minutes until we’d reach home. I told myself it wouldn’t hurt to ask and was surprised when the librarian went for a key. My first thought was that it must be nice if they keep it locked. We had to go to the rear of the building, grope our way in, and find the loo. It wasn’t until we were leaving that I found the light switch. Talk about austerity – there was a light and an old toilet, no sink and no toilet paper. Kate would agree it was better than nothing.

It might not be so unusual for a 2-year-old to hand you a $10 bill, but I knew immediately that John $ had been into something! I haven’t seen a $10 bill for at least a year! I deal in pounds and pence now.

I knew something was up by the tone of John’s voice; he shouted, “Anne! I need you up here immediately.” The closer I got to the bathroom door, the more piercing the screams. Kate was almost in hysterics kneeling rigidly in the tub wailing over her spots. We immediately suspected chicken pox which none of the children have had yet. She finally trusted us enough to accept the fact she wouldn’t be an outcast of society.

The reactions of various people to Kate’s illness were amusing. The doctor laughed when I asked if she wanted to diagnose it in her surgery, on a house call or by telephone. She chose the telephone. Kate appreciates $’s actions the most: whenever I put a cooling lotion on her spots, he lifts his shirt for the same. Lisa said, “Well, you’re always wanting to do things first, and now you have.” John kindly told her we don’t need a dog for a pet because we can call her “Spot.”

She seems to be having a mild case without too many spots and not a lot of itching. According to a baby book, we should be able to take our short holiday next weekend before the other two come down with it in about a fortnight. Meanwhile, it certainly is handy having John home so that Kate doesn’t have to go with me in the car to get Lisa to and from school. (Kate doesn’t like to stay in the house by herself.)

Last night John and I left Lisa in charge when we went to dinner at the home of the fellow who took John’s job at work. Also there were the bachelor lawyer, John G, and their friend from work Udo with his wife, Tina. The last three were our Thanksgiving guests, as well. We had a great time. They have a lovely modern home tastefully furnished with fine antiques. The large dining room table was of yew. I couldn’t believe the dinner she put on the table – prawn salad, chicken in a gourmet sauce, beans, roast potatoes, sprouts, profiteroles (small cream puffs piled in a pyramid and covered with chocolate sauce), cheese, mints, and a concoction of sponge cake, meringue, whipped cream and strawberries. We found out she works full time preparing tax returns, and her busy season lasts from March to December!! The man originally comes from Lincolnshire.

The conversation I found most interesting was about au pairs. This couple have had an au pair for years since the mother works. Young girls from other countries sign up with agencies to get this work, usually being about 18 years old, and the purpose is to improve their English while seeing parts of this land. In exchange for their room, board, small amount of spending money, and one day off a week, they do light housework and mind children. Most often they come for only one year, so I presume this couple have had many over the years. The general rules are roughly the same; you can require six hours of work a day. Their present girl is from Yugoslavia, though we didn’t see her because she was out for the evening.

[There were no photos to go with this letter.  These days, I think an American hostess would be pleased if someone took a picture of a fancy meal she had prepared.  Wonder what the reaction would have been 40 years ago???]

England 40 Years Ago — February 7, 1982

In all my years of doing the family washing, I had the highest percentage of socks go missing one day. (In England things don’t “get lost,” they “go missing.”) By the next day I’d recovered all four.

Do you remember the verse about the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead? When she was bad, she was horrid. Well, little John can be haughty, but more often he’s NAUGHTY. In one day he unpacked the frozen foods all around the car, willfully threw pebbles from a planter into the fireplace, played in the salt pig, knocked down the gate at the door to play in the shower while I was washing my hair, and opened the big box where my angels were and began pulling them out. Imagine me following in the wake of that little swirling disaster, cleaning up one mess as he was making another. He had also made off with my glasses so that I couldn’t see to dress after washing my hair as the door bell was ringing. You might guess this was a day John Sr. went to London. Do you suppose he knows what’s coming and abandons ship?

