Cheryl Nicol is a writer and historian who has recently reconnected with her Christchurch roots after 33 years away.
My mother used to say, when we complained about things, that we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were.
Trying to lip-read Mr Ed on a telly behind a shopfront window wasn’t my idea of lucky. Owning a television wasn’t hers. Life in the slow lane was just her speed – never mind that we were only about three decades behind the rest of the developed world. The proof was right there in one of my father’s old issues of Popular Mechanics.
“Television is ready for the home!” announced the September 1933 edition. These were the words of Russian-American inventor, engineer and pioneer of television technology, Doctor Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin, a name not exactly compatible with a mouthful of dry crackers.
Television deprivation was one thing. Even movie-going was extremely rare. We didn’t call them movies then; this word was an Americanism not yet part of our Kiwi vernacular. Whether they were movies, pictures or plain one syllable ‘flicks’, they all cost money. And my mother didn’t spend money on entertainment when we could make our own out of old cardboard boxes, crepe paper and bits of string.
She was keen to avoid the flock mentality and what she believed was a frivolous waste of my father’s hard-earned money, but in a weak moment she made an exception for Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills.
It was my first time in a picture theatre, a fantasy palace with its subtle lighting, ornate balconies and boxes and vast fancy ceiling. Much more interesting than church, I thought. But then everything was more interesting than church.
The lights went down, the great wall of curtains parted and a loud drumroll brought everyone to their feet. Expecting to hear a hymn I was startled by my flip seat trying to swallow me by grabbing my bottom as I stood up. Instead of a hymn, the national anthem exhorted God to save our gracious queen, signalling her arrival on horseback. She and her horse looked enormous on the screen. I had never seen anything so huge in my short little life.
Having chosen to spend the last twenty years raising her four children Angela now finds herself without an excuse to not nurture some creativity within her life. She hopes to pursue her love of words and in time gift her stories to those she loves.
The memory is foggy. Like a scene from an old movie. But the sound echoes strongly in my head. “Someone stop that child crying”, says the nurse. Out of the corner of my eye I can see her, a vision in white, standing at the long bench on the other side of the room. She has her back to me. “Give her a comic to look at. Maybe that will quieten her down”. The bed feels hard beneath me. Then there is a strange smell as a mask is lowered over my face.
I wake up in a room with sea-green painted walls, in the Lister Presbyterian Hospital in Takapuna, alone. No one comes to visit. I am lonely and sick, sick in the bed. I don’t know why my parents haven’t come. The other children on the ward have visitors. In my desperation to hear their conversation and feel close to someone, I roll through the vomit and teeter on the edge of the bed.
My tonsils are gone, ice cream and jelly is my reward. On discharge day my parents do come to collect me.
It is 1966 and I will soon be three.
Janet is a recently retired school teacher who has lived and worked in several Asian countries as well as in New Zealand schools and institutions. She is now experimenting with writing memoir.
I was inconsolable. They tried everything to stop my crying, offering toys, speaking kind words, trying to make me smile.
It was my first day at school and I had been summoned to the headmaster’s office by a big kid. He’d entered the classroom and announced ‘Janet Bovett has to go to the headmaster’s office.’ Nobody thought to tell me that the school centenary was about to be celebrated and that I, as the youngest pupil, had been selected for a photo in the Taranaki Daily News.
I thought I’d done something wrong and was petrified. I’d heard previously that there were guillotines at school, and I reasoned that a headmaster must have something to do with heads being cut off.
I, as a five year old, had made the wrong connection.
Ruth comes from a large and complex Australian family. She met her life partner, a New Zealander, during a student visit to China during the Cultural Revolution, fifty years ago. The road taken thereafter has been full, stimulating and rewarding. Ruth is writing a memoire reflecting on a life well lived.
I was born third in a litter of seven. To be fair, the litter took twenty years to assemble, and before the last was born, the two oldest had already fled. There are no stories of my birth. Instead, a harrowing event when I was three and dying from pneumonia, became my true birth. The often repeated story of my fraility defined who I became in my parents’ eyes: the runt of the litter and not very bright. It is all relative of course, but hot on the heels of a brilliant older sister and an outrageous brother who demanded my parents’ attention, I felt there was not much hope for me.
My saving grace was that I was also seen as the “pretty little one”, the family pet. I wasn’t meant to be clever, just good. I soon discovered that there were many roles to play practising my “goodness”. I found a particular niche by becoming my mother’s little helper - especially to the three youngest boys. After all, I was named Bonita, daughter of a good woman.
