Thursday, 17 May 2018

Through Italy at Christmas Part 2

Christmas Day

I seem to remember that we slept until nearly lunchtime.  It was very quiet in the building and the area.  When we woke, we decided we needed food so we set off to find a cheap trattoria where we could get something to eat.  Little did we know that everything in Rome was closed on Christmas Day!  We walked round the nearby streets but drew a total blank.  In the end we had to return to the pensione.  We had no food but we did have a panettone (an Italian Christmas cake) which one of us had been given by our students.  Panettone is a light mixture with a little dried fruit cooked in a special tall tin.  We did not even have a knife to cut it with.  However, I did have a stainless steel tail-comb.  We washed it and then used it to cut the cake.  That was all the food we had on Christmas Day as far as I can remember.  Having a panettone became a tradition in my family and for years we used to share one with my sister and her family, and always cut it with a steel tail comb.

At some point on Christmas Day we thought it would be a good idea to go to church.  This was something else that was very different and there were be no church services in the afternoon.   We did find one church with long queues to get in so we joined the queue.  When we got inside, we found everyone was there to pay their respects to the crib.  I bought some postcards of the crib which I kept for years.

Our week in Rome

We remained in the pensione until Boxing Day (which does not exist in Italy).  Then we decided to move to the apartment.  I seem to remember we had found out the different regional names for caretaker so we realised we would be able to get into the building.  We took a bus to what was a nice suburb.  The apartment was fine.  I only have one real memory of our stay there and that is that the fridge seemed to run incessantly.  After a couple of days I realised that Cathy, who was very vague, had left the door open!
We had a list of the main sites we wished to visit.  We went to ‘ancient Rome’ and the forum and to the pantheon, the circular building that was also from classical Rome.  We walked a lot through various squares and saw the fountain that had starred in a famous film ‘Three Coins in a Fountain’ when we were very young.  We also went to St Peters and I think we may have attended Mass there.  We also attached ourselves to a tour group in St Peters so that we would get some commentary.  I had arrived in Italy in the previous September knowing not a word of Italian but Cathy had studied it at university.  I was quite impressed with my ability to follow the commentary the guide was giving.  It was only after we left the group that Cathy told me the group had been Spanish and the commentary was in Spanish.  So much for my languages!

Although it was winter and cold we wanted to eat ice cream.  It was part of our culture to eat ice cream throughout the year so we were a bit surprised that nobody seemed to be selling it, even though some cafes had a sign saying ‘gelato’.  It was a while before we learnt that people had been giving us strange looks because no-one ate ice cream in winter.  There were chestnut sellers everywhere and this was the winter snack.

One day we had a bit of an adventure.  As usual, we took the bus into the centre of Rome and that day we intended to go to the Spanish steps. I do not think we realised that we were about to get caught up in a political demonstration!  Yes, there were busloads of carabinieri around the edges of the Piazza d’Espagna but we did not realise what was going on.  And remember that Cathy was very vague and also, I was learning, not very street-wise.  Suddenly we realised that the shutters were going up in all the streets around the piazza.  Then we heard the noise of a demonstration approaching the piazza.  Lots of shouting.  A huge group of people entered the square and suddenly the police were there, forming a barrier between them and the open space.  We were behind the rows of police on the opposite side of the square to the demonstrators.  Only then did we realise that police buses were everywhere.  We had planned to climb up the Spanish steps but suddenly we were cut off.  We seemed to be the only passers-by who had ended up on the wrong side of the police barricade.  The demonstrators congregated in the square and it all got quite tense.  We hadn’t a clue what the demonstration was about but later learnt that it had been prompted by events in Spain where I think a demonstrator had died not long before.  Whatever the cause, it was not nice to be caught in the middle of it.  My first thought was to get out of the piazza somehow but Cathy did not seem to realise the seriousness of the situation.  All the shops in the adjacent streets had their shutters down so there was not much use going down one of them. Given that we were in no man’s land between the demonstrators and the police we were lucky to get out.  I remember thinking that we could go up the Spanish Steps as no-one was near them.  We did and got away.  At the top were a large number of police buses, all empty.  This was where they had off-loaded the policemen.  I now know that 1970-71 was a year of political turmoil and revolutionary groups in Italy.   Certainly when we returned to Turin there were demonstrations in the centre of the city most weekends with people wearing red scarves tied like the ones Boy Scouts wore.  But I was more wary then.

To Naples

After several days in Rome we took the train to Cassino where we were to spend the night with Gianni and his family.  The town seemed quite new with modern houses and I now know that was because it had been very badly damaged in the Battle of Cassino in WW11.  That evening we helped to make a Monte Bianco pudding: a confection of cream and chestnut puree.  Next day we visited the monastery and the site of the battle.  I remember wandering through the soldiers’ cemetery looking for New Zealanders’ graves.   I seem to remember there was a large section. What I did not know was that there was also a very large contingent of Polish troops and we saw a huge number of graves for them.

