My British host's 89-year-old mother came over for lunch with us. She's an elegant white-haired lady still impeccably pearled and cashmere-sweatered, and sharp enough to do the London Times crossword puzzle every day. She likes to give me a hard time by praising Oliver Cromwell and dissing poor Prince William and Kate (she's a republican-- the British kind).
The conversation got onto the buzz bombs of World War II, when she lived in London with her baby. These were German flying bombs that flew into British airspace and then crashed and exploded. The effect was especially terrifying because unlike air raids, buzz bombs came with no warning, out of a peaceful sky. People debated which were worse-- the ones that buzzed until their engines cut off, and then you knew they were going to crash very near you; or the ones where you heard nothing until the explosion, which meant you had no time to seek shelter. "One day I had left the cot [UK for crib] by the window-- very silly of me-- I thought the baby needed fresh air. And a buzz bomb fell that destroyed the house across the street. I rushed up to the room and found the baby covered with shards of glass. From then on, I kept the cot across the room.
"Once," she went on, "my husband and I were at a grand naval luncheon, lots of admirals and commodores and all the wives. Suddenly we heard a buzz bomb and just then the engine cut out. I looked around-- I was very young then-- and no one made a move, so I didn't either. We all just sat there at the table, with our forks and our knives in our hands, not moving a muscle.
"The bomb fell, it exploded nearby, we heard the building it hit fall apart. Then everyone just started eating again, as if nothing had happened."