Life in England

            Our trip to England was quite different from that to America. To begin with there was a need to find schools for the three older children and before long for Sue as well. Our preference was for Government rather than private schools. In Epping we had been well catered for - primary school at Eastwood, Epping High for Neil and Cheltenham High for Margaret (and after our return, for Trish and Sue.) Our predecessor at the Bank advised private schools, particularly at High School level. His son had gone to Latymer Upper School at Hammersmith, a grant-aided private school, and for lack of a suitable alternative in the Putney area, we sent Neil there. For Margaret there was a choice - the local private school which had recommended to us, or Mayfield, an LCC school with a good reputation - so we chose the latter. We’re quite convinced it was the right choice - it was by far the best of the schools with which we had experience.

One interesting aspect of Margaret’s time at Mayfield was that the school had an animal club, of which Margaret was an enthusiastic member. The flats in which we were living did not allow pets but that did not stop Margaret having a pet hamster. But then something happened over which we had no control. One of Margaret’s friends gave her two white mice. Her friend insisted they weren’t a pair, but it soon transpired that this was wrong when successive litters of young ones arrived. But when we realised that the younger generation had started to procreate, we had to call a stop. So Margaret took the cage from one pet shop to another until one owner took pity on her and agreed to take them. She left the cage and got away in a hurry without telling the poor young man he would soon have an enormous number of mice on his hands.

Trish’s first school was a disaster. It was a co-ed LCC school at Roehampton, which was attended by a lot of kids from the inner city living in Council flats near the school. We weren’t able to get into our Putney flat for a couple of weeks after school started, so I had to take her to the school from Knightsbridge each day before going to work. The bus did not take us right to the school, so we had to walk about ½ a mile and it rained every day. When she got there, the boys all picked on her and she was terribly unhappy. She hadn’t been happy with school at home, but this was far worse, so we quickly decided we would have to find another school. We were told about a small private school, Putney Prep, and when we enrolled her there we were told they could take Sue too, after Christmas. Although this school was co-ed too, the kids were completely different and both Trish and Sue enjoyed going there. A lot of the children were from diplomatic families and Trish might have turned out a real snob if she’d stayed there much longer. However, for our purposes for the rest of our time in London, it worked out very well.

Another educational problem that arose while we were in England was that Neil was able to do the O Level GCE while we were there, but not the Advanced Level, which is required for matriculation. The change of schools had already meant that he missed a year at home, so in order not to miss another year, he needed to go home ahead of us to spend a whole year preparing for the Leaving Certificate. So we arranged for him to go home six months ahead of us and stay at Asquith with the Bill family and go from there to Epping High. He had a marvellous time on the way home, but without us to keep an eye on his study, he didn’t work hard enough. Not long before we were due to leave England, we received a letter from his headmaster, saying he hadn’t a chance of passing the Leaving and suggesting that he be put back a year. Instead of agreeing with that suggestion, we arranged to have him coached in Maths and Chemistry. My friend, Rupert Leslie, who is a top-notch mathematician, agreed to coach him in Maths and we arranged for him to be coached by a professional coach in Chemistry. This almost did the trick, but he missed out on matriculating by just a few marks. His results were good enough to allow him to sit for a supplementary exam in the following February, which he just scraped through.

When we arrived in London, I immediately set about buying a car. Our predecessor had an Austin Princess sedan, which he wanted to sell to us, but, with our four children, we were looking for a large station wagon to take us on holidays, both in England and on the continent. I saw an advertisement for a Chev V8 station wagon, which I suspected was probably left-hand drive, but, as I had driven a right-hand drive in America for three years, I felt I could do the reverse in England for a similar period. Apart from this drawback, it was just what we wanted, so I bought it. When I brought it home to Putney, I had trouble getting it into the garage we had inherited at Manor Fields. The only way I could manage was to drive it in carefully and then climb out through the back of the wagon. However, one of the other bank chaps in the same lot of units had a larger garage and he agreed to swap as his car fitted easily in ours. We used the car extensively, reserving summer holidays for trips on the Continent and doing trips in the UK at weekends and in shorter holiday periods such as Easter and Christmas.

Our first Continental trip was to Scandinavia. We booked the car on a ferry from Newcastle to Bergen and left early as we were supposed to have the car taken on board two hours before sailing time. However it was the first weekend of the summer holidays when the factory workers from the Midlands were heading off on holiday. We made good time until we reached Doncaster, but there we encountered a bad traffic jam. A new bypass around Doncaster had been completed, but it wasn’t to be opened until the following week. It took us two hours to get through the town, which meant we hadn’t a chance to get to Newcastle on time. In spite of this we kept going in the hope that we would be able to travel ourselves, even if the car missed out. We arrived at the dock half an hour before the ferry was due to sail and were pleasantly surprised when the car was taken on board as well as ourselves. Apparently there were others who had been delayed by the traffic jam, but in spite of this the ferry took off on time, not long after we had gone on board. As far as I can remember, we had a calm crossing and disembarked in Bergen next morning, ready to proceed on our tour. We went from one fjord to another, as far as Trondheim, then back to Lillehammer and Oslo. From there we drove across Sweden to Stockholm through endless pine forests and thence via Denmark and Hamburg to the ferry. I wanted to take the opportunity to visit Berlin, but Olga objected and perhaps it was just as well, because that was about the time the Berlin Wall was erected.

We took the car on another Continental trip the next summer. This coincided with a conference of the International Economic Association in Vienna, which I attended while the family stayed at a resort near the Austro-Hungarian border. After the conference, we drove to Paris and took with us another Bank officer, Harry Knight, who had also attended the conference. The kids will always remember Harry for a funny story he tried to tell them, which misfired badly when he got the punch line wrong, much to his embarrassment.

In Paris we received the sad news of the death of Olga’s youngest sisiter, Pat, who left three young children.

The following year Olga and I went on a Continental trip without the children. It was the last school holidays before we were due to return to Australia. Neil had already gone home and Trish was going with her school to Venice, so we arranged for Margaret to go to a farm in Nottinghamshire owned by some Thomson cousins, where she was able to go horse-riding and Sue went to stay with my cousin Hugh and his wife Phyllis, who had a daughter, Margaret, a little older than Sue. We decided this would be a good opportunity to go to Athens to see the sights there that were of more interest to us than to the kids. We were limited in time as we had to be back in London when Trish returned from Venice. There were no suitable package tours that fitted our timetable and ordinary air fares were too high, so we went by rail on the Orient Express, which was far from an express and took two days each way. After allowing the necessary time to see Athens, there was just enough time to do a bus trip to Delphi and Olympia. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Delphi we discovered that the travel agent had omitted to book us from Delphi to Olympia, so we had to spend extra time in Delphi, waiting for the return bus to Athens. This worked out well, though, as it gave us time to see Delphi in a more leisurely way than would have been possible otherwise. The train journey was rather monotonous as it passed through a good deal of uninteresting countryside, particularly in Yugoslavia.





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