Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The 1953 Coronation

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

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

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





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

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

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

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



Friday, 8 June 2018

Togs



Can you remember what you wore for swimming in your childhood?  Having found a few photos I realise that the nature of ‘bathing costumes’ has changed incredibly in my lifetime.  I think a lot of it is because of the arrival and development of nylon and stretchable fabrics as it seems that in the 1940s and early 50s we wore knitted costumes. I can still remember how prickly they felt. 


In New Zealand we spent a lot of time in the water or playing on the beach/lakeshore.  This meant that we wore our ‘togs’ as they were called, for long hours in the middle of summer.  Having two sets was wonderful because it meant you could take off the wet one at lunchtime and put on a dry one when you went back to the beach mid-afternoon.  Even so, I think I was almost a teenager before I had two sets.  As our family holiday house was just across the road from the best beach on the lake shore at Taupo, we just used to wear a shirt and shorts over the top and take them off after we had crossed the road.  No wrapping ourselves in towels to change discretely in our family!

At some point in the 1950s woollen costumes gave way to cotton that had been given some shape by rows of shirring elastic stitched into the wrong (under) side.  I can remember being very pleased when this gave way and the fabric did not cling properly because it meant we could have a new costume.  I think we wore this type until the early sixties.  I had photos taken in 1960 that show my friends in this attire but unfortunately they were destroyed in our house fire so I am not able to provide an illustration.

Here is a photo of my sister and her cousin.  Our cousin was a girl and I can remember being a bit surprised that at this point (she was about five) she wore 'boys' togs without a top to them.  That would never have happened in our family.


I cannot remember when we started wearing proper ‘stretch’ fabric but it must have been in the sixties.  The same goes for two-piece bathing suits.  I think I was grown up before I wore anything approaching a bikini!
Another item of beach wear was the ‘towelling jacket’.  This was a thigh length cover up that became very popular in the sixties.  I remember having one in fabric with a lime green background with modernist patterns on it.  Very trendy.  And later, just after we got married, I remember making towelling jackets for both my husband and myself.

You can see from the photos that rubber bathing caps were also worn when we were younger.  My main memory of them is that my sister had a red one which attracted a wasp, back in the later 1950s when wasps first appeared in New Zealand.  We all know that wasps like red and my poor sister was forced to spend a long time keeping still in the water as we could not get it to move away.
And why was what we wore called ‘togs’?  I do not really know but it was definitely a New Zealand word as when I moved to Australia I had to unlearn it and learn to say ‘bathers’.  Then I came to England and it was ‘bathing suit’.  Swimming costume was always a term I associated with my mother’s generation.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Our Honeymoon 1972

We got married in 1972.  It was quite a small wedding and we had a delayed honeymoon.  This was because the private language school where we both worked gave us four weeks’ holiday in the summer.  We were extremely badly paid so we had to do it as cheaply as possible.  Earlier that year I had read about how it was possible to go island hopping in Yugoslavia so that is what we decided to do.  We had already been to Yugoslavia.  John had been to Zagreb as a member of a drama group when he was a student and in 1971 when we were living in Turin, we went to an island called Krk near Rijeka.  That trip was just for a long weekend so the idea of going for longer appealed.  We knew very little about Yugoslavia which was behind the Iron Curtain so not much visited.  What little I knew came from reading a book about Sir Archibald McIndoe, the New Zealand plastic surgeon, and the partisans during the second world war.  I read this when I was a teenager and could remember very little of it.

We planned to do this trip by train and boat.  We had a very tiny Collins guidebook (price five shillings) which my brother-in-law had given me when I first arrived in England.   From that we picked out an itinerary which was to go to Venice by train, catch a ferry across the Adriatic and start our Yugoslavian experience from Rijeka.  We planned to spend a week on one island, then a second week on another and then to make our way inland.  We wanted to go to Zagreb because John had been there and we realised we could go to Sarajevo.  We knew about that from history at school. After Zagreb we planned to go to Ljubljana and then take a train to Munich.  We would have a couple of nights there so we could visit the main art galleries and do a little sightseeing.  The Olympic games were going to be held in Munich later that summer so we assumed there would be a lot of things we could do.  Our train tickets would then return us to England.  The train tickets did not include all the little trips we planned to do while in Yugoslavia but at least we knew we had the main journeys paid for.

