Archive for the ‘Family Stories’ Category

Fleming Street

What I remember most about the house at 5 Fleming Street, Onehunga, is that it was so small.  It was tiny compared to the large bungalow we’d lived in in Christchurch.  The house was cheap, but it took all the money my mother could afford.  On the day the purchase was settled she took me out of school so I could empty my meagre Post Office Savings account to augment the cash she’d managed to scrape together.  This was the first home my mother had owned.  Previously the family had always lived in rented accommodation, the house in Christchurch having been rented for at least fifteen years.

The walls at Fleming Street were made of fibrolite, and the situation was on the edge of an industrial area.  There was just one bedroom which we shared, as we’d always shared in the six years since my father died.  There was a hedge at one side and my mother planted sweet peas in front of it.  When these flowered I was suddenly assailed by hay fever, something I’d never experienced before.

House at 5 Fleming Street. Note Sandy the cat in the letter box

Soon after we moved in it was the long summer holiday and I was left mainly to my own devices while mother worked.  In early January we flew back to Christchurch for my brother’s wedding, and I stayed there with friends for a few weeks.

I was glad to avail myself of the Onehunga Carnegie Library and remember discovering books by Janet Frame at that time.  I made friends with a younger girl who lived next door and we spent time together.  Mother and I also met other neighbours, and when school started again I took the bus daily to Manukau Intermediate School near Royal Oak.  The small house was adequate for our needs and especially convenient when mother got a new job as Accountant at Rickstan, a firm just around the corner which made formica furniture.  When a new pattern of formica was launched Mother was delighted that the name she suggested for it Spindrift was chosen.  We had a radiogram and played records, but there was no television in those days and both of us spent hours reading our library books.

Each Friday afternoon we would take a bus into the city, have a meal at a cheap café, and go to a movie.  There was a movie theatre in Onehunga as well, plus a range of shops.  At Intermediate School I made a close friend, Dianne, who lived in Te Papapa, a short bus ride away.  Sometimes I would stay the night with her and we would go to the local cinema there.  This was in an old hall, where locals threw stones which clattered on the roof during the film.  My Intermediate School years were happy ones, especially Form Two where Dianne and I were the pets of our teacher Mr Bush who took us out one weekend to introduce us to his daughter who was a similar age but went to a different school.

During this time my mother negotiated to build a home in the Theosophical Society enclave at Mt St John in Epsom.  At the end of my Form Two year, encouraged by Mr Bush, I won a scholarship to St Cuthbert’s College, but while fees were covered there were extra expenses which my mother would have had difficulty meeting, so we declined.  I would have been happy to go to Onehunga High School, as many of my classmates did, but my brother, by now a secondary teacher in Christchurch, persuaded Mother that I should be enrolled at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School (EGGS), near where we would soon be living.  My application for an out-of-zone place was declined, so Mother briefly rented a flat in the EGGS zone, and I was duly enrolled.  At an early assembly the headmistress noted the roll was overfull because of people who’d unexpectedly moved into the zone, and I knew she meant me.

Our new Epsom home was being built and we went to the site at weekends.  Mother collected foil milk bottle tops which she fastened inside the walls as a form of insulation, this being in the era before pink Batts were available.  This house consisted of two units, the idea being that one would be rented out to provide Mother with an income when she retired.

It was an exciting day when we moved in, and at age 13, I finally had my own bedroom. Did you share a bedroom as a child?

The early Onehunga house
where cat ensured there was no mouse

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This book gives a thorough outline of the author’s first year as a Doctor at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. During 2022 we spent time at various Christchurch Hospitals, and I was pleased to learn more about how these institutions function from the point of view of a junior doctor, especially in Covid times. I imagine many other people would find this interesting, which may be how the author managed to secure a publishing deal – not an easy feat.

I had a baby at Middlemore Hospital over fifty years ago, and I’ve never been back since. My first daughter was born at National Women’s Hospital where there was no problem getting permission for Stephen to be present at the birth provided he attended ante-natal classes beforehand. It was a very different situation at Middlemore. I was required to have an interview with the Matron before permission was grudgingly given. In the event that was pointless because a quick birth meant Stephen didn’t get there in time. I was reminded of all this when I started to read about hospital protocols and hierarchies.

Especially in the first chapters there were many new medical terms, and Izzy writes clearly about the ethical distribution ,of resources. She tells of her frustration at needing to use RealMe and a different browser when trying to complete a death certificate. I could empathise having had similar experiences when completing Government funding applications. It was news to me that a body can’t be cremated if they have an implanted device. This would apply to Stephen who has a mechanical heart valve.

