Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Cats I have known: Mbula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Recent reading: Jacob's room is full of books

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

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

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

Friday, 26 January 2018

2 North Terrace, Kelburn

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

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

Almost all the houses in Hastings were one storeyed (possibly because of the Napier earthquake) so having stairs was very exciting.  2 North Terrace was a large house which my grandparents had been forced to buy over something more modern, because my grandmother’s father came to live with them.  My great-grandmother had died just before my mother’s parents moved to Wellington from Wanganui in 1929.  My grandmother was the sole surviving daughter so they had to have enough bedrooms to accommodate members of her family when they came to stay.  My great-grandfather died in 1941 before I was born but he had had his own sitting room, called ‘The United Party Room’ which at the time I am writing about was used as a dining room and study.  Next to it was an identical room that was only used for best.  It was the Drawing Room and was famous for the window panes blowing out if there was a bad southerly.   I can remember occasions when we could not go in there because the window panes were missing.  My grandmother used this room for her tea parties.  It also contained the family gramophone.  This had to be wound up to play a record.  It was in a cabinet that served as a china cabinet and had two drawers which were full of my grandfather’s collection of photos from the First World War.  When we were a little older we would frighten ourselves by looking at photos of dead horses.   The records were 78 rpm.  There were Sousa marches and ‘Oh, For the Wings of a Dove’ sung by Ernest Lough, a famous boy soprano and recorded around 1928.  You spent a lot of time winding up the gramophone as otherwise it went flat and stopped playing.

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

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

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

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

View from North Terrace across the Glen., looking south

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

Monday, 22 January 2018

Wellington Holidays from Hastings: the Journey

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

As my mother did not drive the car journeys must have been with either my maternal grandparents or my father.   Our first stop was in Dannevirke ‘to see a man about a dog’, i.e. for a comfort stop at the loos.  Then we drove through the Manawatu Gorge, a narrow road with the railway running alongside it.

This road has now (2017) had to be closed long-term because of a dreadful ‘slip’ (landslide).  I can remember there were often slips which sometimes closed the railway and the road although I cannot remember the road ever being closed when we wanted to go through it.  Once through the gorge you came to Palmerston North where we stopped for lunch. 

Palmerston North was much smaller than it is now but it was a major town.  It had a central square with gardens and, very important for mothers with small children, the Plunket Rooms.  This was a building in the middle of the gardens with loos and somewhere to change babies.  There was angle parking around the outside of the square.  As there were park benches in the gardens we would sit there to eat our packed lunch.  Packed lunches were the norm and it would never have occurred to anyone to buy food.  I have one outstanding memory of these Palmerston North stops.  It was in January 1952.  My younger sister was born in November 1951 and my mother had great difficulty breast-feeding her.  I think this was partly because of the heat and it probably did not help that I spent a fortnight in hospital in December 1951, being discharged on Christmas Eve so that I could have Christmas at home.  When my sister was six weeks old my parents decided to wean her.  I distinctly remember the whole process because the baby screamed a lot.  She would take a bottle from my father but not my mother and after a couple of weeks of this we went on our annual holiday to Wellington.  The idea was to feed her in the Plunket rooms in Palmerston North.  Men were not allowed in the Plunket rooms so Mum took we three children in there and my father hovered outside.  But it was no use.  The baby had to be fed by him so he had to come in.  I can remember a well-built middle-aged Plunket nurse coming and berating my parents for this.  She was probably appalled at the idea of a father feeding a baby as well as the fact that we were breaking the rules.

After lunch we would continue the journey down through the Manawatu.  There were several large rivers and on the banks of one was a tea-shop which I can remember once visiting.  I can also remember proudly reading out the writing on the road signs the year I learnt to read.  My triumph was apparently to announce that we were on the ‘main rout’ rather than ‘route’ and I was not allowed to forget this for years.  I also remember large sign boards advertising different agricultural tools including one for ‘Gough, Gough and Hamer’ which had a large tractor on it.  I pronounced ‘Hamer’ as ‘hammer’ of course.  There were a lot of market gardens as we got nearer to Wellington and then the road ran alongside the foot of the hills beside the sea before turning inland and approaching Wellington via the Ngauranga Gorge.  Before reaching the gorge, you passed through an area which is now built up but then was known mainly as the site of Porirua Hospital, the lunatic asylum where we knew one of my grandmother’s brothers was a patient.  Near to that was Arohata Borstal, the women’s prison.