The monastery itself had been totally rebuilt.   I remember going up a lot of steps and into a very quiet large church.  The view from the monastery was wonderful but I cannot remember much else about it.  However, I have now discovered that wikipaedia has a very full account of the battles fought there.  I have also learnt that the New Zealand commander, Kippenberger, trod on a mine and lost both his feet.  His was a name that was often mentioned in our house as my grandfather and he had commanded different sections of the New Zealand army during World War II.  My grandfather was friendly with these distinguished people but I cannot remember meeting Kippenberger.  We did meet one or two other generals though.

We continued our journey to Naples and spent several days there.  I have memories of the fireworks, which were as good as the students had said, and also of driving around Naples with the person with the broken arm doing the driving!  A lot of the streets looked very poor.  I can remember buying and eating pizza and being told it had originated in Naples. I do not have many other memories of Naples but the journey back to Turin was not without incident either.

From Rome to Turin

We must have returned to Rome by train and spent a night there.  I know that we reserved seats in the train from Rome to Turin as it was the end of the holiday season.  Also, at that time, trains in Italy were incredibly crowded but cheap so we used to go first class with reserved seats whenever possible.  The weather was back to being just cold and damp.  We had booked an afternoon train service.  When we reached the railway station the concourse was full of coaches.  We went to ask what was happening.  Fortunately Cathy’s Italian meant she was able to go up to one of the ticket booths and asked what was happening.  The answer was ‘sciopero’.  This was the word for strike and one we were familiar with as all sorts of strikes happened regularly in Italy at that time.  We were told to wait outside and that we would be travelling part of the way by coach because there was a railway sciopero in the Rome region.  So we got into a coach.  No hope of a seat, of course, and the coach was full of young soldiers returning from their Christmas break to barracks in Turin.  They were members of the ‘alpini’ regiment which meant they wore hats with small plumes of feathers in them.  We were two unaccompanied young women so obviously foreign as Italian women did not do things unaccompanied in 1970.  It was no surprise that Cathy complained about the soldiers next to us attempting to grope her, but we survived by being very frosty and not admitting to speaking Italian.  The coach journey was quite long and we had no idea where we were going.  At one point, the coach blew a tyre.  We stopped and the driver and, I assume, some other people, managed to get it going again.  They may have changed the tyre.  I cannot remember.

Finally we reached a railway station that was outside the strike area.  I think we were probably in Tuscany.  I remember we pushed and shoved with the best of them to ensure we had seats.  The Alpini all got on the train, too, and some were in our compartment.  It was very crowded.  We then spent more hours travelling to Turin.  These Alpini were very friendly in a nice way and offered us fruit which they had brought from their homes in the far south.  We thought they were oranges but when we bit into them they were extremely sour and we realised that they were lemons!  The soldiers, who were possibly Sicilian, were obviously used to eating lemons as though they were oranges and did not think that we would find them sour.  I actually liked them.  I did not eat oranges anyway and I liked sour things so it was fine for me.  I seem to remember Cathy having to find polite ways of refusing them, though.  We finally reached Turin sometime around nine pm.  Thus ended our Christmas holiday.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Through Italy at Christmas 1970 Part 1

Day One: Turin to Rome

I am afraid this is another post without any photos as I am not good at finding copyright free ones on the internet and do not have any of that time any longer.

In 1970 we were both teaching English as a foreign language for International House, a large private language school, in Turin, Northern Italy.  However, we were not an item and so our Christmas plans were made individually.  I knew that I would probably only be able to stay in Europe for one more year so it was very important for me to see as much of the country as possible in every break we had.  We had a fortnight’s holiday or thereabouts at Christmas so I decided to go south.  One of the other teachers was Cathy from Melbourne, Australia so we did this trip together.
Somehow we settled on going to Rome and Naples.  We were extremely badly paid (so badly that we never even opened back accounts) so all offers of hospitality were taken up eagerly.  We knew two students from Naples who happened to be friends.   One was in one of my classes and the other in one of Cathy’s.  The family of the one in Cathy’s class had a flat in Naples but they were going to be at their holiday house in Viareggio for the holiday period so they offered us use of the flat.  The one in my class was going to be with his family but there was no problem as they had access to cars and could take us round.  Then the one in my class broke his arm which meant he could not drive.  That proved to be interesting.  They told us that Naples was THE place to be at New Year as it was famous for its fireworks.  So we accepted the invitation.
There was an International House in Rome.  One of the teachers there offered us use of her flat which we gratefully accepted.  Then there was the question of transport.  Although we were prepared to travel by train, the school employed a young Italian medical student as an Italian teacher.  He was in effect taking time out from his studies and he owned a car.  It was a very old Fiat Cinquecento but he offered us a lift to Rome because he came from Cassino, site of a very famous battle in the Second World War and he was going home for Christmas.   We both knew about the battle of Cassino because there had been Anzac troops there.   Gianni said he would take us as far as Rome because his parents did not know he had this car (he also had a better one that they knew about) so he planned to dump it somewhere near the railway station in Rome and arrive home by train.  Then he invited us to visit him in Cassino so we planned to have a few days in Rome, take the train to Naples but break the journey in Cassino overnight and be in Naples in time for New Year.  The trip was sorted!  We finished teaching at 10 pm on 23rd December so we thought we had time to get to Rome for Christmas.  What we did not know at that point is that Italians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.  This involves a large meal and a trip to midnight mass.  Presents are not given until Epiphany so it was all very different from a British Christmas such as we had both grown up with. 

