William (Bill and once Billy) Loader
On Mum's Arm
Orange and blue, like search lights fingering the sky. They kept reappearing in my dreams. It took me a long time before I realised that I was seeing the gas jet turned up on high on the stove from close up. Not scary; if anything, wonderful, extraordinary! Perhaps I was on mum's arm when she was attending the stove once.
Why did I dream so often of all those aeroplanes flying in formation across the sky? So many of them! Did I see them in reality? Could the victory fly past at war's end have left such an impression?
We lived under the mountain, half way down the slopes on the Owairaka side, the south side. It cannot be long after those early experiences that I recall being held upright in mum's arms, looking out over what is now the dense Wesley housing estate - and seeing green fields.
Up the Mountain
Graders were very big. I held mum's hand. They were making the top road. Mt Royal Avenue which rose up to the right from the top of Vinter Terrace was being extended the other way - off to the left. I must have been quite little. Up there you could also find nasturtiums before the houses were built. I helped pick them with my mum. Bright green leaves with that special nasturtium smell. Just occasionally there were some that were deep red.
Later I walked to school along the top road, then down a sealed path to Owairaka Avenue and along to the school. I remember those days, the first two years of school. There were older kids who frightened you. I tried new ways of going. One day I rode my tricycle. Uncle Norman knew how to weld. He welded the seat and the handlebars. We always had things especially made - from scraps of other things!
Those first two years of school, the Primmers, as we called them, were very special. Arms around shoulders marching six abreast through the playground, 'Who wants to play, cowboys and Indians - no girls! Who wants to play, cowboys and Indians - no girls!' So the chant went. How cowboys and Indians went I don't know. I remember the contours of the asphalt sealed playground. On one part you could run around the end of the buildings, squealing your tyres as you curved at full speed. It felt like I had wheels.
In those Primmers I got the strap for the first time. I don't remember why, just that I had to go out the front and there it was - a leather strap. It didn't hurt, but I'm sure I cried. There were other much more shameful things. I sat on the chair and it happened - it smelled. I felt uncomfortable. I got out, ran home. Mum wasn't home. So next door - Mrs J! She was there. The relief. I stood in her tub. She washed me. Saved. Apparently I was a bit of a motor car in her house too, tearing around, tearing through the house, knocking things over. Then a couple of years later David was my age. I am sure I prepared the way.
The Old Gas Stove
The old gas stove was a special place. Mum melted sugar there in the flame to make gravy browning; it gave off that dark burnt smell. And a very special smell was the burning of the poppy stems. Mum would hold the end of the iceland poppies in the flame until they browned. It made them last longer in the water - so she said. But the smell of burnt poppy stems! It was a nice smell and stayed in the room for a long time.
The kitchen was quite small. Later, when the new room was added for my elder brother, John, the kitchen was swapped across to where the breakfast room had been, a much larger space. The old kitchen wall was pushed out and John's room added onto that: a new room and a new breakfast room.
The only other room for the family was the sitting room. There was a large carpet on polished floor boards. The floor boards around the edges of the carpet were most fun. You could roll marbles along them, race cars; it made a noise; things went fast.
Next door's had an electric stove. It had hot plates on the top. If I got on a chair I could sit on one, then turn it on - what a wonderful warm feeling! I longed to do it one day, but the opportunity never came. The boy next door, was my age, but it took a while before we really made friends. My first memories are fighting. His arms went around like two windmills one on each shoulder; I had nothing to stop that. Fighting didn't work. We later became very good friends.
There were fights in the street. The 'troublemakers', dad said. They were bullies. John used to fight the boys up the road. I can still see John and Tommy struggling on the ground. Dad was there watching. He had trained John. He stood there. They fought. Then it stopped. Did dad stop it? He must have. I don't remember. I know he didn't want his kids bullied. He showed John how to use his fists. It was a mystery to me. It was important not to let them beat you.
The Sledge Track
Dad played a lot with us kids; more than the other dads. He was kind of like a big kid, too. He helped us make a sledge track on the side of the mountain. We lived half way up Vinter Terrace on the left hand side. Vinter Terrace ran from Owairaka Avenue up to Mt Royal Avenue and then there was the mountain. Right opposite our street was a path. After about 30 metres there was a gate and from there the mountain began. The track went straight up the mountain alongside a wall made of scoria rocks all piled together. On the slope just over that rock wall dad made the sledge track.
Tommy and his brother, John, me and all the other boys in the street, Dennis, Robert, Warren, and others, used to take our wooden sledges up the mountain. We would put dripping on the runners. The grass was dry and strawy, flattened down and we would whiz down. There were two bumps so you would go careering down and then bump down into a hollow; then there was curve before you went fast down to the next bump. It didn't work on damp days, but when it was all dry, it was great. Dad made all that happen. He would come up with us and down we would all go, we on our home made, heavy rimu sledge.
Guy Fawkes Night
Dad also organised Guy Fawkes night in the street. Outside our house we piled up all the old branches. Dad got us to drag them down from the mountain. On the other side of the mountain path were the trees, gum trees, and they kept losing branches or the Council kept cutting them back. There were lots of branches. Did we have a bonfire! Huge! The flames went right up through the power wires. Everyone in the street came and brought their firecrackers and rockets. One rocket came down Mr W's chimney across the road.
When it got late, we had to go in; but when I was older I was allowed to stay up and play with Mr J. He loved throwing fire crackers and he would be there with the boys playing firecrackers long after everyone else was inside. I can remember being scared of crackers. I kept pretty close to mum for the first few years on Guy Fawkes night.
Hedges and Wetas
The street was paved with rather large stones tarred together. The edges were rough, no curb, a bit gravelly. That's where we had the bonfire. Then there was the front lawn, the footpath and our place. Along the footpath was the tekoma hedge. We had hedges on all sides. The hedge at the front was the lowest. I remember the day we took it out; John pulled it out with his 1933 Austin 7 convertible. We put a rope around it and he pulled and that did the trick.
Hedges could be fun. You could climb up on top of them, fall into them. They were awful for losing the cricket ball. You had to be careful about hedges. There were wetas. No snakes, no poisonous spiders, in New Zealand, but wetas. These are gruesome oversized fierce grasshoppers which can bite a large piece of flesh out of your hand. That's what I believed. Terrifying! Dad was so scared of wetas. They had long spiky brown back legs. He would kill them with the scythe. I'm sure that's why he hated cutting the hedge. The hedges grew so quickly, they had to be cut regularly. Every time dad cut the hedge, he would find wetas.
The back hedge was a mystery. It kept catching cricket balls and hiding them. In the dim past there had been a stone wall and now grown over it was a thick hedge, quite thick. Dad didn't want to cut it. But the man over the back with the small market garden; he wanted it to be cut down, or cut shorter. Did he really set it on fire one day? Someone said he did. We didn't want the hedges too low because we wanted things to be private.
