Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Players Punished

It was cold outside so we four friends unlawfully decided to stay in the classroom at lunchtime and play a card game, not expecting a teacher to come by. Of course one did and told us we should be out in the fresh air no matter what the weather.

Ignoring our pleas she ushered us all outside and ordered us to spend the wintry hour pulling up weeds from the school garden. The smell of onion weed was overwhelming and lingers with me still, a powerful reminder of a day in my mis-spent youth. Do you remember any early punishments?

Onion weed

Obliged to pull up onion weed
the punishment for our misdeed

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Memories of Measles

Aged eight I was isolated in my bedroom and forbidden to leave. Meals were brought to me and a chamber pot under the bed was essential. Three weeks in bed was what the doctor ordered, and that included Christmas. Luckily my room was large enough that it was possible for the Christmas tree to be set up just inside the door. The spots were itchy and my mother soothed them with cool water and calamine lotion. None of your common German measles for me. Oh no, mine were the more patriotic English ones. I had books and my crystal set radio, and it was possible to open the window, but I remember my indignation when my mother abandoned me at New Year to go to a long-planned conference. I was left in the tender care of my brother and the housekeeper. Do you remember having measles?

I felt a strong resentment – lots
left all alone with just my spots

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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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Best Beds

My childhood bed was made of iron.  My parents ran a Convalescent Home, and all our beds were hospital issue, high, and painted lettuce green.  I could hang upside down off the end of my bed, as though it was monkey bars.  I never worried about something being under my bed because it was so high up you could see clearly beneath it.   If a friend came to stay a mattress would be put on the floor underneath for them to sleep on.

From the age of five, when my father died, I shared a bedroom with my mother.  She used to come to bed late when I was asleep.  I don’t remember being read to at night, but I do my mother telling me stories she’d made up.  These often featured Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor.

When Stephen and I moved to our small Christchurch cottage in 1987 we had a double bed which seemed enough for a small bedroom.  Later we got cupboards built in so we no longer needed free standing dressing tables.  After the earthquakes we decided we could fit in a queen size bed and relished the extra sleeping space.  Around this time we adopted a cat who was an earthquake refugee, and his previous owner used to joke that we’d bought a bigger bed to accommodate the cat.

We now have a different cat who has white hair with silver streaks.  When he sleeps on the pillow next to my head Stephen has been known to suggest that it’s hard to tell us apart.  I’m often awake in the wee small hours, so always have a radio beside the bed.  I listen with headphones so as not to disturb Stephen, and especially enjoy programmes from BBC World Service.

I used to think I would like to have a four-poster bed with drapes – not really practical in a small cottage.  In 2013 I finally slept in a four-poster.  This was in Bridport in the U.K.  The reality was fun, but I realised I no longer hankered for a four-poster.  The bed we have now suits us well and I don’t expect to change it.  It’s likely it will always be shared with a cat. 

I’ve sometimes thought it might be good to have a television on the bedroom wall so I could watch programmes in bed.  We once stayed in a luxurious hotel where there was a television in the bathroom, but I think that’s a bit much!  All I really need is a good bed light so I can read a book before I go to sleep.

Ruth in a four-poster bed at Bridport

I’m quite contented with my bed
a cosy place to lay my head

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Tables turned?

“The rimu dining table has been in George’s family for more than 30 years” said the article in the Weekend. I wondered why this fact was considered noteworthy. Our rimu dining table has also been in our family for over 30 years as we bought it soon after we moved here in 1986. By then the family living “at home” was reduced to just the two of us, but we considered a good-sized table essential for entertaining.

Our dining table in Auckland was a rectangular oak one, with extensions, useful for the larger gatherings that are inevitable when there are teenagers in the family. It had been given to us by a family friend, together with a matching oak sideboard and china cabinet. I’d never been fond of any of these and was happy to bid them farewell when we moved south. My longing had always been for an oval table, and I was delighted to find one in rimu, with six upholstered dining chairs. With no awkward corners or legs a couple of extra chairs can always be squeezed in if required.

