Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Those Were The Days - My First Year Of Infant Schooling

How small we were in those days!

Yours truly is in the middle row, 6th from left. The school is Waitara Central in the town of Waitara, Taranaki, New Zealand.  Waitara Central celebrated its 125 Jubilee in the year 2000.

Five abiding memories from those times:

  1. Compulsory and free school milk that was delivered in half pint glass bottles and which we consumed at 'playtime' (morning break)
  2. My school leather satchel which was my pride and joy and carried a homemade sandwich lunch.
  3. Home knitted jerseys of various patterns and hues which my mother created; she was a good seamstress, knitter and creator of various home crafts.
  4. The crackle of winter frosts and iced-over puddles underfoot as we walked to school.
  5. A robust and vigorous childhood full of outdoor games and adventures.

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Caraway Cake and Catastrophes

I detested caraway seed cake. As a youngster I first tried this morning tea accompaniment when a former neighbour of my grandparents came to visit.

Mrs Dainty was aptly named as she was by stature and disposition a quiet and neat lady. She lived in Hackthorne Road at the foot of Christchurch Cashmere Hills. Her home was next to that of my father's earliest residence as a child, before the family moved higher up the hill to 118 Dyers Pass Road.

The weatherboard house is still there although its large garden section was subdivided and sold off for another house decades ago when my grandparents had passed away.  As was customary at the time my grandparents were largely self-sufficient when it came to fruit and vegetables.  Their apricot trees produced abundant crops and Grandma's bottle apricots were a real tweet.

Once a month the widow Dainty took the tram and later bus to have tea with my grandmother.  It was a quiet affair and she always brought her tea cake as a contribution.  A child's palate naturally favours sweet treats over highly aromatic spices and this why I never took a liking to the pungent caraway concoction.  Cumin tastes great in curries but can be overpowering in baking.

Trips to my grandparent's home were a much anticipated odyssey as the travel from Waitara in Taranaki, to the city of Christchurch required a lengthy car trip to Wellington and the overnight ferry to the port of Lyttelton.  Sleeping in a ship's bunk and being awakened by the steward delivering a morning cup of tea remain abiding memories. The Wahine, Rangatira and Maori were three of the Union Steam Ship Company vessels we travelled on.

This pilgrimage to my father's family did not occur that frequently; every couple of years was the usual space between visits and as my grandparents were both kindly people who doted on my father and his offspring. These rare visits remain full of very fond memories. The two things I remember most about my paternal grandmother was her pet canary and the range of scented soaps that surrounded her deep enamel bath.

As the Dyer's Pass home was built on a slope the underneath of their house had a large basement storage area which could be accessed from the garden below. The old wind-up gramophone and heavy 78 records had been stored there and I became adept at replacing the metal needles and listening to early tenors and orchestral music after vigorously winding the apparatus's handle.

A little further up the road was the Sign Of The Takahe whose construction was completed the year of my birth, 1948.  It was one of four road houses that on the Summit Road and was modelled on the manor houses and castles of Britain - all very baronial and a source of endless fascination for a young boy.

My grandparents were great walkers and my father remained so.  A Sunday walk from the Sign of the Takahe to Victoria Park and beyond was a family tradition.  Part of its allure was the large childrens' playground and old field artillery gun which kept active boys such as I, endlessly amused.

Sign of The Takahe - interior
Thankfully both the Sign of the Takahe and The Sign of Kiwi suffered only minor damage in the devastating Christchurch earthquakes that destroyed much of the city's heritage.  In a way I am thankful that my father never lived to see the destruction of the city that he loved so much.

Entry to Victoria Park- Port Hills, Christchurch
For me Christchurch is a city of childhood memories and will always remain so. My aversion to caraway seed cake also remains firmly rooted in my psyche.

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