“That precious stone set in the silver sea …”


We arrived by sea on a glorious September day, the white cliffs of Dover dazzling for our reception; the sky of an incredible blue; the air gentle, invigorating; the water certainly looking clean, and luke warm, too. During the crossing I had been talking to an Englishman knowledgeable in the field of nutrition, a subject dear to my heart then, who even knew some of the books I had read. What a welcome in a foreign country ! I took it all for a good omen.

We had come to live here, set up house, go to school, put roots into a completely new environment. There was nobody we knew. I had been apprehensive about the efforts we would have to make. On previous shorter visits I had always enjoyed myself, finding the English mentality congenial to mine. Coming now for good was a different matter. I dreaded the idea of litter in streets and countryside, the absence of my beloved forests, the sea all round the country, preventing me from walking home, if I wanted to.

The very first day we spent on our own in an empty house, doors and windows wide open to eliminate the smell of various domestic cleaning agents intermingled with the characteristic individual smell people give to their houses through perfumes, cooking, fire, smoke, the previous owners having moved out only a few days ago. They had laid the fire for us in the living-room.

We spent all day there, sitting on window-sills and not daring to start exploring, because we were waiting for the removal lorry. Why did it not come ? I was getting very worried about the hundred or so undeclared bottles of wine and several hundredweights of precious organic wheat which really should have been accompanied by an official declaration certifying it free from disease, just like the plants we brought – they all had to be listed, examined and declared healthy before being imported into this country. We had obtained the needed document by sending our list to the relevant authority some twenty miles away from where we then lived. It was returned by post next day, duly stamped and certified at a cost of five D-Marks. The removers had advized us not to declare the wine. They knew by experience that in the case of declaration, the lorry might be searched for any additional wine possibly not declared. Therefore the precious drink was clandestinely stowed away, along with the wheat, into the furthest corner, and it was hoped that even English custom officers would soon grow tired of rummaging through a huge continental lorry. As it happened, the English custom officers were so very tired when our lorry arrived early in the morning – they could not possibly attend to it for at least six hours. Or was it one of these legendary tea-breaks we read about in our textbooks ? Our men had to spend a long time waiting, doing nothing. Finally, somebody handed them the necessary documents, a simple matter of routine, and waved them off without saying a single word. The lorry eventually arrived at our door at 6.30 pm. It was not quite the size of our house and nearly blocked the entire road. Gosh, what a lorry, our children heard in school next day.

Our three had been eagerly awaited in the little village whose school, owing to falling numbers of children, was threatened with having its staff reduced. Here were three new children at a time and most welcome before anyone had seen them.

On our way to school, half a mile down the road, woodland on one side and a hedge with a large field behind it on the other – a pleasant walk in the morning sun it was, if on the wrong side of the road – we met with a first instance of what was to turn out one of the strong points of the English people : Two cars were approaching us, one in front, one behind. There was not much room for pedestrians, and in anticipation of problems we climbed onto the bank. However, to my amazement both cars stopped dead at a distance of about twenty yards from us and appeared to be waiting for us to move out of the danger zone. I was so touched by this consideration that I told the children to run a little and not keep these obliging people waiting unduly. I had never experienced anything like that in my own country where we certainly would have had to make sure to be well out of the way.

The first English people we met were the ones at school. The reception was heart-warming. I was delighted to see the headmaster take our children by the hand and introduce them to their classes, assigning to other children the job of looking after them. Teachers and pupils ensured that the newcomers joined in with everything. I was allowed to stay with our youngest child in her classroom and took the opportunity to gather information about our new environment. Nobody minded peculiar questions like “where is the nearest organic farm” or “where can you get raw milk”. In fact, I had a little lesson on goat’s milk in the end, freely available in the raw state in this country, as opposed to cow’s milk. Then, all on the first morning, I was invited to take part together with the second-year children in an outing to a neighbouring farm, which had been planned for this day.

In the evening when Steve came home from work, we had a lot to tell him. We had also met our next door neighbours who had taken us in for a cup of tea and home-made scones, just like that, without knowing us. We have become duly attached to them over the years, and if ever we have to move away, we shall make every effort to take them with us. The neighbours on the other side are a little further away. They, too, invited us for coffee and cakes one afternoon not long after. We were overwhelmed by so much friendliness.

One of our first concerns on arriving was to find what we considered good sources for food, certain basic materials like organically produced cereals, vegetables and milk, out of which I made bread and produced our meals. It took us a month and a determined effort to find a farm which at the end of one Saturday made the day for us. This is England where things are not organized systematically at regional or even national level, with centres who will supply the relevant addresses on simple request. It was all by word of mouth : a doctor here, a little healthshop there, a stall in the market – we were groping around, asking a good many people for help, until at last we found the place. Milk was secured, so were cereals. Vegetables were more difficult. Grow them yourself or find a gardener who uses horse-manure ! There are lots and lots of horse-manure in England. Cabbage grown on horse-manure makes very good sauerkraut !