Our rimu dining table

As there are just two of us we usually dine at one end of the table, and the other end provides a useful space for Stephen’s laptop. I use a p.c. and am lucky enough to have a proper desk in a separate room. Our current dining table, having served us well for 36 years, will probably outlast us. Do other people change their dining tables frequently?

When everything is said and done
for dining table – need just one

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Rough Repairs

I have never been a dressmaker. My mother was, which is possibly why I never quite got there. We had sewing lessons at primary and intermediate school, but none at secondary school. My memories of intermediate school sewing are that we each had to make shortie pyjamas and a brunch coat, and I suspect I had Mother’s help with these when I took them home to work on. At the end of the year we were obliged to model them in a fashion parade on the asphalt playground. The weather was hot, I hadn’t thought to take slippers, and my bare feet were very uncomfortable.

When the daughters were pre-schoolers I sometimes sewed for them, and was particularly proud of making denim pinafores with gingham blouses. My mother provided many other home-sewn garments for them. In the 1970s cheap clothing from China (which we knew had been made by women in poor working conditions) became available, and I could buy a dress as cheaply as material, with no need for the anguish that might accompany my sewing efforts. I did continue to produce knitted garments.

Daughters in knitted ponchos

This week I was enticed to buy a pair of purple jeans at the City Mission Op Shop in Rangiora for just $4. They were a perfect fit for my large size, but the legs were far too long, and the hems had been undone, probably by someone who planned to shorten them then thought better of it. One of my friends offered to lend me a sewing machine to make the necessary adjustments, but I declined, saying I wouldn’t know how to use a modern machine and felt confident I could do the necessary repairs by hand.

I unearthed some old sewing scissors which are okay for cutting material but they struggled with the jeans’ double seams. Having cut a good three inches off each leg (I’ve not yet gone fully metric), I managed with difficulty to pin and iron a new length. When I put the jeans on and asked Stephen to judge whether the legs were even (let alone straight) we agreed one leg was slightly too long, so that was un-pinned, re-pinned, and re-ironed. It was now time to sew the hems. In my sewing drawer there was mauve cotton and dark purple cotton, neither quite matching the jeans, but I decided the dark purple would do.

Ziggy inspecting the newly hemmed jeans

This whole project took considerable time, but was worth while. Now I just have to give them a good wash and find some space in the wardrobe. If you see me out and about in purple jeans I know you’ll be too polite to comment if the hems are not perfect.

Dressmaking’s really not my thing
but simple projects I can wing

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Emerging Amazon

Remember something that happened for the first time. This was the prompt for our creative writing class, and I remembered the first (and only) time I went abseiling. It was November 1992 and I enrolled in an Emerging Amazon course for women run by Ali Watersong. We all met on the Friday evening when Ali led a psychodrama session where we looked at what we were afraid of and talked to the cliff face.

On the Saturday morning we drove to Castle Rock in the Port Hills, were fitted with harnesses and hard hats, and taught techniques and safety procedures. Then we climbed up the rock – I remember feeling scared but determined. I also felt a connection with my father who died when I was very young, and who was a keen climber.

The weather was fine, the sky clear, and the view from the top breathtaking. I could watch other women bravely stepping off and launching themselves down, but it took time for me to gather my courage and follow them.

Ruth abseiling

With Ali’s support I was able to do it, and gained immense satisfaction. Someone even took a photo which I have treasured. There was a feeling of sisterhood within the group. The experience definitely took me outside my comfort zone and gave me a sense of achievement, but I was not tempted to repeat it. I wonder how many of my blog readers have abseiled?

I needed courage to abseil
today I would require guard rail

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Monopoly Memories

A quiz question in Thursday’s Press was In which classic board game might you be instructed with “Doctor’s fee. Pay £50”? I knew the answer had to be Monopoly, but I had no memory of this Community Chest card. I unearthed my Monopoly set which is more than 60 years old and, sure enough, there it was.

