Monday, 19 March 2018

Tobacco picking

I left school in December 1962.  I was going to university in Wellington but the term did not start until the beginning of March so we all wanted to find holiday jobs.  I had previously worked in my father’s office, mainly as a filing clerk, but the time we had available meant something more adventurous was called for.  After all, once Christmas and the main holiday season was over, there was the whole of February to fill!  We also wanted money.  We were home-based students which meant our families continued to support us financially but it was expected that we would work in order to pay for clothes, holidays and entertainment as well as contributing by paying for our own textbooks where possible.

The range of holiday jobs for women was limited.  Tradition had it that men could work in unskilled agricultural jobs but women were largely confined to office or shop work or working as domestics in hotels.  There was, however, a long tradition of vacation jobs in agriculture, particularly fruit picking.  Several girls from our year at school sorted out jobs picking soft fruit in Nelson at the top of the South Island, but I was too late for this and all the jobs had gone.  I had no intention of returning to my father’s office but had not given the alternatives much thought.  Then one of my classmates asked me if I would like to join her and a friend of hers from primary school who were planning to pick tobacco.  Unlike raspberry picking, this was a job that was generally done by full-time seasonal workers rather than students as the picking season ran from late January through to May.  Contracts were all organised through the Department of Labour. I cannot really remember how the arrangements were made. I did not do any of it.  I have two memories of the recruitment process.  The first was that the Department of Labour would not allow you to work for them unless you were over eighteen.  I was only seventeen, with my eighteenth birthday coming up in April.  My school friend’s birthday was in May.   We found out that we could take the work if our parents gave permission but I knew that mine never would.  They were the kind of people who made us pay full fare on the bus the minute we turned fourteen, and would not allow us to go to films that were recommended for older age groups.  So I decided not to tell them about the age restriction.  My second memory is that our next door neighbour, who was an older person with adult children, was very against the idea.  Later I realised why she held these views. ‘Nice’ girls like us who had been to a fee-paying school, did not do unskilled agricultural work!  We went for the month of February, although the other workers were on contracts for much longer.  It was very valuable experience in rubbing off a few corners from our sheltered existence.
I have vivid memories of some of the experiences we had but cannot recall a lot of it at all.  I knew that the area where we were going was where one of my great-grandmothers had grown up and that my grandmother had gone there often on holiday but I never thought to ask my grandmother about it.  It is only recently that I have learnt about the history of the area.  Obviously it was agricultural.  The main town was Motueka and the farm we lived on was about two miles from there, at a place called Riwaka.  I cannot remember anything about our journey to get there. I know we must have gone on the ferry boat which ran from Wellington to Picton and then taken a Newman’s bus (coach) from Picton to Nelson and I assume on to Motueka.  The farmer picked us up there and drove us to Riwaka and our ‘digs’ which was a hop pickers’ hut.  Hop picking did not start until March so, although there were two or three of these huts in a paddock (field) none of them was occupied until we arrived and we were the only people on that part of the farm for our entire stay.  The main part of the farm was some distance away and each morning we were driven there.  The small part where we stayed consisted of a field of hops and one of tobacco.  If you walked through both fields you came to the Motueka river, a place we came to know well.  The farmer had acquired this farm as additional land and his younger son and wife lived there.  Everyone else, including the other workers, lived on the main farm.
It is only in doing a little on-line research in order to write this, that I have learnt about the tobacco industry in Nelson at that time (the mid-sixties).  Apparently tobacco was a popular crop because you needed only a relatively small piece of land.  I knew that Nelson was extremely sunny and that was one reason for the crops that grew there.  The industry had expanded considerably after the second world war and it was a major employer of seasonal labour in the nineteen fifties and sixties.  We were obviously there when the industry was at its height as by the mid-sixties there was a surplus of tobacco and in the two years after the 1964-65 season the number of farmers fell by 200 to 529.  What I do remember is that there was a lot of talk about mechanisation.  Everything on our farm was done by hand but people talked about someone who had bought a machine which went through the field with men (and they were men) who stood underneath and tied the tobacco as it was picked.  I remember someone saying that our farm acquired a tying machine the following year.  Of course, everyone smoked at this time and I can remember imported tobacco from Greece being stacked in the wharf sheds in Wellington.  The industry died out in the 1970s, probably because of initiatives to stop people smoking.   The farmers sold their crops in advance to one of the main tobacco/cigarette manufacturers.
In addition to the two parts of ‘our’ farm, another farmer with a very small property employed three workers who worked with us for most of the week.  These women were ‘pommy migrants’, i.e. English immigrants who had come to New Zealand on assisted passages.  They were psychiatric nurses and were only supposed to work as such so they had ‘run away’ from their employers.  No-one seemed bothered about this.  . I cannot remember this second farmer having any male employees of this own but on the fifth day he was ‘lent’ men by our farmer.  Our farmer grew for Rothmans and the other one grew for Wills.
