A 2017 preface – Firstly, this letter jumps forward a little. We have left the YMCA by now, found jobs at Saks and rented our first flat in New York. It was a typical brownstone which we loved and I am delighted that although many of the surrounding buildings have been torn down, our apartment still stands and this photo shows our front door.
Secondly, revisiting these letters, I am appalled at some of the comments I made about Americans, particularly the women we met in New York! I can only assume that it was partly due to the incredible culture shock of moving from England to New York – The City That Never Sleeps.
I was raised in a traditional family and community, so I was used to British reserve and politeness and the typical ‘English Rose’ type girls. In case this term isn’t understood today, it describes how women were expected to behave in much of Britain in the 50s and early 60s – they were raised to be ‘well brought-up.’ That meant polite and reserved, quiet, well mannered and modest. That was all I knew.
Suddenly we were exposed to girls who were often loud, confident, and outgoing – it was something I wasn’t used to. Combined with homesickness, I must admit I found the American girls hard to take to. However, my opinions changed as we spent more time in America, and I changed too. I began to love the people and the American way of life. During our time in the States we met so many people who were kind, generous and very hospitable. First impressions can be very wrong!!
156 West 73rd Street New York City 23 New York
Dear Mum, Dad, Nigel and Carolyn,
We have just returned from a busy day of sightseeing and feel as usual exhausted. We got up at 10am and went straight out to go up the Empire State Building which is the tallest building in the world. It has been another beautiful day with clear sky and warm sun.
The weather ever since we arrived has been up in the 70s and I understand that the weather at home is quite wintery (this I am told by Colin who gets frequent short letters from home, unlike me.) For heaven’s sake don’t wait for me to write to you and don’t bother with air mail either as this is quite expensive but do write sometimes, even if you have nothing to say.
It was a a perfect day for the view from the top of the Empire State Building and visibility was 25 miles, this is not the best as it sometimes is up to 50 miles on a really clear day, but today there was a slight haze which cut it down. It is impossible just to describe the view as it is so breathtaking. You can see the Atlantic Ocean and four states all at the same time and we saw huge liners coming in and leaving the harbour, and could see the whole of the island of Manhattan. We stayed up there for ages just looking at the view. It cost $1.50 and well worth it.
Going up in the lift to the 102nd floor, it went up so fast and it made your ears pop as if you were in an aeroplane. It was very cold up there and very windy. I took some photographs and when I have had them developed I will send them home to you. We them went down and had lunch – another perishing steak!!
We then went to the famous Radio City Music Hall. It was amazing. It is a large theatre holding 6,200 people – imagine that, three times the size of the Bristol Hippodrome – and for the ridiculous price of $1.60 we saw a full length film (Mary Poppins with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews) and a full length stage show as well. The film wasn’t much good, but then things really started to happen. A short interval, and then an announcer came out and informed us that this year was the 300th anniversary of New York, and that the show was in honour of this, and he introduced the first item.
We then saw an amazing sight, as from up out of the floor rose an 80 piece symphony orchestra. Two gigantic electronic organs came out of the side walls, the curtain rose and a packed stage of opera singers sang The Lost Chord. It was a most impressive and moving spectacle.
We later saw the Rockettes who are like the Tiller Girls, only there are 36 of them, and these are supposed to be the finest dance troupe in the world. A bit of variety followed, and then the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on the stage. A ballet, done to the tune Rhapsody in Blue. 80 girls were dressed in costumes made of something which seemed to be like glass, and they were dancing on a revolving glass stage. Throughout the dancing they formed intricate patterns which were lit by a fantastic method of lighting, which made the whole thing look like a flower, or a waterfall or a fountain. Absolutely brilliant we thought and all for $1.64. It is the largest theatre in the world apparently.
After seeing this we set off to visit the United Nations building, but on the way came across a huge crowd. We asked the cop what was happening and he said that this was the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and that President Johnson was due at any moment, so we decided to hang on.
The place was lousy with police who were everywhere. On top of skyscrapers, in windows, even on the top of a church. After about 20 minutes things began to happen and literally dozens of police cars began to arrive and the whole street was shut off. We had a good position right in front, and opposite the hotel entrance.
Then around the corner came a convoy of about 30 motorcycles, all with flashing lights, and a line of cars. The president’s car was glass topped and had men sitting all over it (we were told, to take any bullets which may have started to fly) and also inside was a man with a spotlight on his face, the idea being that any trigger happy assassin will shoot him first (nice job)!!
His car passed within about a foot of us very slowly, and then turned into the hotel garage, so we have seen Mr and Mrs Johnson in person! We then went to the United Nations building, but were too late as it was closed.
We have been invited to a Halloween party tonight by a girl in the store so we are going to that later on. We have also been invited out to lunch tomorrow by another woman in the store. Her husband is a German who fled from East Germany to the USA and now has a Cadillac. She said she would show us JF Kennedy airport. We had to turn this invitation down however as we are doing something else but will take advantage of it some other time.