Day 1: Turin to Tuscany and Rome

We decided to leave Turin late on 23 December as soon as the school closed.  Gianni did not want to go on the autoroutes because you had to pay so we planned to make the journey on the equivalent of A roads.  The first leg was to go down to the Mediterranean coast, park the car for a couple of hours and get a bit of sleep.   Then we planned to continue through Tuscany and to stop at Pisa so we two Antipodeans could see the Leaning Tower.  We set off in the car which was very packed up with Christmas presents for Gianni’s family and with all his gear as he was in effect moving back to Rome to continue his studies.  I can remember almost having to climb into the car!

We drove to the coast.  We stopped somewhere near Genoa on a cliff but all I can remember was being parked high above the sea.  We attempted to sleep but not very successfully.  When it was light, and remember it was almost the shortest day, we prepared to move but one of the lights on the dashboard came on.  It was the first of many problems.  The radiator was almost empty.  We had a bottle of water with us so we topped it up and drove on.  I cannot remember much about the first part of the journey that day but I think we went through Viareggio where one of our Neapolitan students was with his family.  Then we left the coast and made our way the short distance to Pisa, getting there late morning.  We ‘did’ the cathedral and the leaning tower although I do not think we went up the tower.  The weather was very grey and gloomy and we knew from the weather forecast that snow was forecast.  However, there was none in sight.

We then started off again, knowing that we had to reach Rome that night so Gianni could arrive home ‘by train’ on Christmas Day.  We drove vaguely in the direction of Florence but then turned onto a main road through the Appenines.  At one point we passed round the edge of a wonderful medieval town complete with towers.  It was not San Giminiano.  For years I tried to find out where it was but never succeeded.  Soon after three o’clock it began to get dark.  It was then that we noticed the cars coming towards us had snow on their roofs and that some of them had chains.  We were fairly innocent about these things.  I had spent the previous winter in Germany so I knew about European winters and the problems of driving in snow but of course this was not something that Australians and New Zealanders knew about.  It was Cathy’s first winter in Europe so she certainly knew nothing about the conditions.  Gianni had spent a year in New England as an American Field Scholar so he had some experience of hard winters.  We did not know the area we were driving through at all although I remember bears were mentioned at some point.  I was very relieved when Gianni suggested we bought some chains.  I had briefly belonged to a ski club in New Zealand and I knew about putting on chains but as a student with little money Gianni was reluctant to buy any, not least because snow was very rare in Rome and further south.  It must have been between four and five o’clock when we reached a lovely traditional town with shops where we could buy them!  It was totally dark by then but the town was lit up for Christmas and I can still remember the Christmas tree in the market square.  We bought some chains but then we had to put them on!  We managed that and set off again.  I felt much more confident that we would not skid although there were bridges which were quite icy.  Meanwhile the radiator continued to play up.

The evening wore on.  I cannot remember stopping for food at all but we had assumed we would be in Rome before midnight.   There came a point where we realised that our bottle of water had frozen solid and that we were going to have to get water from somewhere to top up the radiator.  Gianni said that all Italian towns had a town fountain so we began looking.  We found a town and drove into it, only to find that there was a fountain but it had frozen solid!  Gianni was not daunted and said we would have to ask someone for water.  We found somewhere with lots of lights on which I think may have been a cafĂ©.  The family were eating their Christmas meal but they filled up our water bottle and we went on.  Then we realised we were descending from the mountains.  I can remember crossing a bridge which was very icy and being glad we had the chains.  Then there was no more snow but it was raining heavily.  We decided to remove the chains.  Fine, but when we had driven another couple of miles, we realised that we had dropped the key!  We had to turn round, go back, and fortunately we found the key lying in the road.

We thought our problems were over but then we realised we were almost out of petrol.  We were going to have to stop and get some more.  Not easy when everything was shut.  It was close to midnight by this time.  The road we were on ran along the top of the hills and all the towns were in the valleys.  I do not think we had a map at all.  We just had to take the next turning which had a direction sign for a village and descend.  By now the car was more or less running on an empty tank but Gianni thought there would be a petrol station.  Although it was a descent to the town we would have to drive back up to the main road.  There was no sign of a petrol station but we found a church.  Midnight mass was in full swing and the whole town were there.  I remember that there was someone playing a transistor and that the service seemed very laid back.  We went in and attempted to thaw out for a bit. Gianni then found someone to ask and we were directed to a petrol station.  I remember Gianni was reluctant to fill the car with petrol as he was planning to abandon it in Rome.  This meant guessing how much we would need to get us into central Rome.

