Friday, 10 August 2018

Learning to swim

Years ago I realised that everyone in Britain learns to ride a bike.  Most people in New Zealand in my childhood did but neither I nor my sister Margaret did.  My other sister is a keen cyclist and says we did not learn because our mother was afraid of accidents.  This is not how I remember it.  Bicycles were expensive n NZ after the War and I thought that was the reason we never had them.  Hastings was a completely flat town but when we moved to Wellington it was so hilly that there was no particular pressure to ride a bike.  Some/most of my Wellington friends had acquired them at some point but there were really used for playing in back yards and not for serious cycling.  The fact that neither Margaret nor I could ride one did not seem that strange but when I got to England I found absolutely everyone could ride one. I think the fact that people here could not afford cars but could afford bikes was one factor.  Certainly it was in my husband's family.  Having got one he was expected to ride it to secondary school even  though it was on the other side of town.  His grandfather even died from a heart attack while riding his bike.

The boy next door to us in Hastings had a bike but he was a year younger than me and I remember his mother told me I would break it so I was never allowed on it.  I must have been about six then. I cannot even remember our having a tricycle.  I think that as all these toys had to be imported from England they were considered too expensive.  And I have no idea why my parents did not look for something secondhand.

In New Zealand I always thought that swimming was the equivalent of cycling as absolutely everyone could swim and most people had taken their Bronze Medal for lifesaving although not me.  I was very late at learning to swim and have no memories of ever visiting a swimming pool in Hastings.  We often went 'wild swimming' in rivers and the sea and we were taught to respect the water.  I have vague memories of my grandfather encouraging us to swim but I do not think my parents were very keen.  When I was about six I got 'glue ear' and had three abcesses in my ears over a period of a couple of years. I was therefore taught never to put my head under water and I think this is one reason why I was such a slow starter.  I remember that our school in Hastings had a small pool but I think it was really for the boarders and I do not remember ever swimming in it.  And of course, once we started going to Taupo, swimming became very important as there was no proper water supply in the house and you swam to get clean.  My grandmother used to take a cake of soap down to the lake and wash herself as she was, we thought, too old to go swimming.  (She must have been in her late sixties.)

So my memories of swimming lessons start at the age of nine.  The Karori baths were just across the road from the school and we used to be taken there every week.  I remember nearly sinking in the learners' pool.  I know I was ten before I swam the width of the baths which was considered one milestone, and I must have been about twelve before I completed a length. By that age a lot of my classmates were already going to school at 8 am to train for their Bronze medallions.  I never entered the swimming sports or learnt how to dive but as an adult I became quite a keen recreational swimmer as it was a fairly painless way of taking exercise.

I taught myself different strokes by reading books and I soon decided that I preferred breast stroke to front crawl.  The crawl was the basic stroke in NZ.  I also managed to learn backstroke but I would never say I was a strong swimmer.  We had plenty of opportunities to observe swimmers as our route to school took us right past the baths.  We had boarders at our school and we day girls thought they were very brazen as they used to strip right off in the changing rooms.  As I remember it there were no showers at the 'baths' but it did not worry us because we had a bath every day.

I also have memories of some wild swimming incidents.  We used to have House picnics at school.  On one occasion we went to Butterfly Creek which was a river over the hills on the eastern side of Wellington Harbour.  Although it was December it was almost raining.  We all took our 'togs' but the boarders were told they could not swim by the matron.  That did not deter one of my classmates who came armed with her swimsuit and got in the water.  It was freezing cold, as was often the case with river swimming, and she was soon approached by the teacher in charge.  Too late.  She had no choice but to cower under the bank of the river, submerged.