Colin went to a political meeting in town the other morning and saw Sammy Davis Jr speaking and singing, and he also saw Robert Kennedy speaking too. Well, must get ready for this party now, more news later.
Well the party was a terrible mistake. There were about 50 people, all in their twenties, which in theory should be OK, except that they were all the most loudmouth Americans you could possibly imagine, all screaming in the most horrible American drawls you’ve ever heard.
The women were all ghastly and I couldn’t stand it, and after a few hours left early. Colin stayed on and can’t understand why I dislike them so much. Neither do I to be quite honest, but I think it is probably a form of homesickness, as I often have a craving to be with English people and have a bit of good old English genteelness and politeness. I suppose in time I will adjust to it and accept them, but I think it will take a long time.
This morning we have been in Central Park which is beautiful. It is right in the centre of Manhattan and it’s something like Hyde Park. There are literally thousands of squirrels there, all so tame that they come up to you in dozens if you have any food. It’s a huge park with hills and valleys and lakes and loads of people wandering around taking in the sun. Although a lovely place in the daytime it is the most dangerous place in America (and possibly the world) at night and definitely not the place to go to after dark.
I had a letter from a girl I met on the boat the other day, informing me that she has a lovely apartment in Boston overlooking the river, and has invited me for a weekend any time. When we get a car I shall probably belt up there on my days off. She is going to Australia later to join her brother who has a sheep farm, so she could be quite useful later on. She is a nurse and is joining a hospital in Boston and gets extremely good money.
This afternoon we went to Greenwich Village which is the Chelsea of New York and where all the “beats” live along with struggling artists, sculptors, musicians and general layabouts. In the middle is a square (Washington Square) and on Sunday afternoons all the folk singers gather and sing. I thought it was like a musical Hyde Park Corner with lots of groups of people quietly singing and playing.
Anyone it seems can do anything they like and lots of them were beating Tom Toms and anything that will make a sound. One fellow was even beating an empty beer bottle with a spoon!! We wandered all around Greenwich Village and then went back to the girl’s flat to watch telly.
It’s almost unbearable due to the continual advert breaks, but we did see the famous Ed Sullivan show with Mr Pastry doing The Lancers and the Dave Clark Five. We then saw The Road to Hong Kong with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, which was followed almost immediately by The Road To Bali. You can watch full length films all through the night until 5 in the morning and then start on the morning programmes.
Today we had another barney with the landlord. He keeps coming into our room and shutting the windows and pulling the blinds down and we insist on having them open. This morning we went to Central Park and when we returned found he had been in again, so we opened them all again. I told Colin to go out making a lot of noise and walk up the road. I then hid behind the curtain of the kitchenette and waited, and sure enough, a few minutes later he very silently came in and started to walk to the window. I then stepped out and asked him what he wanted. We then had a blazing row during which I told him we would leave, and told him to get out.
He went without shutting the window, and later when we went out again we returned to find them still open, so it looks as though my bluff may have done the trick.
When I was on the Queen Elizabeth I went to the doctor about that red patch on my nose and receive some treatment for it, and also received a bill of 28 shillings. Apparently you can refuse to pay it and they will accept this, but not knowing this, I paid up. The doctor said I could claim this back on the National Health in England, and I am enclosing the bill in the hope that you may be able to do something to get the 28 shillings back. All I had was a small tube of ointment!! I don’t know what the procedure is, but I would be grateful if Dad could make some enquiries for me.
It seems ages since I last saw you and I think of you a lot. I hope you are all fit and well and not fretting about me too much (Mum I mean) – I’m sure Dad and Nigel aren’t.
Last night we saw an amazing thing on TV which showed yet again was a crooked game this election is. Senator Hubert Humphrey came on and spoke for 15 minutes about the activities of the Goldwater party. Apparently they have set into action a thing called Operation Eagle Eye. This consists of persuading all Johnson supporters not to vote by various means i.e. confusing people, misdirecting them, explaining things wrongly so that they will spoil their ballot papers, and finally intimidating and threatening them.
Some old people will be so scared they won’t even bother to go. I think this is a wonderful country but it’s definitely going to the dogs and I shudder to think what it will be like in years to come. We met a Scotsman today who is going home having made his pile, as he says the country is getting worse and worse. But nevertheless 12 months here is a wonderful experience and we have no regrets at all. It’s the experience of a lifetime.
Well today is election day here and very exciting it is too. We are hoping that things will quieten down now as it has been chaotic for the last week. Tonight we are going to Times Square, and then on to the girl’s flat to watch the results on TV. No commercials all day – what a relief!!
Have just come home from work dead tired but tomorrow is payday, our first, so we are looking forward to that. Believe me, I have never deserved a pay packet so much in my life before.
That’s all for now, I will write with more news next week.
Look after yourselves