Then it was back on the road.  It was still pouring with rain and by this time, as we approached Rome, there were terrible traffic jams because everyone was driving home from Midnight Mass.  The apartment we were aiming for was in the suburbs but Gianni seemed to know where he was going.  We found it.  What a relief!  But then we could not get in.  There were a number of bells on the gate but we did not recognize the name of our colleague,  nor could we find the bell for the caretaker.  Later in the holiday we realised this was because the word for caretaker in the north was different from the one used in the south!  So we could not go to our colleague’s apartment.  Gianni said he would find us a pensione near the station.  Little did we innocent antipodeans know that most places around the station were brothels.  By this time it was about two a.m. so not a time of night for innocent people to be abroad.  Gianni found a building very near the station with several pensiones in it.  He then spent some time negotiating with a mature couple who owned one of these and they agreed to put us up but not until they realised that ‘the young man’ was not going to join us.  So we removed our luggage from the car and finally got to bed.  Gianni found somewhere to ‘dump’ the car and continued his journey by the first morning train.  I can remember that during our stay in the pensione there was a constant stream of railway porters coming and going in the building.  Doubtless they were patronizing some of the less respectable pensiones.  It was only when we rejoined Gianni at Cassino that we learnt about all of this.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Lemon pudding

I think I once posted this before so forgive me if you have already read it. I also do not have an illustration for it as I have given up this kind of cooking.  There are dozens of photos of it on the Web.

My first memory of cooking is of making lemon pudding in Havelock North. I must have been about three because we moved to Hastings in October 1948.  Like most very early memories this one is short and may have been altered by remembering it during my adult life.  It is dark so must be winter.  I am standing on a stool or a chair at the kitchen table and ‘helping’ my mother to make a lemon pudding for my father’s ‘tea’.  Tea in New Zealand English was a word generally used to describe the evening meal.  At the time my father worked in Napier which is about fifteen miles away, so he was out all day.   My sister who is eighteen months younger than me, does not feature in this memory so I expect she had already been put to bed.  I know it was a privilege to be allowed to help like this.

In this memory I am banging the grater to get the lemon rind off.  You also had to scrape at the grooves on the grater to get enough zest.  I can also dimly remember my mother adding things to the mixture: I think an egg.   Certainly the recipe my mother used only had one egg although I have always used two.

We ate this pudding often so my other memories of making it may be from other occasions.  I remember that it was cooked in an oval Pyrex glass dish which was then stood in a roasting dish half filled with water.  I now realise that was a form of bain marie.  My parents received a lot of Pyrex items as wedding presents in 1943.  This was because a ship had arrived in Wellington with a load of Pyrex and there was very little else available because of the War.  In those days presents were delivered to the home of the bride and her parents in the days leading up to the wedding (only a fortnight in my parents’ case as when my father announced he was about to be sent overseas his mother immediately said ‘Why don’t you get married then?’)  They were then displayed for the guests to admire and I guess people must have gone to the house specially to do this.  I can certainly remember these visits as a child.  Apparently another guest then arrived at the house with another piece of Pyrex.  When he saw the pile of Pyrex items he immediately said he would get something else and took the item away.  The replacement was a set of bellows for the fire.  In the days when the only form of heating we had was an open fire, these bellows were very well used.  They ended up ‘lost’ at the school we attended as someone had taken them there to use as a prop in a play!

Other things I remember about lemon pudding as we called it, were that there was a lemony juice under the sponge.  I was going to put a link to a recipe on-line but there are so many that I think you should just Google it.  It seems the more accurate name for this pudding is Lemon Surprise Pudding.  Also the quantities of ingredients differ from one cookery writer to another.  Some have as many as four eggs!  I think the version my mother made was probably frugal because, although I do not remember rationing, there was some in New Zealand.  Also lemons were truly seasonal and only available in the winter.  They were grown in the far north of New Zealand so it was not like the British and bananas in the forties.  And of course we used salted butter because there was no other kind and as far as I know no margarine.   Food in New Zealand at this time was definitely superior to that in Europe.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Commemorating wars

The War (World War Two) still cast a shadow over my early childhood.  We always knew that my father’s younger brother had been killed early on.  He was a pilot who had learnt to fly in NZ before the War and then gone off to England and joined the RAF.  This was a common pattern.  We know that he was killed in a training accident over East Anglia but that is not the story I remember from my childhood.  I remember being told that a lone German had come over and shot him down and I now wonder if my grandparents were perhaps given a sanitized version of his death.   I know my grandmother nearly died giving birth to him and that he was particularly close to his older brother who would not talk about his death so my cousins knew very little about this man.   On our wall was a Morden map of Huntingdonshire that my father had bought when he was in England towards the end of the war.  We knew that this was where his brother had been shot down.  My mother used to say how she met my father shortly after this brother died and how the family all went to see Gone With the Wind and walked out because they found it too upsetting.  Walking out of films was not something we ever did!  Also, because my grandmother lived near us, every time we visited her we saw the photo of him in his air force uniform and his cap was on show in the sitting room.