The train journey to Wellington was also a major event.  If it was just my mother taking us on holiday, we went by train.  Again it took the inside of a day with, I think, half an hour’s stop at Palmerston North station where we ate our sandwiches for lunch.  We were often given colouring books to keep us occupied. The best thing about the train journey was that at Paekakariki, about thirty miles up the line from Wellington, there was another stop for them to change the engine.  My mother would walk us along the platform to witness this. The line from Wellington to Paekak (as it was always called) had been converted for diesel trains so the steam engine was removed and the diesel attached.  The reverse happened on the journey north.  I can also remember things about the journey back to Hastings, particularly that we used to stand at the carriage window as we approached Hastings and look out at the buildings at the edge of town.  These included the boys’ high school.  I also remember the doplar effect from the noise of the level crossing signals and the distinctive sound of the train’s hooter.  New Zealand had trains that were more like American ones than British so the ‘hooter’ sounded like something from an American movie.  The carriages were not divided into compartments but had seats arranged in pairs down a long aisle.  We always travelled first class and there are incidents from these journeys that I still remember.  On one occasion a man in our carriage taught Margaret how to wink.  When I was a bit older (seven and eight) I made this journey on my own.  My parents would eye up a likely looking mature woman and ask her to keep an eye on me and off I would go to visit my grandparents.  I think I went in 1952 and I certainly went in the May school holidays in 1953 and was staying with them for the Coronation and the conquest of Everest.

The approach to Wellington was down the Ngauranga Gorge.  You came on the harbour quite suddenly and there was Wellington laid out in all its glory.  If you were a small child who had been stuck on a train for some hours, this was quite exciting.  On one occasion my sister, who must have been aged two or three, called to a man in the carriage with us: 'Look man.  Gigi's water!'.  Gigi was what we called our grandmother.  The railway station was quite impressive with a big entrance hall.  Our grandfather would meet us usually having parked the car very nearby.  The platforms were open so it was possible for people meeting passengers to go right up to the relevant carriage.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Taupo holidays in the 1950s

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 Hoadleys 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.

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 to my grandfather along with a narrow strip down the side which became the path down to the beach.  The person who owned the front section built a BP petrol station on it which his son ran.  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.  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.

Here I am with one of my cousins on my first holiday.

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. 

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 as being allowed to run round barefoot all summer and on one occasion one of them saying they had even got 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 wasps 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 and pretend to be asleep although what help that would have been I cannot think.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Recent reading

 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.  

Viking 2014

I have decided that my new look blog should include notes on things I have read as reading takes up much more of my time than it used to.  They will not be formal book reviews, just notes and comments.

A friend lent me this book before Christmas.  I have now finished reading it, as has my husband who reads much more quickly than I do.  I have to say I think it should come with a health warning for readers over seventy years old as the narrator is an elderly woman with dementia that gets progressively worse as the book goes on.  The story is advertised as a detective story.  It certainly has a mystery at the centre of it, a mystery which the narrator has been trying to solve for seventy years.   The story combines the narrator’s current life and her determination to solve the mystery despite her dementia, with a narrative set just after the second world war which talks about how the mystery occurred.

The author is young and I wondered how she managed to identify with the narrator but I have just seen that she has dedicated the book to both her grandmothers so perhaps she does have experience of the elderly and dementia.  She often addresses modern issues through the eyes of her daughter which gives the book a contemporary feel.  All in all, I would recommend it.  I plan to keep an eye open for other things she has written.

Saturday, 6 January 2018


I have decided I should comment on things I have read in this new blog.  I am practically housebound so I read a lot more than I used to.  However, I have certain limitations.  I cannot physically get to the library although I stopped going to the library in Penzance several years ago before I was in this position.  The stock of books had been cut and cut because library spending is not a statutary requirement.  As far as I could tell ) it only catered for children and the elderly.  Also I am a slow reader so, even in the days when I could get there, I often did not finish things within the allowed time.  A great contrast to my childhood.  The library in Karori was at the bottom of the street we lived in so we spent a lot of time there.  In the holidays I would sometimes get books out in the morning, read them and attempt to take them back in the evening!  This was frowned upon and I remember being told off by the librarian.  Although I did not join the library until I was nine, by the age of twelve I had read my way through the stock of the children's section, at least those books which appealed to me, and started on one floor to ceiling bookcase that was the 'Young Readers' section aimed at twelve to fifteen year olds.  As I remember you had to be fifteen before they would issue you with an adult card.  I remember the librarian being very concerned when I went to get out 'The Diary of Anne Frank' as she obviously thought it was too old for me.  But I was stubborn about these things.  There was no television in New Zealand in those days so reading was the main occupation in the evenings and in winter.  And because the library was no near, on Friday evenings our whole family would walk down there to change our books.  Even the cat used to accompany us, coming almost to the bottom of the street and then waiting in the gutter or a vacant section for some time.  He never attempted to go round the corner into the main road which in those days you had to go in order to enter the building.  I have to say that we always had a house full of books.  One of the first things my parents built when we moved into the first house was bookcases.  We were not encouraged to lend books, though.  My father had experience of lending books and never getting them back.  And I realise now that books in New Zealand were very expensive in my childhood as very few of them were published in New Zealand.  Growing up our main cultural influences were British and American and most of what we read had been published in those two countries.