We were eligible for cheap train tickets which helped but knew we would be staying in the cheapest accommodation, although we did not plan to hitch-hike.  Following the plan in the newspaper article plus the information in the Collins guidebook we began by taking the train from London to Milan.  As it turned out we started out on the day the pound was floated on the foreign exchange market.  This could have caused major currency problems for us because in those days there were no credit cards and you had to use some combination of travellers’ cheques and hard cash.  Fortunately John had an older Italian student who exchanged some sterling for lira for us.  The journey to Milan meant taking a train from London to Newhaven, then a cross-channel ferry to Dieppe, then a train to Paris where we had to change to the overnight express for Milan.  Of course we went second class so we were in a couchette with a very hard bed made from the seat.  We had both been to Italy by train before so we knew we would be shunted around the sidings in France in the middle of the night.  I remember very little of this part of the journey and what I do remember may not have been that particular trip.  We had one night in Milan.  This enabled us to visit the cathedral and walk around the main area.  I remember a large shopping arcade in high Victorian style which reminded me of the arcades in Sydney and Melbourne.

From Milan we took another train to Venice.  We had been there at Easter the previous year when we were living in Turin.  Although it had been very crowded with tourists at Easter and difficult to find a pensione, the weather had been quite good.  Now we found ourselves in a steam bath.  We had one or possibly two nights in Venice and then started on the real adventure.  First we had to cross the Adriatic on a large steamer.  The journey took the inside of a day.  It was potentially a boring journey so I spent it reading ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles.  We arrived in Rijeka ready to spend a night there.  We went for a walk down to the wharves where the ferries left from and bought tickets for a boat to Rab.  We had chosen this island on the basis of the Collins guidebook.  It was quite a big island and we thought we would have no trouble finding somewhere to stay.  We would then move to an island that was further south.  Then we went to find something to eat.  It was about 8.30 pm by this time, early for most of southern Europe but we found that everything was closed or closing.  The chairs were being put up on the tables and I cannot remember where, if at all, we found somewhere still serving food.  We realised we were in a different country from Italy.

On Saturday morning we went back to the ferry terminal.  There were people everywhere.  Most of them were Yugoslavian but there were also a number of Germans.  It was early July and we had hit the German holiday season although it was too early for any English people.   There were lots of small ferries going to small islands.  We had to read the headings on the signboards very carefully but we managed to find the boat that went to Rab and got on it.  It was quite large compared with many of them.  We settled down to a journey that we knew would take the whole morning.  We knew that the boat would call at a small town on one side of the island and then go round the island to the main town.  As we did not speak any Serbo-Croat we could not really check anything with the crew or other passengers.  It was a lovely day and the sea was flat calm.  We sailed along happily and then pulled up to a jetty.  There did not seem to be a town so we realised this was not where we were getting off.  There were a few people who had come down to meet the boat and what I really remember was that there were donkeys.  Also how clear the water was.  A lot of people got off but we did not worry because we assumed we would soon reach the main town.

It was only when we set off again that we realised there were very few people left on board.  It was now lunchtime and I think we had bought sandwiches that we ate on deck.  Then all of a sudden a man, obviously one of the crew, appeared waving our ticket.  He came up to us and we had one of those conversations where neither side can really understand what is being said to them.  He took us down into the saloon where the crew were eating lunch and told us that we were not on the boat to Rab!  His main sentence appeared to be ‘big boat very, very better for you’.  Somehow we made out that we had got on the wrong boat.  I do not know where we had called but there would be only one more stop and that was back on the mainland at a port called Zadar.  At some point in the conversation the man we were dealing with realised that we could speak German.  The conversation improved a bit after that.  Because of the second world war, all the older Croatians (as we now know they were) had learnt some German.  The message we got was that if we got off this boat in Zadar and hung about a really large ferry would take us back to Rab late that evening.  The disadvantage of this plan was that we had no accommodation booked and the ferry would reach Rab some time in the middle of the night.  As there was nothing we could do until we reached Zadar we sat and read the guidebook and tried to identify another island we could go to instead of Rab.

We reached Zadar around 3 pm.  It turned out to be a lovely town which had been a Venetian colony some centuries earlier.  The architecture was very Venetian with turned columns and pillars on many of the buildings.  There was also architecture and ornament from Roman classical times.  It all looked very interesting and we thought it would be good to investigate it on our way back from whichever island we went to.  It appeared to be very traditional in its way of life.  I remember that it was rather quiet on a Saturday afternoon.  All the women above a certain age were sitting at their doorways in the afternoon sun, making lace.  Our first need was to find somewhere to stay the night as by this time we were very tired from travelling and the idea of getting on another boat late in the evening did not appeal.  Somehow John managed to find a hotel that he thought we could afford.  As I remember it was a very nice hotel.  It was only later that we realised it cost far more than we had budgeted for.