There was a clear delineation in work between the sexes.  The men picked the tobacco and the women ‘tied’ it.  This task meant tying bunches of leaves onto manuka poles which were then put into the kiln and dried for a week.  I remember that when we arrived, we were told that as we were only working part of the season, we would not be taught to tie but would be confined to passing bunches of leaves to the women who stood next to the poles and tied the bunches on.  The poles were laid horizontally and stretched between two trestles.  The picked tobacco was brought from the fields on open-topped trailers and we workers stood alongside them.  As soon as a pole was full of tied bunches of leaves, a male worker would remove the filled pole and put it on a trailer to go to the kiln.  Although we were not supposed to learn to tie, our fellow-workers took pity on us and taught us in the lunch-hour.  I took to tying like a duck to water and can still remember how to do it!  I remember that when I returned to Wellington I had quite a swollen wrist.  I guess these days we would say I had a repetitive strain injury.
The working day
As I remember it, we worked at harvesting approximately three days a week.  On the other days we did ‘lateralling’ which meant working our way along the lines of plants and pulling off the side shoots so that the main leaves would grow stronger.  I think we worked an ordinary 8 am to 4.30 pm day, five days a week.  I seem to remember that our weekends were free although we needed this time for our domestic chores.  There was one famous week when the weather was very humid and it rained so much that we could only work three and a half days.  As we were motivated by the desire to make money, when I read on the notice board that overtime was paid at time and a half, we volunteered to work on Saturday.  It was very steamy and hard work that day but we thought of the money we were going to earn.  Little did we realise that because we had not worked a full week, we were only paid at the normal rate!  The farmer must have thought we were mad to work in such conditions since no-one had told us we had to.
The working day was broken up by ‘smokos’ and I seem to remember we had a proper lunch break although I cannot remember what we had for lunch.   I think we must have had packed lunches.  At the end of the day, we were driven back to our bit of the farm.  We generally then went for a swim in the river.  We walked through the hop field and the tobacco field until we came to the bank of the river.  One week there were sheep in the hop field, eating down the grass.  That was the week I trod on an old nail which went right into my heel.  I was very glad my tetanus injections were up to date.  The farmer’s wife, who had been a nurse, said I would be all right which was true but in NZ you had to be very careful about the risk of tetanus.
There were swimming holes in the river so it was quite safe.  We used to pretend to be Shakespeare’s Ophelia and coast downstream on the current quoting Shakespeare.  This was because we had studied Hamlet the previous year and learnt a lot of the main speeches by heart.  The water was pretty cold but you expect that in rivers and there were really no facilities for overall washing in our hut.  We did not expect there to be as most people at that time relied on swimming to keep clean when on holiday.
After our swim, we walked back to our hut and prepared dinner.  The hut consisted of two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a very small wood-burning range on which we had to learn to cook.  This was occasionally a problem.  I can remember on one occasion we came back to very over-cooked sausages.  On another quite famous occasion we thought we had set the place on fire.  Smoke was pouring out the roof and we had to ask the farmer’s wife to come over and help us.  There was much laughter as we, being city girls, knew nothing about ranges.  We had failed to pull out the dampers so the chimney was blocked and all the smoke poured into the living room.  After our evening meal, we would wash our smalls and drape them round the bedroom to dry.  There was no TV in New Zealand in those days and I cannot remember if we had a radio, probably not.  For entertainment, we would read. I had taken several set books for the English course I was planning to do at university and was glad to have read them in advance, only to find when I enrolled at university, that I had to do a different English course because I was not ‘majoring’ in English but doing it as a subsidiary subject.
At that time in New Zealand, shops were not open at the weekend, but stayed open until 9 pm on Friday evenings.  We were usually able to go into Motueka on Friday evenings for late night shopping.  I remember buying two pairs of shoes: one pair of red ones with flat soles and another pair in white that had ‘baby Louis’ heels.  As I was quite tall, I never wore stilettos which were just coming into fashion.  I was afraid high heels would make me taller than the boys and women were supposed to be smaller than men so being tall could be a problem.  There were plenty of other people my height among my friends and I now know that one of my father’s aunts, born in the 1870s, was six foot tall. 
Farm life
There were also a number of incidents which showed us city girls that we were now in the country.  One was when the farmer killed a chicken by cutting off its head and then leaving it to run round in the field that was immediately outside our hut.  Another was at the main farm when it was time for the family to get some meat.  I already knew that farmers killed their own lifestock and then hung it up to ‘season’ but despite having spent my early childhood in a fairly rural community, I had never seen this happen.  Now I did.  One morning there was an announcement that they would kill a sheep for meat.  I do not think we witnessed the actual slaughter but I remember that at the morning ‘smoko’ there was a sheep, dangling on a hook near us.
As I have already said, one week a small flock of sheep were brought in and put outside our hut with the aim of getting them to chew the grass and keep it short.  Fine, but no-one warned up that this would bring the flies.  That week was not good as the flies were everywhere and we had to be very careful to cover up all our food.  We were rather glad when someone arrived and took them away again.
Free time
Obviously if we only worked five days a week, we had free time at weekends.   One weekend we went to the beach with ‘our’ farmer and his young family.  We went to Kaiteriteri, a beach that was famous for its yellow/white sand.  Most beaches in New Zealand had grey sand so this was thought to be very superior.  I see from the map that Kaiteriteri is very near Motueka although it involved a car journey so seemed to be some distance away.  I also have a faint memory of a trip that involved going over the Takaka Hill.  I see this would have been a journey over the hill to Takaka and the moth of the Takaka river but I can only remember being in a car and nothing of our destination.  Otherwise I do not know what we did at weekends although I think we may have gone out with the other workers, all of whom were older than us and several of whom had cars.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Taupo holidays from Hastings