The last of the litter was the only one with a “real” birth story. The only one, my mother said, who was born while she was conscious and not under the influence of “laughing gas”. And that only happened because he emerged in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital. Ever after it became a dramatic moment to pass a particular curve in the road where my father had called out to the driver to stop. Although no blame was attached, I wondered if it was my fault. She had awakened me in the middle of night to find her shoes – and to mind the younger children. Foggy with sleep, I couldn’t respond adequately. I had no idea where her shoes might be. She wandered from room to room trying to find them herself. She wouldn’t leave the house without them until it was almost too late.
They called him Jonnie Risk. I assumed it was because of his risky birth. In fact, it was our Scottish grandmother’s family name. We’d never heard of it before. The last of the litter was only one who received a name with such gravitas. It didn’t suit him. In fact, it was I who became the ultimate risk taker in the family.
Liz and her family moved to New Zealand in the mid 70s. As she gradually relinquishes her working life, she is relishing the opportunities to immerse herself in writing and her love of words.
A whole new enchanting world is opening up!
At the age of twelve years, having anxiously navigated the perils of the Scottish Qualifying Examination (the ‘Qualy’), I started at the Ardrossan Academy in my new royal blue blazer with the school’s ambitious motto of ‘Ad Astra’ emblazoned on the breast pocket. Big changes lay ahead for me. I had been the dux of my primary school and now suddenly competition had arrived in the form of an influx of pupils who had also passed the examination and who lived elsewhere in the area. I was fiercely competitive. Newcomers Daniel Sturgeon and Ellen Love both seemed astonishingly clever and soon occupied the top spots in the class and I was knocked down the pecking order.
About this time I realised that I didn’t want to be seen as a swot and a ‘goody goody.’ I consciously embarked on a strategy to fit in. This was a several pronged approach involving sport, music and boys. In hockey, I started from a lowly position in the Year One ‘D’ team in which I demonstrated little aptitude and less speed. I opted for left half, a position that nobody wanted, and gradually ascended to the Year One ‘A’ team. My diversification into singing was less successful. The nadir for me was when I was asked to mime in the choir at the Ayrshire Schools Music Festival.
My main issue though, was finding a strategy for dealing with the looming boy problem at secondary school. Nothing in my upbringing as an only child had prepared me for entering into the flirtatious fray fraught with unforeseen pitfalls, and loss of control. My solution was to acquire a boyfriend. Rae proved to be kind, popular and great fun. My parents were less enamoured. The low point came when it was reported to my mother, that I had spent an entire school cruise to the Iberian Peninsula sitting on Rae Mathieson’s lap.
Our friendship survived the ensuing fallout. When it was time to apply for tertiary education, I was encouraged to choose a university away from home. Our relationship continued fitfully at first but finally the distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow proved too far. Our last meeting was in my little room in the Pollock Halls in Edinburgh. A ball dress was hanging on the wardrobe door. We had little to say to one another. Our friendship had kept me safe while I grew up. I hope I was kind.
Janet is starting to discover the writer within reflecting on her own life and that of her larger family.
My father loved to chase fires. The second the sirens began wailing on a westerly wind he would be off looking for the fire. Sometimes he took us.
It was July 1967 just before tea-time. The sky was starting to turn pinky orange from the glow of the flames in the quickening dusk as my father, gripped with fire fever, let my two brothers and I bundle into the back of the old green Hillman Humber. We left behind my mother staring at the vanishing Humber, a baby brother and uneaten dinners.
My Dad was hunched over the wheel heading speeding towards the flames, determined to get as close as possible for the best view. I sat in the back adrenalin pumping my system in mounting trepidation and excitement.
When we got closer, I realized, with a sinking feeling, that the burning building was the Henderson Picture Theatre, the place where I had spent many a Saturday afternoon watching the news of the world segments, the westerns in black and white, The Wizard of OZ and also the place where I, carefully, spent my 6d pocket money on lollies, sherbet, or a chocolate bomb ice cream.
As the flames leapt into the darkening sky and timber cracked, popped and exploded we watched, in morbid fascination, what seemed to be half the population of Henderson and the firemen desperately trying but not succeeding to bring the fire under control.
It had burnt to the ground. Gone.
.Judy is a peripatetic Aucklander, a reader, a writer, a teacher and a parent who also loves to snorkel. She writes for her own amusement.
Hold on!! Riding on Holdens racing the dawn through the Cross.
Sixteen at last, trans Tasman temptations. My life in Darlinghurst stumbling into a squat where the lessons I'd learn, survival skills, and values unveiled, I'd continue to draw upon throughout my life.
At last I'd shed that mantle of conservatism, restriction and regimentation that had shaped and shackled my childhood in convent schooling, family life and parochial New Zealand society of the time. I was free to inhale, a ticket to places longed for. I'm at the table ready to devour life’s bounty.
Curiosities and curios, Darley St with the flotsam and jetsam of mid 70s Sydney. Cross dressers, cross coasters, cross-eyed, wide-eyed.
