Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Pania and Hinemoa

Our final two cats were the two girls we got when Iti died.  It was now 2009 and we had two problems finding a breeder.   The first was that we had moved to Cornwall and knew no breeders down here.  The second was that the recession had hit so a lot of breeders had stopped breeding.  We did not want to be travelling miles to find cats but were uncertain how to go about finding breeders.  After spending some time looking at magazines and websites, I suddenly remembered that when we first moved down at the beginning of 2006 I was still doing some work in London.  This meant finding someone who would cat-mind for us.  This person no longer did cat-minding but I then remembered that she had mentioned someone who bred Siamese in St Ives so I contacted her and got the breeder’s phone number.  The breeder did not live in St Ives town but in the country nearby.   I was initially told over the phone that there was a waiting list for these kittens who had not been born at that point.  It all sounded a bit like getting your child into Eton College but we added our name to the list of hopefuls and waited for the kittens to arrive.  Interestingly by the time they were born the waiting list seemed to have more or less disappeared.

It is normal with pedigree cats to visit them when they are about six weeks old although it is not usual to let them leave their birth mother until they are about fourteen weeks old.  If they are very small they will be left with nasty habits and this was certainly true of Tiki whom we got at six weeks and who was always ‘making butter’ on our knees.  When Pania and Hinemoa were six weeks old we went to meet them and their siblings.

They lived on a farm and there was a huge plastic container where they could almost all sleep and play.  The cat had had six kittens rather than the five that were expected, though, so the tiniest (Hinemoa) seemed be a bit out in the cold. The breeder had been given a cat ‘igloo’ and this is where she appeared to stay.  We just wanted one girl but when we got there the breeder told us about the ‘extra’ kitten and said we had twenty-four hours to decide if we wanted one or both of them.  The smallest one struck me as looking as though one puff of wind would blow her away so my inclination was to take the slightly bigger one.   We came home and consulted several people about taking two rather than one.  The general advice was that if we took both of them they could play together and did not need to involve Nui in their games unless he wanted to join in.  This turned out to be very true although he and the tiny one (Hinemoa) bonded particularly closely.

We therefore agreed in principle to take two kittens.  Now it was back to naming them and I was beginning to run out of Maori names, other than names of trees.  Then I remembered that we now lived in a digital age so we were able to consult lists of Maori girls’ names on-line.  As a result we chose Pania for the bigger one and Hinemoa for the little one.  The name Pania had associations for me because she was a mythical Maori mermaid associated with Hawkes Bay where we lived when I was little.  There is a bronze statue of her on Napier seafront.  Hinemoa was a sort of Maori Juliet who is famous for swimming across Lake Rotorua in pursuit of her lover.  Problem over and names sorted.

These cats have led rather different lives from our others as they have never had to travel.   We maintained the rule of house cats so they could only go out in the garden when there was someone to keep an eye on them.  This did not stop Pania being quite adventurous and climbing up the wall at the back of the garden so that she got into the neighbour’s garden and the one next to that.  Hinemoa has never shown the slightest inclination to wander.   On summer evenings they were allowed to wander in the yard because the gates (which are six foot high) were closed and they really enjoyed going into the studio and wandering around among my textile things.  During the day they would sleep in 'doughnuts' in the conservatory or next to the radiator in my bedroom.  At night they used to both sleep with me.  All  three used to snuggle up and although we were careful about introducing Nui to them, they have always been a very close family!

 Nui finally died the day before his thirteenth birthday.  We were able to have a ‘home death’ which was wonderful although neither Pania nor my husband could bear to be in the room.  Hine and I sat on the sofa with Nui next to us.

Writing about it these cats seem to have had their share of illnesses.  Pania developed feline asthma.  There was one beneficial effect of this: my husband gave up smoking in the house.  Then she ended up in hospital on a drip.  We were able to visit her every day because the vet is so near and she did come home again.

Things changed in 2016 when I ended up in hospital and my husband had to take sole responsibility for them.  He started feeding them upstairs in the conservatory and they began to sleep with him.  Then while I was in hospital for the second time, Pania died.  She collapsed and died quite quickly.  I do not know the details of her final illness but I thought she had been fading away over the previous few months.  Her ashes are still waiting to join those of Nui and Iti in the garden.