I enjoyed reading about the other side of hospital treatment. The book is well written and would be of interest to anyone who’s ever been in hospital, as well as the others who probably will be one day. For anyone considering studying medicine it would be an invaluable resource.

A Doctor’s day is long and busy
as clearly outlined here by Izzy

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Horotane Valley offers tree-ripened apricots for just a few weeks each summer. This morning we made our fourth weekly trip there to stock up on this delicious fruit.

Sundrop Apricots

Apricots are an absolute favourite of mine and they remind me of my childhood. Our house in Manchester Street had an enormous apricot tree in the garden. A swing hung from it and the branches were good to climb. In January we would pick huge amounts of fruit and my mother would bottle them and make apricot jam. One year in the 1950s my brother spent six summer weeks in Taieri, doing his Compulsory Military Training and learning to fly a Tiger Moth. Mother, not wanting him to miss the harvest, packed a wooden crate with apricots and freighted it down to him by rail. My brother told me years later that this had been unnecessary as he was being fed five course dinners every night in the Officers’ Mess.

In 1991 I planted an apricot tree in the Cottage garden, but sadly it has never had more than a few fruit. In 2001 I planted another, called Aprigold, but the fruit eventually turned out to be Golden Queen peaches.

Apricots are high in Vitamin A, and were eaten by astronauts on the Apollo Moon Mission.

According to legend, the apricot tree is the only tree that Noah brought from the Ark, to plant in the new soil and grow it for the people. The Flood destroyed many fruit trees, but the apricot survived.

Due to its bright, orange color, the apricot represents optimism and hope for the future. It’s also a symbol of confidence, joyfulness, courage, and abundance.

I doubt that any would dispute
this is a most delicious fruit

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Milk stout was given on prescription to both Stephen’s Aunt and his Grandfather in England in the early 1950s. It’s not surprising that he grew up considering stout to be an excellent tonic. Prior to the earthquakes he was a regular at Bailies Bar in the Square and enjoyed their Guinness stout. Later we went occasionally to Cassels Bar in Madras Street where we had pizza, and Stephen sampled their milk stout. I’ve never been a beer drinker and always chose cider or wine.

Feeling the need of building up after his recent operation, Stephen decided a daily bottle of milk stout was just what the doctor could have ordered. Cassels was his choice, and we were delighted to read in this morning’s Press that this has again been judged in London as being the best in the world. Alasdair Cassels’ dream that his beer may one day be as synonymous with Christchurch as Guinness is with Dublin may yet come true.

This local beer was judged the best
outclassing Guinness and the rest

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Nostalgia was the subject for this week’s poetry meeting. I didn’t feel particularly inspired, despite it being National Poetry Day, and I chose to write a Fibonacci poem – always an easy fallback for me. This one is about a wall clock. It was hard to get a clear photo because of the light reflected from the window behind.

Time goes by

on the
kitchen wall
is a memento
of my late mother who had it
proudly on her kitchen wall in the nineteen-sixties
like me she wound it every week
with a metal key
still it ticks
just like

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Community Energy Action did a full energy check of our home. This was very thorough and included checking shower pressure, hot water temperature, ventilation, and lighting. As a priority they identified the need to top up our 30-year-old ceiling insulation, and yesterday two young men arrived with a load of pink Batts which they installed.

Because we are older and on a limited income this service was free under the Government’s Warmer Kiwi Homes programme.

All this reminded me of an event in the 1970s when we were living in Auckland. We went to the Easter Show and one exhibit had a competition to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. The prize was a houseful of pink Batts. Later a woman phoned to say that the prize had been won by our younger daughter, eight years old at the time. I expressed our gratitude and remarked that the daughter would probably have preferred to get the jar of jelly beans.

The Batts were duly delivered, accompanied by jelly beans, and we were delighted to have this free insulation for our old villa. Today it kind of feels like we’ve won the competition again.

It’s great to have the extra Batts
to help our power usage stat’s

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The subject of today’s talk was “DNA testing for Family History” and the speaker was Fiona Brooker, founder and director of Memories in Time.

There are four main companies offering DNA testing for genealogy, and Ancestry DNA has the largest database of 20 million. I had my DNA tested by them a couple of years ago, mainly because I was interested to find my ethnicity. This changes slightly as the database is updated, and Ancestry sends me an update at least once a year.

My DNA test kit

I learned to day that it’s possible to transfer your Ancestry DNA results to other databases, e.g. My Heritage DNA or Family Tree DNA, and upload results from other people’s tests. These databases each have different reference panels which may give different results. Interestingly siblings may have different ethnicities because they have inherited different genes.