John had them rolling in the aisles when he went into the office to catch up on a few things. One of the old hands in the chartering department was moving into a vice-president’s office that John had used the last two weeks. As the man pondered where to put furniture, John said, “It’s kinda like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, isn’t it?” The dour Norwegian couldn’t stifle his laughter on that one.

$ decided to stir up a cake while I was fetching the girls and John was upstairs working. He used two dirty beaters, two cake testers, one clean wooden spoon, two bowls and the cheese grater. Unfortunately, the cake he stirred up was one I’d baked that morning.

We had a most delightful weekend in the Cotswolds. The first historical thing we visited was also the oldest – the foundations of a Roman villa. It was hard to believe they allowed about as much space for elaborate baths as for all the other living spaces put together. Tile mosaics were exquisite, and the hypocaust heating system running under all the floors is more advanced than many systems in use here today!

Not far from that villa were the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of Hailes founded in the 1200’s by a brother of Henry III. Most of the foundations and some of the walls are there, filled in with a carpet of lush green grass. Just across the lane was the parish church still standing which is older than the abbey.

Foundation stones of the Abbey
Boss stones from the abbey ceiling displayed in the museum

Tewkesbury Abbey was our last tourist stop of the day. One of the first things we noticed was a coal heater with a little wagon of coal standing beside it. The same kind of heaters were also in Ely Cathedral north of Cambridge. The photo at left was taken at Hereford Cathedral and does not have a wagon of coal beside it.

After we’d walked around admiring the elaborate, but delicate, stone work, there was a special sung evensong service in honour of the 30th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The reverberation period must have been at least 5 seconds, showing off the fine tones of the choir and the oldest organ in use in this country. That organ has just been reworked and was rededicated only a couple of months ago.

For Sunday worship we sat in the choir of Gloucester Cathedral. A proud sidesman told John their choir ranks sixth or maybe even third in the country. We were sitting at the entrance to the lectern, and each time the men stood waiting to read, they smiled at $. Most unusual to us were the organ pipes over the choir screen painted in colourful scrolls and intricate patterns.

We admired the shiny floor tiles typical of this area – all in two colours. They were made by pressing a stamp into the soft clay tile, filling the indentations with lighter coloured clay, and firing them. After buying a reproduction tile in the bookshop [still on our dining room table in 2022], we went back into the choir (or quire as they spelled it on a sign) to find where that design was laid. We wandered into the cloisters, saw the chapter house where the congregation was invited for coffee, and fell into conversation with the dean of the cathedral who had preached the sermon. Around another corner of the glass and stone enclosed cloister was a sign that on that site William the Conqueror ordered the census later known as the Doomsday Book.

Photo taken 2/7/22

Two Sundays in a row we’ve been in churches with such warm friendly people – Guildford last Sunday and Gloucester this week. At both we felt such a part of the congregation that we were comfortable taking communion. Probably it helps that we know the Anglican service fairly well now. These smaller cathedrals are obviously home churches for many people; the sidesmen greet the regulars as old friends and have welcoming words for strangers. Of course, this feeling can’t extend to the tourist-mobbed big churches in London.

We couldn’t resist buying the record of Christmas music by the Gloucester choir. On reading the cover, we found that Gustav Holst was very active in that church and that Ralph Vaughn Williams was born near Gloucester, though he later lived near Dorking.

I forgot to mention that we saw the tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral. If we go to enough churches, we will have “seen” most of the kings and queens of England.

A Cotswold village that took my fancy

England 40 Years Ago — January 31, 1982

The regular mid-week train strike was looming up again as John’s boss realized the end was drawing near. This past week John left home on Tuesday morning knowing he wouldn’t be home until his work is finished Friday night.

I got lonely for some lengthy adult conversation and called Jackie F Wednesday morning. Both her husband and son were staying in a hotel in London because of the strike. In answer to my invitation for a cup of coffee she said, “Sure. I’ll come as soon as I get up, dress and have breakfast.” We had a great time trying to talk while John snitched all the cookies on the tray, played in the sugar bowl and drank from the cream pitcher. She wasn’t hungry at noon, so I fed John $ and put him down for a nap. Talking was much easier then until my stomach growled across the room. At 2:30 we had a sandwich; she went home as I was waking John 15 minutes later. What fun it was to have unlimited talk!