Apart from that the hedges produced red flowers and when you picked them and sucked at the stem end you could usually taste sweet nectar. Around the back you could do the same with the waratah. It was wonderful. It survived storms, broke in half, came again, and every year produced these wonderful big red flowers. They had nectar, too. It would drip down onto the edges of the flower, the parts that looked like cupped leaves. You could drink the nectar from them. Ours always produced very dark red flowers. Mum thought the blooms were so red because of the septic tank. The actual leaves of the waratah were cerated along the edges; strong, dark green and rough on the edges - I liked it. The waratah tree had to be removed when we built on John's room. What a pity!
The Street Zoo
We had our own local zoo: across the road at the Wares. Mrs W had a cuckoo clock. She was nice. I could wander over, sit on her orange back door step and wait for the cuckoo clock. She was kind and would talk to me while I sat there. I would also look at the aquarium. Her grown up son, Ron, had a wheel chair. He knew about everything, especially things about nature. And Mr W - well he kept all sorts of things. Canaries - the red factors, the really orange ones. Then he would change and it was budgies, all kinds and colours. He had a big aviary. Yes, it was like a zoo. Then he would get pigeons. There were changes every few years. And each time he would say: well, of course, these are the best birds to have. Who'd want to keep (whatever the last sort of bird was)!
The Fish Pond
They also had two big square fish ponds made of brick. You could sit on the side and watch the gold fish. Such an interesting place! We persuaded dad we should have a fish pond. We got the rocks and made one looking roughly kidney shaped. Mrs M up the top of the road had a fish pond. She was very kind. She seemed like a mum to my mum. When we made our fish pond, Mr B from across the road cemented it in. He had a nice warm smile like a tomato. Mrs M gave us some goldfish. It was a different kind of fish pond. Mr W decided he would build one out of rocks like ours, too, on his front lawn, but bigger. He was a tradesman and knew all about painting and wallpapering. He used to come over and have a glass of beer with my dad, usually on Sunday mornings.
When he built his pond, he had all the rocks sitting around in a clover leaf pattern, ready to start the concreting. One part was to be especially deep so the rocks there were especially high. We all laughed so much when he realised that he'd put the rocks in higher where really what he needed to do was sink them deeper!
Lizards and Taddies
You could take anything to Ron and he would explain it. He made the aquarium which had those lovely coloured fish. One day I found a lizard up the mountain under the rocks by the fence that led down to the scoria pit on the west side. I took it home and put in a carton with a cover and lots of soil and stones. Next morning there were two lizards, one very tiny one. Some kind of miracle occurred. I think Ron said the one I had must have had a baby.
I learned to love nature. We liked to catch taddies, tadpoles. You had to watch not to over feed them or they would turn over and go bluey purple - and they smelled! But if you looked after them you'd see them get bigger and put out first one leg then another, then both longer and the front ones appearing, the tail shortening - miraculous changes. If it didn't die, there was a tiny frog!
Talking to the Frogs
When I got older, I went on my own to all the local swamps and tried to catch frogs. I remember having some success. I caught two frogs. We made an enclosure for them, sank an old washing machine bowl with suitable plug in the ground and there we were! You could go any time to look at the frogs. Nice plantings around the mini pond. The colours were beautiful. When they sat on the green leaves, they were shiny light green with light brown patches. When they sat on the rocks, they went brown.
I persuaded mum to let me move the enclosure down to outside my bedroom window. I could lean out my window and croak and they would croak back. The trouble is they took to croaking at the wrong times and the neighbours complained. I don't blame them. So it was back up the back yard. I used to feed them with cicadas. Makes me squirm now, but I would pull one wing off and throw it in and watch the way the frogs would pounce and with one gulp, down it would go - or, two, because sometimes there was still something sticking out, like a piece of wing. It was like the frog then suddenly realised things were a bit untidy around the mouth; so: gulp two, and nothing could be seen.
Adventures and Fantasies
Looking for frogs was an adventure. I would ride off to a swamp and wade in right up to my thighs - yes and often I slipped in deeper. I would be very still, listening and watching for them. It was a kind of land fishing. Some of us boys used to travel long distances for our catches. I remember once we rode across as far as Otahuhu, a good 10 kilometres, to catch trout. We got some about 20 cm long in a local creek, brought them home and put them in the old tubs which one of the neighbours had taken out of their wash house (laundry) and put up the back. They didn't last. Sometimes we rode over to Western Springs. You could find lobsters there, some brightly coloured, red or blue. You could also catch minnows, though they were very fast.
I used to dream of finding creeks or ponds full of gold fish. Someone told me you could find streams and lakes full of carp. I loved the way they would be brown and sometimes change to speckled brown and golden orange, or even further to become pure orange. In my world there were only taddies.
Up the Backyard
Our section ran east to west and was on a slope running down from north to south, from the mountain. There was a vegetable garden on the lower side and in front of it an apple tree - a northern spy. Further back west, a granny smith and the tamarillo. I can still feel its touch and smell its special smell. We used to call it the tree tomato. Coming forward on the other side: a lemon tree, a grapefruit tree, a plum tree and another apple tree - a gravenstein. It was my favourite.
Up on that side was also a kowhai tree, with its tiny leaves and interesting seed pods, fun to take apart. You could run the leaves through your fingers and collect a whole handful of tiny leaves and then let them fall through your fingers all over the ground. My bedroom was on the north side, I mean, the higher side. North was a bit to the right of up, but north and up always seemed pretty much the same thing to me; north, more or less, was the mountain, the great mountain.
'What kind of plum is that?'
When they visited us Uncle Bill and Uncle George always walked up the back and always asked dad, 'Nelson, what kind of plum is that?' A conversation piece? Forgetfulness? The northern spy grew opposite on the south side of the cricket pitch, well, the strip of lawn. A mysterious apple with wine coloured skin. Not like the gravenstein on the other side nearer the house. That one you could climb and its fruit were immediately edible, fresh crisp, light. But the northern spy looked at you for a long time. If you thought it was ready it would laugh as you struck bitterness. The skin was tough. It was a grown up tree. Later I learned the way was to cut it. Late in the season it would be ready - its time, not before!
Balls and Marbles
The lawn used to stretch for the length of a cricket pitch with a slight slope from right down to left. Every ball was a leg break to the right hander! Only speed could modify the bounce on the left. Balls were everywhere. Grapefruit fallen too soon to the ground, firm but failing, an endless resource for outdoor bowls. These, too, always came in from the right. We didn't need a bias. Sometimes the stress was too much; they trailed juice on their way. Discarded bowls; too late; too squashy, beginning to take on that smell of rotten citrus. The grapefruit always seemed to be there - I imagine, even out of season.