When I picked tobacco the year I left school we used to go swimming in a water hole in the river when we had finished work.  This was a potentially dangerous river so we took great care but there were one or two swimming 'holes' so it was great after a day working in the tobacco field.  We used to float down the river reciting Ophelia's death speech from Hamlet which we had studied at school in the year that had just finished.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

My Wellington grandparents' house

My grandparents lived in Kelburn which was an established area of mainly large houses.  Their house was a late Victorian two-storeyed building.  Almost all the houses in Hastings were one storeyed so having stairs was very exciting.  It was a large house which my grandparents had been forced to buy over something more modern, because my grandmother’s father came to live with them.  My great-grandmother had died just before my mother’s parents moved to Wellington from Wanganui in 1929.  My grandmother was the sole surviving daughter so they had to have enough bedrooms to accommodate members of her family when they came to stay.  My great-grandfather died in 1941 before I was born but he had had his own sitting room, called ‘The United Party Room’ which at the time I am writing about was used as a dining room and study.  We used to sit there in the evenings.  When we were little my grandfather used to sit us on his knee and pretend we were in a horse race.  When I was older he taught me to play Chinese chequers.

Next to it was an identical room that was only used for best.  It was the Drawing Room and was famous for the window panes blowing out if there was a bad southerly.   I can remember occasions when we could not go in there because the window panes were missing.  My grandmother used this room for her tea parties.  It also contained the family gramophone.  This had to be wound up to play a record.  It was in a cabinet that served as a china cabinet and had two drawers which were full of my grandfather’s collection of photos from the First World War.  When we were a little older we would frighten ourselves by looking at photos of dead horses.   The records were 78 rpms.  There were Sousa marches and ‘Oh, For the Wings of a Dove’ sung by a famous boy soprano.  You spent a lot of time winding up the gramophone as otherwise it went flat and stopped playing.

At the back of the house was a room called ‘The Meal Room’ where we ate most of our meals.  The piano was in there and also a bookcase containing my grandmother’s Victorian novels.  Next to the Meal Room was a large kitchen.  The identical house next door had three narrow rooms including a scullery but my grandparents had knocked them all in together.  There was a sink in one corner with an Ascot water heater over it.  It made a nasty explosive noise when it was switched on. Along the wall beside it were two clothes tubs for doing the washing.  They were covered with wooden boards but on Mondays Craigie came to do the washing.  This was a major exercise with a wringer(mangle) put on the edge between the two tubs for wringing out the sheets.  I cannot really remember how the water was heated but assumed there was also a copper.  We certainly had a copper in Havelock North.  On Mondays there was always macaroni cheese for lunch.  Criaige worked until early afternoon and washed the hard floors as well as doing the washing.  I think she also cleaned the bathroom.  She was Irish and I think spoke with an Irish accent.

Along the back wall of the kitchen there was a large gas cooker and what I now know was a gas fridge.  We did not have gas in Hastings.  There was a table in the centre of the kitchen where we children would sometimes have tea of boiled eggs.  My grandfather bought the eggs direct from a farmer who supplied his office each Friday so they came in a brown paper bag and you had to be very careful not to break any of the eggs. My grandmother’s old slate from school was used for writing shopping lists.  The kitchen opened onto a narrow passage known as the conservatory (but it wasn’t).  All the garden tools were kept there and it was very untidy, not to mention smelly.  I expect it was damp.

Upstairs there were five bedrooms and one bathroom plus a walk-in linen cupboard which smelt peculiar.  The bathroom had a red tiled floor and a nasty water stain below the taps on the bath.  When we moved to Wellington in 1953 the house was big enough to accommodate all five of us.  My grandparents slept in the room above the United Party room while the one above the drawing room was called the lumber room.  It had been my great-grandfather’s bedroom and was totally full of junk.  I later learnt that this was partly because my great-grandfather had died during the War and there had been on-one to clean it out, but when we were a bit older and living in Wellington we used to go into it sometimes.  It was a treasure trove of old things, ranging from my great-grandfather’s masonic regalia to army uniform and a couple of guns and my mother’s school reports.  Soon after we moved to Wellington I discovered her roller skates.  They were not adjustable but fitted me at the age of nine so I learnt to use them for a few months until my feet grew too large for them.  I used to go round and round the bus turning area at the top of the cable car but of course I was not destined to be a skater and I soon outgrew them.