In February 2017 Hinemoa managed to slip a disc.  This was disastrous as the same day I had had a nasty fall so we were both immobile.  I phoned the vet as the surgery is only five minutes’ drive from us and they sent someone to collect her.  She was kept there as an in-patient for several days and threatening noises were made about taking her to Exeter for an X-ray.  Fortunately this never happened but she was then sent home on ‘cage rest’.  We were lent a large cage by the vet but it was not big enough for her to have her cat litter and food in.  We put her in the conservatory which is very near my husband's bedroom so he found himself getting up several times a night to check she did not need anything.  During the day we let her sleep in his bed.  She also howled a lot in a very Siamese manner.  I would not want to go through that experience again!

Hinemoa has adjusted well to being an ‘only’ cat although she was always used to having someone to play and sleep with.  She still eats upstairs and spends a vast amount of time in my husband's bed but sits on my knee while we watch TV.  She also enjoys a game with him every evening and is very fond of the ‘strings’ she plays with at this time.  This is the only game she is allowed and she is no longer allowed in the airing cupboard in case she tries to jump out.  As she is now a middle-aged cat she does not need to run around so much although in the summer she still likes to go in the garden when my husband is there to bring her in again.  I have explained to him that if anything happens to him she will have to go into a cattery short-term and would have to be re-homed as I cannot look after her at all.  For example as a Siamese she throws up about once a week and I cannot bend down to pick up the vomit aand I cannot feed her upstairs.  We have realised there will be no more cats but Hinemoa could outlive us so we have made arrangements for looking after her and told our immediate friends and family.

Here is a recent photo of her on her beloved doughnut in the conservatory.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

My earliest memories: Havelock North

I was born in Wellington at 12.10 am on 22 April 1945.  My mother was obviously slightly miffed that I missed Princess Elizabeth’s birthday by ten minutes.  She said that it was because the obstetrician was playing bridge and told them to ‘hold the birth’ so he could finish the game!  I was born in a maternity home in Willis Street in the centre of the city.  It was an old house and still existed in my childhood.  Another girl in my class at Marsden was born there two days later.
It was an exciting time for the end of the War and Mum used to say that she and all the other mothers would listen eagerly to the news, waiting for Berlin to fall.  Many of these women, including my mother, had husbands who were serving in the forces.  My father was in England but we were told that he was about to leave for Europe and that as the truck he was in left the air force base, someone chased it down the drive to deliver the telegram saying I had been born!  My sister Margaret has written up a lot of letters about my father’s time in Europe but unfortunately there is a gap for this period.

After the customary fortnight, or thereabouts, in the maternity home, my grandfather took my mother and me home to their house in Kelburn.  We went in a large taxi belonging to someone called Reid.  I lived there until the end of 1945 when my father finally returned from Europe.  It was a big house and I know my mother had a Karitane nurse (a trained nursery nurse). I think she probably stayed for a month.  I never met this woman until my mother went into the local old people’s home in 2002.  On my first visit to her, my mother proudly took me to visit her as she was also a resident there.

We now know that my father was attached to an RAF unit and that meant that he was not discharged as soon as he wanted to be.  He served in Germany and France in 1945 and, so we were told as children, spent a lot of time driving lorries round Europe.  His letters make very little mention of these trips.  The letters made me realise that he must have passed long lines of refugees on the roads as I know he drove all over Germany.  These are the letters he sent to his parents and I know one self-censors letter to one’s parents.  My father spoke more about the journey back to New Zealand.  I know he returned to England first and I can remember as children he used to tell us that on the ship on the way back from Europe he was a ‘potato peeler’ until he discovered there was a library and managed to get himself allocated to duties there.  I also know that the ship called at Colombo in what is now Sri Lanka but was then Ceylon.  There he bought a set of three elephants made of something black (ebony?) with proper tusks.  These stood on a side table in our first house and later ended up on the top of a bookcase.  At some point in this journey he also bought me a stuffed koala bear which he managed to carry in his kit bag.  He had already bought me a doll in France.  This doll was so precious that it lived in a camphorwood chest which held all the valuable things. I used to take it out occasionally and stroke it.  I knew there was a story attached to it.  He had bought it in the south of France and the person from whom he had bought it tried very hard to persuade him to also buy the ‘husband’.  Only in recent years have we uncovered the full story.  My father used to say that the seller told him it was either ‘St Anne’ or ‘ancienne’ but his French was atrocious.  It was in fact a figure from a church Christmas crib and it was probably a nineteenth century figure as it had real hair and very old clothes.  My interpretation of the story is that people were so poor at that point that they were selling anything they could.