Once your DNA is registered you will be advised of matches, and the closeness of these depends on how many centimorgans (cM) are shared. If you want to know more about centimorgans and the relationships they indicate there is information at the Shared cM Project, facilitated by Blaine Bettinger. When you get a match and there is a family tree available it’s good to seek the most recent common ancestor. To see this information you may need to pay a subscription to Ancestry, although some aspects are available through membership of Christchurch City Libraries.

New matches can solve family tree mysteries, but beware there’s always the possibility of NPE – Not the Parent Expected. On Facebook there are groups of people who have discovered through DNA that their father is not their father which can obviously be distressing. Sperm donation, which in the past was supposed to be anonymous, may be revealed through DNA.

I was pleased when my DNA matches alerted me to the fact I had a half-brother I hadn’t known about, but not everyone may welcome such news. It’s good to arrange to have close relations tested, especially those who are one generation back, but you need to consider the ethics of this, and ensure you have informed consent. DNA can be used to identify criminals, but Ancestry does not allow requests for information from law enforcement agencies. Sharing of medical information is problematic because the data could be used by insurance companies.

For keen genealogists DNA adds to the toolbox, but it is only one tool among many. Fiona, who is an enthusiastic advocate for genealogy, stressed that if you’ve had your DNA done you should leave the results to someone in your will, passing on the ability to login and access information.

There’s lots of scope with DNA
but it may take you just part-way

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Which War?

Writing to an older cousin I mentioned the war, confident that he would know I was referring to World War II. For us Baby Boomers born soon after the end of that war it will always be The War. It’s the war our parents were familiar with. My mother-in-law in particular spoke often of her experiences in London during the Blitz. My generation grew up during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but those never gained the same resonance or the same wholehearted support.

David Hill wrote an essay this week pointing out that Armistice Day, marked at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was about celebrating peace, whereas Anzac Day can appear to be more about glorifying war. Armistice Day is unknown to many of a younger generation in Aotearoa. A couple of years ago I was making a medical appointment and the date set was 11 November. I remarked to the young receptionist that that would be Armistice Day. She replied that the date was her birthday, but she’d never heard of Armistice Day.

In news reports, especially from Britain the war in Ukraine is becoming The War. At this morning’s Auckland Dawn Service the Ukraine flag flew over the War Memorial Museum at the request of the R.S.A. For many in Aotearoa there is more feeling of connection with this conflict than with past ones in Asian countries, and there is fear as to how it may escalate. Will this be the defining war of the future?

We wonder if war in Ukraine
will involve all the world again

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Avian Adoption

For my birthday I’ve been given symbolic adoption of a bird. Not just any bird, but a kākāpō. “My” bird is Marama, one of only 201 of the critically endangered species alive today. She was hatched on Codfish Island on 6 March 2002 and is the smallest adult in the population

It occurs to me that as female kākāpō start breeding around six years of age, she may have children. Maybe I’m a kākāpō grandmother! Kākāpō are possibly one of the longest-lived birds with a life expectancy of over 90 years. Marama will probably outlive me.

Years ago I adopted a Powelliphanta snail, a giant invertebrate native to Aotearoa, ranked as being of national conservation concern. I named my snail Serena, giving her a female name despite these snails being hermaphrodites. In 2005 I was concerned when she needed to be moved because of mining in her habitat on the Stockton Plateau of the West Coast. I’ve since lost track of her and don’t know how she fared after being transferred.

In the 1970s our family adopted a tiny tortoise that lived at Auckland Zoo. Not long afterwards we read in the Herald that tiny tortoises had been kidnapped from the zoo, and wondered if ours had suffered a sad fate.

I just hope Marama lives a long and peaceful life without stressful disruption.

I hope that she will prove to be
a bird of great longevity

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Tribute to Tennyson

Who is the first artist you can remember engaging with? This is a question we were asked in our writing class. I remember an old 78 record of Doris Day singing The Black Hills of Dakota which I loved, but the artist I chose to write about was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His The Lady of Shalott has been a lifelong favourite, and I love his rhythm and rhymes. We later had an L.P. record of Richard Burton reading Tennyson’s poetry which introduced me to The Lotus-eaters and others.

Some years ago I was browsing at Shand’s Emporium in Hereford Street. They had a box of books in front of the shop and I found a short illustrated biography of Tennyson, published in 1909, which I bought for five dollars.

Biography of Tennyson

Today is exactly sixteen years since my mother died. During her last hours I sat and read Tennyson’s poetry to her, knowing that she loved it too, and being aware that hearing is the last of the senses to fail.

I liked to think his rhythmic word
could be the last one that she heard

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