Even today in Britain there are lots of houses built before the twentieth century or even later which have either cess pits or septic tanks because, for one reason or another, there are no nearby sewers to carry away the waste. Cess pits have to be emptied from time to time which is a costly and smelly business. When we lived in East Malling our electricity came from the local paper mills for some reason and the waste from toilet, washing machine, bath, shower and basin all went into the cess pit which was under our driveway. There was a lid, about (and I’m guessing here) 2’6′ x 2’6″ which needed to be lifted off for the cess pit lorry whom we would phone when we needed to have the cess pit emptied.
Now, to change the subject for a short time before coming back to cess pits, Julian had bought an old military vehicle called a Dingo, which arrived in many pieces and which he spent many, many evenings and week-ends putting together and making nuts and bolts for, before it was finally finished and road worthy. About eight or nine miles away was a yearly Fair where owners of old military stuff would turn up to show off their vehicles, look at other peoples’ vehicles, sell bits and pieces and, finally, parade themselves and their various tanks, Ambulances, jeeps, etc around a ring (at least this is what I think they did. Julian will soon tell me what they actually did when he reads this!). Julian and a young friend from a nearby farm were determined to take his Dingo to this military show. Julian filled it with fuel and he and the youngster set off down the road. Not much later the Dingo stopped and refused to restart or go further so it was towed back to the house and parked on the driveway.
Shortly, it started to rain and, as the Dingo didn’t at that time have a lid or roof, Julian wanted to cover it with tarpaulin. The young friend stood on an old log to throw the tarpaulin over the top. Unfortunately, the log was on the cess pit lid and its weight plus the youngster’s weight collapsed the lid! Luckily, the boy, with great presence of mind, opened out his elbows and stopped himself from falling into the cess pit! He shouted out and we found him dangling over the open cess pit which, luckily had been partially emptied not many days earlier. We grabbed him and pulled him out and, aside from a ruined pair of shoes, he was none the worse for his experience. The cess pit lid was replaced with a much stronger one the next day.
Other things we found in England which were surprising to a teenage girl who had hardly been out of Ohio:
The cars – compare on Google the difference between late 1950’s cars in the US and UK. We had left behind colourful cars with huge fins and found dingy, quite small cars. Also, the legal age for acquiring a driving license was 17 and they didn’t have driving lessons at school! (I was very disappointed about that but, in fact, owning a car in London would have been a waste as the public transport system was pretty good!)
The roads – in America roads were broad, often with cars parked on either side plus room for two cars easily to pass. In most places in the UK the roads were built for users on foot or horse and couldn’t be adapted to take large vehicles because of the buildings which, in some cases, had been there for hundreds of years. Roads that were made from the beginning of car ownership were built with the compact British cars in mind and, also, in 1958 and for another ten years or so, car ownership was the exception rather than the rule.
The ‘fast food’ – We came from a country which had delicious hamburgers and thick chocolate milkshakes made with as much ice cream as you wanted on practically every corner to a country with one ‘Wimpy Bar’ a mile away which offered ‘hamburgers’ which were flat and with no salad, french fries that were called ‘chips’, and strange items like ‘scotch eggs’ and ‘sausage rolls’. The pizzas, which we were able to find once in a blue moon, were completely different from the lovely little single pizzas I bought after school at Edrico’s in Ludlow Avenue and I couldn’t find an ice cream parlour anywhere, where I could get a ‘hot fudge sundae’! (Even today I haven’t found a real hot fudge sundae that compares favourably and, as for pizza, I’m not sure that I will ever find one that is as great!)
The money – I didn’t expect there to be dollars and cents but the huge pennies, the strangely shaped ‘thrupenny bit’, the little sixpence, the shilling (or bob), the ‘florin’ (two shillings) and the ‘half crown’ (two and six) plus the ten shilling and pound notes were so different. There were also ‘crowns’, which were not often found in one’s change, half-pennies, and farthings which were worth a quarter of a penny and were on their way out of use quite soon after we arrived. [then, in the early 70’s, everything changed again in the way of coins and notes and we went decimal!]
Nowadays all of those ‘strange’ things have changed and the ones I experienced have become part of my history and so, a part of me. We live in a house which is attatched to a sewage system (albeit with hundred year old pipes connecting us to it), we have two cars, neither of which has fins(!), we could, if we wanted to, easily find fast food in the shape of McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut etc, and we are very used to handling the once strange coins and notes.
(If you have any questions about something I’ve said, please get in touch)