Imagine, if you will, a small, well-kept park, its walks bordered with neatly-clipped hedges, flaming scarlet and mauve rhododendrons everywhere, and interspersed among the greens, tiny beds filled with blossoms of riotous color. Southern England has often been compared to such a scene, for in contrast to the vast cultivated and barren lands of the United States, England is small and green. In fact, much within England is of miniature proportions to the newcomer’s eye. Land and goods are at a premium; each must be used to the fullest without waste. Small fields of lush crops grow, as it were, on every square inch of land. No weedy patches line the roadsides, but all is clipped and mown. Small villages dot the rolling hillsides like flowerbeds, for here are found the stone and brick cottages of the workingmen, each with its vegetable and flower garden. Vegetables are grown by all to ease the strain on the pocketbook; for greens are scarce and expensive; and, of course, an Englishman cannot live without flowers on his table.
We were thoroughly delighted by the miniature size of the British trains, automobiles, streets, and villages. They seemed mere toys and we had to suppress our giggles when first encountering those lanky Englishmen, jack-knifed into their roadsters and sedans, skimming down the roads like small beetles on a pond. Indeed, all of the vast city of London seemed like a familiar place because of its narrow streets, low buildings, small houses and shops, giving it a provincial air. The main thoroughfares are extremely narrow, and clogged with little old-fashioned black cabbies, red double-decker busses, and few privately owned autos. Each morning, pushcart vendors set up shop in the street corners and squares, selling appealing fruit and flowers, and it is a common sight to see the breadwinner hurrying home at noon or night with a bouquet of carnations or roses for the Missus.
Our arrival in London’s genteel Mayfair district at noontime, coincided with the lunch hour of the British dandies who were strolling down the street and through the parks dressed in cut-a-way coat, striped trousers, top hat, gloves, and carrying a cane or umbrella, although the day was sunny. This is the accepted mode of dress for the English financier and diplomat and one must not make light of their dignity, although most peculiar to us. The business offices of this area are housed in converted mansions with geranium-filled window boxes lining the sidewalks, and throughout London the lampposts support baskets containing yellow nasturtiums, pink petunias, and hanging vines. Only the homes of the very rich have yards, and all other houses and buildings abut the sidewalk and adjoin at the sides.
Along with other American sightseers, a Cooks Tour showed us the highlights of the City. The long low buildings of magnificent architecture bordering the avenue called Whitehall along the Thames River contain the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Scotland Yard, the Queen’s horse guard, the home of the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, and Westminster Abbey. Later, a stroll along this avenue where history has been made for centuries was most rewarding. We were fortunate enough to view the changing of the Guard at the Royal stable. England loves her traditions and it is in this area that all the royal pomp and pageantry of England is displayed.
Sunday morning service at Westminster Abbey was well attended. The service included the reading of countless forms and responses by the congregation and the singing of many anthems by the choir. These were all taken from Scripture. The greater part of the service is consumed by these formalities and only a shallow sermon is given before the celebration of holy communion. Perhaps most shocking to us were the marble crypts within the church edifice where were entombed the remains of royalty and historical and literary figures of the past. The Abbey is an immense and awe-inspiring place and its solemnity is enhanced by the rolling peals of the great organ. This organ, incidentally, was played by a friend we had made on board ship when coming to England.
Walking out the front door of the Abbey, one finds lovely St. James Park with its beds of flowers and duck ponds and thousands of people enjoying the sun in deck chairs on the lawns. At the far end of St. James Park is Buckingham Palace. It is a rather drab, grey building devoid of trees or shrubs, but surrounded by a high fence with golden gates and guarded by unblinking red-coated guards wearing three-foot high bearskin hats.
Driving our little Morris Minor sedan through the busy streets of London brought us very shortly to the countryside where we visited Windsor Castle set high on a hill surrounded on three sides by the town of Windsor. We were fortunate in reaching Windsor on a day when, the royal family not being in residence, the state apartments in the castle were open to visitors. Nearby was Eton, prep-school for young boys from the first families of the land. Here too was evidence of great formality and tradition, for the boys were attired in black formal dress, with white collar, high silk hats and gloves. We wondered how they could have any fun in such an atmosphere.
Steering a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road along the busier roads was simple – one has only to follow the preceding vehicles. However, driving along a country lane was another matter; one soon became forgetful while admiring the view and before long came face to face with another startled motorist.
The people of England were, for the most part, rather difficult to become acquainted with. They were rather shy, having a great respect for another’s privacy and never intruded, speaking only when spoken to and always very precise and proper. One should never judge the English by their surface characteristics, for after getting to know them, we found them very warm-hearted and interesting conversationalists. They are, perhaps, the most courteous people in the world and their road manners are impeccable. The English have a set pattern of social behavior and want no interruptions to their fixed way of life. A thing is done or it is not done, and that’s that!