We knew another war veteran.  This was someone who had been a school friend of my uncle.  He was in a wheelchair but I have never known what his injuries were.  He lived with his mother in a small bungalow on Marine Parade in Napier.  I remember going to visit him on several occasions but we were brought up never to ask questions about disabled people, nor to look at them in the street.  There were a lot of them about and we were taught that it was rude to stare.   As an adult my aunt told me that on one occasion during the War she and my grandmother had gone to visit this soldier’s mother and been fed home bottled tomatoes which had been ‘off’.  As a result both my aunt and grandmother had been very ill.  My mother never did any preserving despite living in a fruit growing area and I seem to remember thinking that this incident was one reason why she did not.  I cannot remember any preserving being done in our household until when I was a student I went to stay with one of my mother’s Hawkes Bay cousins and returned home with a case of peaches.  I was very pleased about this (my mother’s cousin had taught me how to bottle them) but my father reckoned that they had spent far more on buying preserving jars than we saved in bills from home preserving!    Everyone else we knew preserved fruit and I felt a bit ashamed that our family lived on Watties’ tinned peaches.   I have recently read that home baking and preserving reached its highest level in nineteen sixties New Zealand so perhaps that is one reason why I feel we were out of step.

As I was born at the very end of the Second World War and came from quite a military family, I have a lot of memories of the commemoration services.  The most important day in the calendar after church festivals was Anzac Day on 25 April.  Both my maternal grandfather, who had served in both wars and had a distinguished war record, and my father, who described his war service as being as a ‘potato peeler’ always went to at least one service.  My grandfather lived in Wellington where there was a large ‘dawn service’ followed by another one at the Cenotaph in the afternoon.  The only time I went to a Dawn Service was when I lived in Canberra in Australia.  It was a very moving occasion.   I do not remember going to the service in Hastings although I remember the atmosphere was always a bit like Good Friday.  My main memory of the parades was of vast ranks of ex-military personnel beginning with a few who had served in the Boer War, progressing through people who had served in the First World War and then huge numbers of people of my parents’ generation who had been in the Second World War.  We also all wore poppies with pride and we would look out for people we recognized in the parades.  There were marching bands too.  I only learnt about Armistice Day once we moved to Wellington.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Birthday parties

I can only remember a few birthday parties and most of those were in Wellington.  I do have photos of both my first and second birthdays, though.  I see my first birthday was celebrated in Wellington at my grandparents’ house although I think we had moved to Havelock North by then.  I cannot remember it of course.

My second birthday was in Havelock North and I can see from this photo that I invited all my stuffed toys to it!

There is only one party that I really remember in Hastings so I am wondering if perhaps we did not go to them.  There was someone in my class who had a birthday in July (mid-winter) and an older sister whose birthday was only a few days away from hers.  They had joint parties.  The one I remember was probably when I was six or seven and all I can really remember is the food.  Children’s birthday parties always had food at the centre of them and we used to play games but there was no ‘commercial’ or ‘bought in’ entertainment that I can remember in Hastings.
There was also my cousin’s birthday party that took place on one of my trips to Wellington.  My outstanding memory of that is that one girl wore a white dress.  There was also one white balloon and this girl was insistent that she had it.  Most of these girls became my classmates when we moved to Wellington but at that point I knew none of them. 

Memories are clearer for the parties I attended from the ages of about nine to eleven.  After that we abandoned the idea of a ‘party’ and started having just three or four friends for a meal and a trip to the cinema.  Suitable films had to be found but Wellington had several cinemas so that was no problem.  Interestingly, one of these stands out in my memory.  It was for the same cousin as the party above.  We must have been about twelve and her father insisted that we saw a film that would ‘stay with us’ rather than the Norman Wisdom comedy her mother had in mind.  So we went to ‘Friendly Persuasion’.  Her father was quite right as I have never forgotten it.  It is a story about Quakers in the American Civil war.  I remember it as quite violent in places but we learnt a lot about the Quakers, the civil war and even American scenery.  I remember there were lots of covered bridges that people crossed in wagons.  And scenes of Quaker Meetings.

My father was brilliant at organising children’s parties.  I put that down to his experience in the Boy Scouts combined with the fact that he was artistic and very creative.  These parties reached a pinnacle in 1954 when both Margaret and I were allowed a ‘fancy dress’ party.  They had themes: mine was Alice in Wonderland and the experience began as people arrived.  My father placed a rug over the front door opening so everyone had to bend down to get into the house.  My father had a lot of books with games in them that he owned because of the scouts so this formed the entertainment.  The birthday tea was also part of the theme.  We owned a mould for jellies in the form of a rabbit.  My mother used to make a form of white blancmange and this was set on a large meat serving plate. The rabbit had eyes of some sort and then there were ‘mushrooms’ set in the grass.  These were meringues that had cocoa powder covering the undersides and stalks of apple.
Everyone came in fancy dress which was home-made.  Two or three people came as Alice which we considered a bit of a cheat as you could just wear your usual party dress for that.  But there were plenty of other characters as you can see from the photograph.  I am kneeling second from the right, Margaret is kneeling on the left and our little sister is standing next to her.
Other people had access to film projectors and showing films at home became a popular way of entertaining the children.  We sat in darkened rooms on the floor and the father (usually) worked the projector.  I think people must have hired the films.

