Sunday, 18 February 2018

Cats we have had: Maui and Rua 1998-2001

Soon after moving to Oxfordshire we started looking for two kittens, a Siamese brother and sister.  We wanted seal point so we bought various cat magazines and found a pair the right age in Weston-super-Mare.  This was not quite the nightmare it might have been in terms of getting them as we were able to view them on one of our weekend trips to Cornwall.  It was a long way to take them in a covered basket, though, and I can remember a lot of screaming going on between Weston and Warborough.   In the end we bought a cat basket with a wire frame that was much better and we have used that ever since, even though it is now rather larger than we need.  We decided to train them onto leads so they could not escape onto the main road and because it would be easier having them on leads in Cornwall.   Our cottage in Warborough was a very small end of a terrace of three and set at right angles to the main road but the main road was an A road leading from Wallingford to the M40.  There was an unadopted road at the back of the houses which led to a field and we realised this would be a good place for walks.  The first summer we took them out, round the end of house and down the lane to the field.  Maui was quite happy to do this but not Rua because of having to walk round the house on the main road, albeit for about fifteen feet.  Also the field was a very popular dog-walking place so after the first year we gave up taking them there.  Instead we would put their leads on and then sit them on the garden chairs.  The leads gave them room to wander in the flower bed.  There was only one occasion when there was a problem.  One summer Sunday they went into the flower bed where there must have been a frog which attacked Maui.  We found him foaming at the mouth but he was otherwise unharmed.

When young, these two were very keen climbers.  Typical Siamese. Their idea of fun was to get onto the roof of the garden shed.  They also climbed inside the house and up me if I was standing cooking.   Shimming up the curtains was another favourite.  At great expense we had double French doors put between the kitchen and the sitting room so we could keep them off the good furniture but if we shut the doors we had problems with smoke from the fire not being able to circulate so we had to abandon that.  In the end they completely destroyed the upholstery on the suite by scratching it.  They also climbed a lot in Cornwall.

They were latch-key cats as we were out at work all day.  Initially we had solid fuel central heating.  As we were often out for twelve hours, John used to get dressed in old clothes and stoke the boiler before he put on his work clothes and went off to London but at least it meant they were warm.  They managed quite well being left on their own for long periods.  As kittens they may have got bored, though, and there was a famous occasion when I got home to find wool draped all over the upstairs, down the turning staircase, which led into the kitchen, and around the kitchen!  They were introduced to trips to Cornwall (a six hour journey) very early and managed well with this.  They seemed to enjoy Cornwall where the garden was long and untamed.  We would sit them in the front garden and take them into the much bigger back garden although we did not generally leave them unattended.

Rua on the garden wall in Cornwall

In 1995 we moved to Blakesley in Northamptonshire.  The house was much bigger and situated on a dead-end lane in a village.  However, there was no gate and we quickly realised that we could not let them run loose as they had no road sense.  Instead they were put on their leads in the garden and often sat under the large apple tree.

Maui, however, continued to fancy wandering so I used to put him on his lead and take him a short way down the lane to a field that he could walk round.  There were other cats there, though, so it was a bit risky.  He also enjoyed exploring behind the house across the road which had a positive junk yard behind it.  On a couple of occasions he untethered himself and made his way across the road but of course he then got stuck and had to be rescued as his lead would become caught up in the rubbish.

Maui in Blakesley

In November 1999 we had a terrible house fire.  Our first thought was to rescue the cats who were very frightened by the smoke alarms and started running all over the house, which had three storeys.  Then we realised that the cat basket was in the garden shed!  Ever since then we have kept it in the house, no matter how inconvenient.  With the aid of one of the neighbours we managed to catch them and put them in the basket.  Then we took them across the road to his house.  It was Saturday afternoon so could have been much worse but we had to find somewhere for them to stay immediately as the house was uninhabitable.  Fortunately I had a colleague who lived around the corner.  She and her husband were cat lovers but our two were not used to other cats.  My colleague took them in and managed to shut her cats in one part of the house and ours in another.  However, it was not going to work. On the Monday my sister arrived from Shropshire.  She very kindly offered to give them a temporary home so off they went to her house.  She commuted and was at work all day.  One day she inadvertently locked Rua in her bedroom.  I am afraid the result was a ruined sheepskin under blanket.  Fortunately at that time we had an excellent cattery where these two had spent two long ‘holidays’ while we went to New Zealand.  They were able to take them at short notice so after a week we removed them from Shropshire and took them to Henley until we had settled in a rented house.

