England 40 Years Ago — August 18, 1980

From now on, please presume we have company if the letter is delayed. Not too many weeks ago someone was sure half of us were in hospital when the letter didn’t arrive on time. I had planned to write last night, but during dinner, John C. got this funny look, pushed back from the table, said he was afraid he was going to be sick and to please excuse him while he took a nap. So, instead of calmly writing here, I cleaned up the kitchen, entertained Gerhard (college friend), and got the children to bed. John felt much better when I woke him to change into pajamas. Must have been a quick virus. Now back to the beginning of the previous week.

Last week was Holiday Club at St. Mary’s. It’s similar to Bible School in the mornings, but includes the whole parish for that plus games in the afternoons and two special evenings. Kate (8) determined she would go, thinking neighbor Mary Anne might go with her. Mary Anne didn’t go, but Kate went right ahead! I went with her to find her group the first morning, and she did fine! The morning sessions were from 10:15 to 12. Lisa disdained to go. She’s determined not to enjoy anything here.

Monday afternoon we went to Priory Park for the afternoon games. Lisa and Kate joined in, and I went window shopping in town. They played all sorts of games, and I rather think Lisa didn’t like it because it was all strange to her and she couldn’t beat everyone else. That lasted each afternoon from 2:30 to 4. Tuesday afternoon we went down to watch Hunt the Hairy. What fun most of the children had! They filled squeeze bottles with water and hunted for the specially dressed young leaders to chase and squirt. The Hairys were drenched from head to toe before a halt was called. It was like watching something in a movie to see all these children – must have been 100 – 200 there – swirling over the green lawns like waves on the beach as they chased the Hairys. Lisa and Kate didn’t join in, but we had a good time watching. Afterwards there was something at the church itself called Sizzle the Sausage, which I think was a cook-out. Kate didn’t want to go by herself and I had to fix dinner for the rest of us. One other afternoon we went to watch the goings on, this time a team game of youngsters against leaders.

It seemed so odd for a church group to use public land until it dawned on me that they don’t have separation of church and state here. I don’t know where the funds came for the Holiday Club, but all youngsters in the parish were invited – meaning all residents in this town, I guess. Kate came home with a few pictures she’d drawn, but they don’t have elaborate things to do as with Concordia publications.

Kate went every morning, which was the time they acted out Bible stories and sang songs – the more Christian part of the week. We had meant to take her to the park Saturday afternoon but forgot about it. Sunday, yesterday, they had a family service at church, and she enjoyed that because they had a sword drill right in church and sang songs she’d become familiar with during the week. I was so proud of her for over-coming her shyness and entering into things. As you can imagine, our week was hectic getting her there and running errands in the allotted time. It’s nice not to have such restrictions today.

One morning Lise and I went to the freezer center and stocked up on a freezer full of meat. I bought a quart jar of mayonnaise there. You’ll never guess the cheapest brand I’ve seen here – Hellmann’s!!! I am trying to get as much food in the house as possible to save trips the rest of the week. Went to Co-op four times and the freezer center twice.

Thursday Clewes began cleaning out the pool at the bottom of the garden. The children asked him to, and he finally did it. What an awful job! He cut down a big bush or so, cut back stinging nettles, and dragged broken glass and the bottom of a bird bath from the murky depths. Yuck! The girls were interested in helping and really pitched in Friday. They scrubbed the sides which were slimy green and the bottom which was slate gray. The whole thing was beige when they got through! They hauled bucket after bucket of water down there. John asked about gold fish, but the man said not to get any until the middle of this week while the chemicals settled out of the water.

Friday Lisa began working on the pool before Clewes came. She caught three frogs and a newt, put them in a bucket, and left them on the front stoop. At my protest, her reply was, “They’re my GUARD FROGS!” With a daughter’s imagination like that, what chance does a mother have?

Saturday John was out shopping with the girls, and I knew I must wash my hair before Gerhard arrived. The problem was what to do with John $. Finally I hit on a good solution. I put him in his room with toys, closed all the doors except those allowing a path from his room to the shower room at the other end of the house. I could tell from the shower where he was by the sound of the toys. He was closer when I heard a truck thump and racing down the hall when I could hear a musical push toy. Then I could hear his talking sounds and spoke to him. In a minute he got so quiet I couldn’t imagine where he was. When a boy gets quiet, it’s time to be suspicious. I shut off the water, turned and looked down, and there just visible below the shower curtain were two little hands happily splashing in the water at my feet.