Vintage Monopoly set

It must be at least 30 years, probably 40, since I’ve played Monopoly, and I’m aware that other board games have since become popular. I wonder whether the card about the Doctor’s fee may pre-date the U.K’s NHS? In my Monopoly box I discovered cards marked £1,000 and £5,000 so we must have had games where large sums were accumulated. Does anyone play Monopoly these days? Maybe at camping grounds in wet weather?

The other board game I loved and have played more recently is Scrabble. Sadly the friend I used to play with died several years ago. These days I play Wordscraper, an online version, with four different friends, and I fear that doing this, with an online dictionary, may have spoiled me for the “real” game.

While board games are not currently part of my social life, I regularly enjoy playing cards (500 and Canasta) with friends, and I also love my daily Wordle and the occasional jigsaw. What games do you play?

Monopoly’s gone by the board
and Scrabble now is online scored

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The dining room of Warner’s Hotel in Cathedral Square was full of smartly dressed people, with many civic dignitaries present on an evening in 2001. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of a dinner held in honour of Captain Robert Falcon Scott before his epoch-making voyage of discovery to the Antarctic. The original menu from 100 years before had been re-created, and there were many courses. The only one I now remember was jugged hare.

Scott married his wife Kathleen in 1908, so she would not have been at that original dinner, although she was in New Zealand for his 1910 expedition. A book “Widows of the Ice: the Women that Scott’s Antarctic Expedition left behind” by Anne Fletcher , dealing with Scott’s ultimately doomed second expedition, was published this year. As well as Kathleen, the book features Oriana Wilson and Lois Evans, and tells how they came from different backgrounds and how they dealt with the intrusive publicity when the tragic outcome of the expedition eventually became known.

At our dinner the guest of honour was Sir Edmund Hillary. After the meal many people brought $5 notes and asked him to sign them because the note bears his portrait. I didn’t do this, it seemed rude to me – a bit like the intrusions journalists had made into the lives of the widows of the ice.

A dinner to commemorate
the men who later met sad fate

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Error at Epsom

Epsom Girl’s Grammar School (EGGS), my alma mater, is in the news today, because some kōiwi/ human bones were discovered there. I gather the bones were actually a skeleton once used in science classes. I took science in the 3rd and 4th forms, but have no memory of any skeleton. Apart from the unpleasant task of dissecting a cow’s eye, the thing I remember from science classes is a teacher saying “Girls, you should never resist the urge to purge.” In the 5th and 6th forms science was not offered to those of us who were taking Latin. I did continue with maths, and remember when we studied trigonometry, the teacher would sometimes say that the girls who were taking science would understand a particular concept, with the implication that those taking Latin wouldn’t, and I didn’t.

When I sought an illustration for this blog post I felt sure I’ve kept a School Magazine from the early 1960s, but have no idea where it is. What I could easily locate was my third form maths prize.

Plate from my only school prize

The incident that has put EGGS in the news today is the fact that two Māori pupils were asked to perform a karakia for the newly discovered bones, and their parents have pointed out that this was not acceptable within tikanga.

When my mother died in 1995 I knew it would be incorrect to put her ashes in the local river, and instead I scattered them in my garden and mixed them with the soil. I later became involved with Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, and was surprised to find how open and generous they were, compared with Māori activists I’d previously met in Auckland. At a tikanga class I learned that having human ashes scattered in the garden meant it would be unsafe for any pregnant Māori woman to enter our property. I eventually discussed this with a visiting friend who has expertise in Māori spirituality and he performed a cleansing ritual so any danger was removed.

It seems that current leaders at EGGS have not had the privilege of much tikanga instruction. In my day the school population was almost entirely Pākehā, but surely that will have changed by now. After this incident they will be keen for more cultural education.

You don’t know what you do not know
best to hold back and take things slow

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