England 40 Years Ago — September 27, 1981

Last week in the continuing series on Winston Churchill we saw a scene where a man is sitting on the red carpeted stairs inside Polesden Lacey. The show is on very late and is so filled with political talk that if it weren’t for trying to spot the places in the background, I might fall asleep.

Polesden Lacey

I think I wrote a year ago about being so happy to find the absence of white baby shoes which I loathe. Boys wear T-bar buckled shoes which I think only girls would wear in the US. I’m so used to seeing them now that they don’t appear girlish. I was thinking how marvelous it’s been to avoid the tussle of keeping toddler’s shoes tied when I felt a tug at my foot. John $ had untied MY shoe! I can see the race will be on – I’ll be dancing jigs to keep my feet moving while he will be making attacks at every pause.

Kate was a bit slow getting ready for school. I said, “You don’t have time to play in the mornings.” She replied, “I don’t have time to play in the afternoons, either.” Poor thing, she’s right. We should have a big bell and a fireman’s pole to speed things up in the morning. Kate often takes a bath with John $, dresses, eats breakfast, gets together her school things, and practices her violin in less than an hour.

$ loves to take things from my gadget drawer in the kitchen. Lately his favorite has been a red measuring spoon which he smokes like a pipe. It’s so realistic to him that I expect smoke to come out one of these days.

Kate has been having a real struggle with preps (homework). The crunch comes late in the afternoon when she’s tired, John $ wants to play, and I’m preparing dinner. We tried a new system that is working for the moment. I allow her a certain amount of time for each segment of work, and she tries to finish before I ring a bell. That seems to help her concentrate. Lisa does all her work shut up in her room, so she is no distraction to Kate. But John Spencer! He is total distraction from tossing head to wiggling toe! I wish Kate had enough determination to work in her room alone, but she just can’t seem to do it.

Lisa continues to love Dunotter despite the hard work. Schools in England give double preps over the weekend (they’d say “at” the weekend). I think Lisa worked about six hours this weekend to get through. I’ll be glad to get back to the American system!

Because of all the trading John is doing at home, a new telephone line was ordered. A quite likable young chap came early Friday to do the work. One can see why the British telephones are no match for American ones. Any time we had work in the US, one man would appear, size up the work in minutes, and have the job finished in an hour or so. This fellow wandered around for an hour deciding how he was going to put in the line. He went about his tasks leisurely, said he couldn’t get the line over the trees without help, called twice for another man, waited around doing the part he could do by himself, and finally left when I went to get the girls from school. He said it was no use starting another job because he had only an hour and a half until quitting time. The thing that was holding him up was that he was afraid of throwing the line with a heavy object attached because he might hit someone on the footpath. My offer to act as sentry was kindly refused. He is supposed to come first thing Monday morning. Time will tell!

John has been feeling somewhat better this past week until yesterday when the pains in his arm came back in full force. Thank you all for your kind wishes for him. Think you’d better forget the wishes now and PRAY for him! He said he felt miserable wherever he was, so why not go somewhere interesting? Today we went to church in Westminster Abbey where the boys were back from their summer holidays and sounding as divine as ever. There was a rather sophisticated sermon on a simple text with not much point to it, but still, it was better than some we’ve heard there.

We were thinking of several outdoor things to do, but came out of Burger King to find rain pelting down. We headed for the London Museum of transport, driving around in ever widening circles trying to find a parking place. We found ONE in half an hour, and that one was blocked by a big German bus. The city was really still full of tourists. We gave up when we found the only place to park was a garage that charged a minimum of 4 pounds 20.

We headed for Kensington Palace not far away where Princess Margaret and soon the Prince and Princess of Wales will live. Queen Victoria was born there, also. We weren’t sure if we saw the actual building or not because of the huge park surrounding several buildings. Traffic and small commercial buildings came between. At least we know what the area looks like and what these royal persons see as they come and go.