Gerhard arrived at least an hour before we expected him. He called from the railroad station, so we had time to change clothes quickly before John drove to get him. Luckily it was a beautiful day and I had gotten all my laundry dry for a change before we did a load for him. He and John hung it out while I cooked dinner. We sat up quite late and had a nice visit.

Yesterday we went to St. Mary’s, had sandwiches for lunch, and set out for the vicinity of Tunbridge Wells. We walked through the ruins of Scotney Castle and all about the lovely gardens. The Castle was very old; when the Hussey family inherited it in the 18th century, they decided they’d rather look at a castle than live in one. They built a huge stone home on the hilltop, and for the romantic effect, demolished much of the castle to make it into an instant ruin! In those days ruins were considered romantic, more so than an old building well preserved.

Gerhard, John, Lisa, Kate, John $ at Scotney Castle
Kate and Lisa at Scotney Castle

We came home for dinner as described in the first paragraph, and Gerhard went in by train with John this morning. Today I’ve been trying to ready the house and ourselves for the arrival of my brother and his family tomorrow morning. Their plane is due in at Gatwick at 8 a.m.

England 40 Years Ago — August 10, 1980

The week started out normally enough with Lisa going to her French lesson and Kate shopping with me. When we came home, we put John in the play pen and went back out to bring in the groceries. Kate didn’t realize I didn’t have my keys with me and shut the door. There we three were locked out and could hear 10-month-old John locked in! We walked around the house twice looking for a way to break in; should have tried 7 times and a ram’s horn. Then we noticed our neighbor’s painter up on a high ladder and went for help. He so willingly carried the ladder over, reached through a window we’d left open to open a larger one and just walked right through from the guest room upstairs to the front door. We don’t dare think what we’d have done had the upstairs window not been open!

John C. came home that day fussing about the ineptitude of British stores. There in the department where 150 different shower curtains were sold, the store had no shower rings to hang them with. He came out with one of his good exaggerations, “A store like that wouldn’t last more than 10 or 15 minutes in the U.S.!”

Things were hopping Tuesday as well. Gardener Clewes was here, and the neighbor children came to play tennis. John $ cried a lot that day until I wrote in the book that he cried tears in his ears! Perhaps he didn’t feel so well because Lisa talked about how his tummy was “extended.”

Clewes brought us some tomatoes he’d grown at some other house where he works. You did pronounce that correctly, didn’t you? Toe-mah-toes. That was Wednesday, the day the push chair lost a hind leg. The poor stroller had had a terrific workout with the girls constantly fighting over it and running at break neck speed over roots, up curbs, etc. We must count our blessings that it wasn’t John $ losing a hind leg.

I knew I was grounded until I bought a new stroller; that baby is heavier than a sack of potatoes and much squirmier. We took Lisa to her French lesson, and Kate stayed in the car with $ until I’d gotten a stroller. Luckily I’d seen them in Boots (a drug store chain) and knew just where to go. Returned to the car and immediately put the stroller to work by going to the freezer center. Have I mentioned that there are stores here that sell only frozen goods? I think it’s amazing since there are many homes that still might not even have a refrigerator! Prices are good, as a rule.

Friday I went shopping while the girls were at neighbor Mary Anne’s. Then we all had lunch there. Alex lit the fire in the barbeque grill and cooked the sausages! He’s only 10!! Mary Anne had a friend staying the weekend, and the two girls were having a war with Alex and his friend from Holland who is staying 10 days. They were hiding hair brushes, setting traps with books on top of doors, and soaping tooth brushes. Carol had had it up to her ears. She had me take the girls here while she went to the library, and then all of us except the boys went for a walk on Reigate Heath. It was a lovely walk over rough terrain, and I began to feel sorry for the new stroller. We had a nice time. Saw a windmill converted to a tiny church where there are services once a month in the afternoon. We also saw a gaily painted gypsy caravan parked there. I’ve seen pictures of them and thought it something unusual, but there it was right before my eyes.

How would you think a weekend would work out when it began this way? I had just worked up a good lather of shampoo when I heard pounding feet and this excited statement, “John just threw up in the hall!” It was Saturday morning, and I knew there would be 10 pairs of eyes looking for full plates that night. I sighed, then yelled to the girls to just keep John out of the mess. I was greeted coming out of the steamy mists with a wail, “Lisa used my face cloth to clean it up!’ Well, I’ll set your minds at ease; we had a great weekend. It was spit-up, not throw-up, and the cloth went in the next wash. Before I could begin preparations for the dinner, I heard in the distance a child’s voice in a messy room, AVALANCHE! Crash! Bang! Bump! Roll! I never investigated that one. There was no loss of life because everyone turned up for lunch.