We were in this house for over a year.  The cats were now twelve.  At May bank holiday we brought them down to Cornwall as usual.  At this point Rua took ill.  We went to town one day and returned to find blood on the carpet.  Of course we did not have a vet in Cornwall but she was taken straight to the vet when we got home.  The ultimate diagnosis was cancer of the pancreas.  She had surgery before we went on our summer holiday but we realised that she would not survive long term.  In fact she kept going until the following January.  We therefore started looking in cat magazines for Siamese kittens to be a replacement sister for Maui.  We came to Cornwall for Christmas at which point Maui took ill.  Again we could not do anything until we got home.  He was very ill although he kept perking up so neither we nor the vet could identify the problem.  (It turned out to be feline anaemia which can only be diagnosed post mortem.)  We were still in the rented house which was fully carpeted and there were accidents.  Not what we would have wanted.  Finally he died overnight while in hospital.  He never made it back to Blakesley.

In the meantime Rua continued to go downhill.  When I went to work I used to leave her on the sofa with my childhood teddy bear for a companion.  She outlived Maui by just ten days.  On the Friday we moved back into Blakesley.  We were able to carry her round the house and show her the huge changes but she was being fed liquids only and I now think she should have been put out of her misery sooner.  Over the weekend we had a visit from a young friend who had known her all her life so she was able to say her farewells.  On the Monday I took her to the vet for the fatal injection.  We were then faced with the realisation that we could not replace the cats until my redundancy took effect as we would not be at home to settle them in.  So it was several months before we acquired Nui and Iti.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Te Awanga holiday 1950

I only remember ever once having a holiday from Hastings that was not to either Wellington or Taupo.  My memories are a bit hazy but I will try to give a flavour of it.  It was Easter 1950.  My parents rented a house at Te Awanga, a beach south of Napier on the road to Clifton and the gannet sanctuary.  The house was unique as it was ‘round’, i.e. octagonal, so the angles of the rooms were very odd.  Years later someone told me it had been demolished and of course there are no photos to be found.  Te Awanga was a small village so it did not have the facilities of Hastings.  I remember the milk was delivered but in a billy.  I can also vaguely recall going to buy things at a general store.  My main memory, however, is of my mother building a ‘car’ in the sand.  This was like a giant sandcastle but designed as an open-topped car.  Margaret and I were able to climb onto the ‘seats’ and take imaginary rides in it.  The sand was very firm so I assume it was built below high tide mark and that it disappeared when the tide came in.  I also have a feeling there was no electricity in the house.
We returned to Hastings on the Thursday.  The next day was my fifth birthday and my treat was to have lunch in the restaurant of the Hawkes Bay Farmers store.  This was a small department store aimed at the farming community.   It was mostly very boring for children but had an X-ray machine in the shoe department where we used to have our feet measured before buying a new pair of shoes.  These machines were banned years ago of course.

I think I went to lunch with my father, paternal grandmother and my aunt.  The restaurant was upstairs and it was seeing a photo of it that has reminded me of the whole holiday.

I remember having ham salad and the salad dressing (it would not have been proper mayonnaise in 1950) came in little individual jugs.  

There are more photos of the Hawkes Bay Farmers store to be found at Hawkes Bay Knowledge Bank,  This is a relatively new website with some wonderful items for those of us with Hawkes Bay connections although you may have to enter some search terms.

Tiki: Part 2

Tantallon Road

In 1978 we moved to Balham.  We lived there for ten years.  Tiki was still with us and still capable of having adventures.  His first trick in the new house was to climb up inside one of the fireplaces the day after we moved in.  Fortunately he managed to get out again.  We now only let him out of the house if we were at home.  The house was bigger than the Tooting one but still terraced and on a grid.  This meant it had a smallish garden at the back and opened straight onto the street at the front.  In the summer we could open the French doors from the dining room and the kitchen door and he could walk round and round.  He also liked to climb up the fence and then roam in the nearest couple of gardens.