But there were other balls: marbles. Just near the back door where everyone walked out and slightly up onto the lawn, there was a nice rounded bare patch, an ideal bowl for playing marbles. Banked on either side it always directed the marbles into the middle. Flicky. To begin with, with the fist held tight and the marble wedged between thumb and forefinger and then, flick; out it shot. The more sophisticated method was to let the forefinger drop and wedge the marble between thumb and longest finger - more strike power: pow!
Marlene, Mary, Martha, Margaret - four black chooks. They were up the back in the lower corner. They were the first. I can't remember the names of the white Orpingtons who followed. But I remember M, M, M and M. One was like Mrs J - Margaret, seemed fresh, lively; Marlene was like Nana, the biggest I think, tall like Nana.
Loaders' Little Pie Shop
Nana and grandad lived in a little pie shop. It even had a little sign outside: 'Loader's Little Pie Shop.' I've still got one of grandad's oval pie dishes. The shop was very small. Behind the front part was a kind of living room, kitchen and everything else all in one. Bedrooms were upstairs. It wasn't till I was a teenager that I was allowed upstairs. Until then, beyond the stairs was a mystery. There was a lot of mystery. We weren't really allowed in the shop either.
But we could go out the back, barely five metres by three, but full of lovely pot plants, and during the week by the grinding sound of dad's work. Dad worked with granite, polishing granite mainly for large buildings. A number of large buildings in Auckland have granite decoration at ground level that my dad will have polished. So dad still had a lot to do with his mum and dad - every working day. Nana longed to move out to something more spacious, but grandad loved his little pie shop, even long after the pies and the shop part were just a past memory.
Nana was a Daisy. She had sisters, named after flowers: Lily, Ivy, and Kate and Dell. Nana was like a very tall sunflower with a slight frown. She always seemed a long way away up there. But every time she visited us and was saying goodbye she stooped and I was asked to give nana a kiss. But I don't want to! You can't not kiss nana! What are you thinking of! There was a kind compensation. Under the pillow: half a crown!
Grandad was quiet. He was especially quiet after he had cancer of the voice box and all he had was a hole in his neck. I remember visiting him in Greenlane Hospital - or was it Auckland Hospital. What really impressed me was that he learned this new way of speaking using air belched up from his stomach. So belching could be OK sometimes! It certainly was for grandad. He got so good at it you could even hear him on the phone. He wasn't a flower. He was more like a stake, but a stake tied to nana. But it also meant she couldn't move.
Later as I was growing up I got to know grandad's elder brother, Frank, who had settled in Waiuku and had four daughters. I stayed with one of them down at Te Toro just north of Waiuku towards the south head of Manukau harbour. I remember all the scallops in the harbour beach and the deep metal blue sand of the west coast. It was fun on their farm. One day we caught a big fat eel in the local creek.
You could also catch eels down in the Oakley creek where we lived. Down our street, across Owairaka Avenue and down Lorraine Avenue, before the houses were built. Oakley creek was quite a waterway, but only about two meters wide and often not very deep. We liked to play down there. The big boys smoked down there once. Sometimes the creek flooded. Once we nearly drowned our dog. It caught a very bad cold and got distemper. That's how I understood it. I think John got into trouble. John hardly ever got into trouble.
When the houses were being built down that street we had a wonderful new playground, climbing through the constructions, across the wooden joists, finding things. Later we used to mow lawns down there for 5 shillings an hour. John was very good at it, so neat. They always said you could tell when Billy had done the lawns. The edges were not done properly. It was left a bit untidy. But there was so much of life to get on with! Who could afford time to scissor the edges!
Mowers and the Modern World
Mr J next door got a motor mower. He also had electric hedge clippers, but dad preferred the hook and hand hedge clippers. Dad also preferred the hand mower, even if the ones we had were antiquated; or it felt that way. Dad would get the file out and sharpen them, but they would still miss or their cogs would go. They were big and heavy.
It was a revolution when we bought a real motor mower. It was very small, an apology of a mower, but then that was appropriate. Dad resented it. Blasted thing! It would never start! If it had been bigger, it would have been too big an intrusion. This beggarly bit of technology was doomed from the start. It was probably depressed! Nothing went right. It felt like many years before it found a replacement that actually worked. Occasionally it started and growled in a very loud peepish immature motor sound. No wonder it was inadequate! 'Doesn't do as good a job!' said dad. 'Yes it does dad!' we insisted. No way of winning.
So Mr J whizzed about with his good motor mower and chuckled along the hedge with his cutter and dad shook his head. Out with the hook, fix up the broken cogs in the hand mower! Bertie would probably know the answer. He always knew - of course, he knew, even when he didn't. But Bertie was Bertie.
Dad and Saturdays
Dad started at 7.30 and worked till 5.30 every day and on Saturday till noon. I can't believe it - so many hours? It must have been. Long time for anyone. What a life! Who wants to mow lawns and cut hedges after all that! Good to have two boys. We knew how to push mowers, later, anyway.
But then dad also played cricket on Saturdays in the afternoon and we would go in to watch him at the domain. Uncle Ron played, too. Ron for Dilworth, dad for Marist. Dad had also played rugby league for Marist - and got into the reserves for the North Island team. So there were the winter Saturdays when we would meet dad after work and go to Carlaw Park to watch the rugby league and the summer Saturdays when we would go and watch dad play cricket - John and me. On the way home after the football dad would sometimes take us in to see the end of the soccer match not far away.
Marbles I knew
No wonder my world of fantasy, my world of marbles, was about football and footballers. Just when did Bevan Hough and the South Islander Haig play? Must have been in the 1950s. Their souls are eternal in my closet of memories. I remember Bevan Hough one day playing for the New Zealand Kiwis did a somersault on the way to score a try. And I remember the anguish of the Kiwis playing France and that final missed penalty. And dad introduced me to Jimmy Edwards - he's in the closet, too. They all entered my world of marbles. He was a small porcelain marble with a smiling wavy set of orange stripes amid blue lines and a softer cream background. There were others like him, but none were the same.
Under the Tarpaulin
What were kids doing under the tarpaulin? They were all on the H's front lawn. Some of the bigger boys were in the middle. Everyone had a turn and crept under the tarpaulin to meet with the two in the middle. I wonder who they were? It must have been the bigger kids. We had over twenty kids to just over twenty houses in the street. I was too small. I never made it! What secrets! Probably playing doctors, making discoveries.
On the H 's back lawn I can remember we tried catching sparrows, with some success. A box tilted on a stick tied to string, some wheat, then comes the sparrow, pull the string and see - sparrow caught!
Good things came from up the road. The ice cream van on Sundays, just before lunch. We could buy a carton. That was special and was special number two in the weekends. Special number one was on Saturday night. Someone - usually one of us - went down to the dairy to get the 8 O'Clock newspaper and we could buy 6d bars of chocolate - one each! I don't remember playing games, though occasionally dad would play double patience with us or draughts.