By 5 p.m. we hardly recognized our home. It was a pleasant time to have company late because we simply sat down and reveled in the neatness. It was such a heady feeling we nearly wallowed in it, but wallowing tends to produce a mess, so we restrained ourselves.

John said he invited Sten H-L and his family as a good deed to give them a rest from the rigors of moving. They had been in the country six days, living in a hotel half the time, and spending their days trying to remodel their home and clean up from the previous owners. I couldn’t help feeling a bit smug because we’d been through it and had a chance to recover. We could afford the luxury of feeling sorry for someone else.

I enjoyed talking with them; they had lived in Florida for years and so knew American English. Gunnbjorn (that’s the way it was spelled to me, not a typing error) said she can understand Americans better than the British. The children are going to school right now to learn English and were not willing to talk, though they seemed to understand much that was said. Helena, 13, has a mouth full of braces. They were told in Norway that England had great orthodontia; we were told that orthodontia was still in the dark ages and don’t dare let an Englishman get hold of Lisa. Wonder what the real story is? The boy Lisa’s age never uttered a sound. I presume he can talk Norwegian. Heidi was cute enough not to need to talk; she’s Kate’s age. After dinner they all played upstairs with the Fischer Price toys until 11 p.m.

I got tickled at the Norwegian views of the British ways of doing things. I presumed that since they are close geographically, they would be close in customs. Not so. They think the workmen are sloppy as well as slow. They were horrified at the tiny milk bottles.

Food is fun here. This week I noticed we had tuna from the Solomon Islands, peaches from South Africa, toilet paper from Finland, pears from France, oranges from the U.S., matches from Sweden, grapefruit drink from Germany, bay leaves from Turkey, and porridge oats from Scotland.

John $ was bad in the creche today. Screamed. Kate calls it the CRUSH, and I imagine that’s what the keeper thought of it today.

This afternoon we drove almost 60 miles to ride a steam train. $ enjoyed the ride and only had the heebe-jeebes when the steam hissed. He kicked his legs and snuggled in tight but did not cry! Kate, at that age, would have been hysterical. Today she just kept her hands over her ears.

John $ and John riding the Mid Hants Railroad

That’s enough of my meandering (me Anne dering). Hope all of you are fine.

England 40 years ago — August 3, 1980

August 3, 1980

The question was asked in a letter if we saw the moon. Funny, but so many things are different that it took me by surprise to think we see the moon the same!

We’ve been to Anglican churches until today when we drove into Kent to go to a Lutheran one. It is very small and terribly modern, but they used the liturgical setting we are used to. Nice to have something familiar for a change. The pastor is from Wisconsin and his wife from Canada; been here 25 years.

Someone suggested fired (sic) chicken as American, and I’ve done that – cooked it on a grill here. Fried chicken is beyond me – always greasy and undercooked inside. I’m more busy with housework here: bigger house, no baby food, girls who sleep through first serving of breakfast, etc. We also entertain the gardener twice a week for lunch, run to French lessons, and try to play tennis once or twice a week.

We’ve had a nice week. Went to the library and post office Tuesday. I’ve squeezed in the reading of two books – one about the upper classes and one about Windsor Castle. That afternoon Carol H appeared on our doorstep to introduce herself and her 8-year-old daughter, Mary Anne. Invited the girls to go swimming at the school up the street, but only Kate went. She was asked to stay to tea afterwards, so we picked her up after getting John from the station. She’d had a marvelous time.

Carol was a stewardess for Pan Am 15 years ago and was based in San Francisco. She’s rather glamorous, very slim and wears eye make-up when wearing shorts. Wow!

Wednesday Lisa stayed in her nightgown all day watching TV and reading. That’s probably the last time for that to happen since they are getting to know the children in the street. There is too much going on to be that lazy!

Kate went with me to the hair dresser’s for a hair cut. The lady did a nice job for £1.20. I was amazed at the low price after reading how expensive salons here are supposed to be. I must call the neighbor who suggested this place to tell her how pleased I was. The shop felt about 10 by 10 and was further shrunk by having three customers and three beauticians in it plus Kate and $! I thought she could stroll him about outside, but she wanted in on the action. Didn’t stop talking the whole time I was in there. Maybe that’s why the lady cut hair so fast. I bet next time she’ll stuff hair in Kate’s mouth! Well, she didn’t talk all that much. I had a chance to learn that the owner comes from Germany and that one asks for FRINGE instead of BANGS.