Finally, here is a photo of a party that was not a birthday party but was fancy dress.  Again my father’s creativity ensured we had wonderful costumes.  The occasion was the children’s Christmas party at Government House.   I went as a Christmas tree with parcels stuck all over a green costume cut to resemble a pine tree.  Margaret was ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ with a watering can hat and rows of cockle shells (real shells) and silver bells around the skirt.  My mother had to make both these costumes, of course.  It was a very large party for the children and grandchildren of Wellington’s establishment figures.  We were invited because of my grandparents.  The party was held on the Government House lawn and my main memory is of the lolly scramble in which we were all trying to pick up sweets. Lolly scrambles were common at this sort of event.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Pania and Hinemoa

Our final two cats were the two girls we got when Iti died.  It was now 2009 and we had two problems finding a breeder.   The first was that we had moved to Cornwall and knew no breeders down here.  The second was that the recession had hit so a lot of breeders had stopped breeding.  We did not want to be travelling miles to find cats but were uncertain how to go about finding breeders.  After spending some time looking at magazines and websites, I suddenly remembered that when we first moved down at the beginning of 2006 I was still doing some work in London.  This meant finding someone who would cat-mind for us.  This person no longer did cat-minding but I then remembered that she had mentioned someone who bred Siamese in St Ives so I contacted her and got the breeder’s phone number.  The breeder did not live in St Ives town but in the country nearby.   I was initially told over the phone that there was a waiting list for these kittens who had not been born at that point.  It all sounded a bit like getting your child into Eton College but we added our name to the list of hopefuls and waited for the kittens to arrive.  Interestingly by the time they were born the waiting list seemed to have more or less disappeared.

It is normal with pedigree cats to visit them when they are about six weeks old although it is not usual to let them leave their birth mother until they are about fourteen weeks old.  If they are very small they will be left with nasty habits and this was certainly true of Tiki whom we got at six weeks and who was always ‘making butter’ on our knees.  When Pania and Hinemoa were six weeks old we went to meet them and their siblings.

They lived on a farm and there was a huge plastic container where they could almost all sleep and play.  The cat had had six kittens rather than the five that were expected, though, so the tiniest (Hinemoa) seemed be a bit out in the cold. The breeder had been given a cat ‘igloo’ and this is where she appeared to stay.  We just wanted one girl but when we got there the breeder told us about the ‘extra’ kitten and said we had twenty-four hours to decide if we wanted one or both of them.  The smallest one struck me as looking as though one puff of wind would blow her away so my inclination was to take the slightly bigger one.   We came home and consulted several people about taking two rather than one.  The general advice was that if we took both of them they could play together and did not need to involve Nui in their games unless he wanted to join in.  This turned out to be very true although he and the tiny one (Hinemoa) bonded particularly closely.

We therefore agreed in principle to take two kittens.  Now it was back to naming them and I was beginning to run out of Maori names, other than names of trees.  Then I remembered that we now lived in a digital age so we were able to consult lists of Maori girls’ names on-line.  As a result we chose Pania for the bigger one and Hinemoa for the little one.  The name Pania had associations for me because she was a mythical Maori mermaid associated with Hawkes Bay where we lived when I was little.  There is a bronze statue of her on Napier seafront.  Hinemoa was a sort of Maori Juliet who is famous for swimming across Lake Rotorua in pursuit of her lover.  Problem over and names sorted.

These cats have led rather different lives from our others as they have never had to travel.   We maintained the rule of house cats so they could only go out in the garden when there was someone to keep an eye on them.  This did not stop Pania being quite adventurous and climbing up the wall at the back of the garden so that she got into the neighbour’s garden and the one next to that.  Hinemoa has never shown the slightest inclination to wander.   On summer evenings they were allowed to wander in the yard because the gates (which are six foot high) were closed and they really enjoyed going into the studio and wandering around among my textile things.  During the day they would sleep in 'doughnuts' in the conservatory or next to the radiator in my bedroom.  At night they used to both sleep with me.  All  three used to snuggle up and although we were careful about introducing Nui to them, they have always been a very close family!

 Nui finally died the day before his thirteenth birthday.  We were able to have a ‘home death’ which was wonderful although neither Pania nor my husband could bear to be in the room.  Hine and I sat on the sofa with Nui next to us.

Writing about it these cats seem to have had their share of illnesses.  Pania developed feline asthma.  There was one beneficial effect of this: my husband gave up smoking in the house.  Then she ended up in hospital on a drip.  We were able to visit her every day because the vet is so near and she did come home again.

Things changed in 2016 when I ended up in hospital and my husband had to take sole responsibility for them.  He started feeding them upstairs in the conservatory and they began to sleep with him.  Then while I was in hospital for the second time, Pania died.  She collapsed and died quite quickly.  I do not know the details of her final illness but I thought she had been fading away over the previous few months.  Her ashes are still waiting to join those of Nui and Iti in the garden.

In February 2017 Hinemoa managed to slip a disc.  This was disastrous as the same day I had had a nasty fall so we were both immobile.  I phoned the vet as the surgery is only five minutes’ drive from us and they sent someone to collect her.  She was kept there as an in-patient for several days and threatening noises were made about taking her to Exeter for an X-ray.  Fortunately this never happened but she was then sent home on ‘cage rest’.  We were lent a large cage by the vet but it was not big enough for her to have her cat litter and food in.  We put her in the conservatory which is very near my husband's bedroom so he found himself getting up several times a night to check she did not need anything.  During the day we let her sleep in his bed.  She also howled a lot in a very Siamese manner.  I would not want to go through that experience again!