There was one occasion when on a sunny afternoon in November we thought we had shut him in but we had left the front upstairs window open.  There was no noise from him which was unusual.  I was working in the upstairs front room (the study) and suddenly I heard him shouting.  I went to the window and there he was hiding in the bin stand of the house opposite.  I rushed downstairs, across the road and rescued him.  I was very glad he had had the good sense to stay there and not to try getting into another car.  In the end we realised he had rushed inside from the garden, straight up the stairs and out through the window!  Fortunately he was not hurt.

In the mid-eighties both John’s parents died so Tiki lost his holiday accommodation.  We went to Cornwall for the Easter and left him with the cleaner who knew him well.  When we returned she told us he had howled incessantly and she had been reduced to taking something to help her sleep!  However, we had solved the holiday problem because we bought a cottage in Cornwall and took him with us.  The first time we made the journey there was an ‘accident’ in the car but we then developed a system of taking the cat litter and having a stop where he stayed in the car but was let out of his basket while we went for a coffee, lunch or whatever.  This system worked well with all our subsequent cats.

In 1988 I got a job in Oxford and lived there during the week while we sold the Balham house.  Tiki was about thirteen by this time and we reckoned was a bit deaf but he would still come if you called him.  We developed a trick of taking the carving knife into the garden and rubbing it with the sharpening steel.  That always brought him back.  It was summer during this move so John would let him out until he was ready to go to work and then get him in again.  One day he failed to reappear.  We were back to the problem of trying to find a cat in inner London.  We began by printing ‘lost cat’ notices and getting our nephews to post them in all the houses in the block.  As the houses were large and many were in multiple occupation this was almost all we could do.  The house immediately over the back fence was on the market so I phoned the estate agent and made him take me through the whole house in case he was stuck there.  And we asked all the neighbours.  We did the usual trick of looking under all the parked cars as we thought he could have got into one again.  I still think this is probably what happened as we never found him.  We also realised that as he was older, in theory he could have just gone off to die, as cats do.  It is the only time we have lost a cat and it is not an experience I would want to repeat.  Not knowing what happened to him was terrible as there was no ‘closure’ as we say these days but when we moved we found ourselves living on a main A road, even though we were in a village, and we realised he would never have survived as he had got used to a certain amount of freedom.   In due course we got two new kittens and trained them onto leads so they never had the same degree of freedom.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Cats we have had: Tiki Part 1

We named the first cat we had Tiki and ever since have had Maori names for our cats.  Because I knew I was somewhat allergic to cats we decided to get a Siamese as I had heard somewhere that, because they were short-haired, it was unlikely I would have an allergic reaction.  In those days it was extremely difficult to have either pets or a baby in rented accommodation so it was only when we bought our first house in 1973 that we realised we could have a cat.  We started to look for a Siamese although we knew absolutely nothing about the breed.  When we lived in Turin we had friends who had a Siamese but that was the only one we had ever known.  However, I did know I did not sneeze when we visited them, unlike our friends here with a moggie cat who used to have to clean everything before we went there.   I seem to remember we moved into our new house in September.  We were very broke as John had returned to university and we were basically living off my salary.  We decided that one way of saving money would be to spend a fortnight over Christmas with John’s parents in Derby as this would mean we could turn the heating off.  The heating was storage heaters.  We did not drive so went to Derby by train.  As we had not expected to acquire a cat, we did not have any equipment for bringing one home.  One evening I was looking at the local newspaper when I saw an advertisement for a litter of Siamese cats so I contacted the breeder.  I was told the kittens were still very small but if we waited until just before we returned to London, they would be eight weeks old and we could have the largest.  Following my father’s advice from my childhood, we insisted on a male but fortunately the one the breeder was willing to part with was male.