North Terrace had two single bedrooms and a large room called ‘the nursery’ which I think had been extended over the back part of the house at some point.  We children generally slept there.  I liked lying in bed and seeing the last plane of the day coming along Tinakori hill on its way to land at Rongotai (now Wellington) airport.  The features of this room that I remember, apart from it having room for two beds and a cot, were the maidenhair fern on the chest of drawers, a toy train set which my parents had bought for my grandfather after a court case involving trains which he was involved in, and the Singer sewing machine that later became my mother’s.  I do not remember my grandmother ever using it.  Both my grandmothers were knitters rather than dressmakers.

The house faced south which is the wrong way to face in the southern hemisphere.  It explains why the window panes used to blow out because the storms were always southerlies.  The house was detached but only by about three feet.  A path ran up the side with the front door halfway along the side wall.  The house next door was identical.  There was a small garden along the front of the house with a couple of hydrangea bushes, a daphne odorata and some cat mint plants.  The garden at the back of the house was the ‘main’ garden.  It was not very large but my grandfather was a keen gardener and grew flowers there.  I do not remember any vegetable plants although there were herbs.  There was a square lawn, in the middle of which my grandfather had sunk a tin can so that he could practise his putting.  As the house was very close to the botanical gardens there were a lot of birds which would visit and I can remember learning the names of them.  They tended to be British birds such as sparrow and thrushes rather than native birds.  In the botanical gardens there were plenty of native species.

The journey from Hastings to Wellington in the 1950s

I cannot remember going on holiday from Havelock North and think we probably did not as we were too small.  Instead our Wellington grandparents would visit us.  When we moved to Hastings we started going to Wellington.  I understand my mother hated the Hawkes Bay climate so much she used to take us down to Wellington for about a month when we were pre-schoolers although once I started school the pattern must have changed.  Sometimes we went to Wellington by train and on other occasions we went by car.  The journey took the inside of a day and there were certain rituals associated with it.

As my mother did not drive we must have gone by car either with my maternal grandparents or with my father.   Our first stop was in Dannevirke ‘to see a man about a dog’, i.e. for a comfort stop at the loos.  The main stop was for lunch in Palmerston North.  Then we drove through the Manawatu Gorge, a narrow road with the railway running alongside it.  This road has now (2017) had to be closed long-term because of a dreadful ‘slip’ (landslide).  I can remember there were often slips which sometimes closed the railway and the road although I cannot remember the road ever being closed when we wanted to go through it.

Palmerston North was the main town on the other side of the Gorge.  It had a central square with gardens and, very important for mothers with small children, the Plunket Rooms.  This was a building in the middle of the gardens with loos and somewhere to change babies.  There was angle parking around the outside of the square.  As there were park benches in the gardens we would sit there to eat our packed lunch.  Packed lunches were the norm and it would never have occurred to anyone to buy food.  I have one outstanding memory of these Palmerston North stops.  It was in January 1952.  My younger sister was born in November 1951 and my mother had great difficulty breast-feeding her.  I think this was partly because of the heat and it probably did not help that I spent a fortnight in hospital in December 1951, being discharged on Christmas Eve so that I could have Christmas at home.

When my sister was six weeks old my parents decided to wean her.  I distinctly remember the whole process because the baby screamed a lot.  She would take a bottle from my father but not my mother and after a couple of weeks of this we went on our annual holiday to Wellington.  The idea was to feed her in the Plunket rooms in Palmerston North.  Men were not allowed in the Plunket rooms so Mum took the three of us in there and my father hovered outside.  But it was no use.  The baby had to be fed by him so he had to come in.  I can remember a well-built middle-aged Plunket nurse coming and berating my parents for this.  She was probably appalled at the idea of a father feeding a baby as well as the fact that we were breaking the rules
After lunch we would continue the journey down through the Manawatu.  There were several large rivers and on the banks of one was a tea-shop which I can remember visiting.  I can also remember proudly reading out the writing on the road signs the year I learnt to read.  My triumph was apparently to announce that we were on the ‘main rout’ rather than ‘route’ and I was not allowed to forget this for years.  I also remember large sign boards advertising different agricultural tools including one for ‘Gough, Gough and Hamer’ which had a large tractor on it.  I pronounced ‘Hamer’ as ‘hammer’ of course.  There were a lot of market gardens as we got nearer to Wellington and then the road ran alongside the foot of the hills beside the sea before turning inland and approaching Wellington via the Ngauranga Gorge.  Before reaching the gorge, you passed through an area which is now built up but then was known mainly as the site of Porirua Hospital, the lunatic asylum where we knew one of my grandmother’s brothers was a patient.  Near to that was Arohata Borstal, the women’s prison.