Hinemoa has adjusted well to being an ‘only’ cat although she was always used to having someone to play and sleep with.  She still eats upstairs and spends a vast amount of time in my husband's bed but sits on my knee while we watch TV.  She also enjoys a game with him every evening and is very fond of the ‘strings’ she plays with at this time.  This is the only game she is allowed and she is no longer allowed in the airing cupboard in case she tries to jump out.  As she is now a middle-aged cat she does not need to run around so much although in the summer she still likes to go in the garden when my husband is there to bring her in again.  I have explained to him that if anything happens to him she will have to go into a cattery short-term and would have to be re-homed as I cannot look after her at all.  For example as a Siamese she throws up about once a week and I cannot bend down to pick up the vomit aand I cannot feed her upstairs.  We have realised there will be no more cats but Hinemoa could outlive us so we have made arrangements for looking after her and told our immediate friends and family.

Here is a recent photo of her on her beloved doughnut in the conservatory.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

My earliest memories: Havelock North

I was born in Wellington at 12.10 am on 22 April 1945.  My mother was obviously slightly miffed that I missed Princess Elizabeth’s birthday by ten minutes.  She said that it was because the obstetrician was playing bridge and told them to ‘hold the birth’ so he could finish the game!  I was born in a maternity home in Willis Street in the centre of the city.  It was an old house and still existed in my childhood.  Another girl in my class at Marsden was born there two days later.
It was an exciting time for the end of the War and Mum used to say that she and all the other mothers would listen eagerly to the news, waiting for Berlin to fall.  Many of these women, including my mother, had husbands who were serving in the forces.  My father was in England but we were told that he was about to leave for Europe and that as the truck he was in left the air force base, someone chased it down the drive to deliver the telegram saying I had been born!  My sister Margaret has written up a lot of letters about my father’s time in Europe but unfortunately there is a gap for this period.

After the customary fortnight, or thereabouts, in the maternity home, my grandfather took my mother and me home to their house in Kelburn.  We went in a large taxi belonging to someone called Reid.  I lived there until the end of 1945 when my father finally returned from Europe.  It was a big house and I know my mother had a Karitane nurse (a trained nursery nurse). I think she probably stayed for a month.  I never met this woman until my mother went into the local old people’s home in 2002.  On my first visit to her, my mother proudly took me to visit her as she was also a resident there.

We now know that my father was attached to an RAF unit and that meant that he was not discharged as soon as he wanted to be.  He served in Germany and France in 1945 and, so we were told as children, spent a lot of time driving lorries round Europe.  His letters make very little mention of these trips.  The letters made me realise that he must have passed long lines of refugees on the roads as I know he drove all over Germany.  These are the letters he sent to his parents and I know one self-censors letter to one’s parents.  My father spoke more about the journey back to New Zealand.  I know he returned to England first and I can remember as children he used to tell us that on the ship on the way back from Europe he was a ‘potato peeler’ until he discovered there was a library and managed to get himself allocated to duties there.  I also know that the ship called at Colombo in what is now Sri Lanka but was then Ceylon.  There he bought a set of three elephants made of something black (ebony?) with proper tusks.  These stood on a side table in our first house and later ended up on the top of a bookcase.  At some point in this journey he also bought me a stuffed koala bear which he managed to carry in his kit bag.  He had already bought me a doll in France.  This doll was so precious that it lived in a camphorwood chest which held all the valuable things. I used to take it out occasionally and stroke it.  I knew there was a story attached to it.  He had bought it in the south of France and the person from whom he had bought it tried very hard to persuade him to also buy the ‘husband’.  Only in recent years have we uncovered the full story.  My father used to say that the seller told him it was either ‘St Anne’ or ‘ancienne’ but his French was atrocious.  It was in fact a figure from a church Christmas crib and it was probably a nineteenth century figure as it had real hair and very old clothes.  My interpretation of the story is that people were so poor at that point that they were selling anything they could.

Of course, I cannot remember anything about my time in Wellington as a baby.  What I do know is that when my father arrived home, I took one look at him and burst into tears!  A bit of me thinks this coloured our relationship for ever.  In January 1946 we moved to Hawkes Bay where my father came from.  He returned to his job in the South British Insurance Company in Napier but we lived in a bungalow in Havelock North.  

We do not know who owned this house.  It may have been my paternal grandmother as the letters Margaret has transcribed talk about the possibility of our living in a house in Napier that belonged to one of my father’s Hoadley aunts.  This did not happen and the aunt and uncle moved to Melbourne, Australia to be near their only son and his Australian wife.  I think I must have been about four when they moved as I can distinctly remember going to visit them in Napier.  The house was on one of the hills on a very steep street and I can remember being afraid the car would take off down the hill once we had got out!  I also remember going there more than once although I only have memories of getting out of the car and of the approach to the front door.

We lived in Havelock North until I was three and a half so I have clear memories of it, plus obviously memories of memories that people told me about.  The hall was decorated with a series of hunting prints and I can remember being held up to them.  I used to say something about the horses and hounds finish with ‘Alba’ which was the name of the Karitane nurse my mother had after Margaret was born.   My father essentially commuted and was out of the house all day.  My mother became very depressed (this may have been partly post-natal depression) as the house was nearly a mile outside the village on an unsealed road and, although there were neighbours, they were not very close.  