We only have two photos of him because of the fire
Please note the 'boz-eyed' look'

The breeder lived in Codnor, a village up onto the moors between Derby and Sheffield.  It was possible to get there by taking two buses but remember it was the middle of winter and Derbyshire is famous for fog.  The breeder kindly said he would drive us back to Derby if we came by bus.  There was no way we could go and inspect the cat.  We waited until New Years Eve as we were returning to London on New Year’s Day.  We knew Tiki would have to spend one night with us in Derby.  The house was tiny and my brother-in-law was sleeping on a camp bed in the sitting room because John and I had the second bedroom.  There was also a largish dog but he turned out not to be a problem and for the rest of his life he and Tiki got on very well.  Both animals slept downstairs that night.

We made the outward journey without any problems.  My hazy memory of the house we went to is that it was full of animals as in addition to the litter of kittens there was also one of puppies.  We were told the cat’s pregnancy had been unexpected and we never did get Tiki's pedigree although I think that may be because the breeder did not have our address.  While we were there the fog began to descend and the return journey became something to remember.  It was not helped by the fact that the ring road in Derby was being rebuilt so there were various diversions.  The breeder had a small van and I think I must have held Tiki on my lap.  When we got to Derby the fog was incredibly thick.  We started driving round the ring road but missed the turning for the London Road south (off which John’s parents lived) three times.  We kept hearing the cathedral bells, sometimes louder and sometimes further away.  Finally we found the right turning and completed the journey.

Then we had to face the fact that we had no cat litter and no food.  I know we found a cardboard box lid and tore up newspaper as a loo, although Tiki was not keen on the idea of using it.  There was a lobby between the front room and the room where the cat, dog and John’s brother were to sleep so we put the ‘tray’ in there and shut the doors.  I cannot remember what we did about food.  Our train was not until the afternoon and we realised we would have to take a taxi from St Pancras all the way to Tooting, not something we could normally afford but there was no way we could have taken a kitten on the underground.  And all the shops in Derby were closed by the time we returned from Codnor and not open on New Year’s Day.  We found a cardboard carton and put the cat in it but he objected and soon got out.  John had a jacket lined with false sheepskin so we put it on my lap and the kitten was happy to sleep on that.  It was bitterly cold as we used to have much colder winters than we have now.  When we reached St Pancras we had to join the queue for taxis, still with Tiki on the sheepskin coat in my arms, but after waiting some time, we did make it back to the house in Tooting which of course was freezing cold.  So Tiki spent his first night in the bed with us.

We were quite strict with him initially.  We used to lock him in the sitting room when we went to bed and then hear him knocking a ping-pong ball about.  He was not allowed in our bed after the first night but I am afraid that stopped because John used to get up much later than me and would let him into the bed after I had got up.  We fed him on a mixed diet.  There was tinned food but also things such as heart because Tooting had a good covered market with very traditional stalls.  We did not know about dry food which in the early seventies was somewhat dubious and was said to cause kidney problems.  He was a very fussy eater, though, and we were forever having to change the brand of cat food we fed him.

From the beginning he never went to a cattery.  Our holidays were strange affairs.  One year we had to holiday separately because of work commitments.  My first boss arrived from New Zealand and stayed with Tiki for the three days when our holidays overlapped.  Otherwise John’s parents looked after him.  Initially they would come to London and housemind.  Later we used to take him up to Derby, drop him off and then continue to our holiday destination.  We did not go abroad much.  We heard of one occasion when John’s parents let him out and he nearly got lost but otherwise the system worked well.

In the very hot summer of 1976 we lost him.  We lived in a terrace of two-up, two-down houses.  It was just off a main road (the A24) with lots of traffic and the area was very built up.  We used to leave a window open at the back when we went to work and we knew that occasionally he got out a window at the front.  One time John and a friend were in the sitting room when they saw him descending past the window!  He had got out the upstairs bedroom window.  When we lost him in the summer of 1976 I spent ages hunting under all the parked cars.  Then John walked round the corner from the main road and he fell out of the engine of one of the parked cars.  What relief!  However, John was wearing a white shirt and white jeans so he was very dirty.  So was the cat. We phoned the vet and asked what we should do.  The advice was to get as much of the oil off him as possible.  We had to start by rubbing him with butter.  We were then told to shower him.  Not something a cat fancies but we managed to hold him in the bath and use the shower head.  He emerged very bedraggled and very angry and retreated to the top of the stairs where he sat trying to clean himself properly.