A lot of the time he was head down studying the form of horses, consuming cigarettes, creating a smoky house which was OK if you grew with it, but if you suddenly came in from outside was a terrible shock - a matter of some sensitivity and not something to raise at any time. Not a great gambler, dad, but the horses were a preoccupation. Later when we got a phone, it would run hot with post mortems on the double or the one that nearly got there. And the first transistor radio held to the ear accompanied dad's Saturday afternoons; a lot of the time was spent hanging on the call.
Tempers and Test Matches
I threw the ball at short range smack into Warren's legs! I had had enough. Billy's temper! Don't make fun of me! But mostly Warren and Robert made a good test match - cricket that is, in the backyard. There was Robert and Warren - and Dennis? Or was it one of the Milmines? Anyway, dad played, too. There was fencing to protect the roses - mum's poor roses. Hitting that fence or the house a four! It was serious and fun. The rule was not to do anything to shame anyone or look out! Billy's temper, daddy's temper! Not a good mix, but one that broke down in later life on both sides. And now Robert is an orthopaedic surgeon and Warren a member of parliament.
Dinky Toys and Automobiles
Dinky toys, great little metal model cars. You could play with them in the dirt. It was fun when there were no vegies, no potatoes growing, enough dirt to make roads and run the cars around, like building sand castles, but the volcanic soil could be made firmer. In Dennis's place there were these bushes with leaves that looked like ships. We played with them, too. Ships, boats. I learned later they were poisonous, but at least we never sucked them or we would have found out. Dennis had lots of dinky toys. He and Robert were a couple of years older than me - so much older, but still, I could be with them a bit, especially when they were a bit older. I remember Dennis had a record of My Fair Lady. He also had magazines about cars. That's where I learned about Break Horse Power. One of the new big American cars, land barges we used to call them, had 400 BHP! Cars were fun on my own, too. I used to look at their grills and decide whether they were smiling and friendly or grim and mean. Some cars were really friendly the way they looked at you.
Magazines were not part of our house, except that sometimes we saw the Weekly News at nana's with all the nice black and white pictures in the middle. Its outside cover was pink. There was another similar one which had an orange outside. Dad didn't read much. We used to joke that the last book he read was 'Harry's Trip to India'. We were a bit mean in teasing dad, sometimes.
When I was eleven, I began to learn the piano. I used to go after intermediate school in Form 1. I would go and sometimes have to wait while someone else had their lesson. The house had a funny kind of smell. Only later I realised that she must have smoked, but used some kind of scent to disguise it. It wasn't quite the same as at home. But she had other magazines like Pix and Post. They sometimes had pictures of near nude women in them. I remember being fascinated by one that had a woman all but naked, but with just a patch on each breast. I don't think I had ever seen a woman's body that nude.
Piano and Passion
On the piano I had a soft touch. That's what people said. I think they meant I played with a lot of feeling. I did play with a lot of feeling. Even if I had to learn notes and follow someone else's composition, once I knew the tune, it felt like I was expressing my heart. It was one of my first feelings of emotional artistic expression, just letting it come, letting it come automatically with feeling, like I am writing now. John was much better at the piano and later went on to play the organ at church. I gave up after two years - a great pity. I can still play God save the queen - and that's all! But why? Why God save the queen? I don't really know. It has just stuck with me.
I can remember standing in parades when people sang God save the queen, like at Gribblehurst Park in 1953 on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I think we were there as Life Boys, part of the Boys Brigade. But it may have been a school group. The really exciting thing was that Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tensing had climbed Mt Everest. Hillary was a New Zealander. Anything a New Zealander did was worth the front page. New Zealand! New Zealand!
I was taught at home and at school to be proud of New Zealand. It was so special when a New Zealander won a race, broke a record. New Zealand! New Zealand! But also the British Empire! How I loved to look at the world map and see all the red bits. That was us! Most of the world was British - just a few other colours. Wonderful! I loved the stories I learned in primary school, how good the British were and how terrible the others! The black hole of Calcutta!
But for all that there was pride in the Maori. Great fighters, dad said, in the Maori battalion in the war. Good at football, too. We didn't have anything to do with Maori people, but nothing of the racism surfaced in those days which later appeared as Maori and others found themselves aware of being at the bottom of the heap in society and unable to control some from kicking back hard.
A Goal from Halfway!
My friend and I used to kick the football on Mt Albert, on the field where the men from the ships in port used to play soccer on Sundays and where the kids hunted for half spent cigarette butts. Could I kick a goal from halfway? But then was it a real halfway? Yes I could! I believed I could! I did! And I am still not sure where the fine line is between dream and fulfilment. I was certainly proud of being an athlete. I won lots of races, sprints.
I remember jumping 12 foot 8 inches when I was ten. Noel, married to Toni, my cousin, many years my senior, couldn't believe me, so he got me to run down his hallway in his house and jump. I did. And after that he really believed me. When I was fourteen, I won the Auckland intersecondary schools long jump competition with a jump of 17ft 7 3/4 in.
Daisy Chains and Sunbathing
Mum taught us how to make daisy chains from white daisies on the lawn. You split the stem and then threaded another daisy stem through it and on and on until you had a chain. Fun doing it sitting on the lawn under the old waratah tree.
Mum sometimes took a rug outside and lay down on the lawn. I could never work out why she did this, except it felt different and was fun. It was just something which mum did. Was she trying to get a tan or something? Perhaps she was. Perhaps young women did that then, too. That never occurred to me. It wasn't part of my world. But getting a sunburn was. Cover your neck! People always talked about sunstroke, something terrible which happens to you and makes you sick, very sick, you even die! Well, that's how it registered. I would sometimes get sunburnt.
Summer time was something special. We had holidays, not very often, but there were two main ones. Once we went for four weeks to Waiheke Island, Palm Beach. That was really great. Dad told us that he used to go over to Waiheke Island when he was younger, to Onetangi Beach, which had big surf.
The first big holiday I remember was at Mairangi Bay on the North Shore. I remember the ice cream shop. They were super ice creams, lots of real strawberries in them. We stayed there even when dad had to go back to work. He would go on the bus and catch the ferry from Northcote. Old Mr Coppins from church met us one day over there on the North Shore. He was very wise and very old and very interested in us, kids. I liked talking to old people who liked kids.
I went on some other holidays with other families. With the Bs down to Beachlands. I remember the batch, half unfinished; walls with concrete and chicken net still able to be seen in parts. Mr B was so kind doing things for others, but like many builders not quite getting around to finishing things at home. I remember lying in bed wondering about the mosquitoes which I could hear all around me. Was I awake for so long? They would go away up to the ceiling and then down they would come.