Marsupials and marzipan, pistachios and avocados, so exotic, erotic, cirrhotic. The mystique of first time experiences. This was Mecca for a foolhardy innocent of a girl who knew it all.
Yet within the hedonism, heroics and headless antics a character was being moulded of whom I'd grow to be. Are we not the sum of our experiences and beliefs and how they are processed?
Is it perhaps because now being an elder, an elderflower, that the past can be airbrushed with such affection? No, I believe those days were extraordinary. We were generational shooting stars rebelling, retelling and repelling the hypocrisies of pretence that had prevailed.
To say courage is best learnt on the run would be generous, though having stamina and resilience was no doubt handy. It was never a consideration being brave or bold, I thought I was immortal, garbed in an armour, a protective prism. That was until one slate October dawn drive home that resulted in my sister's skull and my own being smashed upon the bonnet of a moving meat truck outside Finders Street Station.
But that was when I was seventeen... and that’s another chapter.
Sandra was imported into New Zealand in 1987 by Chris, a born and bred Glendowie boy, leaving behind her all of her family and all of her history. She is writing now to remember and enjoy, and for her children to know a little more of her life, her family and their British heritage.
My arrival into the world, at the Battle Hospital, Reading, was premature, so premature I was described only as 6lb something and ‘like a skinned rabbit’. My older sister, in comparison, was described as having a head so large that it was unsurprising her delivery was by caesarean section.
Too large, too small, perhaps the youngest sibling came out just right.
My mother’s explanation for me being three weeks early was that she had kick-started her motorbike once too often.
I am the middle one of three girls, Elaine Jennifer, Sandra Joy and Celia Jane. I always thought I was gifted the pick of the names. All of us however were grateful not to have been christened Blodwyn or Angharad which Dad, joking we think, told us were both considered, given our mother Beti’s Welsh heritage. Whilst Dad also suggested that one of us should have been Christopher Plummer of The Sound of Music fame, there was never any hint that boys would have been preferred.
Funnily enough it was a Christopher that I married, and we were blessed with glorious girls too. Just two for two reasons: firstly because I could choose how many, and secondly because more seemed impossibly difficult, I only have two hands. Whilst they were late and they were stuck, not just resistant to being parted from me, and needed a surgeon’s help for their arrival at National Womens’ Hospital in Auckland, Lydia and Evie came neither too big nor too small, but perfect.
Dianne enjoys researching her family’s history and is writing stories for the younger members of her family to enjoy.
After four years of boarding school and two years in a training college hostel my PA (Probationary Assistant) teacher training year was to be spent in three different schools at the whim of the South Auckland Education Board. The final summer term two friends, who were teaching at the same school, asked me to go flatting with them. I then had the unenviable task of persuading my parents that no suitable board was available and this was the only option. My mother always considered flats ‘as dens of iniquity’ and whenever she could she would persuade my father to drive her over to ‘call in’ to check up on things.
The flat was above a shop, two bedrooms and a lounge/dining area looking over the back yard. Below, three lively lads who delighted in hitting a cricket ball around after work while they downed bottles of beer. Saturdays were even more interesting as their cricketing mates arrived for the after match function and to ‘tease the girls’ upstairs. What a distraction and one of them was divorced which alarmed my mother even more.
Every morning around seven the Senior Mistress, a delightful lady who had lost her fiancé during the war and who took a motherly interest in us, rode past on her bicycle in her faded black gown and rang the bell loudly to make sure we were ‘on deck’. At school we’d find her at the gate monitoring the students as they arrived and commenting on the state of their uniform, their conduct and their punctuality.
Things seemed very dull when, after the usual end of year flurry of activities, I returned home to the isolation of the farm and to prepare for my first teaching position.
Raewynne now has the opportunity to put down on paper all the stories and ideas buzzing around in her wild creative head. The journey is just beginning…
“What time do you need picking up?”
“When do you need dropping off?”
Juggling a teenager’s three hours of gymnastic training every night after school along with running a busy household would have flustered the majority of parents but I made it worse for mine by cramming in even more: gymnastics coaching, ballet, tap dance and netball which meant more co-ordination with who was doing what.
My life was finely tuned in these formative years: get up, have breakfast, bike to school, somehow get through my college classes staying awake (the teacher got quite mad when I fell asleep), go to gym, or netball training, or gymnastics coaching, home by 8pm, half an hour to watch my favourite TV programme while eating dinner and then the dreaded homework.
But I would much rather do more gymnastics practice to hone the skills — doing beam practise on the crease in the carpet in the living room, knowing it was not quite right if my energetic backward flick flacks had me crashing into the lounge room door.
My gym coach became my second Mum, while my poor mother got my wrath when she missed taping the opening scenes of Shortland Street; “How could you have missed it,” I would scream at her.
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