I went to Taupo twice when we lived in Hastings, the first time in 1952 soon after I had been in hospital and then again in 1953.  On the first occasion I went on my own with my aunt and grandmother.  The second time Margaret came too and our father drove us there although I think he may then have had to go back home to work.  We also had a couple of holidays with our cousins after we had moved to Wellington but the group was really too big and it created an awful lot of work for the women so when I was a teenager we used to go for the last fortnight of the school holidays at the end of January while the Auckland family lost a week of their original six weeks.  It is difficult for me to remember which incidents happened on the first two occasions and which on the later joint holidays.

Swimming in the lake with my cousin  1952

We knew about Taupo long before we went there.  My paternal grandparents bought one of the first pieces of land suitable for a ‘bach’ in about 1923 and built a small cottage.  My father spent all his childhood holidays there.  Our house was on the edge of the lake in a prime position.  My grandfather had initially bought ‘the back section’ of two and built right on the front boundary.  It had uninterrupted views 26 miles across the lake to the mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe at the southern end of the lake.  At some point the purchaser of the front property, most of which was on a lower level was persuaded to sell the back strip which was raised above the rest to my grandfather along with a narrow strip down the side which became the path down to the beach.  We had to cross the main road that ran along the lake but the beach just opposite was very good, once you had dodged the traffic. The lake was famous for trout fishing and had safe swimming places although it was not at all developed and holidaying there was quite a primitive experience even in the 1950s.  The best thing about ‘our beach’ was that there were natural hot pools at one end.  We children would dig down and find hot water which we could then paddle in.  Another advantage was that there was a small sandbank not far out so it was really safe for swimming.  Even so, we were taught to have great respect for the lake and its ability to become rough very quickly.
My grandmother and aunt took me to Taupo the first time.  I did not know until many years later that my grandmother’s mother had been killed on the Napier-Taupo road.  I do remember her telling me about how it used to take two or three days to get there from Napier.  They used to spend one night at The Terraces hotel which had hot springs.  Today State Highway 5 as the Napier-Taupo road is now called, is still a very rugged road through high mountainous territory.  There is a dreadful road toll, these days related to the large number of logging trucks that use it.
The Taupo cottage was very basic.  There was a kerosene stove and an Elsan chemical toilet which you reached up a path.  Old newspapers and magazines were kept there.  The smell was pungent to put it mildly and I can still smell it as I write this.  It was our cousins’ job to empty the Elsan weekly.   but as girls we did not have to do that sort of job. There were three water tanks to serve the house.  Two of them were on the house roof and the water from those was only used for washing as there had once been a dead opossum in one of them.  The third tank was on a tank stand.  Water for cooking came from that and we used to stand beside it and clean our teeth using mugs for the water.  We learnt about tapping the rungs of the tanks to check how much water was in them and to be very abstemious in our use of water.  