He was a cat who had many adventures.  He also was not insured.  On one occasion he got in a fight and ended up with an abcess.  I cannot remember if that was the occasion that prompted us to change vet.  He had to be admitted to the second vet.  He was put on a drip for several days and of course refused to eat.  In the end I cooked chicken on the recommendation of a colleague and took it to the vet.  He still would not eat.  Finally the vet said we could take him home for twenty-four hours to see if he would eat there.  He held out for nearly the whole time but then did start nibbling so we breathed again.

Then there was the time when we took him to Guildford to stay with my sister while we went to Heathrow for some reason.  When we returned there was no sign of him but then we discovered he had got INTO the mattress and was hiding under the scrim that lined it. We even took him out to tea to friends who lived in a flat.  This was not a success so we did not repeat that sort of excursion.  Nor did we train him onto a lead, although we did do that with the next pair.  We were beginning to learn how far you can push a cat to do things it does not want to!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Cats I have known: Mbula

Cats have always been an important part of my life although we did not own one until I was eleven.  My father came from a family of animal lovers so we grew up with stories of the dogs and cats they had owned when he was a boy.  Chief among these was Boots, a black highland terrier. 
When we lived in Hastings my aunt, who lived nearby, had an Australian terrier, Digger.  She also had a cat for a short time but I seem to remember it was killed by a dog, either Digger or his predecessor.  Washing Digger on the back lawn was something Margaret and I used to help with on Saturdays.  When we moved to Wellington, very few people had dogs on the grounds that it was a city and too built up.  I now realise that my mother was not an animal lover and, although I would badger my parents for a cat, they resisted.  This was probably because my sister, Pip, was small.  New Zealanders in those days were fairly pragmatic about pets.  I put this down to it being a rural society.  There were also problems with hydatids and dogs.  Gradually my school friends began to acquire pets but they were not something you had with small children.

Everything changed when I was eleven.  One Saturday afternoon I went to play with a classmate and discovered that their cat had had kittens.   There were six tiny things: three marmalade tabbies, two ordinary tabbies and one black.  They were looking for homes for them.  My school friend and I promptly walked the mile plus back to our house and asked my parents, who were having a siesta, if we could have one.  I was told yes, provided that we had one of the marmalade coloured ones and that it was male.  It so happened that one of these three was male.  And so Mbula arrived in our lives.
As it turned out he was the only cat my parents ever had.  He lived to be nineteen but not without some adventures.  We acquired him when he was six weeks old which seemed to be the practice in those days.  From what I now know, I realise this was too young for him to leave his mother.  It meant that throughout his life he ‘made butter’ when he sat on our knees, i.e. he sat and pummelled us through our stockings.  This was not good for the stockings but it is apparently behaviour associated with being separated from the mother too young.  Mbula was not properly toilet-trained when we got him.  We used to put newspaper down on the floor but there was no cat litter in those days so he had to be trained to go outside.  I do not remember any ‘accidents’ later but I left home when he was about twelve years old so never knew him as an old cat.

There were strict rules about cats.  These were partly cultural and partly, I think, based on how my paternal grandparents had treated their animals.  One rule was that he was never allowed on the beds.  There were occasions when he would get on the bed of one of us children but we would yell for my mother to come and remove him which she did.  Another rule was that he was shut out of the house at night.  Not something anyone would do these days.  New Zealand houses are different from British ones.  The house we lived in when we got him had a basement, complete with a door from outside, and we think he used to spend the night there.  When we moved to a house further up the street, it was a Victorian house which had been moved to one side of the section.  Both houses stood on wooden piles and it was possible for cats to get under the main part of the house.  We know he used to sleep there.  But it was also an accepted fact that there would be howling cats and cat fights, often at night. 