We sat on the terrace and had a drink while being bombarded with mayflies.  We ate well and had a good night’s sleep.  We also went through the guide book again and decided that the best thing to do was to go to the island of Pag.  This was near the mainland, in fact so near that it was connected by a causeway and we could just go there by bus.  So on Sunday morning we made our way to the bus station.  There was a local bus and we joined the peasants who must have come into town for church or the market.  They were really laden down with their shopping and I still remember the live hens some of them were carrying.  The bus took us to Pag and deposited us in the centre.  The causeway/bridge was quite impressive.  I remember this area was later badly damaged during the Balkan wars in the 1990s and I think at one point Pag was cut off from the mainland.

We found a room above a restaurant/club.  It had a blocked hand basin but for five shillings a night what could we expect.  We decided it would do.   The club downstairs obviously did a good trade, the main feature of which was the playing of the John Lennon hit ‘Imagine’.  This has stayed with us as the dominant image of the holiday but we always remember the song as ‘Im a dreamer’ as that is the way the singer pronounced the first line.  Pag was totally undeveloped in those days although now it is a very popular holiday destination.  There was just one hotel geared to the holiday trade and that was situated about a mile out of town.  It overlooked the sea and also played loud music which we could hear.   Our overall impression was that this was not a tourist destination which suited us fine.
We spent a week there as planned.  Each night we ate from a restricted menu of kebab type dishes and barbecued fish accompanied by salad.  Both here and on Hvar, where we spent the next week, all food had to be imported from the mainland so there would be a glut of tomatoes and tomato salad would be on the menu for several days.  Then it would change and the salad would be composed mostly of peppers.  Turkish style coffee was the order of the day throughout Yugoslavia but we had to cope with several languages as we moved around.   This John did with ease and by the end of the holiday he could ask for coffee without sugar in several languages.  I am afraid I have never been able to drink coffee with sugar, although it resulted in some funny looks from people.
We cannot remember how we spent our days but I think it must have been a traditional beach holiday.  We certainly could not have afforded to go and visit anything, not that there appeared to be any tourist sites within easy reach.

At the end of the week, we moved on.  We took the bus back to Zadar and then got on a boat which took us to Hvar.  It may have stopped in Split but we did not get off it.  Hvar was much more developed than Pag and there were landladies who came down to the boat to tout for guests.  We went to a house where there were several guests other than us.  I remember there were Germans but the food was much the same as on Pag.   However, we probably ate out in cafes there as it was a bigger town.

By the end of our stay on Hvar we realised we really were running out of money so we had to rethink our plans for the rest of the holiday, given that we had tickets back to the UK from Munich on a particular date.  We decided it would be a good idea to give Zagreb a miss.  When we reached Split we went to Diocletian’s palace which has amazing mosaics.  Split is a large city and I do not remember much about it.  Our review of our finances led us to decide that the best way to save money was to travel overnight so that we did not pay for accommodation.  I had done two very long bus journeys like this in Australia but the roads there were good and this was not the situation in Yugoslavia.  Our first haul was Spilt to Sarajevo.  I know we went via Mostar and crossed the original bridge but my main memory of the journey is of being very carsick.  I knew I had problems on coaches but this was particularly bad and ever since I have avoided this form of transport if at all possible.  I remember getting out of the bus at some point which I think may have been Mostar.

Sarajevo was wonderful and we spent several days there.  Like most people we knew it as the scene of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand which led to the First World War.  We found the place where the assassination happened and stood in Princeps’ footprints but there was much more to the city.  It was very different from Europe as it was the place where three cultures met.  As this was 1972 it was also before the winter Olympics had been held there and long before it was besieged in the Balkan wars.  I would not want to go back there now as it has undoubtedly changed beyond all recognition.   One outstanding feature was the main market place.  This was large and oval and full of cafes.  Everyone congregated there with various national dresses being worn.  It was the first time I had seen people wearing fez type headgear as normal hats.  There were people in baggy trousers but also Croatians in European dress.  There were large numbers of pigeons everywhere.  The shops around the market place included people making traditional articles.  I bought a Turkish coffee set as a souvenir.

The museums were also a delight even if I could not read the inscriptions because of the Cyrillic script.  One of them had an excellent textiles department which inspired me to make a ‘Balkan’ tablecloth although I bought the materials for it after I returned to London.  The archaeological museum had some very interesting exhibits.  I also remember a Jewish museum.  The city was a real melting pot.  Because we spent longer there than we had intended we were able to look beyond the centre.  One day we went on a bus trip to a suburb.  The buses were half the size of English ones because the hills were so steep.  The views looking back over the city were very good.
The outstanding feature of our Sarajevo stay though was the thunderstorm.  By this point our shortage of money meant we stayed in the youth hostel, even though it meant we had to be in separate dormitories.  Sarajevo is situated in a bowl in the mountains and we had the most enormous thunderstorm either of us has ever seen.  The storm just rocketed around between the mountains.  John was very sensitive to it and all the hairs on his arms stood up.