You could walk over to Flat Island at low tide. We must have had a family holiday there on our own at some stage, because I can remember walking across to Flat Island with dad; in a very shallow inlet we saw lots of sprats. Walking on the rocks was fun. Standing on the bubbly sea weed and letting the little bubbles burst under your feet And lifting rocks to find the crabs, mostly small, sometimes emerald or dark blue with large nippers.
Dad taught us to fish from the rocks, using periwinkles for bait - you shouldn't use oysters and I think we rarely did. They didn't hang on the hook properly anyway. Catching paketi - never much else; getting lines caught on the rocks. But we were determined. Dad was determined, just a little longer. Never give up! I lived with models of sticking at it stubbornly, sometimes very annoying if you had something else in mind to do. 'I'll come soon! I just want to...'
A Story to Live By
Dad's stories were little hero myths for me, like the one where dad turned up at an athletics meeting in Warkworth, when on his honeymoon at Leigh. With their proper uniforms, spiked running shoes, they looked askance at this young imposter who wanted to run without running shoes and with trousers rolled up! Down their noses over their smirks they tolerated his entry; he'd soon drop out and go away. Dad stuck with it, entered, - and won! Great stuff! This is dream material! This is a script for trying and winning, a myth to live by, and always a recipe for feeling out of place despite success, uncomfortable with donning the right attire and the right airs.
I knew the script before the story. I knew about David and Goliath. I had also experienced the rewards of knowing the times table, getting the tests right, running the fast race, being chosen in the football team - only cricket wasn't a top success! I was backstop! But then what could one expect when the backyard training pitch had a sideways slant and led you always to hit a bit to the right! That's my story.
I think I learned the script differently from John. John had a hard time in learning to read or so it seemed. Why was it so funny that he pronounced policeman, 'poh-lice man'? Or then later that he wrote a composition about 'How to Make a Cup of Tea' and used the sentence, 'You pour the tea out bit by bit'! But so it was. He succeeded along different paths.
The Vacuum Cleaner
John was so much older, too old to be a companion for growing up, but a fount of information for me. We shared a room, his bed on one side, mine on the other, under the windows. The vacuum cleaner was kept in our room (in a cupboard? under the bed? I can't remember). But the vacuum cleaner hose was our first venture into telecommunications technology. It was John's stroke of genius. We could talk to each other at night when we were in bed through the vacuum cleaner hose. I think the implication must be that we were told to stop talking often enough.
It was through this tube of insight that I learned some of the facts of life, some of which I could make sense of. 'A' was the code for sexual intercourse. At my end this was something like a man putting his horizontal wee wee thing (doodle? - I can't remember what we would have called it) into a woman's horizontal hole which was somewhere down the bottom of her tummy, about where a man's doodle was. My crude grasp of physiology was nevertheless enough to get the drift of 'A', but there was nothing more. One of the things that quite puzzled me was the sticky white stuff that John said came of a doodle. I'd seen people widdle and seen puddles under seats at school, but nothing like that! For many years I could not work that one out and thought it must have been a mistake.
John Always Won
The thing about John was that he always chose the blue counter in games and always won, even where the games were games of sheer chance. And he didn't cheat. Or if he did, I never noticed it. I noticed when other people cheated. But John always won. It was part of the order of being. It was just the way things were. Lots of times I could win, but never with John. He always won. That was that.
Winning and Losing
Dad won most of the time, but you could beat dad, although it was not always the best thing to do. Dad didn't like to lose. Dad didn't like to lose arguments. Bill liked to argue. Oh heck! What is the difference between insolence and argument? Did I know? Did he know? Passion and temper reached to highest pitch in some of these encounters and it felt like everyone else ran for cover. There was a lot of calming down to do. I learned later that dad hated being put down just as much as I did and he had had more than his fair share and didn't need me to add to all of that. But it sometimes left me lonely and confused and feeling a bit abandoned.
The World of Marbles
There's a fine line between being lonely and being alone, developing a life of one's own. I developed an extensive inner life of fantasy which I would play out in various ways. In my early play with marbles I developed complex sports events, with programmes, events, records and lots of personalities. I could draw an athletics track on the mat in my room, an oblong mat about a metre long and shaped like a football field. Wonderful! Mum did not mind the chalk marks.
I developed a system of using dice and a ruler. What the dice indicated converted into inches that a player could move. In soccer or football the variant was that a player could run with the ball or kick, in which case the number of inches is doubled. On this basis it was possible to engage in a game of football. The skill for the person directing one team was how to move the players, when to kick the ball, and so forth. I still think it is worth patenting! It was fun! I have always loved seeing what will be the end of a process of complex figures. I still do when I add up marks for peoples' grades in university courses!
Just as Saturday nights were often special, so Sunday mornings had their ritual: bacon and eggs for breakfast. Mum never cooked an egg for herself, but always wanted a quarter from the rest of us! It was a fair share. Then it was off to Sunday School in Ron's car. Ron, Dennis' considerably elder brother, had a wheel chair, as I have said. 'Crippled,' we said. He was paraplegic, a wonderful man. He had his Vauxhall car with all the attachments so he could do everything with his hands.
He would drive us to Sunday School. He married one of Mrs Jones's daughters. Mrs Jones was my first Sunday School teacher, a kind and generous woman with a broad view of life. I just knew she was kind. She took pity on me because my birthday fell outside the normal weeks of Sunday School. Who would want to be born on 6 January, too close to Christmas to get separate presents - though it never worked out that way. It did about the special birthday chair at Sunday School with the red felt seat. So at the beginning of the year Mrs Jones would have Billy sit in the birthday chair! Wonderful! It was awesome to sit in the rows of pews in the old Sunday School Hall and look over at the big boys and big girls. They were so big!
After Ron got married Mr J, next door, who had a car, used to take us. John was the first of our family to get a car. For all of my childhood there was neither car nor phone. But we were soon able to walk home from Sunday School. After all, we walked to school and that was nearly as far. Sunday School was a place where you learned about right and wrong. I can remember walking home past a garden that had lovely bright red fruit growing on a very green bush. They looked scrumptious. So good we were, to pass them by, holding our moral breath. But it had to happen. One day I dared. I reached over and snatched one and crunched it between my teeth. What a pity someone had not told me before about red peppers! Decades later I had a similar experience in a dimly lit restaurant; sitting in the middle of rings of red capsicum was a red pepper - crunch! Crunch again!! Where's the fire brigade!
The Front Steps
I used to love to sit on the front steps. They faced east, so the morning sun would stream down making it a warm place. Sitting there on the red steps was special. On the right hand side was a smooth painted plaster surface on the little brick wall that ran up the edge of the steps like a road. On that road you could see ants making their busy way.
Down near the bottom of the steps in the garden there was sometimes a milk weed plant. At the right time of year chrysalises of monarch butterflies would be hanging on it. Bright green to begin with; then they went darker, almost black before out hatched a crumpled butterfly. Not long and it exercised its wings fully outstretched and flew away. The little caterpillars, with white and yellow and black stripes, growing larger and larger, would hang themselves upside down on a stem to begin the chrysalis stage again. Wonderful tiny miracles on the front door step!