Doubled my dry-power Thursday when I was shown a hook and line (sounds like fishing terminology) outside. Celebrated by doing four loads of wash and getting them all dry!!! I try to refrain from asking the girls to watch for rain because I remember hating being put on guard like that as a child. I felt I should go out to scan the sky and maybe shake an umbrella in its face when I really had no intention of interrupting my own fun for guard duty.

Ran hurriedly to town Thursday to buy swim caps for the girls because they are required at the local pool, and one can’t borrow a cap for two years. Kate again swam as a guest of neighbor Carol. That day Mary Anne and Alexander (10) came here to play after swimming. Both Lisa and Kate swam Friday, and they let us know it is 25p each. I’d much rather pay than be beholden to neighbors. We daringly invited them for tea that day. I say daringly because I don’t really know how to do teas. Bumbled through it in my usual clumsy style. We probably should have gone into the living room, but I don’t allow children to have food in there. Even the dining room would have been better, but $ was awake and wanting to share in the eating. So, we had tea in the kitchen. Only Carol and Mary Anne were here; Alex was playing with a friend. After tea Carol went home to get her racket, and she played tennis with the girls for an hour. She gave Lisa some good pointers. Mary Anne (8) plays as well as I do! I make no moves to play when anyone else is about – can hide behind $ as an excuse!

Yesterday John worked hard resorting things in boxes and got everything extra put in the attic. Mary Anne and Alex were here much of the afternoon playing the game “Life.” I can’t believe how well these four children play together. Amazing.

Late afternoon we went across the street to the home of Gillian and John for a sit and chat in their back garden. It was so pleasant, warm with a gentle breeze blowing, and they had brought out a large carpet for John $ to crawl on! Also had placed three toys on it for him. Such thoughtfulness! Their daughter, Katherine, was away camping, but Caroline (Lisa’s age) was there. They were shy with each other, despite having swum together before and played tennis, so that they didn’t begin to enjoy each other until time to leave. Neighbor John is an identical twin, and Gillian says she can’t tell her husband from his twin on the phone! She says they both have the same peculiar way of walking, too! He is a barrister in London.

After church today went to Knole, one of the largest private houses in England. The outside was impressive, but we weren’t allowed to see much inside.

[Kate was smitten with the deer wandering around near the car park.]

Kate and Lisa with a deer at Knole House

England 40 Years Ago — July 28, 1980

We are about to go out to McDonald’s! John treated us to Wimpy burgers last night, and it cost over $10!! That hurts. [It’s a matter of perspective. In 2007 I’d be thrilled to feed fast food to five people for only $10, and in 2020 I’d faint at the low price.]

I wrote before about some of the things we were glad to see when our possessions arrived from the States. Only one set of things seemed to be missing for two days – the hooks that hold up the crib mattress! John carefully wired it up so that $ could sleep in it, since he’d been falling through the holes in the play pen netting. I gingerly set $ in the crib that night, and before I could turn around, half the wires gave way. He had been standing, and after it fell, $ was still standing. That baby has some cool composure! Never cried, just stood there on the floor looking puzzled.

I let down both sides of the crib, pushed the one high end next to the wall, and had an instant cage for him to sleep in. We just left the mattress on the floor. Two days later we found the hooks with Christmas decorations. Where else? Actually, the moving men had labeled it so that we should have seen it, but we missed it in all the hassle.

We’re getting used to the shopping here. After we park and struggle with the ticket system, we drag along two or three shopping bags to the stores. The supermarket is the one where the pressure runs highest to get your things bagged. The check-out girl removes the things from the hand-held basket we lug about the store, punches out the prices, and expects you to have everything neatly bagged when she asks for the money. As soon as you get your change, you are expected to quickly whisk off with your purchases. I can almost hear them swear under their breaths, “Americans!” when I bumble.

The greengrocer in Redhill is marvelous. The ladies there pick out produce for you and add up the total as they go – all math being done in their heads!

Could someone in NY please look in your cupboard and see if you have Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix please? That’s the Herb Stuffing Mix I want. Could you jot down the ingredients for me? I have a recipe I want to use that calls for that, but of course, you can’t get it here. I think I can make a reasonable substitute if I know what they use. Thanks.

Yesterday we went to church in Westerham and on to Chartwell, Churchill’s home. We really enjoyed that. [This was the first time we went sight-seeing after moving to Reigate. We learned that it was better to see only one attraction per day, if possible. We had cultural overload at the end of the day.]

Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home

We also went to Hever Castle. Entrance fees here means just that – they let you in, but give you no free info! We bought a book about Chartwell, but just bumbled through the castle. We’re not sure whose it was or who lives in it now. [Bumbling idiots! We are now very aware of the famous people who lived in Hever Castle. Let’s wait to see if I write about our enlightenment in a future letter.] I was impressed with all the armor, and John with the high polish on the ornately carved wood. The grounds were beautiful with fancy-cut hedges and flowers.