The main room of the cottage had a huge open fireplace through the back wall of which you could see daylight.  As we only went to Taupo in summer this was never lit but we were told that my father and his brothers used to go up to Taupo from Napier to fish in their youth, sometimes in winter, and how a glass of water left on the mantlepiece froze overnight.  The kitchen was in a kind of lean-to but attached to the house.  In front of the main room was a glassed-in porch with amazing views.  There was one double bedroom off this and one off the main room plus a tiny room off the other side of the porch.  There was an old fashioned free-standing bath somewhere near the bedroom but I cannot remember anyone using it.  The normal way of getting clean was in the lake and my grandmother used to take a cake of soap down here. The room off the glassed-in porch had originally been a store room but by the 1950s was used as a bedroom, usually for a baby in a cot.  There were steps down into the garden from the porch but that was about all.  Boys used to sleep outside in tents. 

Kanuka in 2008 - much improved from 1950s

There were lots of trees in the garden.  A huge eucalyptus was the main feature but there was an avenue of silver birches leading in from the road which someone had planted after the war.  Tents were pitched to accommodate children but there was no garden as such, just a raspberry patch on the narrow strip of land that had originally been part of the front property.  There were constant discussions about ways of improving the house but nothing happened until much later in our lives.  I seem to remember that at this time we slept in the second bedroom, our boy cousins in a tent and their baby sister in the little room.
The ‘other Hoadleys’ as they were often called used to spend all the Christmas summer holidays at Taupo.  My uncle was an architect so had three weeks’ leave at Christmas.  He would then return to Auckland on his own and come back at Auckland Anniversary weekend which was the last weekend in January and drive the family back to Auckland for the start of the new school term.  I remember our cousins being allowed to run round barefoot all summer and on one occasion one of them saying they had even gone to church barefoot!  This was not an option for us as when she was very small Margaret, who was allergic to bee stings, had trod on a bee and her whole foot had swollen up.
The domestic routine and food was different.  Milk was delivered in a billy but it was unpasteurised and had to be boiled which we thought made it taste horrible.  For breakfast we had proper porridge made with rolled oats.  At home we ate an instant porridge which cooked quickly.  Cooking rolled oats was a major task.  I seem to remember that we had eggs and and/or bacon as at home but I cannot remember what we children drank, given how awful the milk tasted.  It may have been cocoa as that would have killed the nasty taste.
Two of our cousins were what my father referred to disparagingly as ‘fussy eaters’.  Basically they would not eat any cooked vegetables and were served raw peas, carrots etc. as well as salad.  They also ate a lot of processed cheese although Chesdale was a big feature of all our childhoods as it was mild tasting. 
Lighting was kerosene lamps but I think we children went to bed before it was dark.  I can remember my grandmother doing the ironing, using flat irons that had to be heated on the top of the kerosene stove.  I think clothes washing was done in a copper which lived where the two water tanks were.  Electricity came to Taupo at the end of the fifties so after the time I am writing about and piped water about the same time, so after we left Hastings. 
The sitting room contained various articles for entertainment.  There was a gramophone and some records, including some that were yellow.  The most popular were songs such as ‘Pop-eye the sailor man’.  There were books but we never read any of them and always took library books on holiday.  There were board games of which the best was Monopoly.  If it rained we spent a lot of time painting and drawing.  Both my father and my uncle were artistic and used to line us up at the table in the front porch and give us lessons although those I remember are from a slightly later time.
One job for the children was picking raspberries for lunch.  We used to love doing this.  We took various kitchen containers and went into the raspberry patch at the front of the section.  These were then eaten with cream.  With no refrigerator there was no ice cream apart from the time we bought one for Margaret, who was in bed with mumps, only to have it melt before we could get it home.  That was the year we had to do the shopping by boat. 