From Sarajevo we went to Ljubljana, again on an overnight bus.  My main memory of Ljubljana is the contrast with Sarajevo.  This city was very Western European.  I think we just had one night there but now we were able to use our train tickets again.  We did an overnight trip to Munich via Austria.  We were shunted around Rosenheim in the middle of the night but arrived in Munich with a couple of days for sightseeing and art galleries.  I remember the Alte Pinakothek as being a highlight.
Then it was back to England.  We took a train all the way from Munich to Ostend followed by a night crossing to Dover.  This was not without incident either.  The boat was full of teenagers en route to holiday English language courses in Britain.  Having been on the train since 9 am we were looking forward to a drink at the bar, only to find they had closed it to prevent under-age drinking.  In the middle of the Channel we were becalmed in fog and sat there for some time with the boat’s foghorn blaring to inform people of our presence.  We finally arrived at the pier in Dover and there was an almighty crunching noise.  We had hit the side of it.

Then I had to get myself back through immigration.  Although I was now married to an Englishman I had not had time to get an English passport so I was travelling on a New Zealand passport with a letter that said I had right of residence in the UK.  The immigration officer was not impressed.  I came away with the distinct view that if he had been able to he would have refused to let me enter the country.  Meanwhile John stood there waiting.  So ended our honeymoon.


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Hats in a fifties and sixties upbringing


I had forgotten what a big part hats played in our New Zealand childhood until my sister suggested I write about them.  Now that I have looked at the old photos, I am wondering whether we wore hats a lot because of the climate or simply because everyone wore them.  My sister also reminded me that our mother used to make them - those dressmaking skills again.

Toddlers wore bonnets which now strike me as something out of Jane Austen, but the New Zealand sun can be ferocious and this is probably the reason for protecting children.
  


When we were slightly older we 'graduated' to straw but the one below shows us with fabric hats with elastic ties.  Very important in the wind!


Here we are on the beach.  Note how the hats appear to be blowing inside out like an umbrella.  As I remember grown-ups used hat pins instead of ties but not on beach hats.


Even men wore hats in the sun.  My grandfather was a great Francophile so the beret is an obvious choice!


And here is one of my father in the 1970s.


Hats were obligatory when going to church and I even have memories of someone preaching a sermon on the subject.  Here is an early picture of me in my straw decorated with flowers.  I notice my younger sister is wearing a bonnet and gingham!


In winter we had berets.  I remember my mother making these.  She would take a piece of thick fabric (usually corduroy) and make a circular template of newspaper by drawing around a plate.  This was for the top of the beret.  I think she then made a second circle but with a hole cut in the middle of it.  Presumably this was a template from a smaller plate.  She must then have bound the edge with a bias strip.


I do remember knowing about Kangol berets early on though, so maybe some of them were not home-made.

And we certainly wore hats on formal occasions such as weddings. Please note that my grandfather is wearing a top hat.


Here is a wedding photo from 1967, the year I left home.



Hats became distinctly unfashionable around 1960 but we always wore hats to school and you were given an 'order mark' by the prefect on gate duty if you did not wear one as you left the grounds.  In summer we had cream panama hats with a blue and green hat band.  At Easter our mothers had to take the hat band off this hat and attach it to the green felt hats we wore with winter uniform.  The reverse happened in October when we started wearing summer uniform again.  We also had green berets as neither the panamas nor the winter felt hats could cope with rain in the quantities we had in Wellington.  Unfortunately I do not have a photo of any school hats.

I think the family practice of wearing hats must have had a strong influence on my later fashion choices as when I got married in 1972 I spurned the idea of a veil and bought an expensive straw hat from Libertys.

I have also noticed that it these days children do wear hats as sun protection.  All the family photos we receive show the latest generation wearing them.

PS: Apologies for the constant changes of font and font size.  I have spent hours trying to solve this problem but failed so decided to publish anyway.  The working document looks fine but not the preview.  If anyone knows how to solve it, please e-mail me or message me on Facebook messenger.



Thursday, 17 May 2018

Through Italy at Christmas Part 2


Christmas Day

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

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

Our week in Rome

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

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

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

To Naples

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

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

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

From Rome to Turin

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

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

Monday, 14 May 2018

Through Italy at Christmas 1970 Part 1


Day One: Turin to Rome

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

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

Day 1: Turin to Tuscany and Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 May 2018

Lemon pudding

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

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

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

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

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