England 40 Years Ago — May 31, 1981

Our next door neighbors were here for dinner last Monday, a bank holiday. We were rather glad the weather was nasty because none of us could kick ourselves and say we should have gone to such and such on this particular day. That didn’t help all the people committed to going to fetes and fairs.

Vivien began telling me about hedges. The yew hedge is poisonous to cattle and other animals, so you usually find it in house gardens. It is very slow to grow; the one that divides our garden from the theirs in the back is a yew. He said it was planted at the time the house was built to divide the tennis court area from the pleasure garden area. They have the part that was the court – only holes for the poles are left; must have been a grass court. There is a huge beech hedge at the bottom of our garden. The yew is green year round, but the beech loses its leaves. Vivien pointed out that the plants making up that hedge are really trees, not shrubs. Common hedgerows dividing fields are usually hawthorn. The privet hedge is more of a shrub; I can’t remember what that kind looks like.

There is much to be said for rising early. By 7:30 one morning I had cooked breakfast, washed dishes, got clothes out of the washing machine and into the dryer, besides disinfecting all the lower cabinets in the kitchen and disposing of a dead mouse.

A record is about to be set for the number of rainy days in a row. I had hoped to do some outdoor things with the girls while they were off from school for a week, but it rained every day. We did towns instead. By now I think the count is 15 days in a row of rain. The day we went to Epsom to shop, it didn’t rain while we were in the supermarket, but began just as we stowed the food and prepared to wander about the town. John $ is always the driest one (except for one certain area) because the cover for the push chair completely closes him in, having a visored hood with a zip that leaves only his face exposed.

John $ in his pushchair, covered by the blue rain cover. This was taken at a fort on Hadrian’s Wall in 1980.

Catherine had an umbrella, Lisa a raincoat, and Kate a windbreaker that kept all but her head dry. She’d not put up the hood at first, then dumped rain on herself that had collected in the hood. My raincoat got damp all the way through. Wet!

After he put the girls to bed, John picked up the alto recorder he’s had for five years and never touched before. He sat there in front of the instruction book mumbling and grumbling that his fat fingers just wouldn’t work right. Soon Lisa came flying down the stairs saying, “Please stop!! Kate is scared stiff a ghost is trying to play a recorder!” John rolled his eyes heavenward and said, “I haven’t a ghost of a chance.”

The children, Catherine, and I went to Banstead, one of the closest of the towns around here. It’s a nice town – not too old, not too new – with a wonderful variety of shops. I found wooden spoons I’ve been looking for, a book store that had one book I wanted and ordered another. There are scads of news agents, several groceries, two fabric shops, chemists, a baby shop, and a small department store. There are no antique shops! We enjoyed our stroll there.

You know it’s time for a cup of tea when a neighbor brings back your baby after he’s played in a puddle in their garden, having walked out the front door left open by a daughter. Also,

…when the mouse trap is sprung, bait gone and no mouse.

…when a helpful child strips her bed, brings all downstairs to be washed and finds it isn’t the day for her bed.

…when the gardener comes after 11 consecutive days of rain and it rains again with a little hail for good measure.

…when your son is role-playing Daddy by making a fire with soft coal.

…when a daughter sits on her silly putty in her favorite jeans.

…when someone unexpectedly comes in and sees your husband’s shoes left under the dining table.

…when you find your son happily playing with the portable radio and the tape recorder.

…when you’ve sat down to enjoy that tea, cast an admiring glance toward the hedge and notice rain is coming between you and the hedge, remembering you left the push chair out in the sun a few minutes ago. Never a dull moment!

Catherine went with the rest of us to Redhill and Reigate to shop. We went to Co-op, talked with our favorite people there, and went to several places in Reigate. We exchanged our library books and came home.

Philippa (who also answers to Phillie, Phil, and Pips) was in school last week, but has days off this week. Too bad. We’re going to have some of that next year with our girls in different schools.

Yesterday John and Lisa went shopping all over the map. They were at Gatwick checking into renting a luggage rack for our summer trip, in Epsom, and as far away as Croydon and Coulsdon. After lunch we all went on a wild goose chase looking for a coat rack. We were assured this store had many to choose from, got there and found only one rickety bamboo thing put together with staples.

The sun actually shone for a while yesterday, until we started a charcoal fire to cook with, that is. John had set up the equipment out the back door. We started to move it around to the garage and managed to tip over everything. The fire didn’t seem to mind; all the coals cozied up to each other after their airy flight and glowed together. The sausages and hot dogs didn’t suffer from a dust bath and kitchen shower, and it all tasted delicious. There are easier ways of doing things!

Today we went to Westminster Cathedral. It is Catholic, but the service is more like the Lutheran one than the Anglican. The boys and men’s choir sang Ralph Vaughn William’s Mass in G in the appropriate places and two anthems. It was glorious. I was near the front with the girls and was feeling sorry for John having to grapple with $. I had assumed that he didn’t hear much of the service. He was waiting for us inside the church after the service, and we found that he’d walked with John in his arms much of the time, but actually sat down during the sermon. This is progress. He may not behave when it’s my turn, but we’ve made it through one, now.

Traveling is getting easier with the girls, too. Now they can go to the loo by themselves. Kate has always hesitated to go in strange bathrooms unless one of us is with her. Today at Burger King she announced she was going by herself. We wondered why she was taking so long, sent Lisa to find her, and soon saw Lisa hurrying back to report that she’d locked herself in. Sure enough, she was firmly ensconced behind that door, the stall being the kind that went all the way to the floor and the ceiling! I knew I’d have to talk her out or go to the manager. I asked her to try again, heard the lock being rattled, but nothing happened. Told her to wipe her fingers thoroughly on her dress to remove any hamburger grease and try again. No go. Try the other way. Ah! Kate was restored to us!