My uncle owned a small dinghy which we later nick-named ‘the coracle’ and an adult would row it the mile along the foreshore to town.  This was because my uncle had returned to Auckland leaving the family without a car.
Because Taupo was very high up and quite rural the night sky was amazing and we learnt some astronomy such as how to identify the Southern Cross constellation.  There was a huge telescope in the cottage.  It sat on a tripod and was not really suitable for children. On one of these holidays, my cousin dropped it on my toes.  My big toe went very black and weeks later the nail dropped off.
There were no wasps in New Zealand until the mid-fifties.  The story went that they entered New Zealand on a plane from the USA and gradually spread south from Auckland.  On one of our first holidays from Wellington we met them for the first time.  Remember that Margaret was allergic to bee stings so we were all pretty frightened of winged insects.  On one occasion Dad and Prior took us to Five Mile – a stretch of the lake a little further south of the main town.  They wanted to fish so we children played about and swam.  I remember we were plagued by wasps and spent the whole afternoon trying to avoid them.  One problem was that we had red swimming hats and had been told that wasps loved the colour red. I can remember them buzzing around our heads all the time.  We tried to stay in the water to avoid them.
There were also lots of sandflies and mosquitos.  On two holidays we later had with the Auckland family Margaret and I slept in a tent.  I remember putting my head under the bedclothes in order to avoid the mosquitos which used to make a horrible noise. I became very adept at doing this, so much so that years later my friends used to say how I would put my head under the covers if one came near, even if I appeared to be asleep!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Hawkes Bay entertainment

Looking back on it, our Hawkes Bay childhood was quite rural even though we lived in a town.  There was not much entertainment other than what you made for yourself.  I know I went to the ballet with my mother when I was four and Margaret and I were taken to the ballet in Napier by our aunt on one occasion but I think that was about it.  The ballet when I was four was wonderful as they had some way of illuminating the costumes.  All I can remember is the luminous costumes of the dancers.

We had a car as did many New Zealanders after the War.  Ours was an office car, i.e. it belonged to my father’s employer but he was the inspector who drove around assessing insurance risks.  We were allowed to use the car at weekends so we went out a lot.  My mother did not drive until much later in life.  She had one driving lesson from a neighbour of my grandparents in Wellington but it ended when she trapped Margaret’s hand in the door.  My paternal grandmother drove and often took us out in her Morris Minor and my aunt had a Citroen, as did my uncle. 

At weekends we often drove out into the countryside.  Depending on the time of year, we went looking for lambs or mushrooms.  I now know that we did not necessarily go very far on these trips.  I think a lot of them were across the Heretaunga plain just outside Hastings.  This area is now covered in vineyards but in those days it was sheep farming territory.  We would pull up on the side of the road, get out of the car and watch the lambs frolicking in the paddocks.  In autumn we would keep our eyes open for mushrooms as there were no cultivated mushrooms to buy in the shops.  You found them in the paddocks and then you could take some of the peelings and plant them in your lawn for a repeat crop.  I cannot remember how we got into the paddocks but it may have meant climbing over a fence.

In summer we regularly went on picnics.  We often went to a river, taking a picnic lunch with us.  There were several large rivers near Hastings and we would go to a place called Pakowhai, near where my father had grown up, or to the Tukituki river behind Havelock North. 
Occasionally we would go for a ‘tea picnic’ as my father had some flexibility in his working hours.  

View from Te Mata peak looking across the Tukituki river

 I can also remember going to Rissington which was a bit further.  On one occasion my father backed over a tree stump as we were parking there.  The exhaust snapped off and we drove home with a horrendous noise coming from the engine.  I think this was even worse for us children with our young sensitive ears!  The rivers all had swimming holes although you had to be very careful as they were dangerous and after a storm they would move.  I remember on one occasion my mother had prepared the picnic for the ‘tea’ and we were all ready to go when the neighbour leant over the fence and told us not to go.  We were planning to go the Pakowhai bridge as it was called but there had been a flash flood and there were dead sheep everywhere.  There were stopbanks on the river at that point, at least two of them, and I think the sheep were caught in the ditch between them.  I also remember an occasion when my grandmother and aunt came with us and we went north beyond Napier, possibly to a lake.

