Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

A Baby Boomer Trip Down Memory Lane: A Fish Out of Water in Devizes, Wiltshire, England – 1970

by Suzanne Fluhr on July 10, 2013 · 34 comments

Market Cross, Devizes, Wiltshire, England

The Market Cross in the center (um, centre) of Devizes (photo credit www.devizes.org.uk)

I recently read a blog post by a British woman, writing about her dread at having to participate in the Mothers’ Race for Sports Day at her daughters’ school. This sent me flashing back to 1970 when I attended the comprehensive school in Devizes, Wiltshire, England, a small west country market town where my father was an exchange teacher.

In 1970, I was a somewhat gawky 15 year old with the full catastrophe of orthopedic shoes, bookwormly glasses AND being an American. Back then, life wasn’t as global as it is today. In small town, rural England, “American” was definitely big time “other”.

At my Philadelphia all girls public high school, there was a yearly spirited athletic competition pitting the juniors against the seniors, but only the jocks competed. The rest of us cheered them on, or in my case, played the oboe in the pep band.

 

It would be a massive understatement to say I was less than thrilled to learn that the Devizes Comprehensive School had a Sports Day during which everyone had to participate in at least one athletic contest. Looking over my choices with dismay, I realized that swimming was my only option because I could compete as an individual. For sure, no one would want me on their field hockey team. I wouldn’t even want me on my field hockey team.

Saint John the Baptist's church, Devizes, Wiltshire, England

Saint John’s Church in Devizes, the earliest portion of which dates from the early 12th century. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Philadelphia any more.” (Photo: www.devizesheritage.org.uk)

My mother and I took a 20 mile bus ride to the town of Bath in the next county so I could be outfitted with a bathing suit, or as the British call it, a “swimming costume”.

The suit I ended up with most definitely looked like a costume. Known for its geothermal hot springs, Bath acquired its name because it was originally a spa town, even for the Romans, not because it was a mecca for bathing suit shopping.

My new bathing suit had some kind of rigid plastic, cage-like contraptions for the built in bra cups. I was mortified.

I had the body image issues frequently endured by 15 year old girls. I wasn’t exactly comfortable in my own skin and now I was going to have to unveil myself with my breasts encased in plastic cages before the entire school.

Had this not been well before omnipresent digital smart phone cameras, I would have seriously contemplated feigning a serious illness. To be honest, I did consider that possibility, but given the free medical care we were receiving from the British National Health Service, I was afraid my parents would actually call an ambulance and have me carted off to the local hospital.

Photo of me on Sports Day, 1970. Yes. I know. It's faded. ;-)

Photo of me on Sports Day, 1970. Yes. I know. It’s faded. 😉

When it was time for my race on the appointed day, I shrugged off my towel at the pool’s edge and waited in agony for the starter to blow his whistle. I’m sure my frantic desire to be less visible resulted in me being the first to hit the water.

There had been no pre-race warm up (or, rather, cool down) so one could adjust to the water — the unheated water — in an outdoor swimming pool — in England. The shock of the frigid dunking propelled me towards the opposite wall of the pool for the one length race with a burst of adrenalin that would probably be fatal at my current age.

As I crashed into the wall and took a quick look to my right and left, I realized that either my competitors were already out of the water shivering in towels  — or miraculously, I had won the race. I spun around to see my classmates floundering towards me, almost in slow motion, poorly executing the front crawl  — also know as the American crawl, a stroke I had been perfecting since my first swimming lesson at age five, but which is the last taught to young British swimmers.

It was my Rocky moment. The Eye of the Tiger would have been a fitting soundtrack, but Sylvestor Stallone had yet to triumphantly run up the Art Museum steps in my home town.

The next day found me gratefully back in my severe school uniform, my upper torso encased in a good, solidly frumpy, navy blue English wool jumper (sweater), with a navy blue tie firmly knotted around my neck, holding my shirt collar together, my breasts returned to their normal configuration and obscured at that.

The English have earned their reputation for being reserved and understated. As I entered my school home room, there were no high fives, no fist bumps. (Did anyone even do that in 1970?). No one whispered, “Jolly good show yesterday”, but I felt some quick approving glances. I chose to interpret those as proof that I had earned some Sports Day cred. Thirty four hundred miles and a continent away from home, I might still be a metaphorical fish, but no longer quite so far out of water.

What was your most embarrassing school experience?

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar noel July 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Those are the types of moments you will never forget as a kid and will always be emblazoned in your memory, thanks for sharing them Rocky! btw the 70’s image does not load on your page.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Noel, are you referring to the purposely blank photo of me in my bathing suit in 1970?

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avatar Jackie Smith July 10, 2013 at 6:59 pm

What a great topic – this trip down memory lane. I can almost imagine those ‘bookwormy’ glasses — I was wearing a similar pair with nice black frames to further enhance the image!

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avatar Cathy Sweeney July 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm

What a story, what a moment! Love it, Suzanne. About the faded photo — not fair!! 🙂

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avatar Irene S. Levine July 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Nice to have memories of traveling with your mom~

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avatar Steven Albelda July 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

Fun, Not sure I ever heard that story in detail.