Up the back there were similar miracles, but smelly ones. The bright green vegetable beetle that seemed to appear in the 1950s. First was the white egg, then the little black beetle. It grew and developed with white spots, became large and turned greenish, until finally it was beautiful. But touch it and your hand would smell for hours! They were also no cheer for the beans.
Around the front just down from the front steps and on the corner of the lawn was a conifer, grey green and very thick, big enough to hide mysteries, probably fairies and unknown creeping things. But it, too, had its bright green guest, the large, winged, bright green grasshopper. Its immature form had no wings, but was always light green. Its adult form as green as a green preying mantis, but much more savage to look at. Those grinding molars! It looked at you as if to stay: aren't you lucky you are so big! Big grasshoppers were a bit like junior wetas and wetas were - yuck!
The only grasshoppers of a kind that were more kindly were the crickets. What we called crickets were round bodied, long and black, and tweetched in summer from their crevices in the footpath or from along the edge of the lawn. They meant no harm. They just liked singing. Some had wings, but they seemed kind.
That front lawn sometimes sprang wonders. In winter loops of worms, linking together in a wormy intimacy as one flesh. Sometimes the ground became so sodden they would leave their earthy home and wander in the wet, alas, all too often finding themselves stranded in impermeable places, like drains and footpaths.
Mr K had a beehive. It was OK as long as you didn't get too close. I can remember a swarm of bees once on a house in Owairaka Avenue. We went to have a look and some bees got into my hair. It was terrifying. So terrifying I can't remember where the boundary was between what actually happened and what I was afraid would happen. Eaten up by stinging bees! Bee stings were common enough. Mum would bring out the blue stuff and wipe it on. Fortunately my body got over bee stings without adverse reaction.
I loved nature. Insects, especially. I dreamt of birds coming close. Did uncle George really have a bird land on him that was tame? Or was I imagining? I think I was imagining when I saw a weasel run down the other side of the road. But it was real. It felt real. It ran down just past the drain with its piece of concrete that juts our and that makes a wonderful waterfall when it rains and the water flows in torrents down the road.
Rain and Rivers
The rain made rivers, around the house, under the house. They all seemed to end at the front gate, just where the path dips before the letter box. The heaped garden on the lower side made a dam and the water collected so fast, not even the volcanic soil could drink it down before there was a wonderful large puddle. It was fun finding where the water went, down past my windows on the other side of the house and over into the dam.
Rainy days were for playing outside in the drama of streams and waterfalls. Rainy nights were for having a bath and listening to the rain on the corrugated iron roof, such a warm feeling. It was like the iron was beating a drum, imposing a rhythm on the wild storm which said: here it is safe; here it is warm.
I remember we had our ways of getting warm. We got a kerosene heater - smelly. But you could sit on it, provided you didn't get the back of your legs too close to the grill. It was a little like my fantasy of sitting on an electric stove. Then mark two was more like an open kerosene fire which lit up red and the mesh glowed hot.
Nothing could compare with the real fire place. Dad held the newspaper in front of it to start it burning. There was coal or coke to put on. And on the metal plate which seemed to lean backwards over the fire, there were traces of dotted burning, which formed patterns. They were like a primitive television. Something to watch. They kept moving, making fairy rings. And deep in the fire was the yellow, the orange, the blue burning of the coal and sometimes the strange green flame consuming chemicals I knew nothing of.
In Front of the Fire
It was nice to be in the sitting room in front of the fire on a winter's night. I could sit there, watch, pick up my French knitting which tailed out through the cotton reel with its four nail holes. Even I could do French knitting, not as well as John, but still! And I could do tapestry. Much earlier I loved to play with mum's embroidering collection. The colours were so interesting, each set of threads held in place at the ends by a narrow wrap of dark paper with writing on it which I was too young to read.
Just as exciting was the button jar. You could pour them out on the table and match them. Some were with pictures. The ones with two holes sometimes smiled. The ones with four were like people look when they talk. They were like flat marbles. They just needed a bit of encouragement and they became playing companions.
Likes and Dislikes
Apple pies or apple turnovers with lots of icing sugar and then lots of milk! Not even flaky pastry; but mum's short pastry was crisp and yummy. They were very special. And mum didn't put raisins in them, like others did. She knew I didn't like raisins or sultanas or currants - lots of things actually; cake, vinegar, sauce, dressing, stuffing, onion, - help!
Can I have a round wine biscuit and a drink of milk, auntie, please? Auntie had made a lovely sponge cake and butterfly cakes with lots of cream, but Billy wanted just a round wine biscuit and a glass of milk! Fortunately auntie understood. She understood so much!
The Fairy Godmother
Auntie was a fairy godmother who could whisk me away into a world of fantasy, a priestess for a little boy who taught him to revere the natural and the beautiful, and to exaggerate, because exaggeration is how the best things are made! Yes, I joined in laughing at her when she said the traffic was so heavy you couldn't get a pin between the cars! But like a mystagogue, she opened to me the secrets of the garden, the little jumping things, the coloured caterpillars, the music of the birds. She nurtured the soul of a little child who is always ready to laugh and always ready to cry at the wonders of life.
Coming home from school I could look forward to a slice of bread with lots of butter and jam! I mean a real slice, at least an inch thick! These were the wonderful days before sliced bread! Bread was especially yummy when you got it from the shop. A half a sandwich loaf or half a chubby. The secret was to peel the broken face of bread, the nice fresh soft white surface, just enough so no one would notice. After all, it often happened that the break left a hollow on one half of the loaf. When I was around, it always left a hollow on the half I brought home! I also tried stripping down the crust around the edges to make it look more authentic! It was always white bread. I was sure the people who made wholemeal bread didn't really want you to eat it. They didn't make it taste nice.
Wholemeal bread fell into the category of one of those things that was good for you, like castor oil. Why castor oil? It tastes awful! But castor oil it was sometimes by the spoonful. Later it was malt extract. That was not so bad. It was something about making us strong. Marmite was meant to do that too or vegemite. I liked Bovo the beef extract most, such a tangy taste. No, I didn't like honey. But jam was great. Except, you don't want ever to have jam sandwiches, especially when they'd been sitting in your schoolbag all morning. Mushy jam sandwiches!
Milk again at school! Half a pint per child. For me that was a minimum figure. I was always in it for drinking an extra or two. One day I made it to eight half pints of milk. When I got up to go outside, walked along the corridor past Mr Coleman's office, the headmaster, the cows revolted and there it was all over the floor. But you couldn't be growled at for being sick. Just as well, because I was scared of Mr Coleman. I seem to remember he spoke kindly to me.