We decided Mbula was three quarters Persian.  His mother was half-Persian and we concluded that his father also had some Persian blood.  He was certainly the fluffiest cat I have ever known.   A couple of years after we got him there was a Davy Crockett craze.  Mbula went missing for some days and we were convinced he had been stolen in order to turn his tail into a Davy Crockett hat!  His Persian genes also caught up with him when he got terrible fur balls and had to be carted off to the vet to have them removed under general anaesthetic.  I think this was the only time he went to the vet until he was really old by which time I was not around.

Choosing his name became a family task. Both my father and my maternal grandfather had served in Fiji in the Second World War and that led to him being given a Fijian name.  Of course, nobody else could spell it!  The Fijian greeting is ‘Mbula vanaka, voka levu’ (I think) so we used to tell people his name meant ‘hello’.  When he arrived in our household I was told he was ‘my’ cat and I was responsible for him.  A sensible idea giving a twelve year old this responsibility but of course it was my mother who did most of the caring. 

He was fed strictly twice a day.  In the morning I would get up at seven and make sandwiches for the whole family as there were no school dinners.  Packed lunches were the norm for children and also for office workers like my father.  In our second house, the bread was delivered by the milkman so I would go down to the gate and collect the bread and the milk before I started on the sandwich-making.  Mbula often accompanied me and then would give my leg a sharp nip to indicate it was time for his breakfast.  He lived on gravy beef (shin of beef) as this is what my grandparents had fed their cats.  It would be put out in the kitchen.  He would eat all of it but leave two pieces (out of politeness we used to say).  He was certainly trained to eat all his food at once, unlike the cats we have had as adults.

Animals were brought up somewhat differently in those days.  There were no vaccinations, no worm tablets and no annual trip to the vet.  But then there was no pet insurance either, so you hoped your animal would not get ill.  We did not know anyone who had a pedigree cat as this was considered a step too far.  I can remember our father taking us to the cat show in Wellington.  The wife of the Dean of the Anglican cathedral (who was not a church goer) bred Siamese and she had them all there.  Lots of kittens.  This prompted my father to say what an awful breed they were because they never stopped squalling!  The only Siamese I ever knew belonged to someone I baby-sat for when I was a student.  It was great entertainment as it used climb in its owner’s large basket of wool.  Unfortunately it died of chest disease when only a couple of years old and this was considered to be another reason why you did not have pedigree cats.  Dogs were probably different.

When we went on holiday we would leave instructions for a neighbour to feed Mbula and leave him shut outside for a fortnight.  Mind you, we only went away once a year as businesses did not give much annual leave in those days.  When I was older and a student, I stopped going on family holidays.  I stayed at home and looked after Mbula but my grandmother also lived next door by then so we were not alone and there was the neighbour with the deaf tomcat to help if there was an emergency. 

As far as I can remember, there was only ever once a ‘crisis’.  In our back garden we had a ‘cabbage tree’, a Nikau palm.  These have long trunks with no low branches.  Cats can easily be chased up them and then be unable to get down again and this is what happened to Mbula.  I do not know who chased him but getting him down was a real problem.  My grandmother was too old and too small to be of any help and I have always been bad with heights.  I can remember getting out the ladder and leaning it up against the tree but I cannot remember how long he was up there (quite a time) or how he got down again.  I think he may have done it unaided.

We children were very fond of Mbula.  I think cats have a special role to play for angst-ridden teenagers.  That was certainly the case with me.  We would always go out and break up any fights we saw him getting into.  This happened regularly in the second house because one of the neighbours had a tom cat that was both belligerent and deaf.  When we saw Mbula’s fur flying past the window we would go out and rescue him.  He was a right wimp and needed our support. 

In the first house on Friday evenings our whole family would walk down to the library which was at the bottom of the street.  Mbula used to accompany us, but then wait for us either sitting in the gutter or prowling around the vacant section next to the post office for some time.  He never attempted to go round the corner into the main road which in those days you had to do in order to enter the building. 
When I first left home there were two things I really missed: the piano and a cat.  When you are young and moving around animals are not generally something you have so I just had to get used to not having one.  They were also a problem in rented accommodation so it was not until we bought our first house that we were able to get a cat. (Tiki)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Recent reading: Jacob's room is full of books