Another thing I have discovered about the library here is that Cornwall  does not have any on-line library services.  Both my sister, who lives in Devon, and school friends in New Zealand talk about being able to download books but that is not possible here.  So I am very dependent on buying things from Amazon.  I am also one of those people who has more or less abandoned Kindle for 'real books'.  I find that if I read something on Kindle it goes in one eye and out the other and I do not remember what I have read.  Perhaps this is related to the fact that I read a lot of non-fiction and like to think I can follow things up as I go.  I do not like book groups so have never belonged to one but I do follow a blog which I consider to be my book group:  dovegreyreaderscribbles  The author lives on the banks of the river Tamar on the boundary between Devon and Cornwall and we share other interests, notably quilting,  Well worth looking at for ideas on what to read and it also has good photographs.

I do have to say, though, that Penzance library has a wonderful art library because there used to be a school of art based in the same building.  It also has a good local history collection.  There is also an independent library The Morrab Library although, inevitably it has access issues (steps) so I do not go there.

What I plan to do here is offer very short 'reviews' of some of the books I read and you can follow them up if you want to.  I used to find charity shops a good source of reading material and I am aware of on-line second-hand book suppliers.  What a difference the internet makes for some of us!

New Zealand Christmases in the 1950s.

I have the advantage of having moved several times in my childhood.  This means my memories can be broken into chunks of several years and makes it much easier to remember events etc. that happened at different stages.  I was born in Wellington in 1945 while my father was in Europe 'serving the King' as he used to say.  When he returned at the beginning of 1946 we moved to Hawkes Bay where he had grown up.  We lived in Havelock North for a couple of years and then in Hastings.  In 1953 when I was eight we moved to Wellington which is where my mother grew up. I spent the rest of my childhood and youth there but left New Zealand in 1967 and never returned to live there.

I have not changed names in these writings which I realise is dangerous when anyone can access my blog but as most of the people are long dead I am going to risk it for now.

Christmas Food: 

Chicken was the Christmas meat of choice for most of my childhood.  It was very much a special occasion dish.  It was always roasted plain but with stuffing and served with roast potatoes and green peas which were fresh rather than frozen. We also had chipolata sausages with bacon wrapped round them but I think this may have been something that only happened in Wellington.  There were two years in Hastings when we were given meat by one of my grandmother’s friends.  This was Mrs Graham, the only person I knew as a child who shared my birthday.  The Grahams were farmers at Maraekakaho which I see from the map is some distance into the hills from Hastings.  We occasionally visited them and I have memories of turkeys running around on the drive.  One year we were given a turkey and another a goose.  The birds were put into a cool store for some considerable time and then we collected them just before Christmas.  I have distinct memories of what I assume is the goose.  This must have been 1951, the year when I was in hospital and only discharged on Christmas Eve.  My father went and collected the bird, only to find that it had not been plucked.  So my memory is of him plucking it by the light of a Tilley (hurricane) lamp on Christmas Eve.  He fixed it to the upright of the trellis that we grew our runner beans up.  This was just outside our bedroom window and I can remember seeing the feathers blowing around!

I cannot remember eating Christmas pudding in Hastings and suspect we usually ate something like jelly and ice cream rather than a hot pudding.   I think it is possible that our Hoadley grandmother and aunt had Christmas dinner with us some years but sometimes they were away.  This is because the rest of the Hoadley family spent Christmas at Taupo and I can remember the first time I went there I learnt about threepenny pieces in the pudding as my aunt always made sure there was one in the pudding.  We had Christmas cake but no mince pies until we moved to Wellington.  In those days people in New Zealand ate the same heavy winter meal as people in Britain.  It was always too heavy for the time of year and we children used to get very full indeed.  I can remember running in the street in Wellington between the meat and the pudding courses in order to create enough room in our stomachs for the second course.