Over the Top
Why should I poke my tongue into his mouth? Is that what you do when you line up? Apparently. That's what all the boys were doing in the shelter shed. You had to line up and then stand on the seat at the back and then it was your turn. It was a funny thing to do. Well, we all did it. Just as well none of my hormones were interested. I wouldn't want to stick my tongue up someone's nose, perhaps their ear, so: their mouth. I wasn't particularly impressed, but then you had to try everything, especially if everyone else did it.
I found it much more interesting going to the loos and seeing if you could shoot over the urinal wall. I call that an achievement. Some of us could! Like scoring a goal. Running games were for me. Ronny Jackson, Billy Hurst, Ian Palmer, we were the gang; we tore around everywhere. I loved tearing around. Mrs Jennings said that when I came it was alike a whirlwind in the house. I loved running along and then slanting over as a I turned a corner. I could even make that yim errrr sound, like a car going around a corner. I've already said that once; but then it happened lots of times!
Grandma's was a farm in Papatoetoe. We went there with mum in an orange bus. First we caught the tram to Symonds Street; then waited for the bus. Sometimes we then had to wait at Otahuhu. It always seemed like a day getting there. But once there, there was lots to do. Just recently the edition of Pilgrim's Progress that captured my imagination at grandma's has come into my hands from auntie's estate. Not the story, the pictures! Weird and wonderful creatures and Christian standing there defiantly with his sword against these towering odds. That was my reading of the story. That was a full enough script.
Forty five years later it is all so familiar again. A world of big people, big brother, all the big women at grandmas and the quiet men. None of them were fiends, like in the picture, but the world had its fiends. Down at my level, one of them was the rooster. It came straight at you and pecked you to death, plucked your eyes out, tore you limb from limb, then scratched you into the chicken pooey ground. Well it could have, if I let it. Gee it was good that someone heard my cry!
Climbing the Pine Trees
But on the other side of the danger zone were the pine trees. The one in the middle was the best for climbing. You could get right to the top. It had that nice gummy pine smell. It covered the ground with a carpet of brown needles.
Daisy the Cow
Out in the paddock were two cows. One was Daisy. I used to look at her as she lay there. Why couldn't I cuddle up beside her. I longed to cuddle up beside Daisy. Would she understand? Would she push me away? I didn't try. I just dreamed. Wouldn't it be wonderful!
Doing the Shopping
Mum often sent me to do the shopping. Into the butchers: 1lb of gravy beef, or 1lb of blade steak cut on the cross, or 4 middle loin chops, please. Out I trotted with my purchase wrapped in white newsprint. The butcher with his wooden chopping block and sawdust on the floor knew me. But did I really know this came from someone like Daisy? And what was this 'cut on the cross' business? I learned at Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross. I never really worked that one out. It was more important to see if there was enough change to buy a TT2 (an iceblock on a stick, one of the first models!).
When I was in standard 4, about 10 years of age, I learned a life skill. It was one of those occasions when I actually knew what I was learning and why. It was: people like you if you say you are no good at things. It was like a sudden flash of insight and spread like a religion through our class. I thought Heather started it. It worked really well. You didn't skite. Instead you said, 'Oh, I'm no good at running.' and then the other person said, 'Yes you are, you're really good at running.' Big warm fuzzies all over the place.
The Edge of Puberty
I was entering the adult world without knowing it. So were some others. Why did Yvonne stick out so much in front? Why was it so funny that when we were at Waikowhai beach once with Ann and Sue I said we had gone in up to our pimples. I had pimples. They had pimples. I couldn't see what the fuss was about. Some things were very confusing.
Toni, my cousin, my senior by many years, got married. Oh how wonderful her bridesmaid looked. She was so beautiful. I remember thinking just how beautiful she was. But what was beautiful? She just seemed so nice, like some of my favourite marbles.
My shirt has an aeroplane on it. Mum made me nice things. She made lumberjackets from sample cloth that grandad rescued from the bins. Grandad also gave us some good high value English stamps that way. Mum was good at making things. She sewed. She sewed people's wedding dresses. When Ron got married I think she sewed Gwen's dress. Gee, it was great having a mum that people came to, to do their trying on. I was proud of my mum!
Mum did lots of things. She used to be secretary of Women's Fellowship at the Church, but that must be later. She was certainly good at doing fancy things, helping us dress up in costumes. I remember her costume won me a crown with Queen Elizabeth on it. Margaret and Marion and David were also dressed up.
Dad kept lots of wood under the house, undressed rimu - just in case. Lot of things were - just in case. But sometimes, like when he made the sledges, he would fish out a piece and make us something. A boat! And then if you put a couple of pieces on the sides and made them stick out the back, you could put a strong rubber band across with a piece of wood not much bigger than a match box and make a paddle steamer. But we were a long way from open water and it was a hassle to run the bath.
I dreamt of having a model boat and floating it out on a lake. Wouldn't it be wonderful? Some people had boats like that, but they cost a lot of money. We didn't have that kind of money. Most of what we had was fixed up or recycled. My three wheeler bike was unique. Uncle Norman - he was fun to rough and tumble with on the lawn - he used to weld some parts together, so I had a bike with golden scars.
Dad made our scooters from wood. They looked different from the bought metal ones. Dad made things. In the home defence during the war because of an ankle injury, he had turned his hand to carpentry. If it needed to be done, dad found a way of doing it, innovation: bits of wire, rusted old screws, bottle tops, old tyre tubes, putty, chewing gum, and giving things a knock in the right place, just a bang or a shake. I think dad's problem with the motor mower is that he approached it as a carpenter. Wood didn't go on strike or sulk the way the mower did!
Christmas at Home
Christmas was special in a street full of kids, but not all neighbours were the same. We gave each other presents - well, small ones. And you always had to have something just in case someone came with one and you hadn't reckoned with it. Early morning visits were the norm for most, sometimes with devastating consequences. 'Hey, Warren, look what I've got!' and smash goes the K's window as John's enthusiasm overflows.
The J s sat on the front door step in the sun, with Margaret kept in behind the barrier, hanging over in glee at new presents and David holding a new toy. I remember one Christmas morning Mrs J herself came over. Something had happened. It was the Tangiwhae disaster when a train plunged over a bridge washed away by terrible storms and many lost their lives.
Christmas at Grandma's
Christmas day meant going to grandma's; bit of a journey. Grandma would hide the sixpences in the Christmas pudding - I didn't like Christmas pudding, so it wasn't fair - but I got some sixpences. Then it was into the sitting room to the Christmas tree and the opening of presents. I don't want shirts and socks and handkerchiefs! Buy those for mum for me, not for me. I want things I like! Yes, there was a fair share of those. And then there was 'Help Us! Help 's!' a game that invented itself on grandma's sitting room couch: 'Help 's, auntie, help us!' Why? Why not! 'Hush, Billy, hush!' 'I won't hush, auntie!' It was fun falling off the chairs onto the carpet.