Of course, I cannot remember anything about my time in Wellington as a baby.  What I do know is that when my father arrived home, I took one look at him and burst into tears!  A bit of me thinks this coloured our relationship for ever.  In January 1946 we moved to Hawkes Bay where my father came from.  He returned to his job in the South British Insurance Company in Napier but we lived in a bungalow in Havelock North.  

We do not know who owned this house.  It may have been my paternal grandmother as the letters Margaret has transcribed talk about the possibility of our living in a house in Napier that belonged to one of my father’s Hoadley aunts.  This did not happen and the aunt and uncle moved to Melbourne, Australia to be near their only son and his Australian wife.  I think I must have been about four when they moved as I can distinctly remember going to visit them in Napier.  The house was on one of the hills on a very steep street and I can remember being afraid the car would take off down the hill once we had got out!  I also remember going there more than once although I only have memories of getting out of the car and of the approach to the front door.

We lived in Havelock North until I was three and a half so I have clear memories of it, plus obviously memories of memories that people told me about.  The hall was decorated with a series of hunting prints and I can remember being held up to them.  I used to say something about the horses and hounds finish with ‘Alba’ which was the name of the Karitane nurse my mother had after Margaret was born.   My father essentially commuted and was out of the house all day.  My mother became very depressed (this may have been partly post-natal depression) as the house was nearly a mile outside the village on an unsealed road and, although there were neighbours, they were not very close.  

There was one neighbour who was really supportive.  This was the childless middle-aged woman who lived opposite.  We knew her as ‘Thompy’ and her husband as ‘Thompy Man’.  After Margaret was born she used to have me every Thursday morning so that my mother had a bit of time with just the baby.  I still have very clear memories of those Thursdays.  The house was a concrete Californian style house (as were many in Hawkes Bay).  It had a sunken rose garden and there was a straw doll that stood on the front verandah. I think the doll had some function in the garden.  It might have contained stakes or similar tools.  Thompy lived above the road and the house was approached by a drive up the side of a slight hill.  Our house was almost directly opposite and was below the road.  Thompy’s house was the only house on that side of the road although there were three on our side.  Like a lot of childless people in that generation, the Thompys were collectors.  I particularly remember a wonderful dolls’ house which must have lived in a scullery or similar.  I also remember sitting in the sitting room looking at ‘Old Cole’s’ annual which was an Australian publication.  There was a collection of hand-tinted postcards which probably dated from the beginning of the century.  Then there was the kaleidoscope: a wonderful tube like a small telescope which contained coloured glass.  You held it up to your eye and turned it and the coloured glass moved so that you got a succession of pictures in jewel colours.  Magic for a two year old.

Typical Havelock North bungalow - Thompy's house was bigger than this with a verandah all round

I also remember incidents from my life in Pufflett Road.  My mother used to bath Margaret in the sitting room.  Then she would tip the water out the small window next to the fireplace.  I remember that one day the cake of soap which used to be on small table, got stuck and the newspaper it was put on ‘melted’.  The mark was there for ever.  Then there was the day when Margaret tipped her dinner off her high chair table and all down the wall. 

The first year there was no garden.  My parents planted potatoes where the lawn was to go.  (This was believed to soften up the ground.)  I can remember opening the front door and being faced with lumps of earth, and I think leaves, that were as tall as me.  I also remember the flowers that grew along the side wall of the house.

My clearest memory, however, is of cooking.  This must have been the year I turned three.  It is dark and my mother and I are making ‘lemon pudding’.  I do not think my father had returned from work.  I am standing on a stool, shaking the grater to get the lemon rind out of it.  That is about all.
On wash day we had a copper that had to be heated in order to do the household washing and I can remember the room (shed?) it was in.  In the summer we hung a ‘safe’ from a tree and put the butter in it to keep it cool.  Hawkes Bay has a fairly extreme climate by NZ standards, very dry with hot summers and lots of heavy frosts in winter.  I know we did not have a fridge because my mother told me that they bought their first fridge the week they moved into the Hastings house so could not appreciate it properly.