Some people save up for a rainy day while others shake their fist at the sky. $ does neither; on rainy days he wakes up in EXUBERANT spirits and longs to go outside. I lured him to the butcher shop by letting him think he could eradicate nice muddy puddles – you know, stamp them out. He refused to go home, turning toward the village instead. We explored the puddles in the churchyard, climbed through all the pews in the church, examined a model of the church in the porch, and then we found a big drain in the street on Breech Lane. It’s too much to ask that we do these things unnoticed. I was standing in the street holding on for dear life as $ tried to get on hands and knees to see if he could crawl into the drain. Looking up, I saw a red car creeping near us and Vivien Sutton sitting in the driver’s seat slowly shaking his head. $ and I came inside when I promised he could wash his hands; he’s not old enough to know that is supposed to be torture.

We spent a most enjoyable evening with John G (company lawyer from NC). He’d kindly invited the whole family, but we chose to leave $ at home with neighbors Catherine and George (Georgina). We had a foretaste of his neighborhood driving through the posh area near Eaton Square. His flat is on the ground floor of an old, well-preserved building, and the flat itself is marvelous. There is a very large drawing room, a cozy book-lined room that doubles as study and dining room, compact kitchen with all the appliances one could wish for, bathroom and two bedrooms. Lisa was the first to go in his bedroom with skylight and a wall of closets with perhaps five doors of 6-foot mirrors. He told her to open the next to last door, and it was the entrance to the en suite bath! We walked through the little door, up three steps and there was a shower enclosure, separate bath, WC, bidet and hand basin!

While walking two blocks to a restaurant, John pointed to the block of flats where Lady Diana lived before her engagement. (The general area is Kensington.) The food we had was delicious, and we all enjoyed John G, the perfect host. He found questions and anecdotes for Lisa and Kate, and they responded to his interest. We strolled back to the flat and saw his fancy TV set that can give weather, stock market reports, news, etc. on demand by pushing the numbers on a calculator-type gadget. [Do you suppose I didn’t know what a remote control was 40 years ago???] After a little more conversation we had to head home.

Hours after we’d left home George said $ insisted on putting on his coat to go outside to look for Kate. He looked around, was told she had gone, and he was then happy to go inside and take off the coat. ??? He doesn’t care to be left behind!

Today we went to Guildford Cathedral, arriving minutes after the service started. The building was finished after WWII and was the first one to have dedication services televised. It is brick outside and white inside – very light and modern, though not objectionably so. Often John and I have heard recordings of evensong played on the radio from Guildford Cathedral, and it was a shock to us to discover it does not have a choir school. The boys sound every bit as professional as many we’ve heard. The message was also good today. The preacher said the church attracts the MAD and the BAD, and if it doesn’t, then that church should reevaluate its evangelism program.

We didn’t even have a map in the car with us since we left home in a hurry, and the weather didn’t look as if we’d enjoy racking around the countryside. The sun kept threatening to shine, finally did, and we had fun poking around Portsmouth. We had an excellent tour of Lord Nelson’s great battleship, HMS Victory. He was the admiral of the fleet, directed and won the battle of Trafalgar, and was mortally wounded in the fight. There are brass plates on the deck showing where he fell, and markers where he died several hours later on the surgeon’s deck.

John has made arrangements for the mail to continue. A crony here will see to things, and a pal in Miami will coordinate his end. So, for the time being, please continue using the Miami address.

England 40 Years Ago — January 24, 1982

Only in England! I was waiting in the car for Lisa to get out of school and idly watching several moving men unload a van. My interest perked up when an older couple drove up and the young new owners came out to greet them. The man was wearing a tie!!! His wife looked smart, too, though dressed in slacks and a pretty smock top. I couldn’t believe they were in the middle of a move and looking so spiffy.

Our warming trend brought more than a thaw – the birds are trilling merrily. You’d think spring had arrived.