Christmas cake: We definitely had a Christmas cake.  This was made to a recipe from someone in Wellington, Mrs Rees-Jones, who gave the recipe to my maternal grandmother years before I was born.  At some point Margaret (my sister) and I were given responsibility for the Christmas cake (me) and the Christmas pudding (her).   Obviously our mother was in overall charge but I have strong memories of the ‘making’ of these two dishes and these memories definitely start in Hastings.  In the 1950s there were no packs of dried fruit as there are now so all the raisins, currants etc. had to be cleaned.  We would weigh them out, then put them in a clean tea towel, sprinkle it with flour and then rub to remove the stalks and the Australian dirt!  Candied peel came in large pieces so that all had to be cut up fine, too.  The pieces of peel were halves of lemons and quarters of oranges and the insides of the fruit still had candied sugar in them.  This was delicious to eat.  The main utensil for mixing was the preserving pan.  The eggs generally curdled as they were added but nobody worried.  Scraping the bowl was part of the ritual.  Initially my father got the bowl and we children had to make do with the spoon but as we got older we were allowed to share the scrapings in the bowl between the three of us.  My mother used to mark it into thirds before we began.  I cannot remember icing the cake and think we used bought icing for some years.


I do not remember ever having a Christmas tree in Hastings.  We did not get a lot of presents but received them from parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles plus one great-aunt.  Margaret and Pip also got presents from their godparents but as my godparents happened to be my aunt and uncle I did not get an extra two.  We had stockings at the end of the bed.  These were ones my mother had discarded, not fancy things from a shop.  The smaller presents were inside the stockings along with the regulation orange (I never ate oranges after my 1951 hospital stay so this was a bit wasted on me) and I seem to think one or two nuts.  However, there were usually one or two larger presents that would not fit in the stocking so were just piled up beside it.  The ‘main’ present came from Father Christmas (our parents) and we got expensive presents from our maternal grandparents.  However, these were generally very useful things and I can remember getting a rubber pillow when I was about five and then a rubber mattress the following year.  This was to help with my hay fever (rhinitis) which was bad.  Books were a popular gift but the most important presents were the ones that Father Christmas paid for.  One year in Hastings Margaret and I woke up to find strings stretching from our beds right through the house to the dining room where these really good presents were.  They were dolls with beds.  Both of the dolls had belonged to our mother and she had made wonderful beds for them.  My doll (which I promptly rechristened ‘Shirley’) had a beautiful china head.  She had been given a new wig before I got her.  Her bed was a proper basinet like babies had.  My mother had made the bedding which was pink satin with white organdie overlay.  My grandmother had made her a new ‘layette’ of knitted clothes.  Margaret had inherited my mother’s second-best doll.  This she named Frances but Margaret could not love her because she was bald so the next year she was given a 1950s doll.  Frances came in a green wooden cot. 

This was our Christmas 1952 photo.  As you can see, Margaret does not look very happy even though she now has her modern doll.  She says this was because it did not have hair.  When we moved to Wellington in 1953 I had to go on my own by Newmans bus (coach) so I took my doll with me and it sat on my lap.  Its eyelids dropped out!  They were never replaced but I kept the doll forever and have now passed it to Margaret for her grand-daughters.


Although we did not have a tree in Hastings we still had Christmas decorations.  The best of these were the two ‘paintings’ which Dad made.  One was of the nativity stable and the other of the Bethlehem. skyline.  They were silhouettes cut out of heavy black paper and I think silver foil was involved.  The base layer was coloured heavy weight paper; one red and the other blue as I remember. They were very impressive.  We also made lots of paper chains from folded crepe paper.  These were then hung across the room. 
We had one special decoration which I still have. 

 This was a wooden Father Christmas made by someone in Havelock North.  It has a beard made of fur.   I think the maker was Swiss, but he may well have been a European refugee from one of the formerly Nazi countries.  I can remember buying this decoration when we were living in Hastings.  It became a tradition to have it on the dining table and every year it still comes out and sits in the dining room until Epiphany.  I ‘inherited’ it as the eldest but when my parents came to England in the early 1970s they bought two more, one each for Margaret and Pip.  Theirs were slightly smaller.