My paternal grandparents and my aunt, their daughter, also lived in Havelock North.  My grandfather died in 1947 when I was two so I only have a couple of ‘memories of memories’ of him.  At one point my father’s brother, who lived in Auckland, brought his son, who was a year older than me, to Havelock North and I can just remember meeting him: being in a sitting room and someone telling me he was my cousin.  I can also remember being in a car beside my grandfather but cannot remember his face.  My maternal grandparents used to visit from Wellington, driving the two hundred miles as far as I can remember.
Today we would say Havelock North was a very hippy village but it was all we knew.  There was one main shop which belonged to M. Bourgeois whom I assume was French.  Gargie (my mother’s father) had served right through the First World War, at Gallipoli and on the Somme.  He was a great Francophile so he taught Margaret and me to say ‘Bonjour M. Bourgeois’ every time we went in this shop.  I know his love of France had been lifelong and that when my grandparents were first married he used to read French literature to my grandmother.  She did not understand it all as, like most women of her generation, she was not very educated. She had attended secondary school but was removed when she was found to be wandering up the street from the tram, bumping into the lamppost because she was so sure the end of the world was coming that she shut her eyes!  This was in Wellington.

The church in Havelock North was St Lukes but we were too young to go to church.  My father had boarded at Hereworth School but the headmaster beat his younger brother (who cannot have been more than seven) so my grandfather removed all three sons and sent them to St Georges preparatory school in Wanganui, a huge journey right across the north island.  My father loved it there.  I can remember that on one occasion he played cricket in Havelock North and came home with grass stains on his trousers.  It is the stains I remember.  That’s all but I seem to remember he was playing for the Hereworth School Old Boys team.

Building in the centre of the village - still there

Apart from two girls’ boarding schools at the top of our road (Woodford House and Iona College)  and Hereworth there was not much in Havelock North.  There was a primary school and a doctor and also an orphanage.  Basically the village existed to service the farming community.   It was very small and not the desirable place to live that it is today although it was popular with retired people including my grandparents.  Like much of Hawkes Bay it had been badly damaged in the Hawkes Bay earthquake in 1931 and most of the buildings were new and one-storied.  This was before the development of the wine industry and a lot of the land was fruit orchards.

View of Te Mata peak from the top of Pufflett Road
still very rural

Friday, 6 April 2018

Food shopping in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s

Over the Easter weekend our fridge-freezer died.  It is only two years old so will be replaced under warranty but, given my mobility issues, we are totally dependent on on-line shopping and keep most things in the fridge.  This episode made me remember shopping when I was a child and how much things have changed.  My husband’s comment was: ‘What did people do before there were fridges? ’ He could not remember but I certainly could so now I will share what we grew up with.

My mother said that we got our first refrigerator the week we moved into our house in Hastings and that she was not fully able to appreciate it because of getting both things at once.  In North Terrace my grandmother had a gas refrigerator with a pilot light in the bottom.  Home freezers were totally unknown.  I can remember that in Havelock North we had a meat safe which hung on a tree in the garden.  As far as I can remember everyone had something like this which was used to keep things cool.  Shopping was a totally different experience and reflected the fact that, particularly in Hawkes Bay, it could get very hot in summer. Bottles of milk used to be stood in a container of water and then put on a shady windowsill.   I think the main difference between then and now was that people expected to go shopping every day or two.  Also a lot of things were delivered.  Possibly I have more memories of how households were managed because we spent our holidays at Taupo where there was no electricity or piped water supply.  I have realised that although we were not really rural people, it was very different from city life.

First there was the milkman.  He came daily and delivered milk and cream.  There was a system of ‘milk tokens’, small pieces of metal which you bought from the milkman and put out, one for each bottle required, in the one of the bottles.  The milkman came very early and in Wellington when we went on holiday we were impressed because he had a horse and cart.  The bottles were put out at the gate in the evening and the milk appeared by breakfast time.  But I can also remember milk being delivered in a ‘billy’ can.  This was certainly what happened at Taupo and we hated the milk because it was unpasteurised and had to be boiled.  People were becoming very conscious of milk-borne diseases when I was little.  Milk was delivered to the gate because houses almost all had front gardens and you did not expect the milkman to spend time walking up the path.  By the 1960s when we lived in Wellington, the milkman sold a wider range of goods although I do not think it was like it was in Britain.  We had our bread delivered but I think it was by the baker.  It also came very early and was put in the letter box or on top of it.  In a society where everyone from school children to office workers had packed lunches it was wonderful to have fresh bread for sandwiches.  As a teenager it was my job to collect the bread from the gate and make packed lunches for four people before I went to school.