We also used to go to the beaches for picnics but beaches in the Napier area were awful.  They were very shingly and had all been thrown up in the 1931 earthquake.  They were not really suitable for small children.  Instead we would go to the beaches on the road that went in the direction of Cape Kidnappers.  We went to Hamoana, Te Awanga and Clifton.  Clifton was the end of the road and had a camping ground.  I can remember going there to a children’s picnic organised by the boy scouts.  My father was a Rover Scout leader so the Boy Scouts were an important part of our life at that time. 

Hasting had its share of festivals and regular events.  One was the blossom festival which took place in September.  It was a whole week of festivities.  There was a competition for decorated shop windows which made trips into the town more interesting.  The week culminated in a wonderful procession of decorated ‘floats’ on the Saturday.  All the different organizations took part as well as businesses.  The ‘floats’ were lorries that were decorated so that you could not recognise them.  They generally had a theme and there were people in costume on them.  The decorations included ‘blossom’ made from crepe paper which we children were involved in making through school, the brownies etc.  One year I was in hospital and I can remember making blossoms all week: crepe paper which you folded and then wound florists’ wire round to secure them into flowers.

The procession also had bands and marching girls.  New Zealand’s Celtic origins were always reflected in its celebrations.  This was particularly true in Hastings where at Easter we had the Highland Games.  This was a festival with Scottish, Welsh and Irish dancing.  I cannot remember much else about it but it was held in a park on the edge of town on the road to Havelock North.  It was a national event with bands, dancers and marching girls coming from other areas to compete.  We learnt early about the different types of band, the main ones being silver, although they were often referred to as ‘brass bands’, and ‘pipe bands’ which were Scottish bagpipes plus drums.  My grandfather was very fond of bands.  I think it was probably his military background but there was a famous occasion in Wellington when he took Margaret and me to see the Black Watch band play in the town hall.  I have a vague memory of it but much clearer memories of the song my grandfather made up. 

We went to see the Black Watch band but all the seats were taken.
We had to sit about the floor until our tails were aching.

The most important events in Hawkes Bay were the A and P shows.  These were the showcase for the agricultural industry.  There were two shows: the main one was in October (spring) and lasted two days and then there was an autumn show on a Saturday in March.  The spring show was so important that one day of it was a public holiday.  The showgrounds were between Hastings and Napier in the grounds of a splendid colonial house.  Our family were members of the Hawkes Bay Farmers which meant we had tickets in the members’ car park.  Picnics featured here too.  I can remember the highlight of the food was the bacon and egg pie my mother used to make.  I also remember cold boiled new potatoes.  We took a rug and sat on that.  We did not have picnic chairs and we certainly did not buy food at the show.  There were of course plenty of people selling ice cream and candy floss.

The show itself had lots of exhibits.  These ranged from animals that were kept in long sheds, my main memory of which is the awful smell!  There was farm machinery which was even more boring than the rows of penned animals.  The farmers’ wives also exhibited their produce so there was a large shed with displays of home-made cakes, jam and other preserves and some home dressmaking items.  I found this much more interesting than the stock!   There was also a traditional English range of entertainments.  Our favourite was the merry-go-round which was one that had horses on it.  There were dodgems, coconut shies, a hall of mirrors and lots of other stands.  And people sold cheap items such as kupie dolls on sticks and small wind mills on sticks.  These were aimed at children.  One year it was so wet that we did not go to the spring show but I think my father must have because he brought us home windmills and we ran up and down the drive trying to make them turn.

From the farmers’ point of view, the programme of events was probably the highlight.  This also reflected the UK origins of the population.  Obviously there were all the classes for animals but I have better memories of wood chopping competitions, sheep shearing and sheepdog trials.  I can remember seeing Godfrey Bowen, the country’s leading shearer, in action.   There were also horse riding events because pony clubs were popular.  These activities did not mean much to us ‘townies’ but we could appreciate the show jumping. 