The train journey to Wellington was also a major event.  If it was just my mother taking us on holiday, that is how we travelled.  Again it took the inside of a day with, I think, half an hour’s stop at Palmerston North station where we ate our sandwiches for lunch.  Other passengers would go into the station buffet and buy sandwiches, which always seemed to be ham, and meat pies which are a famous NZ snack.  

The best thing about the train journey was that at Paekakariki, about thirty miles up the line from Wellington, there was another stop for them to change the engine.  My mother would walk us along the platform to witness this. The line from Wellington to Paekak (as it was always called) had been converted for diesel trains so the steam engine was removed and the diesel attached.  The reverse happened on the journey north.  I can also remember things about the journey back to Hastings, particularly that we used to stand at the carriage window as we approached Hastings and look out at the buildings at the edge of town.  These included the boys’ high school.  I also remember the doplar effect from the noise of the level crossing signals and the distinctive sound of the train’s hooter.  New Zealand had trains that were more like American ones than British so the ‘hooter’ sounded like something from an American movie.  

The carriages were not divided into compartments but had seats arranged in pairs down a long aisle.  We always travelled first class and there are incidents from these journeys that I still remember.  On one occasion a man in our carriage taught Margaret how to wink.  When I was a bit older (seven and eight) I made this journey on my own.  My parents would eye up a likely looking mature woman and ask her to keep an eye on me and off I would go to visit my grandparents.  I think I went in 1952 and I certainly went in the May school holidays in 1953 and was staying with them for the Coronation and the conquest of Everest.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Childhood gardening

Gardening was quite important in my childhood although it is my younger sister who is the real gardener.   My mother was quite enthusiastic when we were children although I do not think she was very expert and I remember her buying plants and seeds and not ever propagating anything.  Her father was a keen gardener although his garden was small with no room for vegetables.  All New Zealand houses traditionally had a patch of land and everyone used to grow their own vegetables.  I suspect vegetable gardening was seen as men’s work.  That was certainly the case in our household. My father and his father before him, hated gardening.  My father used to say that his father used to tell him that he would have to weed the roses in the afterlife!  My paternal grandmother was a keen gardener and that trait was passed down to both my uncle and aunt and then to my younger sister.

In Hastings my father did garden but once we got to Wellington he gave up.  He grew vegetables in Hastings although never potatoes. I also have a faint ‘memory of a memory’ about Havelock North in which I am standing at the front door and looking out on a sea of lumps.  I know my parents planted potatoes to break up the ground before sowing a lawn but I can only have been about eighteen months old so have probably not got a true memory.  In Hastings the vegetable garden was divided from the flower garden by a trellis up which grew the runner beans.  I do not remember even knowing that there were other kinds of bean.  My father grew carrots which I imagine loved the sandy soil and peas plus salad items such as lettuce and spring onions.  Hastings was built on a river plain and the soil was very good.  The main problem was drought in the summer and we did have heavy frosts.  I think one or two of the shrubs had sacking put round them for winter protection.