The Black Ford Prefect
Late afternoon Uncle George would drive us home in his black Ford Prefect car. He often used to drive us home after our visits, so we didn't have to go the long way with the bus. If we were lucky, he might have driven us all to the beach earlier. He would always swim far out and look in at us with his smiling face bobbing up and down in the water.
One special Christmas there was a surprise at the front door - was it really like this? I don't know. Patch, the wired haired fox terrier, arrived, a puppy. He had a coarse off-white coat with a round brown patch on either side. I think he was a Christmas present for John to begin with. But he wasn't John's; he belonged to all of us and we belonged to him. He was especially my companion. Times when I was lonely he understood. He followed me everywhere.
He was faithfulness beyond all expectation. I could not lie down with daisy. I could lie down with Patch. Here was theology, God, love, belonging, loyalty, soul mateship - all on one panting smiling face and one stubby wagging tail. 18 years he held sway. Not neutered, he would join the chase and stubbornly refuse to come home when that bitch up the road and around the corner was on heat.
Patch and Pooh!
He could not resist the cowflop, the horse manure, always proud of the green brown shoulder tinge. But no impassioned fury on our part sent him into reverse for long. Tail between legs, ears down, into the wash house, his home, bathed (and anything but sterile), he would go straight back if he could. But then at the end of it, he was still affection, forgiveness - pack loyalty! With the cats, Bluey and Curley, two greys, and the others light to ginger, there was no comparison. Yes I loved them too, but they did not really understand commitment. They had not been on the road like Patch.
Patch and Dr Reichmann
When Patch hadn't been with us long, he nearly drowned in Oakley Creek and got distemper. He had to be taken to the vet. Dr Reichmann gave him a needle. It saved Patch, but it didn't save the peace of the street. For Dr Reichmann had dogs and used to walk them up our street. Now Patch was not stupid. Each time the doctor appeared in sight Patch recognised that he was the one. He was the one who inflicted the pain. He was a major threat to all dogs' rumps and probably everyone else's. So there was only one thing to do: sound the alarm, bark and keep barking until he left the street. Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark! All the way until Dr Reichmann reached the top of the road and turned into Mt Royal Avenue. Patch didn't afford Mt Royal Avenue the same protection. There were other colleagues there.
Before we got Patch I was very frightened of a dog which lived up in Mt Royal Avenue. It was only medium size, was light brown and had a tail like a fox. It was a fox and a wolf! And I knew what Little Red Riding Hood must have felt and the Little Piggies who didn't want to race and Hansel and Gretel and all the rest! And for a while going to the beach was playing with death by drowning! Fears! Fears! And fantasies that subsided. But don't tell me not to fear! Give me a dog.
The Back Section
Up there was the mountain. Behind the Wares there was a larva flow which had formed a ridge reaching down from the mountain, all scoria. We called it 'the back section.' On our side it was covered with bright green buffalo grass. It was so thick and long, it was like a huge soft bed. You could roll over and over in the grass.
From the ridge Dennis let his glider go one day and it flew right over into our street. He was good at making model aeroplanes with balsa wood. Ron helped him. He must have been such a good brother. He was much older than Dennis, more like a second father. I loved making planes from balsa wood. You could get kits. But you had to be very precise and use just the right amount of the white sticky glue. Me, precise? There's no time to be precise. There are too many exciting things to do!
On the other side of the ridge was the old tennis court and the tennis club building, that seemed abandoned. It was where Auntie Frances later played tennis. Around the back it was thick with broken and unbroken beer bottles. What a find for the bottle collection! I can remember we gathered so many bottles one year that we built a glass wall a meter high leaning up against the lamp post waiting for collection.
I enjoyed knocking on doors, collecting bottles, selling tickets, trying to exchange swap cards and stickers. Little decorative picture cards or even the cards from breakfast foods which could be collected and put in a special album. Lots of things got collected: match box covers, cigarette packet covers (I liked the picture on Players Plain), and, of course, stamps. Only the stamps survive. 'Smiley,' they said. They said that at the shops, too. What did I have to smile about between my freckled cheeks? Plenty, probably. So why not smile!
He smashed our front window!
Neighbours were sometimes up and around the corner. I remember once when the bigger boys were playing cricket outside, that Keith from up in Mt Royal Avenue hit the cricket ball through our window around the front. Terrible! There seemed to a pall of shame in the air, something unknown - what would happen? I only remember that a day or so later dad was telling Keith it was alright. Dad wasn't one to hold it against people. He was very fair and understanding.
Mountain and Streams
Why couldn't I have a peddle car? It's a bit too hard to construct a peddle car out of dad's bits and pieces. No I couldn't have a peddle car. Not everything I wanted. Far from it. But more than enough. Sometimes paints were enough, water paints and big pieces of paper. Mum always painted a mountain and a river flowing down from it. Did she? I thought she did. I always did. Every time a river flowing. Every time a mountain!
My mountain was up there. In knew it, every piece. I knew where the pippy shells were left from Maori meals on their Owairaka fort. I knew where to find the lizards, which rocks to turn. I knew the scarp where there had been a land slip and the soil was red and you could slide down on your pants. I knew the slides of fine loose scoria. And the secret places: the protrusion of rock grassed on top on the side of the old scoria pit on the west side where a steam driven stone crusher languished in rust. There the older boys had their smokes down by the cave entrance and didn't share enough.
The cave led all the way to Three Kings, they said, and people could walk right through it. It was full of secrets. How I longed to enter the bowels of the mountain! Down there it would be warm. But still racing up and then down its folded hills which skirt the volcano I could sense the rhythm, the mystery of a great wonder beneath my feet. There too on grass grazed short by the sheep I could roll down a cupped slope and find myself cradled in the softness below. I can remember seeing lovers lying like the worms on those slopes.
My Secret Place
I sometimes crossed the bush that lay above where the sledge track was and, picking my way through gorse and low shrubs, would find myself an opening in nothingness, filled with the scent of the big wattle tree, with its fingered leaves and cream flowers. No one came there. And I would believe I was the first, an explorer, first to set foot, an aloneness with my mountain who shared my secrets, my fantasies, my emerging boyhood. Then I would crawl out again and back home, but the mountain never left me. It was my retreat, my place of dreaming.
When I look now, what I see is something new amid familiar shapes. Bulldozers have removed the threatening cliffs which enticed us to fall. Gone are the scoria slopes. Now there are green hillsides and hydrangeas. Life has been reordered.
Yet my world remains, my memory, its people, like the marbles of my inner world, but more real. For these have nourished me. The voices, the touching, the experiencing. The rhythm of cicadas, the wagging tail, the smell of mown paspalam. It is a world that will never go away, a womb that bore me, a home that grew me and a mountain that cradled my fantasies and enabled me to see far horizons.
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