Because Hawkes Bay, particularly the Heretaunga Plain area, had such good soils it was a major fruit growing area.  The idea was to buy your fruit and vegetables direct from the farmer.  We used to patronize a couple of people: our tomatoes came from Mr Frizzell down Pakowhai Road, near where my father had grown up, and our peaches came from Mrs Low, mother of George Low who was a member of the 1953 Everest exhibition.   We were very proud of this indirect connection.  The tomatoes were grown in glasshouses which had the most wonderful perfume from the plants.  I think we may have bought sweet corn direct too, although what I remember about that is that when we moved to Wellington we had to buy it from the greengrocer.  This prompted my mother to say that she thought it was very expensive in Wellington.  The same thing went for asparagus. My memory of Mrs Low’s farm was that it had a cattle stop which you had to cross over on foot.  This used to frighten me because I was afraid my foot would not be big enough to reach across two rungs.  I had bad coordination so any physical activity was a challenge including jumping over streams and climbing anything.

When writing this, I found a wonderful film on Youtube.  

The year it covers is 1952 when we were there.  Do take a look.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Activities on holidays in Wellington

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.  The house my grandparents lived in was two-storeyed and seemed old because it was built in a Victorian style with sash bay windows.

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.

Wellington was a city and so we knew about things that our friends had never seen.   There were department stores which had lifts and one even had an escalator.  I do not think I knew any child in Hastings who had been on an escalator!  There was only an ‘up’ one and we were taught to be very careful getting on and off it.  My grandparents lived just outside the main city at the top of the Cable Car so we got used to travelling on that.  My grandmother went to a butcher and a greengrocer on Lambton Quay in town although there was a local grocer’s shop along Upland Road that she used.  Next to that was the petrol station or ‘bowser’ as my grandfather referred to it.  There was also a corner shop (called a dairy) very near their house where we bought bread and newspapers. 

On Saturday evenings my grandfather bought the tabloid with the sports results (I think for the horse racing results) and a small bar of mint chocolate which was cut into smaller pieces and shared.  Milk was delivered by a horse and cart.  The milk came in glass bottles, some of which were brown (because of the War we were told) which were put out at the gate in the evening with tokens to pay for the milk.  The bottles had cardboard tops.  My grandfather used to follow the horse down the dead-end street carrying something into which he would put the horse’s manure for his roses.

What did we do on these holidays?  There are some old photos which provide a few clues to supplement my memories.  The beach was important.  We used to go to Moa Point at the end of Lyall Bay.  This was ultimately buried under the airport runway but in our day it was a quiet spot with a few rocks.  

The main part of Lyall Bay was very busy and the main beach for training lifeguards so we would watch them running into the water and then someone throwing out a line to them.  We also went to beaches further away.  I have an extremely early memory of sitting on a horrible lumpy surface at Lowry Bay.  I think this is possibly my earliest memory and it has really become a ‘memory of a memory’.  My grandparents had friends who had a beach house at Paekakariki so we went there a few times.

We also spent a lot of time in the botanical gardens.  We used to go to the area next to the Cable car where the three observatories were. 

The main part of the gardens were down a steep hill.  We were not allowed to walk around or go down there, even when we were older, because of ‘stranger danger’.  

We used to go and watch the launch of the 4 pm weather balloon.  My main memory of this is from my 1953 holiday when my grandmother took me and my cousin Ros to see the balloon go up.  Ros had just been diagnosed as short-sighted and could not see what we were looking for.  We did go to the bottom part of the gardens but by car.  There was a small lake with swans and we were taught to steer clear of them because they could hiss.  We used to take bread to feed them.  I remember going in the begonia house but the gardens were much smaller than they are now.  My parents used to talk about glow-worms on the paths up the hill but we never went there.

Pond at the bottom of the Botanical Gardens

My grandfather was always encouraging us to travel when we grew up.  I can remember driving along Oriental Bay past the old swimming baths and him telling me I would go to Europe when I grew up.  He also liked nothing better than to talk his way onto ships.  He would take us down to the wharves, talk to some officer, and then we got the guided tour. I think I went round ‘The Dominion Monarch’ three times.  I can just remember the children’s playroom from those visits.  The ships carried cargo as well as passengers so when they reached Wellington they would stay for three or four weeks while they were unloaded and reloaded.

There are more memories but they can go in another post.

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 parents, Margaret, 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.  Margaret remembers the lettuce which she says was cut very fine.

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.