John had occasion to enter $’s room after he’d been put to bed. John described him as being like a mother hen sitting on her eggs – the blanket was in its usual place completely covering his head, and he was lying on an armful of matchbox toys. [That almost sounds like a bed of nails to me.]

I went to visit Paula at her home for a short while one morning. She looks good and is getting excited about bringing Nicholas home in a few weeks. [He was born with spina bifida and had to stay in the hospital much longer than Paula.] The nursery she’s fixed up is more exciting than our three had – cute wallpaper, new light fixture, shining cot, new blankets, toys, books and a wardrobe full of new little clothes.

John was told to stay home during the rail strike this past week. Again, the action stopped all trains for two week days and seriously disrupted things the other days. It was fun having John home. He drove the girls to school both days, had time to visit with me in the mornings, and was working on the phone all afternoon while I was fetching the girls. He finds this strike a nuisance because there are many things he wants to get cleared up before he leaves.

Office alcove in our bedroom

Today we went to St. Mary’s in Reigate for the first time in months. $ fell asleep during the service and didn’t give his dad any trouble. We took a half hour drive after the service to kill time before going to the Hull’s house for Sunday lunch. They served a joint, roast potatoes, leeks from their freezer, fresh sprouts from their garden, lemon mousse, and rhubarb crumble. After an hour’s walk on the common, we came back for tea.

When the discussion at the table centered on travel, I asked Gillian where she’d like to go. She said she’d never been to the Lake District, would like to see that, and has a great desire to walk on Hadrian’s Wall. John H responded to that question with enthusiasm mentioning Africa, Chile, Brazil, South East Asia and six weeks in the sun in California. Gillian then said, “If you’re talking about TRAVEL, I’d choose New Zealand.”

Lisa had her friend from Micklefield and Dunottar come spend a few hours Saturday. Yasmine is one of the top students and so very pleasant. She has been kind to pay attention to Kate, too. The three of them got along remarkably well. We did miss seeing any of the neighbors who live under the same roof this weekend; I think this is only the second or third weekend we’ve not seen one or another of them since we moved here almost a year ago.

This has been a rather uneventful week. Sorry I couldn’t find more to write about.

England 40 Years Ago — January 17, 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England 40 Years Ago — January 12, 1982

We drove in rain up the coast to Ostend and went on to Bruges without getting out of the car.

I think we did two days’ walking in one, following suggested tours of Bruges. The city as I remember it, is a kaleidoscope of narrow buildings topped by interesting weather vanes mirrored in canals.

We noted many niches above doors of homes that had statues of the Madonna. Many window frames are red, the windows sparkling and the wooden doors polished. Post boxes are often in doors as in England, but we also saw many built right into walls of homes! Everywhere were interesting rooftops with tall spires of churches showing above them. Many windows have stained glass, others have medallions of colored glass, and still others have small clear green panes.

We went in several very old churches that were full of art works. I was amazed at two wooden pulpits in similar style – a central elaborately carved figure holds up the pulpit while two curved sets of stairs behind balance the whole thing.

We went in one museum just to see the van Eyck paintings and ones by Memling and Jerard David. Posted outside churches were death notices: John noticed them because they had black borders and RIP on them. (RIP must stand for Requiescat in Pacem.)

Dutifully we bought lace, some made with bobbins and some with needles. In one shop we saw a lady using bobbins – she just threw them around carelessly! She obviously knew what she was doing, but it looked chaotic.

Often during the day we heard the Carillon softly playing. It has 47 bells from the 18th century, and the belfry is the finest in Belgium – the most prominent feature of Bruges since the 13th century.

At different times during the day we bought little apple pastries in the open market, chocolate confections from a pastry shop, and went in an ice cream parlor to get warm. There had been snowflakes dancing around in short showers under blue skies until afternoon when a fierce black cloud covered the sun. The wind kicked up as we looked at two preserved windmills, and suddenly we felt we were in a blizzard. We took refuge in the ice cream place, ordering hot chocolate and pancakes. The chocolate came in tall glasses with a lump of sugar and a cookie on the side. Pancakes were two crepes each with a tray of sugar, chocolate sugar, raspberry jam, butter, and whipped cream. [Too bad Lise didn’t have her iPhone back then. She would have taken pictures of the lovely food.]

