Chapter 4 England
Soon after midnight the train arrived, and we were able to sleep, more or less, until about six am when we had to change at Cologne, into the Ostende train. There was a long delay before we could go on board the boat, which finally left about 4pm. The majority of passengers caught the train from Dover straight to London, the 'Boat Train'. We had to go from Dover Marine to Dover Priory and change for Ashford, change again for Maidstone. At none of these places was there a bank, so upon arrival at Maidstone I didn't even have the price of a phone call in British currency. I had to ask the station master to ring my exchangee's brother for the key of the house.
He came and drove us to Brookfield Avenue, Larkfield. It was enveloped in fog.
This is a current picture from Google Streetview. It has not
changed in nearly 40 years except the garage is a new addition.
Every house in the street was almost identical.
The view from the back of the house on the day of our arrival
a few days later when the fog cleared.
My first impression of the house was that it was bright and pleasant inside, but with longer acquaintance I noted the absence of a tub or anywhere to wash a pair of socks; correct attachment of the stair carpet; a fridge in which to keep the frozen peas I thoughtlessly bought the next day.
The house was also bitterly cold without an effective heater. The bedrooms upstairs were freezing so the children undressed in front of heater, putting pyjamas over long underwear, left school clothes in loungeroom ready for morning. They dashed upstairs to their beds and I went up to kiss them goodnight, switch on my electric blanket and bring down my nightdress to lay beside the heater.
Margaret, my exchangee, had left me a radio on which I could get only one station, which seemed to repeat popular shows a number of times, a television which she admitted in a note, had not worked since she'd moved it, as well as all the essentials for cooking, similar to the items I had left in Australia for her. I had also left her my car, rather an old bomb. She had had to sell her car to help raise her fare.
The most pressing matter at the moment was the acquiring of a vehicle... big enough to live in during the long summer holiday, but not too heavy on petrol, not too awkward to drive to and from work.
Our first trip in search of such a van was rather abortive. The fares were four pounds; we walked miles, got quite frozen, and learned that all the vehicles at the address we were given did not fit the requirements of size and price.
For the next couple of days we left the house only to buy essential food.
The deputy of Thames View Infants school, to which I was appointed, called briefly and promised to take me to the school to the staff meeting on the following Monday. She was slim and attractive, with long blond hair, which she had wound neatly round her head. I wished my hair would stay like that when I pinned it up.
"I'm sorry I can't take you normally. I go another way and pick up one of the teachers from the junior school"
"Junior school?" I asked.
"Yes, seven to ten year olds."
"Oh. We call it Primary. Can I bring Jacqueline and David to see if I can enrol them at the same school?"
"Yes. The headmaster is almost certain to be there."
"I have rung a place in Canterbury about a van, which I can look at in a day or two. It's somewhere else at the moment, but it sounds just what I want."
"How will you go to see it?"
"The proprietor will call for me in it. I'll have to drive him back to Canterbury. The price is right, $500. He says it's good mechanically, and has room for four to sleep, a cooker, cooler, tiny wardrobe."
"Have you found your way round the local shops and so on?"
"Yes. Margaret made a little book for me, with maps of the shops, her brothers house, the route to school and various pieces of useful information."
Unfortunately she had drawn the south at the top of the first page, which fixed in my mind a lasting impression that the house was facing north. We had arrived in England in heavy fog, were met in Maidstone by Margaret's brother, who drove us around in circles in order to show us as much as possible, so I was quite willing to believe Margaret's map. When we first saw the sun a week or so later, it was performing a remarkable feat... rising in the wrong direction. Having successfully negotiated Italy where I didn't even speak the language, it was disconcerting to be so disoriented where everything should have been clear. As soon as I was away from the house, the world spun round and the sun resumed its normal celestial habits.
* * *
The van was a late 60's VW Kombi fitted with a Devon Interior.
It had a 8.8 imperial gallon petrol tank and would get approximately 24 miles to the gallon.
Fuel in England in 1973 was 38 pence to the gallon so it took about £3.50 to fill the tank.
London to Edinburgh is around 400 miles, so that would have cost around £7.
These photos were taken off the internet as we had very few of our van.
Note the red door for the stove - it comes into the story later.
David slept across the front seat, Mum and Peter shared the table bed
and I slept on the cushions on the back shelf.