Hever Castle

England 40 Years Ago — July 20, 1980

[If you saw the original letter] I’m sure you can tell at first glance that our possessions arrived from the US. I found the typewriter, but not the proper paper or magic eraser gop from Loraine [John’s secretary in New York]. I’ll be eager to see if more replies come now that you can read the weekly epistle. Meanwhile, thank you to the regular correspondents who have been so faithful.

Sanctuary of St. Mary’s, Reigate

John doesn’t have better hours at work, but we do see more of him because the commute has been halved [compared to travel time in NY]. The weather has been cool and rainy. We’ve had the heat on low most days since we arrived. I think it is two or three miles to the railroad station. John $ has adjusted beautifully. The girls have done well, being forced to play together. There is a girl across the street Lisa’s age, but she is still in school. Her holidays begin Thursday. The church is large and full! We had to sit in chairs in the aisle today.

History has been made! Never before has our household received a letter from each grandfather!! In the same week, that is. I appreciate all your efforts to help me with my spelling, or lack thereof, but it’s hopeless. Just laugh and go on reading.

So far the weekly letter is going via New York, and our ally there is the one who copies it and sends it on. Eight or nine cheers for Loraine!! That’s about how many copies there are. [I thought there were only two copies being made!]

Loraine with $ at our house three months before we moved to England

Mary H. came by Monday. Her husband had preached at church the day before, and we were introduced because they live on our street. She is so nice. She asked if I’d had trouble finding anything, and I said cocoa. She had it on her list, too, found some and bought me a tin of it, delivering it on Tuesday. At Mary’s prompting Vera P., a widow, and Gillian H. across the street (with the girl Lisa’s age) also knocked to introduce themselves.

Wednesday I picked up Anne-Marie N. and her three children to go to the train station, because she won’t drive here yet. We went to Victoria station, were met by our husbands and walked to the office for an official welcoming party. $ was marvelous. He loved his first train ride so much that he just sat on my lap, almost motionless. He loved the bits of rich tidbits we kept his mouth stuffed with. The girls were with the other children at a conjuring show (do you know what the translation for that is?) and were given T-shirts with the company flag on it saying, “I’m a Golar Girl.” They had ordered a tiny boy one for $, but he must grow a bit to fit it.

Thursday our things came from the States. John took the day off to direct operations. First three men came in a small van, and then the container came. The driver did not unload anything other than himself, but slept in the cab much of the time. They came after 9, left before 12, and their office girl called to say they wouldn’t be here until after 1. When John told her they were already here, she asked if it was the right shipment. Confidence builder. The movers were very nice, even moving some of the more hideous pieces of furniture into the attic to make room for our junk. They also offered to unpack all or part of the cartons.

I’m trying to think what one thing was most welcomed. We feel more at home with all our books, records and art. Still, I didn’t hug them as I did the pencil sharpener. Funny what you can appreciate when you’ve done without! Three weeks without coffee certainly sharpens your taste for that first sip! I looked through about six boxes for two days to find all the parts of the simple drip coffee maker. John exclaimed over big glasses for drinking iced tea. Kate was thrilled to get her game, “Drive Yourself Crazy.” I just asked Lisa, and she couldn’t think of anything. John replied to the query saying he was so relieved to see that van pulling in that he couldn’t pick out any one thing he was over-joyed to see.

Lisa has had two French lessons. Likes it. [The school asked that Lise be tutored, because her class had already had a year or so of French. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had a gift for languages. She now is comfortable speaking English, French, German, Danish, and Farsi.]

Yesterday we went to lunch with Renee (pronounced Reeny) and Max A. whom we’d met at church. They lived for years and years in East Africa until he retired from Barclay’s Bank and now is a grammar school bursar. Their four children grew up there and in boarding schools in England. All four children, three of them girls, were married within 18 months! They now have five grandchildren under the age of 2 ½ and expect two more shortly. They were so understanding of our children. The girls were urged to explore the lovely house, and John $ used the nursery. She served lamb which I was able to swallow, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, fruit salad for dessert, coffee in the living room, tea later with ginger cakes and Swiss tarts.

Today we went home from church with Mary and Tony L. who have Helen, 15, and Peter, almost 13. He is an electrical engineer with Philips and went to Cambridge. She served turkey from the U.S., stuffing with bacon, bread sauce with a pleasant onion flavor, peas and broad beans [new to us], potatoes, and for dessert a choice of summer pudding, lemon meringue pie, or ice cream. Coffee followed in the living room. In both homes the meat was on the plates when we sat down and the vegetables passed around. Both places have electric kettles.