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avatar Madaline Fluhr July 11, 2013 at 10:46 am

I don’t remember that story either. As for the missing photo – COWARD! Come on – we’re all dying to see it. However, I do remember you competing in a recorder competition during our year in England and also winning! (is there a trend here?) I have never been so empathetically nervous in my life! I remember sitting in the audience with the fam, sweating bullets. You played beautifully and deserved to win. I think that you were “Amuhrican” may have helped? I know that is not usually the case internationally, but this was then and it was England. Maybe. In any case, musically speaking, you definitely deserved to win. You, go girl!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

Sheesh. There. Is. No. Photo. That’s supposed to be clever. Mads, you don’t remember Sports Day? Really? Maybe because you did a sport that didn’t involve a bathing suit!

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avatar Renee Levine July 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

It’s nice to know someone who won an award in a competition. All I remember is being up at bat in a baseball game, and I must admit I never swung the bat. I think the game
ended after my term. You certainly had different levels of skill.

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avatar santafetraveler July 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm

What a great experience getting to spend growing up a bit abroad and getting to have a Rocky moment, too.

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avatar Patti July 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Great story. p.s. I “got” the faded photo!

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avatar Roz Warren July 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

Love it — especially that photo. You look Fabulous!

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avatar Mette - Italian Notes July 13, 2013 at 10:29 am

I remember the restricted feeling of being forced into an English school uniform, although I never quite experienced a Rocky moment. Sounds fun in retrospect.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I didn’t mind the school uniform. There was certainly never any morning dithering about what to wear. My father had to teach me to tie the tie although I mostly just left it tied and put is on over my head each day. It was a white shirt, a navy blue jumper and a navy blue tie for the upper school. At least the middle school had stripes on their tie for a bit of color. My mother said that when I appeared ready to leave for school on the first day, she felt like saluting me 😉

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avatar DC July 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

Took me back to my school days…with uniforms and sports days and marching with a band. Parents had to participate in a parent game on sports day and I’m glad my mom was always eager to go for it!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

I don’t remember any events for parents on our Sports Day which is just as well. I don’t think my mother would have been a very keen to participate.

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avatar Marcia July 21, 2013 at 12:01 am

Kudos to you for doing the race, Suzanne!
Sports day was an annual thing at my schools but for the athletically inclined. I wasn’t interested in sports then.
Great memories, right down to the ‘faded’ photo.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 23, 2013 at 1:18 am

No kudos to me. I HAD to do the race. If it had been optional, I would not have been in THAT bathing suit in THAT freezing cold water.

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avatar Johanna July 24, 2013 at 1:48 am

Awww, sounds one of those times that really you’d rather forget but can’t! I lived near Devizes in 1969 and went to Bishops Cannings school, then to school in Marlborough. I wonder if you visited? It used to have a fabulous annual fair. Loving your blog 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 25, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Thanks for stopping by Johanna. I never made it to Marlborough I don’t think anyway. However, I have visited Perth (your adopted home) twice!! Not too many Americans can say that. In fact, from my experience, not even too many Australians can say that!

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avatar Debbie July 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

That was such a well-written memoir; I could see and feel everything in my mind. Great read! Couldn’t make out the photo though. 🙂 Thanks for hosting this blog party; finally got mine done, but, I should have put the title in the linky. Any way to edit that?
Cheers!
Debbie

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr July 25, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Debbie — your wish is my command. I’ve edited the title of your link. Thanks for contributing. Your story about travel with your mother to the Canary Islands and the Sahara Desert was very evocative. Definitely, “you are there” story-telling.

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avatar Debbie July 25, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Thanks Suzanne! Glad you enjoyed my story. It was an interesting trip and a great memory. 🙂

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avatar Neva October 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I loved the flash back to your childhood. It took me back to the awkward days of swimming suits and school uniforms. Great sense of humor showing a faded(?) picture.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) October 9, 2013 at 4:32 am

Thanks for your comment, Neva. Did you attend a private or parochial school? Back in in day when I attended public school in Philadelphia, public schools didn’t have uniforms. That is increasingly popular nowadays.

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avatar Jeff Johns November 28, 2013 at 11:16 pm

While it won’t be a walk down memory lane for myself, I have so many family members which were born and raised in England. Looking forward to finding my great great great grandfathers home in Lilant, he lived above the tiny post office there. I’ve seen pictures for years, but so excited to try and find it for myself!

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avatar Ann May 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I attended school in Devizes. Did you have a sister called Jennifer?

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr May 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I do indeed. Jenny attended the Devizes primary school when we lived in Devizes. She was 10. She’s married and lives near us on Philadelphia. She works as an occupational therapist. If you send me your contact info in a personal message, I’ll pass it along to her.

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avatar Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) February 6, 2015 at 1:21 pm

What a great story! I love this glimpse of what it was like to work live in England.

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avatar Jenny July 28, 2017 at 2:44 am

I don’t remember attending your swimming mete. I do remember attending your recorder recital and being very proud of you.
One of my most embarrassing experiences in England was also related to sports. It was PE. Unlike in America where we wore those lovely blue one piece uniforms that were bloomers on the bottom half in England they wore what looked like to me and apparently my parents navy blue panties and a yellow top. Well, I went out and bought myself just that. Evidently, I was mistaken. The other girls were not actually wearing navy blue panties, but something that looked just like navy blue panties to a 10 y.0. American eye. My classmates could tell the difference. Needless to say my first PE class was an embarrassing moment. It was like one of those anxiety dreams where you are outside and realize that you forgot to put your pants on!

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