England 40 Years Ago — October 25, 1981

Deviousness comes early to some. $ has decided he doesn’t like milk. When I was caught on the telephone at lunch time, he crawled out of his chair onto the table, lifted the lid of the teapot and neatly poured his milk into my tea, closed the top afterwards and looked as smug as could be.

There was heavy, heavy rain while we were in route to school. Going down the very narrow and steepest part of the back road down the Downs, I saw the car ahead of us go into a skid. Fortunately, it didn’t hit any in the line of cars waiting to get up the hill. Whew!

There was an open night at Dunottar for parents of new girls. It was a free for all in the dining hall – parents and teachers milling about and trying to talk about the school and the girls. The president of the board of trustees calmed everyone down by making a speech mostly on financing and nearly put me to sleep. Rather pointless, I thought, but I was glad to see what a couple of Lisa’s teachers looked like.

Why are weeds so strong? Our telephone was out of order for two days, and the engineer (repairman) found that a vine near the kitchen window had broken the wire!!!

Did you know that ground nuts and monkey nuts are very familiar to all of you? Both are names for peanuts!

I asked the girls if $ had seen people feeding horses on a TV show they’d watched together. The following day he kept shoving food at the mouth end of his wooden riding giraffe.

It was bound to happen sometime. I was so thankful $ had on dry pants and that I hadn’t an important appointment looming over me. In fact, it was leisure time that got me in trouble! I was intent on getting $ to walk happily with me to the butcher shop for fun and exercise and didn’t discover until I returned home that I’d left the key inside. Since thieving is a national pastime, I’d carefully locked and double locked all windows and doors. Mrs. Wilson was home, but couldn’t find her key. Vivian took a look all round but could only suggest breaking a window. Finally Mrs. Wilson made a second stop up here to say she’d at last located Jeremy, who was working nearby, and would come with the key in 10 minutes. They were all terribly kind and understanding. Even had a cup of coffee next door while waiting – a treat I’d not usually allow myself!

When I read this newspaper headline, “Many axed quangoes are still awaiting legal death,” I had to know what on earth “quangoes” were. Even after reading 20 inches of the column it made no sense. On to the dictionary! “Quangoes” – acronym for quasi-autonomous national government organization. Surely they deserve a quick death to put us out of our misery!

Passing the pond, Kate was asking where the young swans were. She said, “Where are the swignets?”

Despite heavy rain we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Warwick Castle. Here in England you just ignore the rain as much as possible. I’ll admit that was a bit hard to do at Warwick Castle. There was a long hike from the car park to the outer walls of the castle, and quite a walk to the barbican.

Outer wall of Warwick Castle

Inside the walls of the castle

The buildings on view are arranged around a large courtyard, and you duck in for a bit, then back out in the rain to dash to the next part. It was a bit hard to see with rain streaming down my glasses while outside and the fog that instantly whitened out everything as soon as I stepped inside. In the lower regions, we never knew if the squishing of our feet signaled we were squeezing water out from the last puddle or letting more in from the puddle just entered.

There have been fortifications on that site since the 900’s! The state apartments are impressively luxurious. We saw a handkerchief and a saddle that had belonged to Elizabeth I!!! In the library I was most impressed with the water colours. The picture had been done by members of the Warwick family several hundred years ago. I knew water colour painting was a general hobby among the upper classes, but I never imagined they would be so exquisite. The ones on view were about 9”x12” with the finest brush strokes imaginable and vibrant colours. I would have guessed they were done by a master painter had I not read otherwise.

The tiny tower steps going round and round were both treacherous and steep. The passage way couldn’t have been more than two feet wide, and the sharply curving stone steps were so narrow that our feet wouldn’t fit flat even on the outermost part. John carried $, Lisa held our guidebooks, and I had a camera and pocketbook in one hand, the other holding Kate who was scared to death. There was a warning to the elderly and infirm that more than 200 steps were ahead. After puffing up and holding our breath on the way down, we FELT elderly and infirm! We saw the room high in the walls where soldiers stood ready to run to any part of the wall needing reinforcements.

Photo from the tower

We easily found a lovely modern motel, but finding dinner was another matter. The motel dining room didn’t open until 7:30, and we had a tired little boy on our hands. We searched three towns to find something that was open, suitable and affordable. Evidently English children are not expected to eat after 4:30 when traveling. We found numerous fish and chips shops, but they had counter only – no where to sit to eat. Fried fish eaten in a car on a rainy night held no appeal. Likewise Indian food and Chinese take-aways. We finally settled for a pizza place. What a lovely surprise! It was newly decorated with lots of light wood, had a menu that included vegetables, a charming waitress who exclaimed over how “gorgeous” $ was, and we had no need to rob a bank before entering.

Kenilworth from a distance
Entrance to Kenilworth

Sunday at 5 a.m. $ arose ready for a full day and wouldn’t postpone the start of it. John drove him around the countryside before dawn to keep him happy while the rest of us got our beauty sleep. He saw Coventry Cathedral and the massive ruins of Kenilworth Castle by moonlight. After breakfast he took us all to see the towering walls of pink brick that are all that remain of Kenilworth.

John’s timing was splendid, as usual. We found Stratford upon Avon with no trouble, spotted a church, parked the car, and walked in just before the service began. It happened to be the burial place of Shakespeare! After the service we went up in the chancel to see the grave of him and his wife, Anne. Also on display were photostats of his baptism, marriage and burial pages taken from the church records.

Church and grammar school

I had left church before the sermon to remove $ and walked about the town scouting the historical places and finding a restaurant. While waiting for the service to end, I went behind the church and found the River Avon lined with fishermen. Within sight were waterfalls and locks. While enjoying the scenery, I idly watched a narrow boat being rowed down the river. As it came closer, I realized the five boys in it were very young. The man in a track suit running on the opposite bank was their trainer. He shouted, ran, had them stop, shouted some more, and really put them through their paces. Bet the fishermen loved that!

At the Shakespeare Hotel we ate roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower, swedes (turnips) and roast potatoes. Having amply satisfied our stomachs, we began to walk.

Shakespeare Hotel

Shakespeare’s birthplace was a fairly large house very simply furnished. The house he bought when he’d retired from London was demolished one or two hundred years ago, but the foundations remain. Adjoining that is the house that belonged to his granddaughter, Elizabeth. The guide commented on how large the house is and how wealthy Shakespeare was. Both he and his wife came from good families, and he’d made very wise investments. Not far away was the home of William’s daughter who had married a doctor, John Hall. It, too, is large.

We drove in the car to Anne Hathaway’s cottage – the farmhouse where she lived while Shakespeare was courting her. The guide said they married when William was 18 and Anne 26 years old. Anne’s father was not poor, either; he farmed 90 acres!

Our family approaching the cottage

Standing near the door, I took the photo below to show the thickness of the thatched roof.

I was glad to see a visual history of plates – an old square wooden trencher with a large round depression for the meal and a small one for salt. That’s where we get the expression “square meal”. The wooden trencher was used in William’s day with only a knife and fingers to eat with! Next shown were pewter plates that came later, and then china. All these had belonged to the family – 13 generations of that family had occupied the house.

The sun had shown all day to spite the forecasters. We hit a few sprinkles of rain on the long drive home, but it wasn’t too bad. We decided the impromptu trips can be more fun than the well-planned ones.