One lady uses scales for accurate measurements, and the other swears by a gizmo that has lots of measurements marked on it. Both are excellent cooks!

Would you like a description of our marvelous washing machine? It sits, ostracized, in a little room by itself. No wonder; it’s been naughty. It whirs, sighs, and sometimes tries to giggle, but usually gurgles. Being a front loader, it shows what is going on inside, but not what it is thinking. It tumbles one way for a few seconds, pauses to do nothing for longer than it does something, then changes its mind and goes the other way. I think it does one wash and four rinses; all I really know is that it takes one to one and a half hours for one load. [In the States, my machine never took more than half an hour to wash a load.] I take it easy on Sunday and do only two loads; two to three is the norm for other days. Today the drain got clogged, so the floor got an unexpected baptism. (Cross between Baptist and Presbyterian because it was more than a sprinkling and less than a dunking.) At the end of all this violent activity the machine sits smirking and absolutely refuses to give up the clothes nicely. Since the first day I wrestled with it, I’ve used a CAN OPENER to pry it open. Hope it hurts!

Then comes the fun of drying, or what passes for the exercise of drying. First, the clothes start out in the glassed over area beside the house hung neatly on the single line. If it fails there, it is brought in to the rack over the kitchen table and in danger of flying food. Third station is a rack in front of the water heater. Last try is for it to be stuffed in and around radiators. When the heat is on, things dry, only to be moved into drawers where they promptly feel damp again. It really isn’t bad; I’m just trying to make a good story. I think you can understand, though, that if good Catholics can give up meat on Fridays, our family should be able to give up clothes one day a week!

Parking was a source of frustration at first, but now, it too, is a joke. Being used to awful-looking parking lots in front of every store in the States, I didn’t like the idea of central parking with all the walking and lugging of things. What I didn’t realize is that there are nice little car parks tucked away in all sorts of places. Instead of meters there is a machine mounted in the center of the lot for everyone to use. You turn a knob to choose one hour or three, put in money, and sometimes get a ticket with the date and time stamped on it. This you are to peel the backing from and stick on the inside of the windscreen to show what time you paid. Just as often as the things work, they don’t work. The time I paid for 16 hours of parking near the railway station, I got a ticket, but nothing was printed on it. So far no five pound fine for us.

There are so many things one doesn’t think of when settling in a new place. For instance, we didn’t buy soap on that first frenzied swoop through the grocery. There are 7 (seven!) sinks in this house! There are 8 locks to check before going out. Also, there are all the thunks you have to learn – thunks being the amount of push it takes to make the refrigerator door shut fully, etc. So far the car doors take the most energy. Then there are the things you’d have to grapple with anywhere such as changing a very wet baby. John $ doesn’t LIKE to be changed, nor does he LIKE dirty pants. I wish he’d make up his mind. The nappy flip is the time you realize a different end is up from the time you started. You see, he really prefers to be changed bottom up. I’m getting better at it, but it is still hard to snap up 10 snaps on a stretch suit while he’s lying on it and pretending to swim the English channel.

That’s enough for now. All around me bodies are trudging off to bed.

England 40 Years Ago — July 13, 1980

Talked to a fellow in church today who has an American wife. They are aware of weather in the States, and they say they (we here, I mean) get a watered-down version of your left-over weather borne on the Gulf stream. It’s watered-down because everything is so damp here. If it gets hot here, I’ll know who to blame!

One day last week the neighbor on the tennis side of our house came over to welcome us to the neighborhood! (Tennis side means the side Lisa keeps hitting wild balls over the fence toward.) The people had been away when we first came, so after ringing the bell each time, I had her climb over the locked garden gate. She hated doing it, but we have only the three balls we brought over on the plane. If we hadn’t retrieved them, we’d be buying our fourth can of balls by now. The people returned, Lisa shot one over, and we shouted to the man mowing the lawn. He threw the ball back and promised he’d return any he found because they’ve done so for years. He couldn’t hear well, so I didn’t explain what we’d done. I meant to confess to the lady, but I just couldn’t. Ugh! Embarrassing.

She wanted to get our names straight, so just came right out and asked. Then she went on to tell us their names – Sheena and Aubrey. Said Sheena is a Scottish name. She asked where the children were going to school and what kind of business John is in. I haven’t seen her since, so don’t know if we passed examination or not. She did vaguely wave her hands around explaining there was a lady doctor in residence cross the street, and further down, the chairman of Tate and Lyle (sugar). Aubrey was in insurance – Lloyds – and is now retired.