You have to remember that married women with families generally did not go out to work and I am not surprised when I begin to think about their household tasks.  In Havelock North we lived a mile out of town and I have no memory of how we received most of our food but once we moved into Hastings there were shops only a block away.  These included a baker (we had a famous story that my mother caught mumps from the baker!) who also made cakes, buns etc.  There was the butcher and the greengrocer and if you were lucky, a fishmonger but Hastings was inland and we very rarely ate fish.  I remember my mother went shopping practically every day at that point.  Later in Wellington she would still go and choose the vegetables but they would then be delivered on Friday evenings so we must have bought enough to last the week.  Groceries were generally delivered.  I can still remember my mother’s standard order because it did not vary from one week to the next.  Deliveries came in fruit boxes that the greengrocer and grocer had acquired when they bought stock from the wholesaler.  Most people had vegetable gardens and also bought direct from the market gardeners and orchardists, especially in Hawkes Bay.  You only bought what you could consume in two or three days.  I can remember my Wellington grandmother used the system of deliveries and choosing perishables.  The local grocer delivered an order given over the telephone but my grandmother used to go down into the city on the Cable Car and choose the meat and vegetables from shops there.  One result of all this was that housewives developed relationships with the shop staff.  It was also very safe which meant I was sent to do the shopping from the age of about six.  Obviously I only bought small quantities of things but I definitely went to the baker and the butcher.  I think my mother possibly phoned and ordered the meat.

The other main way to get your food was from people who had vans that were really shops.  I never knew this in Hawkes Bay except once when we had a beach holiday and various vans came round to the house.  In Wellington I knew people who used a mobile greengrocer.  As time moved on, more people drove so could get all their shopping on one trip.  My mother did not learn to drive until after I left home but in Wellington the shops were at the bottom of the street we lived in and she bought a ‘trundler’ so that she could bring the meat home by pushing it up the road.

Shopping hours were very different from in the UK.  No shops were open at weekends apart from ‘dairies’ (the equivalent of British corner shops).  Most of these were only open on Saturday mornings and there was a very restricted range of goods they were allowed to sell.  When New Zealand abandoned its very protestant shopping patterns they went straight to a continental model and I can remember being impressed on one trip back to NZ to find supermarkets open all day on Sundays.

We did, however, having Friday night shopping.  All shops stayed open until 9 pm on Friday evenings and people had adjusted to this pattern.  Friday night shopping included non-food shopping and ‘going into town’ on Friday evenings was very popular with teenagers.

I never saw or went into a supermarket until I moved to Australia in 1967. I can remember an American friend there teaching me how to use the supermarket although we were living in a university hall of residence with our meals provided so we only bought ‘extras’.  And I can remember being surprised when I arrived in Britain and found white English people working in greengrocery shops.  In New Zealand the Chinese community dominated both market gardening and the greengrocery trade and were later joined by Indians.  Europeans never worked in these places.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Cats we have had: Nui and Iti 2001 - 2009

When Maui and Rua died we realised we could not immediately get any more cats but would have to wait several months.  This was because we were both commuting to London and would not be around to feed them several times a day as kittens.  Also the week that Rua died I was told I was being made redundant.  This was because of general budgetary cuts but I had already decided that four hours a day commuting was too much after having been ill.  I was given several months’ notice of my redundancy which was to include ‘gardening leave’, i.e. some time when I was paid but did not have to work.  This meant we could settle the kittens during that time.   Of course I still needed to work and I did apply for a couple of full-time jobs but given I had had cancer and was 55 I decided it would be better to ‘retire’, take my pension and then freelance.  Because it was a redundancy I did not have any actuarial reduction to the pension but giving up the full-time job meant that I was ten years short of pension contributions.  I told myself that as I had not had any time off for motherhood, I would be in much the same position as virtually everyone I knew.  In the seventies everyone had had to stop work when they had children, had usually had a gap of several years and often a lot of part-time work before they got back into full-time employment.   It is all very different for the next generation.

It was now 2001.  We decided to get two more Siamese in the summer but had to find a breeder.  We bought various cat magazines and in the end found someone about an hour’s drive away.  This was much better than the previous occasion.  We were able to go and visit the kittens before we took them and chose the only boy in the litter and a seal point girl.  She was very tiny and I later learnt that seal points are generally the smallest in the litter.  The boy was the biggest kitten and was blonde.  

We were told he was a seal point tabby but this was not true.  He was a blue point (like his mother) tabby but he stayed very pale and never got really dark points.  Of our seven cats he was the only one who was not seal point.  Then we had to choose Maori names.  We opted for Nui for the boy and Iti for the girl.  We learnt that Nui meant ‘big’ and Iti meant ‘small’ so when they were fully grown we realised we had chosen well.   Iti appeared to have a slight eye infection when we went to collect them but we decided to risk it.  She recovered but only lived until she was eight so it is possible that there were long-term effects from this infection.