I bought this book as part of my Christmas present to myself.  I read The Woman in Black many years ago but otherwise I have not read any Susan Hill.  I was interested in this one because it is a sort of diary of the reading she did over a year.  She uses the books she lists as jumping off points to discuss a wide variety of topics, some of which I found very interesting.  I do not know Norfolk where she lives so the writing about nature and the environment interested me.  I have lived in Oxfordshire, though, so was able to relate to her years there quite easily.  I gradually came to the conclusion that we like the same kind of literature as she says she is very fond of Olivia Manning and Virginia Woolf but does not do fantasy.  I was also interested in her comment that some novels are enjoyable but in the end 'do not amount to anything'.  She puts The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton in this category and so do I.  When I read it I was glad that I had been to Hokitika as that increased the reality of it but it was too 'magical realism' for me.  I think it is now on its way to the charity shop.

Of course, she reads far more than I do so I am glad she lists the books she read during the year.  In theory this means I can refer to the list to choose things to read. The other place where I differ from many people is in my preference for non-fiction over fiction.  Having gone to a school with particularly good English teaching and with many school friends who did degrees in English literature, I tend to think non-fiction is 'second best'.  I know I should not.  I have always been a social scientist and in my youth read sociology and anthropology extensively.  Now I read a lot of social history and I have always read feminist non-fiction.  This week's book is Claire Tomalin's autobiography and I also have her book on Katherine Mansfield waiting to be read.

Of course reading habits change.  Having spent my childhood as an avid user of libraries I was interested when Susan Hill said people do not use them like they used to and that her children buy books on Amazon instead.  I am glad to realise it is not just me although I do suffer from guilt that I am not supporting local bookshops.  We have one particularly good one in Penzance and I know people who support that but of course it is impossible for me to get there, hence my reliance on Amazon.  I was also interested in her comments about supporting charity shops and second-hand bookshops.  I tend to forget about those but my husband used to work in Oxfam and has become quite knowledgeable about sources of second-hand books as a result.  I realise I should look at more websites for second-hand books as a lot of what I purchase I only wish to read once.  And don't mention Kindle because I have more or less abandoned mine on the grounds that I do not remember anything I read on it for more than five minutes.  I gather a lot of people have also given up on Kindle although I know lots of other who are keen on e-books.  I can see why they are good if you are travelling or so short of space that you cannot keep any more.  I have been through the 'buy one, dispose of one' practice but now that my bookcases are not as full of quilting supplies as they were, I do not feel so guilty about adding books to them.

Friday, 26 January 2018

2 North Terrace, Kelburn

We loved staying with our Wellington grandparents as everything was so different from Hastings.  My grandparents lived in Kelburn which was an established area of mainly large houses. I now know that the area around Upland Road was only developed after the Cable Car was opened in 1902.  My grandparents lived in North Terrace which was the first street on the right after you left the cable car terminus.  We used to lie in bed and hear the noises of the cable cars going up and down. Their house  was two-storeyed and seemed old because it was built in a Victorian style with sash bay windows.  As a child I did not realise that the group of houses immediately outside the cable car had been built by one of the Kirkcaldies for his daughters, nor did I realise I knew all these people until many years later, although at one point my grandmother told me about this 'development'.

2 North Terrace
(Photo taken long after my grandparents lived there. The house next door is more like theirs was)

Almost all the houses in Hastings were one storeyed (possibly because of the Napier earthquake) so having stairs was very exciting.  2 North Terrace 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.  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 rpm.  There were Sousa marches and ‘Oh, For the Wings of a Dove’ sung by Ernest Lough, a famous boy soprano and recorded around 1928.  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, complete with paint spots on it, was used for writing shopping lists.  The kitchen opened onto a narrow passage known as the conservatory (but it wasn’t a conservatory, simply a lean-to porch).  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.  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.

In addition to the two front bedrooms the house 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 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.

View from North Terrace across the Glen., looking south

The house faced south which is the wrong way to face in the southern hemisphere.  This photo shows the outlook from the front.  It looked across 'The Glen', a sunken area of housing, to the teacher training college and the rest of Kelburn.  The window panes in the two front rooms 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 sparrows and thrushes rather than native birds.  In the botanical gardens there were plenty of native species.