There was one neighbour who was really supportive.  This was the childless middle-aged woman who lived opposite.  We knew her as ‘Thompy’ and her husband as ‘Thompy Man’.  After Margaret was born she used to have me every Thursday morning so that my mother had a bit of time with just the baby.  I still have very clear memories of those Thursdays.  The house was a concrete Californian style house (as were many in Hawkes Bay).  It had a sunken rose garden and there was a straw doll that stood on the front verandah. I think the doll had some function in the garden.  It might have contained stakes or similar tools.  Thompy lived above the road and the house was approached by a drive up the side of a slight hill.  Our house was almost directly opposite and was below the road.  Thompy’s house was the only house on that side of the road although there were three on our side.  Like a lot of childless people in that generation, the Thompys were collectors.  I particularly remember a wonderful dolls’ house which must have lived in a scullery or similar.  I also remember sitting in the sitting room looking at ‘Old Cole’s’ annual which was an Australian publication.  There was a collection of hand-tinted postcards which probably dated from the beginning of the century.  Then there was the kaleidoscope: a wonderful tube like a small telescope which contained coloured glass.  You held it up to your eye and turned it and the coloured glass moved so that you got a succession of pictures in jewel colours.  Magic for a two year old.

Typical Havelock North bungalow - Thompy's house was bigger than this with a verandah all round

I also remember incidents from my life in Pufflett Road.  My mother used to bath Margaret in the sitting room.  Then she would tip the water out the small window next to the fireplace.  I remember that one day the cake of soap which used to be on small table, got stuck and the newspaper it was put on ‘melted’.  The mark was there for ever.  Then there was the day when Margaret tipped her dinner off her high chair table and all down the wall. 

The first year there was no garden.  My parents planted potatoes where the lawn was to go.  (This was believed to soften up the ground.)  I can remember opening the front door and being faced with lumps of earth, and I think leaves, that were as tall as me.  I also remember the flowers that grew along the side wall of the house.

My clearest memory, however, is of cooking.  This must have been the year I turned three.  It is dark and my mother and I are making ‘lemon pudding’.  I do not think my father had returned from work.  I am standing on a stool, shaking the grater to get the lemon rind out of it.  That is about all.
On wash day we had a copper that had to be heated in order to do the household washing and I can remember the room (shed?) it was in.  In the summer we hung a ‘safe’ from a tree and put the butter in it to keep it cool.  Hawkes Bay has a fairly extreme climate by NZ standards, very dry with hot summers and lots of heavy frosts in winter.  I know we did not have a fridge because my mother told me that they bought their first fridge the week they moved into the Hastings house so could not appreciate it properly.

My paternal grandparents and my aunt, their daughter, also lived in Havelock North.  My grandfather died in 1947 when I was two so I only have a couple of ‘memories of memories’ of him.  At one point my father’s brother, who lived in Auckland, brought his son, who was a year older than me, to Havelock North and I can just remember meeting him: being in a sitting room and someone telling me he was my cousin.  I can also remember being in a car beside my grandfather but cannot remember his face.  My maternal grandparents used to visit from Wellington, driving the two hundred miles as far as I can remember.
Today we would say Havelock North was a very hippy village but it was all we knew.  There was one main shop which belonged to M. Bourgeois whom I assume was French.  Gargie (my mother’s father) had served right through the First World War, at Gallipoli and on the Somme.  He was a great Francophile so he taught Margaret and me to say ‘Bonjour M. Bourgeois’ every time we went in this shop.  I know his love of France had been lifelong and that when my grandparents were first married he used to read French literature to my grandmother.  She did not understand it all as, like most women of her generation, she was not very educated. She had attended secondary school but was removed when she was found to be wandering up the street from the tram, bumping into the lamppost because she was so sure the end of the world was coming that she shut her eyes!  This was in Wellington.

The church in Havelock North was St Lukes but we were too young to go to church.  My father had boarded at Hereworth School but the headmaster beat his younger brother (who cannot have been more than seven) so my grandfather removed all three sons and sent them to St Georges preparatory school in Wanganui, a huge journey right across the north island.  My father loved it there.  I can remember that on one occasion he played cricket in Havelock North and came home with grass stains on his trousers.  It is the stains I remember.  That’s all but I seem to remember he was playing for the Hereworth School Old Boys team.

Building in the centre of the village - still there

Apart from two girls’ boarding schools at the top of our road (Woodford House and Iona College)  and Hereworth there was not much in Havelock North.  There was a primary school and a doctor and also an orphanage.  Basically the village existed to service the farming community.   It was very small and not the desirable place to live that it is today although it was popular with retired people including my grandparents.  Like much of Hawkes Bay it had been badly damaged in the Hawkes Bay earthquake in 1931 and most of the buildings were new and one-storied.  This was before the development of the wine industry and a lot of the land was fruit orchards.

View of Te Mata peak from the top of Pufflett Road
still very rural