I had often wondered if royalty ever got behind the wheel of a car, because I only see them being driven in big cars or state coaches. The Prince of Wales was pictured driving Lady Di back to Windsor after the races at Ascot, so I figured he drove. Just last night, I sat to read one of the papers the Brownworths had left, and it mentioned that both Prince Andrew and Prince Edward drove themselves to the final wedding rehearsal, even mentioning the type of car each owned. Prince Andrew, the elder of the two, almost collided with a cyclist the paper said. Prince Edward is a very careful driver, having just recently passed his driving test.

John $ fell asleep in the car on the way home. Usually he wakes up when we get home, but today he was out cold. We slipped out of the car, opened a window, and left the front door open with the car just outside so we could hear him when he woke. Wonder what he thought when he woke up?

John says the NY office will be closed to our mail traffic and that you are now to write to an address in Miami. The plan now seems to be to have one pouch a week in both directions.

Logan’s Most Amazing Game

While neighbor Logan was waiting for John to play checkers with him, I put the Set game on my computer and cell phone so that we could play each other on line. Logan is an expert at the game, and he trounced me in no time. We played another game which was disappointing for both of us. A message flashed on the screen that I was a spectator. No matter how many times I chose a correct set, my score did not register. Logan continued playing, of course winning every single set.

Logan said, “I want to play on the computer. You take the phone.”

I got the first score, and seconds later he got one. The pattern was repeated a couple of times.

“Logan,” I asked, “are you waiting for me to score before you play?”

He simply answered, “Yes.”

I knew he could have finished the game all by himself in minutes, but it took me a while to realize he was deliberately keeping our scores equal. Isn’t that amazing? An 11-year-old figured out how to level the playing field for a very inept opponent. Only when I began to write this did I realize why he swapped places with me. You see, the phone chirped when a score was made, but the computer was silent. He listened for the chirp and immediately knew I had scored and he could play to make it even. I am flabbergasted that someone so young could come up with a scheme like that. My heart is applauding loudly.

England 40 Years Ago — September 20, 1981

We see so little of the neighbors who live under the same roof, that when they come over for a chat, we try to shoo the children outdoors. Phillipa had twisted her ankle in her own garden, tried to track down her own parents for sympathy, but they were busy getting ready to come over here. She came here for treatment. John filled a basin for a soak and sent four children outside. Quote of the week from Kate: “May we have umbrellas? It’s raining and we’ll get wet.” Would that we had such obedience ALL the time! We shepherded them all to the kitchen for a snack to keep them quiet.

John $ has a new way of going downstairs. He opened a book, began singing, then slid down each step on his bum, facing forward. It isn’t as efficient yet as the cog movement of arms and legs going down on the tummy.

Many of you will be happy to note we had leg of lamb for John’s birthday. It’s the first time I’ve ever cooked one! Surprise of surprises, everyone loved it and asked for seconds! After dinner the neighbors came over for a piece of birthday cake.

Kate’s first day of school, Wednesday, was successful. She had a good attitude to begin with, which is half the battle. Caroline H came here for the morning, we ate lunch, and Gillian took both girls to Dunottar School for Caroline’s La Crosse practice. The games mistress had Lisa join in some of the exercises. They were told secretly by a member of the staff that both are in the advanced section of their form and will be in the same classroom.

Kate on the first day of school this term

On Lisa’s first day of school, John $ and I walked her to the front door. The head mistress was there to greet new girls and tell them where to go.

I thought the rest of the day would be peaceful. Haven’t most of you at some time had the “help” of a two-year-old in making beds? The fitted sheet posed no problem since $ couldn’t get a good hold on it. When it came to the top sheet, he had his strategy prepared. I’d get the sheet in position and he’d dart around to pull it off with all his might, giggling all the while. I chased around several times before using my head: position sheet, hold with knees, lunge across to break $’s hold, tuck like lightning. Whew! After he stole the pillows twice, disrupted the quilt and the spread, he gave up. I’m glad he gave up before I did!