They adjusted to life in a Northamptonshire village well and by our standards were lucky to have me at home some days, although I still did work in London so there were days when they were on their own for extended hours.  We trained them onto leads which meant they could not ‘escape’.  This was important as we had no gate and although we lived on a dead-end lane it was quite busy.   We also used to play with them in the garden after dinner in the summer.  The house was built right alongside the lane so the garden was all at the back.  They used to love this summer playtime as we had a lot of cosmos and they could chase the flowers in the dusk.  We did have the usual adventures.  On one occasion we had let them into the garden on their leads on a Sunday morning.   I suddenly saw that Nui was foaming at the mouth!  It turned out that a frog had got into the border and he had found it among the flowers. 

The far end of the garden gave onto fields as did one side of it.  Nui was not averse to getting through the fence and wandering around among our neighbour’s chickens and pheasants, not to mention the cows he kept there.  We learnt that male cats will wander but not females as Iti never did this.   The first summer, we had visitors and one evening forgot to shut all the windows on the garden side.  Nui wandered off during the evening and we had great problems waiting for him to return, not least because if one cat is inside you want to shut them in but cannot easily do this without shutting the other cat out.

Because they were on leads we thought about taking them for walks.  Iti had no interest but I used to take Nui along the lane to where there was a path up to a field.  He enjoyed exploring in there but there was always the risk of another cat appearing.  The neighbours immediately opposite us had a large area behind their house that was full of rubbish.  On more than one occasion he managed to drag himself still on the lead across the road, up their drive and then begin to play among all the rubbish.  Rescues were needed and I was always a bit concerned that the lead would become so entangled that he would be strangled but fortunately that never happened.  On the whole they were happy to sit in the garden chairs with their leads ‘anchored’ to the ground.

These cats were also keen on sitting in cupboards as well as sitting up high. They enjoyed Christmas and the decorations.  By this time we had digital cameras so we have a photographic record and I have made photobooks.

Form the beginning they came to Cornwall.  We had the journey well organised.  Often, we stopped at Waitrose in Cirencester to buy food and have lunch.  There was a large car park and we would park at the far end of it, then let them loose in the car.  There was also the time that we were driving back from Cornwall at New Year when we ‘lost’ the spike that sealed the door to the cat basket.  We had stopped for lunch and then started off again and in the middle of Bodmin moor, Nui got out of the basket, climbed into the front of the car and started walking around in the footwells!  Not good news so we had to stop (it was beginning to snow) and get him back into the basket.  No sign of the spike but fortunately I had some knitting with me so we were able to close the basket with a knitting needle.  We then had to phone the place where we had had lunch.  They found the spike and posted it to us.

In Cornwall they had their favourite places and once again these tended to be up high.

Nui rearranging the Christmas hangings

Iti on top of the TV in Cornwall

In the summer of 2002 we went to Norway to visit my sister and her husband who were living there.  We sent the cats back to the breeder where they did well although the breeder thought that Iti was not litter-trained.  She was.  It must have just been the stress of the ‘holiday’.

We moved to Cornwall at the beginning of 2006.  The garden here is walled so it seemed safe to let them off the leads but we always kept a close eye on them.  Now it is we who have problems getting around the garden.  Nui was always keen on climbing up the wall at the back and going to visit the neighbours.  This meant our going out the side gate which we never use and walking up the road and into the neighbour’s garden to collect him although on some occasions we managed to talk him down from here.   As I said earlier, Iti only lived till she was eight.  She developed the dreaded kidney failure and died one very cold Christmas.  Fortunately she was not ill for long although we realised that she had probably been ill for some time as she used to spend a lot of time in the airing cupboard and not want to go in the garden, even to eat grass.   We did not think too much about this because the weather was getting colder and colder.

Nui lived till the day before his thirteenth birthday.  We got him two sisters when Iti died and this worked out very well.  He was particularly close to Hinemoa, the smaller of them.  His health was not brilliant as when Iti took ill he also developed something which gave him awful diarrohea.  This recurred at intervals of several weeks.  It meant the laundry was constant and there were times when I had to shut him out of my bedroom so that he could not get on the bed.  He was also on steroids for several years as the kidney complaint kicked in.

In summer in Cornwall we could let them loose in the garden because of the wall and they used to enjoy lying in the sun and sleeping the afternoon away.  They also enjoyed walking around the beds.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Tobacco picking

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

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

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Taupo holidays from Hastings

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

Swimming in the lake with my cousin  1952

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

Kanuka in 2008 - much improved from 1950s

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

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