OUR TRIP TO ENGLAND

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Courtesy of George Shepherd, Museum Curator, Western Development Museum, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Doing it the hard way. Threshing with the hand power groundhog at Museum.
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Courtesy of George Shepherd, Museum Curator, Western Development Museum, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. That's Geroge X in the stocks at Fordwick.

Museum Curator Western Development Museum Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, Canada

This is a brief summary of the four weeks Irene and I spent in
England. We got back to Saskatoon May 23rd. We made the return
flight by jet leaving the vast London airport at 1:00 p.m., and
arrived at Saskatoon at 9:00 that same evening, going through seven
time zones. It was four thousand miles in one day. It took me
longer than that to ride the fifty miles from our ranch on Battle
Creek to Maple by horseback a few years ago. It’s a far cry
from driving oxen in the homestead days. We are sold on flying by
air.

We made our headquarters with our son Gordon, and his wife
Marian, who were in England on a Sabbatical Year. This made about
half the trip. We also stayed with my cousin Horace and his wife
Winnifred. That made about the other half of the trip. Between the
two of them we got to places the average tourist would never see.
Gordon’s boys and our niece Barbara who was in England with
them just love their English Schools.

Gordon and his family were at Guildford and Horace at Canterbury
in Kent county, known as the Garden of England, and the country is
lovely. The people are wonderful too. There is no spirit of defeat
in England. The spirit that carried them through the blitz is still
there, and London, Canterbury, Guildford and Ramsgate give the
impression of busy bustling times. I kept sending back little
stories of our trip to our local Saskatoon daily and they printed
most of them. I also did a 25 minute tape for the British
Broadcasting Corporation in their enormous building and they sent
me a cheque for ten guineas. That worked out at $26.60. Then, of
course, there’s the prestige! Since returning I have received
several letters speaking very nicely about my two talks. Gordon and
Marian head it and said I appeared very relaxed. And why not?

Although I knew about pounds, shillings and pence I never really
got used to the currency. I simply paid what was asked and let it
go at that. The weather was quite cold. They said it was the
coldest May in 30 years. There was quite a bit of rain too.
Fortunately I had some good heavy Saskatchewan clothing with me and
wore the same clothes I wear in January in Saskatoon and wore a
sweater under my suit coat most of the time. Meanwhile those
English school kids, both boys and girls, were running around bare
kneed and in light jackets. No wonder the English are a tough race
brought up that way. And the mini girls seemed to thrive on cool
weather. The girls’ dresses were about two inches shorter than
in Saskatoon. Its open season for girl watchers in England, land of
the free and home of the brave, and engaging mini mini girls.

The roads around Canterbury and Guildford are narrow and winding
and they post very few signs. When you do see a curve sign you can
be sure that is it a right angle turn. The pedestrians seem to have
very few rights. As a consequence they make their own rules and
dash madly across the streets against the red lights and in the
middle of blocks. Pedestrians are in two classes -the quick and the
dead. If you are not quick you stand a good chance of being very
dead. Kent is just full of old stone churches, many of them 500 or
a thousand years old, or more. You feel a sense of awe gazing at
the reclining figures of knights and saints, who made history and
have been buried for hundreds of years. There is some talk of
removing many of the illegible, leaning, and moss covered
headstones and replacing them with brass plates and sowing the
graves to roses. I much doubt if they will do it. We got to
Fordwich where Gordon photographed me in the town stocks by the
side of the 500 year old town hall. The heavy log got jammed and
Gordon had to unlace his Dad’s shoes and take them off before I
could get out or I might be there yet! There was a Ducking Chair
there by means of which disorderly women and shrewish wives could
be slung out on a crane and ducked in the River Stour. Irene
declined the honor but during Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation
festivities the vicar’s daughter offered to be ducked and was
nearly drowned before they got her out! The English are not a soft
race.

Gordon had phoned in for supper reservations at Simpsons in the
Strand. This is where the waiters push around little carts with big
roasts of beef and mutton kept piping hot by little spirit lamps
underneath. They carve off your meat right there, ‘Would you
like your meat rare, medium or well done, sir’. They have been
doing this since the days of Charles Dickens or before. The bill
for the four of us came to just under six pounds or about fifteen
dollars for one of the best eating spots in London. The pound was
worth about $2.50. You can get wine or spirits served at any eating
place but no one seemed to over indulge. Its just the regular
thing.

When we were drifting on the roads, Gordon’s boys and I made
little lists of the names of the pubs and some were both clever and
interesting. I just didn’t get time to do any real pub
crawling. Had a light lunch with Marion and Irene at the Horse and
Groom and had the best beef sandwiches I have ever eaten. When I
left Canterbury it was a quiet Cathedral City in 1908. Now you take
your life in your hands trying to cross the streets with a running
stream of autos and double decker buses hell bent for any place. In
a very narrow main street in Sandwich the double decker bus we were
on met another. They casually ran up on the sidewalk to get by and
this brought them into contact with the overhanging rooms
overhead.

More than a paragraph should be devoted to the church edifices
of England. Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls are most historic but
other country churches are fascinating too. There was Saint
Augustines at Brooklands, founded over a thousand years ago. An odd
thing about this church is that the steeple which resembles three
inverted cones piled one on top of the other, sits on the ground
beside the church. One legend says that the architect who drew the
plans ran out of paper and drew the steeple beside the church and
the builders went ahead and built it that way. Another story says
that the steeple blew down during the marriage of a confirmed old
bachelor to a local spinster who was well stricken in years. St.
Martha’s Church just north of Guildford was in use, and
overlooked Chaucers Pilgrims Way from Southampton to Canterbury,
You have to struggle on foot up the hill the last quarter of a mile
but once at the church there is a view of the lovely Surrey
countryside of serene, unsurpassed breathtaking beauty. In all its
loveliness one kept thinking of Churchill’s boast, ‘We will
fight on the beaches, on the hills and in the streets’. Well,
the English certainly had something worth fighting for. A visit to
Nelson’s flagship, The Victory, at Portsmouth and to Stonehenge
was overwhelming in associations.

Many things stand out in memory. The pandemonium in Petticoat
Lane during the Sunday morning market where the hawkers were
selling everything from live chickens to underwear. A five piece
orchestra added to the din, and they were collecting a lot of
money. There was the quiet assurance from the lone unarmed
constable that there was hardly any rough stuff, ‘Oh they are
all pretty well behaved sir’. There were the huge screaming
jets taking off from the London airport every two or three minutes.
Of Gordon and Marian driving us in a Rover car equipped with a left
hand drive for use in Canada later. Driving on the left side of the
road, with the onrushing traffic coming at you on right was at
first a little unnerving. There were the Sunday afternoon orators
in Hyde Park who are ‘agin’ everything, and the hecklers
who were as smart, and as interesting as the speakers. Meanwhile
the London bobbies, unarmed of course, quietly stroll around
oblivious to it all. I found a visit to the Martyrs Memorial in
Canterbury of deep interest. This is where, in the reign of Queen
Mary, in 1555-1558, forty-one Kentish Martyrs were burned at the
stake. Of these, ten were women, two of them sisters and one the
widow of a man who had previously burned there. My ancestor Bishop
Hopper was one of the martyrs.

England is just fine and the people are wonderful. It has the
advantage for North Americans that we speak the same language.
Irene and I would like to go back again in warmer weather and with
plenty of time.

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