I made a statement early in the week about being in the car an hour a day. Wishful thinking! We leave at 8 in the morning, dropping Lisa first, then Kate, and I get home about 9. In the afternoon I leave at 3 and get home at 4:30. Kate is through at 3:15, Lisa not until 4. [Lisa was attending a new school, having aged out of her last one.]

Lisa came out radiant after her first day, saying how much she is going to enjoy going to Dunottar. Of the four girls from Micklefield, three of them are in the top class. Speaks well for the school, doesn’t it?

We’ve had lots of extra traffic in our town because the Ryder Cup Gold tournament is going on in our back yard. The club house is two to three blocks from here if you walk a footpath or two. We heard the roar of the crowd and saw the same brilliant rainbow they showed on the TV screen. Jennifer said they enjoyed the TV coverage because they take their dog to the gold course every day for a good run. Today we had the TV on watching the final bit of the ceremony, stepped outside, and heard the words first hand!

Last night George (nickname for Georgina next door) stayed with our children while we went to a farewell party for a couple of Americans in Gotaas Larsen. It was held in a small flat in Wimbledon and catered! I was surprised to see a man and woman in uniform attending to everyone’s needs. The cold buffet was beautifully laid out – chicken salad surrounded with lettuce, a delicate green mold decorated with slices of cucumber, lettuce salad, and tomato aspic with caviar. The unusual thing was mushroom rolls. They were warm buns filled with creamed mushrooms. The dessert was a choice of rich chocolate mousse or cheese and biscuits. I had a chance to chat with Phil H and John G whom I’ve met on many occasions. John G is the one famous for not liking anything in England. He did admit last night that he has mellowed somewhat and now enjoys his life in London, especially compared to the hurried pace of New York. Wonder of wonders! I also enjoyed talking to John’s good friend Udo K and his wife. There were about 20 to 25 people there.

I knew from seeing lots of horses around that this area supports riding in a big way, but I didn’t realize what a business it is. In a local leaflet dropped at all the homes was the statement that there are 20 commercial riding establishments in a radius of five miles!!! Riders were being urged to stick to their allotted paths.

This morning the girls and I went to the family service at St. Peter’s. John is going to try going to evensong. He is still in great pain from his neck bones down and has to walk around waving his arms frequently. I know many of you think he does it all the time, but this is exceptional. Wonder if he has warned the rector. Poor [Rector] Derek might think John is trying to speak in tongues and can’t get the words out.

A Tale for Shawn

It wasn’t until I was telling John the story two days later, that I knew I needed to write it for Shawn. Neighbor Holly and a relative had come to sit on the porch with me for a little while. Neighbor Logan heard our talking and came across the street to show us some of his Pokemon cards. That in itself was something, that a boy of 11 would want to join our conversation.

After a short while, he said, “I’m going home. I’ll tell Mom you are out here so she can come and join you.”

It sounded so matter-of-fact that I didn’t get the importance of it right then. An eleven-year-old boy was thinking of his mother and knew she would love to be there talking with us! Not only that, he said it aloud and acted on it! What an extremely thoughtful thing that was! You can see why we stay impressed with Logan. You are doing a marvelous job of raising him, Shawn and Bob.

John’s Eleventh Birthday

John was a history major, not a mathematician, so the way he calculates his age differs from most. At age 70, he decided he would count backwards, starting at 21. He is now eleven years old, although most of us think he is 80.

Here are two photos of the celebration his sisters had for him in June.

Barbara, Anne, Thom, Steve, Chris, John
Barbara, John, Chris, Steve, Thom

Then there was the cake on his birthday.

The Gray-shirts — David, John, John $pencer

It was followed the day after with a visit from my brother Bob and Beth.

Thank you to all of them and you who called, emailed, and texted. He enjoyed all the quiet attention and feels he has been properly launched into his eleventh year.

Happy Birthday, John!