We went to the library Tuesday and were able to bring books home that day. Their system seems odd. For each person they write out three slips of paper. If you have three books out, those slips remain in the library. If you take two books, then you must take one slip home. They simply stamp the due date in the book and have no record of what book you have. Books are due in three weeks and are renewable by phone twice. Fines are 1p per book per day for children’s books and 5p for adults.

On cool days, even the gardener comes dressed in jacket and tie!! Our weather has been wonderful for weeds – so rainy. Clewes came twice this week when I least expected him. When it was raining instead of sprinkling, he and the girls ducked into the shed. He sent Lisa in to ask if I had an old mackintosh in the house. I was tempted to tell him the only old thing we brought was ME!! Lisa had the idea of cutting head and arm holes in a trash can liner, so there was our man out working in jacket and tie and garbage bag! [Clewes asked that I not take his photograph, and that is the reason I have no image of him.]

The dishwasher engineer (repair man) came and kept shaking his head over the machine here, calling it an antique. Said they don’t make anything like that any more. The only thing not ancient was the bill he rendered which had to be paid on the spot. I was able to scrounge the 50 pounds since John had given me grocery money. Whew!

We went to Clewes’ favorite grocery store in town. He hadn’t warned us it was so tiny – just a U-turn around two chickens and 24 hamburgers! Everyone politely glared at us for clogging up THE aisle. We squeezed ourselves out, took a deep breath, and walked down to a bakery. Later as we piled our purchases in the car, we realized John’s little rattle bear was gone. Lisa offered to retrace our steps since the parking time had run out. She returned 10 – 15 minutes later, having spotted it on a bench. Someone must have found it on the sidewalk and set it up to look for its owner. We were so happy to find it because we all like it so much. Below are three views of Reigate High Street, taken while we were house-hunting.

There is a tennis ball scavenger living with us. The girls won’t play together – the taller looks down her nose at the shorter. Result – I have to play every nice day. (People could blame me for wanting bad weather.) Taller takes every opportunity to keep a ball in play, thus preventing shorter from taking up time. Shorter quickly learned the only way she gets to play is to hoard all the balls. She scurries along the net like a rat, scooping up balls before lazy taller has a chance at them.

John $ is fine – always as wet as all outdoors (in England that’s WET!) Somehow he has inherited impatience where food is concerned. He can cry between mouthfuls that would choke an 8-year-old. Yesterday we outwitted him by feeding him in relays – Lisa would shovel in one mouthful and I another. We got a pretty good rhythm going. Should be good practice for stoking a steam engine with coal!

Yesterday at a company party I proudly proclaimed that for the first time I got everything on my grocery list the previous day. John J. said, “That’s just what Tina said after she’d altered her list several times.”

There was a huge party at the CEO’s mansion for many in the company. I don’t know how many were serving the buffet for the adults, but there were two girls hired to entertain the children. I talked to all kinds of people and usually had no idea who they were or how important. Afterwards I was telling John about some lady who talked of having lived in Hong Kong and the U.S. He said, “Wow! You really hobnobbed with the rich!” She claimed learning Chinese was easy – that with a 1,000-word vocabulary you could be at ease anywhere.

In that mob scene it was nice to see a few familiar faces. We met our closest neighbors, company wise, Norwegians who live in walking distance. The wife won’t try to drive yet, so I’ll probably pick them up when we’re all going to London on the train for a party in the office. I do hope I’ll be able to understand her. There were so many people milling about that we just nodded and smiled at each other yesterday. An hour of nodding and smiling on the train could be awful!

Today we left $ in the creche (nursery). They’re smart at that church in Reigate – put all the noise in a building across the road from the church. The man who preached today lives on our street! He works in missions or some off-shoot of church relations. Several people came to greet us and found his wife to talk with us. She said she’d try to see us this week because they’re leaving in a few days to be gone until September.

As we were leaving church, Mary and Tony invited us for lunch after church next Sunday!! We accepted with alacrity. While we were eating dinner, the phone rang, and we were invited for lunch with another couple next Saturday!!! Can you believe it? That’s friendlier than any town in America!! We have a problem, though. We don’t know their names! How on earth are we going to bluff that one? Oh – Max is the husband’s first name. Their daughter is married to a minister who is now in South Dakota.

Cooking continues to be full of surprises. I tried something called Butterscotch Brownies using only ingredients I happened to have on hand and one too-large pan. It turned out more like almond macaroons by taste. And the Jell-o! Makes you giggle just to look at it! It’s called “jelly” on the box. Inside is a plastic packet filled with semi-solid goo. You’ll have to see it to appreciate it.