When I was about four my mother picked out a small section of the flower garden and said that Margaret and I could have it as ours.  I remember growing mustard and cress and love-in-a-mist but that is about all. I also remember having children’s packets of mixed seeds.  I remember the ‘bulbs’ my mother grew for spring which were narcissi of various kinds, especially the ones with little flowers.  More memorable were the hyancinths because they had such a lovely scent.  Our garden in Hastings was very nice.  My parents planted roses all along one boundary – alternately Paul Scarlet and other varieties.  At the corner between the flower garden and the vegetable patch they planted a silver birch so that was the first variety of tree I knew.  The other boundary (we lived on a corner) was very shady but we had a lemon tree there and some shrubs.  We never played on that side.   We only ever used ‘blood and bone’ as a fertilizer but that seemed to be enough.  I have memories of making ‘fairy gardens’.  After my father had mowed the lawn (it was a job always done by men) we were allowed to have some of the clippings.  We used to pile these up on the ground and decorate them with flowers.  Of course they always disappeared overnight or as soon as it rained but it was a form of entertainment for us.  I am sure my paternal grandmother must have helped my father with his vegetable garden.  In theory it did not matter if you did not grow vegetables in Hastings as the town was surrounded by market gardens and orchards.  We used to go to one to buy tomatoes and the scent of tomatoes still reminds me of that place.

When we moved to Wellington the gardening situation was completely different.  Wellington is built on clay and things did not grow as they did in Hastings.  At one point my parents had a rotary clothes line installed.  The soil that we removed from the planting hole was just like the clay we modelled at school so we made things from it.   I think our garden might have been especially damp as there was a creek (tiny stream) running along the bottom boundary between us and the neighbours in the street that ran at right angles to ours.  People often say that Karori (the suburb where we lived) is very damp and full of streams.  As it is built on land that mostly consists of hillsides with the main road running down the central valley, this all makes sense.

My mother’s father retired soon after we moved to Wellington and he used to come and do the gardening.  He planted Jerusalem artichokes (again I never knew there was another kind) and they grew despite the poor soil.  Our flower garden had hydrangeas along the bed against the house.   They did not mind the acid soil. There was a small patch of garden in a corner where I think my mother grew a variety of things and then there was garden all along the boundary fence.  We had stylosis (miniature irises) growing there.  Here is a photo of my sister and me sitting on the fence. 

You can see the hydrangea bushes in the background but I have no idea of the name of the large bush growing outside the fence. I see we also had window boxes. I think they must have been planted with bright red pelargoniums (although we called them geraniums) as again, that was the only kind we knew. In New Zealand at that time the flower garden was always in front of the house and the vegetable garden behind it.  That was just the way it was and when I came to England I was surprised to find most people had their main garden behind the house.  My mother’s generation of women were mostly full-time housewives and mothers.  Gardening and dressmaking were activities you did in the afternoon after having spent the morning cleaning the house.  You had to do them and only a few women opted out.

Because everyone was a gardener the usual way of propagating plants was from cuttings and ‘slips’ given to you by friends.  It was not common to buy plants and there were certainly no garden centres.  I do not know how many children gardened.  My younger sister was always very enthusiastic but Margaret and I soon grew out of it as too many other things impinged on our lives.  When we were older and moved to another house further up the same street I used to do a little vegetable gardening but what I remember from that house is my younger sister being very keen and growing lots of different vegetables.

When I went on my last trip to New Zealand in 2008 a friend and I visited the Hastings house.  The people who were renting it were about to go out and gave us permission to walk round the outside.  This is what we saw:

This is the patch of garden that Margaret and I were allowed to use.

And this is the Queen Street frontage.  The fence has been replaced for obvious reasons (ours was just wire) and the we knew the silver birch had been removed not long after we left.  I see there is a tree fern where it used to be.  The climbers up the verandah were not there when we lived there.

My other sister has visited the house more recently and said it had changed hands and had a lot of improvements made to it.  I was quite surprised that people in NZ did not mind former residents of a house walking around it and on the same holiday I was given a guided tour of the house in the first photo.  It had also been improved and extended but some parts were the same.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Brownies and Girl Guides

I come from a family with a tradition of involvement in the Scouting movement.   This began with my father who was as bad at sport as the rest of us!  He went to the New Zealand equivalent of a public school and joined the school scout troop in order to avoid sport.  He continued to be involved with scouting until he reached the age of forty when he abandoned it in favour of church activities.  My childhood memories are full of the scouts, however, even before I was old enough to join the Brownies.  When I was small my father ran the Rover group.  This was for slightly older boys.  They used to go camping a lot and I can remember my father going to the Scout Association property at Rissington which was into the ranges (hills) near Napier.  I particularly remember this because he used to go in mid-winter when it was very cold and frosty.
There were also other occasions in Hastings when this interest impinged on the life of the whole family.  I learnt the term ‘bottle drive’ very early.  This appeared to be their main method of fund-raising: collecting empty bottles and getting the money back on them.  I can remember going to the scout hut where they met on several occasions although I am not sure why.  And of course I was brought up knowing I could become a Brownie.  My mother had been both a Brownie and a girl guide and there were one or two badges lying around the house.

