England 40 Years Ago — June 14, 1981

This time 17 years ago we were saying goodbye to my folks after our wedding. Today I said goodbye to John for a week and almost hello to my folks who arrive Tuesday for a two week visit. John will be in New York for a week.

Do you know how to tell someone here that he is crazy? “You’re a nut case!”

Had a crash course (not literally) to prepare us to take the very strict driving test here. Someone at the office suggested a 2-hour lesson, so we booked in for that at a driving school in Epsom. John kindly let me go first at 10:00 while he strolled $ around the town and ate at McDonald’s. At 12:00 John took his turn until 2:00. What a grueling thing it was! Before five minutes went by the tiny man said to me, “You just failed your driving test!” He was very pleasant – explaining that he wasn’t criticizing my driving, but preparing me for the test. I had failed to visibly check my rear view mirror every eight seconds. How picky they are here! It’s a fault against you if your wheels ever touch the curb. Each time you stop for a traffic signal, the handbrake must go on! He said I usually approached a stop too fast and took a little long to venture into traffic. By the end of two hours, I was almost afraid to go over 10 miles per hour, and that would have been a fault for not proceeding normally!

Kate brought a new friend home from school one afternoon. This girl moved to Reigate about six weeks ago, having lived in Yorkshire and Cornwall before.

John $ can now open the small oven of the cooker as well as fiddle with the controls of the dryer. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always am, to open the dryer door when the cycle is finished and find the clothes sopping wet. He can put more wet clothes back in the washing machine than I can put into the dryer. He can also throw more stones onto the front stoop than I can sweep off.

Yesterday the girls worked all morning at the school fete. Kate’s class was in charge of the raffle tickets, and Lisa’s of a stall selling anything red, white or blue. There were several games of chance, second-hand clothes, baked goods, games, toys, books, and plants for sale. We bought a shirt for $ and a pair of almost new Wellingtons for 20p. John bought the girls little mirrors with the school emblem on the back. The playground was gaily decorated, the event very well attended, and it was great fun.

In the afternoon the two Johns stayed home while we went with the womenfolk next door to the village May Pageant. (It had been postponed.) The parade of floats, clowns and a small band went through the town and to an open area. The new May queen was crowned, the dance of the May pole was performed, costumes were judged, an award given to the shop with the best decorations, and a clown performed. There were a few stalls selling cool drinks, plants, ice cream and chances to win goldfish. It seemed as if the whole village turned out for the affair. It was quite warm bringing on great thirst, so we all came home to have tea at our house. I opened the biscuit tin to find all the biscuits gone and had to improvise by making toast and serving it with lemon curd. It was nice to have a chance to sit and talk with our house-mates.

John needed to pick up some things from the office before flying out today, so we went to Westminster Abbey for church. (It is within walking distance of the office.) The choir was really on its toes today, the counter-tenors being especially good. We drove to Epsom where we ate lunch and John caught a bus to the airport.

This morning I picked up my parents from the airport. I dropped the girls off at a friend’s home to go to school with her girls. Despite my making two wrong turns, we met in the airport only 10 minutes after they finished the formalities. Couldn’t have worked out better; I might just have had time to get lost in the airport had I gotten there sooner.

They took a short nap, we got the girls from school and went to Box Hill, the nearest National Trust property with a fantastic view when you can see it. Of the four or five times I’ve been there, this day was the clearest. So many times the weather can be gorgeous, but slightly hazy.

After setting Mr. Clewes to work one day we drove to Leith Hill, a protected area noted for rhododendrons. We were able to see all the lavender ones; all the others were through blooming. The plants are more like trees here – we’ve never seen such tall ones.

We drove to Epson Downs race track, Epsom, Leatherhead and on to Ripley, Surrey. [Ripley is the name of our home town in Tennessee.] The folks said their council had been in touch with our city government back in my grandfather’s day. Dad also mentioned that he and Mother had sent a care package to the town here in England after the second World War. We took one picture, got lost, practiced a few U turns, and came home. [That one picture is missing, either lost or mislabeled.]

We treated ourselves to a cream tea in a hotel in a neighboring village. It was a great experience except for the price – rather steep. Scones were served with clotted cream and jam, and we had a plate of cake wedges. I thought we wouldn’t have enough food to keep $ happy (he eats more than Kate at times), but a cat that looked just like one we had in NY kept him occupied. That black and white cat entertained us by strolling under tables and coming almost within petting reach. The resemblance to Tor was uncanny – the only thing different was that he had a tail.

We watched quite a bit of TV in the afternoon as the Queen and her party arrived each day at Royal Ascot in open landaus. That race course is near Windsor. I put up with the horse races to see the people. Lady Diana was the big feature this year. All the men have morning dress and gray top hats; the ladies wear short dresses and the fanciest of hats. Also on TV were the preliminary matches for Wimbledon which begins tomorrow. Any time we aren’t out, I’m sure the oldest and the youngest of us will be lured to the screen to watch the games. The next door neighbors were able to get two tickets for the center court tomorrow. They said the children will be allowed to wander about watching the outer courts, and they will all take turns sitting with a parent at the center court.

Yesterday John arrived home from New York looking slightly rumpled about the mouth. From the account of how little sleep he got, I’m surprised he wasn’t in one heap. He slept while the rest of us went to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home. He thought it would take us an hour to get there, but it was only half that. This time the girls and I saw much more of the garden than when we were there nearly a year ago.

Today we worshiped in St. Paul’s Cathedral and spent the afternoon at Hampton Court. $ learned how to get out of his push chair; he practiced getting in and out for an hour while I was walking him in the garden. Below is a sunken garden at Hampton Court.

Below, my parents at Hampton Court.

Mom and Dad

Note: for months I have added captions to photos. Today that wouldn’t work.

England 40 Years Ago — December 26, 1980

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This toy is still in our garage in 2020!

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

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