Front doors have little squares cut out and a metal muzzle protruding so that from inside you can open a small window and talk without opening the door.

We made one quick stop in Ghent, finding a parking space right in front of the cathedral. Inside we saw van Eyke’s Mystical Lamb. How on earth can paintings be so brilliant when 500 years old? The whole altar piece was breath taking. Also in that church in another side chapel was a Rubens.

Between Ghent and Brussels we saw any number of thatched roofs so very different from those in England. They are greenish – John thought they had a green net covering the thatch. We wanted to take a picture of one, but couldn’t find one when John could pull off the road.

In Brussels John guided us on the tram/subway at rush hour; he was in his element with excitement shining in his eyes. I felt the familiar rush of sheer panic being at the mercy of public servants and crushed among people whose language I couldn’t understand – just like my early days in New York!

We saw the Grand Place in the center of Brussels – a large square of Medieval buildings beautifully preserved. We also found the cathedral which made us aware of the good repair of so many. This one had police barricades to keep everyone in the front quarter of the building. Above our heads were safety nets, either to catch falling debris or for practicing high-wire artists.

The leisurely drive to Liege was along pleasant agricultural land where we found hills for the first time since leaving Dover. We looked for three castles, but the road markings were so poor that we found only one.

The battlefield at Waterloo is gently rolling farm land. It’s hard to imagine such a bloody, muddy battle occurred there.

Most of the areas we saw in Liege had lively modern shops. We walked from the cathedral to a palace and the town hall, also seeing the National Theater.

We started out for Luxembourg, but snow was accumulating fast. We ate at a lovely café in Bastogne, saw the monument to the American soldiers involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and crept back to the hotel. [Still a happy memory after all these years is my first taste of Béarnaise sauce in that café. It was served in a gravy boat to go with the beef we ordered. After we got back to England, I searched through my cookbooks and made my own recipe from a combination of the instructions.]

On Sunday we made the easy journey to Aachen, Germany, where we worshiped in the church built by Charlemagne!! His bones were in an elaborate gold coffin at the front of the church, and his throne in its original position in the gallery. As for the present, we thoroughly enjoyed the precise choir in their lively sanctuary.

We woke to heavy snow falling the day we were to return home. The expressways were barely open, usually with only one lane plowed. John drove us safely to Calais where our hovercraft flight was cancelled. They gave us a ticket on a ferry, instead. There was snow on the ground in England, but the roads were clear. Clear, that is, except side roads. Walton was a winter wonderland and our drive under five inches of snow. I think this is the seventh major storm to hit England this winter – most unusual.

England 40 Years Ago — January 3, 1982

Happy New Year!

We had a lovely visit with John’s folks. I always intend to hustle people to and fro so they can see lots of interesting places, but I often fall down on the job. We did get to Brighton, but there were no parking places near the Pavilion. Each time we go, we get closer. Maybe one of these days we’ll make it inside.

We thoroughly enjoyed getting all the news of home and were content to sit and chat by the fire. The girls, too, seemed to join in the conversation more than before.

I’d never want to run a contest to see who misses whom the most, but John $ was a sight. He cried for half an hour after the crew left. That night we had invited the two Sutton girls to spend the night, so still had six places at the table plus the high chair. After I put the salads at each place, John $ touched each one saying, “Grandma, Pop-pop, etc.” Several times he has said their names with a question mark; he realizes they aren’t here, but can’t understand where they went. [He was 2 years old at the time.]

Last night for the first time since we came home from Christmas in Germany, there were only five at the table. Felt small!

Today we went down to the Wilson’s (owners of this house) to visit with them for an hour. They’d also invited old friends of theirs, the man a doctor, and the wife originally from Estonia. That was most enjoyable.

Tomorrow John is going to the airport early to pick up Gerhard who will have time for a short visit, lunch, and the trip back to the airport where he will continue his journey to Germany. We always look forward to seeing him.

John, Lisa, Kate, Gerhard

Tuesday we’ll get up early and get the Dover ferry on our way to Belgium.