I joined the Brownies at the first opportunity when I was seven and a half and still living in Hastings.  I only have hazy memories of this although I do remember being in a ‘fairy circle’ and I know I was properly enrolled and wore the uniform.  The pack met in the church hall and I suspect it was a church group.  However, my life in this pack was short as after six months we moved to Wellington.  Joining a pack there was top of the list of things to do so I joined the Karori brownies, even though we were still living n Kelburn with my grandparents.  I seem to remember we met after school in the church hall.  My main memory is of the day the bus driver did not see me and I missed the bus home.
I think the Brownies were a very important part of my life, not least because it was a proper community group and I met girls who went to the ordinary state school, not just people at our school.  I am still close friends with one or two of these people.

Because I joined at a young age, to start with there were not many people I knew but gradually most people from my class joined.  I was a pretty successful brownie and gained my Golden Bar and Golden Hand as well as several proficiency badges.  I particularly remember doing my ‘housewife’ badge.  This meant going to the examiner’s house and cooking a meal.  By this time my second cousin had also joined and she was taking the badge too.  She was a very intelligent child so when told to cook rhubarb she did it with salt rather than sugar.

The atmosphere was greatly influenced by early twentieth century military life although as Brownies we did not go camping.  I know that the sixes in Hastings were named after Maori fairies but the Karori ones were traditional English fairies and I was a sprite.  Meetings began with us holding hands with other people in our six and dancing in a circle (I think).  I became a sixer and this provided my grandfather with plenty of opportunities to work on my leadership skills.  He had an army background and he saw my life in the Brownies as a chance to develop these!  My parents had a number of friends who had leadership roles in the scouting movement.  I remember someone called Ruth Herrick who was near the top of the hierarchy, and a man in Hastings who we lost touch with when we moved to Wellington.  I learnt recently that Ruth Herrick was the daughter of my father’s childhood next door neighbours.

I was a much better Brownie than I was a Guide.  I ‘went up’ to the local guide company shortly before my eleventh birthday but I only survived there for a couple of years.  There were several reasons for this, some of them related to me rather than the guides.  For example, my father always insisted in walking up to the hall to collect me (we met in the evening and did not own a car) which I found embarrassing.  Very different from today when no-one would let eleven year olds walk half a mile in the dark!  By then I had entered the ‘Upper School’ and was wearing stockings to school.  My mother would not let me change into ankle socks for the guide meetings which I found even more embarrassing than being collected.  But above all, guides required some athletic ability and I had absolutely none.  Running a mile at ‘scouts’ pace’ which was one of the tests for the Second Class badge, nearly killed me.  I only managed to pass a few of the tests but I do remember we did a St John’s ambulance badge in first aid and that was fine.  There was a theory test which we did writing on the seats of the wooden chairs in the church hall, although it was open to cheating and there was a practical test which involved tying a sling.

We used to go on hikes on the hills around Wellington.  Fine.  And I learnt to cook sausages ‘inside out’ over a campfire although my father did not approve of this practice.  I remember learning to make a fire using pieces of dried gorse to get it started.  The highlight of my brief time in the guides was that I actually got to go to a camp!  

This was held at the A and P showgrounds at Upper Hutt.  I do not know how a group of us newbies came to be selected, especially as the camp appeared to be for several companies so we were not just with people from our company.  We slept four to a tent and every night we sat round the campfire and sang songs such as ‘Ging, gang, goolie, goolie’ (that’s what I remember as its name but it probably wasn’t).  During the day we undertook a variety of activities that I think were aimed at developing our bush skills as well as enabling some people to pass tests for their badges.  My chief memory, however, is of the meals.  Someone wrote the menus down in a strange language which we then had to interpret.  I particularly remember ‘cackleberries on charcoal’.  This proved to be scrambled eggs on toast.