If your eyes have lasted this long, take heart – I’m signing off. Won’t you be glad when my typewriter comes?

England 40 Years Ago – July 6, 1980

I am embarking on a trip down memory lane and invite you to join me. John had a two-year contract to work in London beginning in July of 1980. I plan to publish the letters I wrote then, 40 years after I mailed them back to our relatives in the States. I had the idea when reading the blog A Hundred Years Ago. Click here to see her introduction. Sheryl posted entries from the diary of her grandmother 100 years after they were written. When she finished that material, she began posting recipes from 100 years ago.

July 6, 1980

Tymberlie [the name of our rented house] has hot water restricted! Notice to all potential guests: you have to reserve water ahead of time because the heater is on a timer. However, the device can be overruled. I have visions of being undressed, waiting for the water to warm and realizing I haven’t turned the switch downstairs.

Tymberlie the day we made an offer to rent it

We’ve had a busy week. Monday I decided to bake cookies, despite having only one broken American measuring cup. (Forgot to pack the measuring spoons in the suitcase.) The results were amusing, but edible. I think their flour and baking powder are vastly different. We’re blessed in having one cookie sheet in the kitchen – no pie plates or baking pans. Twice I’ve boiled a whole chicken, but now I’ve acquired a pan and can bake one. Once we had rhubarb downside up pie – stewed the rhubarb and topped it with pastry done on the cookie sheet.

Our kitchen in Tymberlie before we moved in

John stayed home Tuesday waiting for the car to be delivered. It was, and we went to the police station to be registered. John first drove to take the driver to the train station. I don’t know how he felt, but I had to drive John the next morning. What a shaky experience! I wasn’t sure where I was going because everything looked different on the way home with only Kate to hold my hand. John had the advantage of having walked the streets before. In any case, I’m glad the newness has begun to wear off.

I’d barely gotten myself home and my nerves steadied when the doorbell rang. It was Clewes, the gardener. He SAID he loves children, so I let the girls “help” him all day. The girls wanted him to eat lunch with us. Can’t you imagine the level of eyebrows of our high-class neighbors if they knew we’d entertained the gardener for lunch? Not only that, but I had him demonstrate how to make tea.

Thursday John stayed home to bake in the sun. He’s had a heavy cold and had lost his voice the day before. The head of the office over here was worried about him and thought a day off would be in order. John was concerned that sitting in the sun all day would result in his appearing to have been on holiday and mask his miserable head with healthy-looking colour (British spelling). He could have passed for one of the upper class sitting in a deck chair in the garden with his nose in the air.

Miss Kinman, Headmistress

Meanwhile, we girls and John $pencer went to Micklefield School for a look around. We chatted with the headmistress and saw several classes. It was suggested they might come in for a full day nearer the end of term. (School closes 23rd July!) They will not be tested until September, by which time their brains will have atrophied, along with my spelling.

Would you believe there are two (2) mail deliveries a day here? Yes, right to the house – right INTO the house, as a matter of fact. There is a slight rattle at the front door, and junk mail comes flying into the hall! (Junk mail because all our good stuff comes via NY.)

As you’ll see when you come to visit, much of the plumbing is outside the houses here. Not out-houses, just pipes. Several times I’ve heard gurgling noises, run to the window, and seen water from a sink disappearing into drains outside. I can tell when John is showering because his used water comes down, raising steam, in the area where I hang clothes to dry. The washing machine empties outside the back door along with gutter run-off. I can see it now – the house is full of people, all using water in their rooms, the rain is draining off, and the whole house is suddenly spouting water in all directions like a NY fire boat or a big fountain in a public park. We’ll float away in watery glory!

It’s common here to buy appliances without plugs! There are so many variations in European plugs that they’ve given up and just sell things with a wire dangling. You supply and install it yourself! Yesterday we became more American by acquiring a hair dryer, a mixer, and a TV. Now I feel right at home by saying every 10 minutes, “No, you can’t see what’s on right now!”

We went to the Reigate church this morning where there is a boy choir. The nursery for babies was across the street, so we decided to chance it with John $ in church. Now I know why the English frown so at babies in church. $ let loose during the prayers, and the screech echoed from wall to wall. I rushed to the back and couldn’t open the door! I glared at the nearest innocent man and ordered him to open it for me. Could have died on the spot. In a few minutes John brought out the stroller, and I walked that bad baby home. He made NOT ONE SOUND all the way home!

Below is a photo of Lise taken that month. She was 11 years old, and John $ was 9 months.