We Met on Monday

Former neighbor Marla has Sundays and Mondays off. She has to miss our lunches when her dog Albert is groomed, so we met on Monday.

Anne, Shawn, Marla and Connie

We also celebrated Marla’s recent birthday. Can you guess she is a Big Foot fan? The shirt says, “Big Foot saw me, but nobody believes him.”

Do you know anyone who likes Big Foot?

England 40 Years Ago — September 13, 1981

We watched the first in a series about Winston Churchill on the telly, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes filmed at Blenheim and Chartwell. There were outside shots of both, a dining room scene from Blenheim, and recognizable backgrounds of the bedroom and dining room of Chartwell. It was like history coming alive to see these things taking place in rooms we had been in!

Had someone inspected our parcels at the end of a shopping trip, they would have known the opening of school was near. Six pairs of shoes and nine library books demolished the morning.

Phillipa and Catherine went with us to Gatwick Airport just to watch planes. We’d noticed when driving near Heathrow that Phillipa got terribly excited at the sight of planes (aeroplanes). It was fun to be with them on their first visit to an airport – enthusiasm unbounded! We first went to the observation deck, then wandered around the major terminal areas.

[I’ve added the photo below, just because it shows the four girls I wrote about in this letter. It was the first day of term for Lisa. You may remember that we rented half a large house that was owned by neighbors at the bottom of our garden. The other half was owned by the parents of Phillipa and Catherine. These girls were the same age as Lise and Kate, and we loved the fact that they were constantly in and out of each other’s homes. For over a year they were closer than cousins.]

Phillipa, Lisa, Kate, and Catherine

Cooperation was the name of the game one day when Kate went with me to Co op and Lisa volunteered to water all the roses while I was setting out about a hundred pansy seedlings.

John $ has no need to talk. He doesn’t fight having his hair washed, but doesn’t relish it, either. He picked up my hand, put it right on the shampoo bottle, and said emphatically, “UH..UH!!”

John has been in pain recently. He woke up with a stiff neck and tingles around the shoulder. A day or so later as he was writing at his desk in the office, his arm became numb. Not about to play games if something were serious, he sped to a doctor. X-rays showed that the bones in the left of his neck have settled too closely together and must be pinching nerves. The doctor advised aspirin, said it should go away in a week, and if it didn’t John could consult a neurosurgeon or osteopath. His health has been so good all his life that we’ve decided having 40 staring him in the face this week must be his undoing.

We wanted to go somewhere close by since John felt better walking about but not sitting. I drove us and Phillipa to Guildford. The car park we found had entrances directly to stores. Many major London stores have branches there – Marks and Sparks, Debenhams, C and A, A and N, etc. We walked along the deep canal running through the downtown area of the city. Imagine, if you can, a car with three wheels, the solo one being in the REAR! We are used to seeing the three-legged variety, but the one wheel is in the front. This one was really different. We walked cobbled streets closed off for pedestrian malls and wandered in a lovely toy store. The height (literally) of the tour was seeing the ruins of Guildford Castle high on a hill. The gardens flowing from one bed of colourful flowers to another were the prettiest I’ve seen since we moved to England. Each bed was a different fancy shape cut out of lush grass. No camera! You’ll be amused when I tell you the featured tall plant in several groups was maize (corn)!!

Napping, I tried to rouse myself when I heard Phillipa insistently saying, “We’ll cope. We’ll cope.” There were no more distress sounds, so I went on drifting. Kate came quietly to stand by the bed to wake me by staring at me. Works every time! How can I pretend to be asleep feeling those eyes boring into me? She proudly announced, “We (meaning Phillipa) changed a dreadfully dirty nappy. Could you take care of it in the loo while we put on his clean one?”

Wow!! Phillipa said, “It looks terrible when YOU do it, but it’s not so bad when I did it myself.”

Afterwards we had a special tea with homemade biscuits to celebrate.