Like many people I drifted away form the guides as other interests such as learning the piano began to be more important.  A couple of my close friends continued until we were in the fourth form but even in the 1950s there were too many competing interests for most of us.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The royal tour 1954

As part of the celebrations for her new reign the Queen and Prince Philip undertook a long tour of Commonwealth countries after the coronation.  It so happened that the tour reached Wellington soon after we moved there.  We were still living with our grandparents. As my grandparents were  members of ‘the Establishment’ and lived at the top of the Cable Car very near town this meant we were able to participate in things quite easily.  I always remember that when I moved to Australia fifteen years later I was very surprised to find some of the people I was working with had never seen a member of the royal family.  It was quite a common occurrence for us and I do know that the royal couple were in Wellington for a week and we saw them every day but one.
They arrived on a Saturday afternoon.  This meant crowds of people lining Lambton Quay and I assume most of the other main streets, to see them drive to Government House where they were to stay for the week.  Our whole family went as it was only a short cable car ride from our grandparents’ house into town.  My outstanding memory of this day is not of the royal couple but of a very drunk man who made several attempts to get onto the outside seats of the cable car.  He kept falling off and as an eight year old I was very glad we had our father with us.  I do not think I had seen a really drunk person before.  I remember it held the cable car up but we got down to town and took up our positions on the pavement outside my grandfather’s office.  Margaret and I were both clutching our flags.  All children appeared to have these and I assume they were New Zealand flags rather than Union Jacks.  The queen was in an open-top car and it was the practice throughout the week to push the children to the front.  This was great in terms of getting a good view although later in the week the crowd surged so that I ended up within touching distance of the queen and could not really see her face!
Just a brief glimpse of the royal couple that day but the next day was Sunday and they attended church at St Pauls Cathedral.  My grandparents were parishioners and my grandfather was on the vestry so they ‘had’ a pew.  This meant they had a right to sit in the second pew on the right hand side of the centre aisle unless it was wanted by the people from Government House. This happened regularly when they attended church and we would have to sit elsewhere.  The bench seats were upholstered in a very coarse red fabric so for little girls in their short skirts it was pretty uncomfortable.  On this occasion we were, I think, seated in the south transept.  We wore our school uniform.  On important occasions we always had to wear school uniform which I think says something about how people assumed you dressed for important occasions as well as about how few clothes we had apart from our (expensive) uniform.  Obviously the church was full and we just went where we were told to go.  I do not remember anything about the service but I am sure we were there.
We had no plans to see the royal couple on the Monday.  However my father was on holiday and he appeared during the morning and told Margaret and me that we would go for a walk through the botanical gardens.  These stretched from the vicinity of the top of the cable car right down the hill to the Cenotaph at the junction of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street.  The area by the cenotaph was nicely landscaped so people always stood there when there was any procession.  When my father told us of the planned walk, Margaret and I immediately worked out what his plan was so we found our flags, rushed into the loo and pushed them up our knicker legs.  (Our knickers were made of cotton with elastic in the bottom of the legs.  They were very substantial by today’s standards.)  As it turned out, we were too nervous to extract the flags in public so we just wore them all day.
Tuesday we definitely did not see the royal couple although this may have been the day of the royal garden party which my grandparents and parents attended.  My grandparents were presented to the Queen which was considered a great honour.  I remember going to Kirkcaldie and Stains to buy some bright pink shoes for my mother to wear to the garden party.  They were made by Norvic of Norwich and were very expensive.
Wednesday was important for children as this was the day the Queen and Prince Philip visited Athletic Park, the main rugby ground, and ‘inspected' the city’s children.  As Margaret was only six, she had to sit in the stands with our parents but the rest of us were dressed in our school uniforms even though it was the summer holidays and lined up in square blocks.  Then the Queen drove up and down between the squares in an open-topped car.

