Saturday, October 16, 2010

England In Retrospect

  While I was a new 'boot' still in training in the Air Force, we were told to fill out our 'dream sheet'.  This was a document that indicated where we would like to be stationed after training.  It was called a 'dream sheet' because no one really thought they would go where they wanted.  For my first choice I put England and for my second, Germany.  Well, as luck would have it, my first permanent station was England.  First year in at RAF Mildenhall and second year at USAF High Wycombe which has since closed.
  I really enjoyed England, and this entry is about the various things I liked there.  Now bear in mind, it was the late '60's when I was there and I haven't been since, so I suspect many things have changed.  Unlike popular belief, it does not rain all the time, but it was overcast much of the time.  The countryside is quite green and lush and the country roads are often lined with a hedge of sort so viewing said countryside was sometimes difficult.  There was only one motorway that I recollect, the M1 but many have been added.  Driving on the left side of the road was easy enough to adapt to, the only time I had problems was when I came home on leave and had to remember to drive on the right side.
  I had a 1949 MG.  It was called a 'salon' which is equivelant to a sedan, and it was the very first car I owned.  It was black, four doors, sun roof, a little curtain that could cover the rear window, a built in jack system and a 1.25 litre engine.  The floor was made of wood and there was a crank that I could start the engine with if the starter should fail me.  It was where my initial car mechanical experience was derived from.  I rebuilt the engine and replaced the wooden floor, replaced the shocks (they called them hydraulic dampeners) and did body work on it after I was hit by a deaf-mute (don't ask).  It was a fun car.
  The British were very interesting as well as their accents.  When I was stationed at Mildenhall, the bases (including neighbouring RAF Lakenheath) were quite large and mostly Americans, and the associated villages were quite small.  Consequently, the locals weren't terribly fond of the yanks because we were everywhere.  As one put it "Americans are all mouth and all money".  On the other hand, when I was stationed at High Wycombe, we were a small air station on a hill at the edge of a fairly good sized city.  There they loved us.
  My first Christmas there, I was invited to spend it with a family that had a little farm outside of Cambridge.  At the end of Christmas Eve, we retired and I was asked if I would like to have a bed warmer warm my bed.  It was a pan with a hinged cover on a long stick that contained hot coals.  Being a tough guy, I politely declined.  When I climbed into bed I went into a state of shock, recoiled into a fetal position and stayed that way all night, freezing to near death.  Those farm house bedrooms were so cold!  The only source of heat was a small coal fireplace in the living room.  Otherwise it was a very nice English Christmas.  And, yes, the children do have rosy red cheeks as mentioned in Roger Miller's song.
  The laborours such as those working on the roads often wore suit coats which I thought was curious and bicycles were as common as cars (which were always small) for transportation.
  It took me awhile to get use to the money system which has since changed.  The smallest coin was a half pence (pronounced haypenny) then the pence then three pence (prounced thrupence [short 'u']) then six pence then the shilling (12 pence).  Half Crown (2 shillings sixpence) and Crown (5 shillings).  Then it went to paper currency, ten bob (10 shillings), quid (one pound or 20 shillings), then 5 pounds, etc.  There was a curious amount which wasn't a coin or currency but both, called a Guinea which was one pound, one shilling.  It took me awhile to get the hang of it.  After two years I was transferred to Turkey for a year and when I came through England, again, they had converted to decimal and I had to learn it all over again.  I suspect sometime in the future they are going to have to give in to the majority of Europe and convert to Euro.
  I occasionally went to London and in Piccadilly Circus it was the peak of the Flower Child era, bell bottoms, paisley, mini skirts, hot pants, long hair, etc.  In Trafalgar Square is where I saw my first stage production, Fiddler On The Roof.
  An Air Force buddy of mine and I took a holiday tour of southern England.  We started at High Wycombe, went to London then south to Brighton and followed the coast to Land's End (where I went for a swim in April, brrrr!) at the most western tip and then returned.  Bed and Breakfast places are much more interesting then hotels and especially motels.
  England was great and I would really like to get back for a visit sometime.  What is really nice is that I have a little bit of England at home because my wife is from England!

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