Sadie’s Drinking Fountain

When Sadie and I came back from walking, she checked the drip bowl for water as I plugged in the fountain. It was dry, of course, since the leak had not yet begun. Hearing the water flowing in the fountain, she decided it would be much more elegant to drink standing up. She didn’t say if it were more efficient or not.

[Grammarians and proofreaders — Barbara, Ellie, Nancy, Chrissie. Would you comment on “if it were”? That was proper usage when I was in school, but I suspect common usage today would be “if it was”. I tried looking it up on line and got hopelessly lost. I would like to know what is proper usage today.]

My New Game

Thanks to neighbor Bob, I have a new game. Bob repaired a faulty wire in the electric line to the front porch. After John cleaned out the angel fountain, I set it up again and ran it. I hoped the fountain would work better in its new position. It didn’t. It has leaked for seven years, because the water clings to the under side of the middle pool instead of falling into the pool below. Changing the slant at three different levels did nothing. This year I added some plastic film to encourage the water to fall straight down instead of running back to the base and dripping. There is one improvement. The sound is better than it has ever been.

The new game is a race. I plug the fountain in, read a devotional book, and work the daily game of Set on line. I win if I finish before the drip bowl on the floor is full. I’ve done well, except for the days the scripture readings are exceptionally long.

Sadie was on the porch with me after our walk. She was sure the fountain was her new watering hole. She wasn’t quite tall enough to get water from the lowest pool, so she helped herself from the drip bowl.

If anyone has another idea to fix the fountain, please let me know. Sadie can get her water elsewhere.


I was happy when the cancer test came back negative a few days ago. I had cancer seven years ago – diagnosed on June 1 and removed on July 1. You don’t take life for granted after that. Although there are no guarantees, I expected to feel free longer than a few days. John put his hand on my back this morning, paused, and asked, “What is this?”

There was a lump on my shoulder blade. Although I couldn’t reach it, I could see it in the mirror. He went on to his doctor’s appointment in Asheville, and I walked to the stop sign. It was a sobering walk, with lots of things going through my head. It’s best to pray before panic sets in. By the time I got home, I had seen two paths ahead. It would not be my choice which to take, but I could choose to ask God to lead the way. John had suggested I call the doctor’s office, and I got an appointment for early afternoon. He was home in plenty of time to drive me. As I sat in the waiting room, a message came on the phone that a young family member has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Doctors will be considering the next step. What a blow! Lots more prayer is needed.

Amid all this serious stuff, get ready for amusement. The doctor’s assistant asked many questions, typing things into a computer. After she left, Dr. Ramsey came in and glanced at the computer. She examined the lump briefly and said in a pleasant voice, “It’s fat. Nothing to be concerned about.”

My brain went into overdrive, processing an hour’s worth of material in a few seconds. Fat has been the bane of my existence all my life. How can a serious lump be FAT??? It can’t have been there long, because the dermatologist would have noticed it a few months ago. FAT??? I’ve been worried about FAT lumping around my back? How useless! That inch I lost around my waist – are you telling me it was FAT creeping up my back, unnoticed and unhated? FAT deposits, you say? No! I make a deposit at the bank, and that is good. I made a fat deposit here, and I want an immediate withdrawal.

Having good manners, I let her talk. She explained that fat accumulates under the skin and is not dangerous. If it becomes painful or bothers me, all I need to do is call her, and she’ll set up an appointment with a general surgeon. She measured it and was most reassuring. I thanked her profusely for seeing me quickly and putting my mind at ease.

I went out to the car and immediately told John the news is good. It isn’t cancer. It is FAT!! Of course, I didn’t stop there. I want a transplant! You remember years ago a doctor told me I’d lost the fat pads in my feet? Well, I want that lump on my back to be transplanted to my left foot. What good is it on my back? Let’s put it somewhere useful. FAT!! OK. Shall we go home and have lunch?

For those who pray, please thank God with me that my cancer has not returned. Also, please pray for healing for our young family member and for guidance for her doctors. I appreciate it. God bless you.