People in those days put a lot of time and effort into what they wore on formal occasions.
I know one day the royal couple went to Lower Hutt so there was nothing for us in Wellington that day and another day they attended the races at Trentham racecourse.  Finally it was Saturday and they left.  Again, we were taken down to Lambton Quay to wave our flags.  This was the occasion when I was almost crushed into the queen’s shoulder so I did not really see anything.
It all feels very quaint and long ago now but you have to remember that we did not have any media, other than radio and if you were lucky enough to live in a town they were visiting you certainly took trouble to see them if you could.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The 1953 Coronation

Needless to say, this was a highlight of our childhood.  I was lucky enough to be in Wellington for the actual coronation but there were also activities in Hastings that we were involved in. some of which related to the Royal Tour that was going to happen in 1954 so it is difficult to remember dates.  In particular I remember that the Brownies were involved in the production of a jig-saw puzzle to be sent to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.  There was a very large puzzle that had to be taken round the main employers.  I think this was because something similar had been done in 1937.

I remember that we went to the newspaper office where we saw traditional print blocks being used and the letters being set into blocks.  Then we took the puzzle to Tomoana freezing works.  This was the main meat processing plant on the edge of Hastings, a place famous for the disgusting smell that emerged on Tuesdays and ‘perfumed’ the entire town.  I seem to remember my mother saying that was the day they made preserved tongues which were sold in tins.  The jig-saw puzzle trip took place at the weekend and there were not many people about but the idea was to carry the puzzle through the factory and we all had a chance to handle it.

We received a number of souvenirs of the Coronation although whether we had more than most children I cannot be sure.  My mother and her mother were ardent Royalists – groupies we would call them today – and we grew up with the ‘royal books’.  These were bound editions of the Sphere and Illustrated London News covering all the major royal events from King George V’s silver jubilee to the then present day.  They had actually come from my father’s family.  Our souvenirs of the coronation included coronation bibles, anointing spoons and coronation mugs.  There was also a jig-saw puzzle of the queen in her coronation robes which I remember buying from the little stationer in Kelburn where my maternal grandparents lived. 

The coronation was on 2 June 1953 but there had been a long build up to it.  Margaret and I were just the age to appreciate it.  I still cannot see photos of soldiers in full dress uniform, beefeaters and Yeoman of the Guard without thinking of the coronation and the royal tour that followed it. The coronation must have been in the May school holidays.  I think this was also the occasion when Mrs ‘Addy’, my grandmother’s next-door neighbour, had her ‘English’ grandson staying.  He was the same age as me.  It was certainly the holiday when I helped her to bake cakes.

My grandmother knew a lot of the women who worked in the department stores and I remember one of them giving me an enamel brooch of a crown that she was wearing.   I had it for decades.  The town was obviously decorated with lots of flags and bunting.

Because of the time difference the coronation took place at night in New Zealand.  I listened to it from my grandparents’ bed.  We were very knowledgeable about everything royal and I still have the replica anointing spoon that was one of my souvenirs.  I can remember ‘Vivat, Vivat Regina’ being sung.  However, the most impressive thing was the searchlights.  These were relics from the War which were turned on and lit up the whole sky.  As my grandparents lived at the top of a hill the view was amazing.  The room faced away from the harbour but up to another Wellington ridge called ‘Fitchetts’ Farm’ in an adjoining suburb and I can remember how impressed I was at seeing the searchlights.  There was nothing like that in Hastings!  I was allowed to stay up (in my pyjamas and in my grandparents’ bed) until the queen adjourned for her sandwiches.

On Coronation Day it was announced that Mt Everest had been conquered – by a New Zealander!  Of course we were all very proud.  Our family had a different connection with the Everest exhibition.  We used to buy our peaches from Mrs Low, mother of George Low, who got as far as the South Col.  I mostly remember her orchard because it had a cattle stop and, being such an unathletic child, I dreaded having to cross it.  With little feet here was always a danger you would fall through the rungs!  Whenever possible I used to walk along the edge of cattle stops where there was generally a concrete strip.