When we moved to Wellington in 1953 we had our first Christmas tree.  We were living with my grandparents while we waited for the house purchase to go through.  Not for us a tree from a shop, though.  My father took Margaret and me on one of his ‘surprise walks’ to fetch this one.  We took the bus (it may even have been a tram) to Lyall Bay.  Then we went for a walk on the hills at the western end of the beach.  We knew this area quite well but my father really knew it because it was where the ‘forts’ had been during the War and he had been stationed there.  I do not know if he had planned to find a tree, probably not, but the hills were covered with self-sown pine trees.  They were very small so it was quite a simple matter to lever one out of the ground (I cannot remember our having any tools with us).  We then had to carry it back to Kelburn on the bus/tram and I assume take it up in the cable car.  My main memory of this trip though, is of the hay fever that my father and I got.  It was the height of the lupin flowering season and we were both very allergic to it.  I do not think I knew that I was allergic to lupin until I began sneezing.  We used every handkerchief we had on us including Margaret’s.  Even writing about it now makes my nose itch.


We used to dress up as if in a nativity play and sing carols.  At some point I was given a good book of carol music and we used this.  My mother played the piano and we sang. 

Our first Wellington Christmas in 1953 was also memorable because of the Tangiwai rail disaster.  As people who visited Taupo we knew where Ruapehu was but nothing about ‘the other side’ of the mountain.  The disaster happened on Christmas Eve when the bridge at Tangiwai was washed away from under the main train service from Wellington to Auckland.  It was the worst rail disaster in New Zealand history.  I can remember all the adults feeling very sad and disturbed and we children not being sure how we were supposed to behave given it was Christmas Day.  As I remember it, it was a very wet day.  After lunch Margaret and I took our dolls for a walk to the Glen.  This was a sunken area just opposite my grandparents’ house.  Our dolls wore their new rain gear which had been a Christmas present.  We had to descend a lot of steps to reach the Glen and I am sure we did not take any dolls’ prams so we must have had to take great care carrying them, given that mine had a china face.
After Christmas dinner we would generally have family photos taken in the garden.  The one above was taken in Hastings in 1952.  Then we would play with our new toys.


The main event on Christmas Day was attending the eleven o’clock service of matins.  I cannot remember it but I was not allowed to forget that when I was three I loudly sang ‘While shepherds watched’ in a silent part of the service.  I seem to remember that in Hastings Mum stayed home to cook the Christmas dinner and look after the baby and that I went to church with my father, aunt and grandmother.  Once in Wellington we would go to church at St Pauls Cathedral where my grandparents even ‘had’ a pew.  This was second from the front on the right-hand side and whenever there was a party present from Government House we would have to sit elsewhere.  There were bench seats with incredibly scratchy cushions.  People on the vestry had allocated pews which is why we had this privilege.

From 1954 on we had Christmas in at out house in Karori. Our grandparents came to lunch and also, from 1955, my father’s cousin Joan who was unmarried and had returned to NZ after twenty years living in London.  At some point we started eating Christmas dinner in the evening.  We began to have three courses, the starter being halves of grapefruit infused with sherry, flashed under the grill and then decorated with a glace cherry.  My grandmother had been brought up as a teetotal Methodist and I will always remember how one year, when I was much older, my father telling me that I must remove the sherry bottle from where it was on top of the fridge in case she saw it!

Friday, 5 January 2018

New look blog

I have spent most of January so far trying to set up a second blog.  This is because I can no longer sew so I have decided to write about other subjects.  You do not want to know about the problems I have had with first, trying to set up a second blogger blog and then a wordpress one.  In the end I have decided to do what my husband initially suggested which is to 'tweak' reensstitcher.  I know I did this once before and that this revamp is much more major but it is much easier to use a template you are already familiar with and blogger tells me that if I want to have two blogs I need two Google/g-mail accounts which seems a step too far.  So, as you can see I have already changed the header to a photo of Te Mata peak.  This was the first mountain I was aware of in my early childhood. 

I already have a lot of material about my early life in New Zealand saved as Word documents so I can simply copy and paste.  However, some of the material will have to be split up as it is too long for a post.  Part of my target audience for the new look blog is my extended family and old friends,  I also have a problem with photos because of having lost most of mine in a house fire in 1999.  I am very sensitive to copyright issues but will try to use published images where they seem safe.  I follow a wonderful Facebook group with photos of Old Wellington, for example, but whether I can access any of the photos is anybody's guess.   And I will also be altering my list of links because there are different websites for my new subjects.  I know a lot of people now access my blog from Facebook but many of my friends are not Facebook users.

So Happy New Year to you all and happy reading.