My first sight of where mum’s new flat was, came when we walked past a large sign out front, that announced ‘The Berhampore Flats’. Inside the main entrance way, a noticeboard posted all the residents’ names and flat numbers in gold letters on black, to help visitors find you. The concrete, pink painted buildings, were built on four sides of a square with lawns and gardens in the center. Some were two stories high, and one even had three stories, reached by a tower on the front.
Mum’s number eleven, was a very small two bedroom flat in a row really meant to be for old age pensioners. Because mum had been so desperate to get closer to town, she told a lie to the flats people, (State Advances) telling them she had no children so they would let her rent it. I was always scared one of the other residents would put her pot on when they saw us kids and we would get sent away again.
Mum had sold all our stuff from the Sidlaw Street house, because it didn’t fit in this tiny flat. Now she had a new sofa in the little sitting room that folded down into a bed for her sleeps, and squeezed into the one bedroom were two single beds for my sister and me.
Also the bedroom had a mirror cabinet with drawers and a small wooden wardrobe for our kids’ clothes. We were surprised to see the built in wardrobe was stuffed full of mum’s new clothes, including a new fur coat. She would have been horrified to know, we kids loved opening the door to stick our heads inside and bury our faces in the coat’s lovely, furry, softness.
Worried that moths might get at it and eat the fur off, she had put lots of stinking little white balls, called ‘moth-balls’, in the wardrobe with it. Mum and Nana both hated big moths and whenever a moth, attracted to our lights at night-time made it inside, mum would go nuts, making me hunt it down and throw it out.
Defending mum’s fur coat always made me grin because it got me thinking about the, ‘Harpo’, brothers’ picture, we had seen with Nana. It was hilarious watching one of the bros, brush a whole stripe of fur, off, of the back of the other ones fur coat.
One of Nana’s true stories was about the time she got a moth stuck in her ear. She reckoned its fluttering nearly drove her mad and she had to go to the hospital where a doctor squirted some stuff in her ear to get it out. Whenever Nana was around at bedtimes, she told us kids to pull the blankets right up over our ears to, ‘keep the moths out’. This made me think about, if moths would eat your brain.
On one side of us, in flat number ten, lived a professor of something with an Asian wife who never came outside, ever. Once when we knocked on their door, she opened it up a wee tiny crack and talked to us through the crack, in English, we could not understand.
On our other side, in number twelve, lived a very ancient old couple. At night, as we lay in our beds, we could hear through our bedroom’s joint concrete block wall, lots of shouting. We found it hard getting off to sleep, as the two really tall lights on silver poles that flooded the grounds at night with bright light shone right through our curtains.
The flats care-taker, named, Jack, was a bit grumpy and ruled the flats’ empire like it was his own personal estate. He kept everything up to scratch and any kids breaking his rules, would soon have him on their case.
However the flats kids still liked to try and put one over on him. Like sneaking past his door and up the steps to get up onto the flat roof-tops where the residents’ wash houses and clotheslines were. We kids liked to play up there, pretending we were on the top of a castle.
After only being home with mum for a week, she told us we were going on an Aeroplane to spend our Christmas holidays with Nana. She had moved to Christchurch, down in the South Island, to live with her other girl, our Auntie Bonnie. They had gone in to business together and bought a dairy near the South Brighton beach. I had been missing Nana lots so this news made me really happy.
When the day of our first ever plane ride arrived, I was excited about getting to fly, but most of all seeing Nana again. Mum, my sister, me and suitcase, rode on the tram into town to the Airways bus depot where mum put us on the bus that did the trip out to the Paraparaumu Airport.
Looking down at mum, standing alone on the footpath waving us off, from my seat high up in the bus, I thought how small she looked, and felt suddenly sad. I wished she didn’t have to work so much and was coming with us. My sister was upset, wanting to stay with mum, then the bus started up, pulled out of the depot, and she was lost to sight.
At the Paraparaumu Airport end, the N.A.C. Air Hostess showed us to our seats on the plane, called a DC3. Also showing us the little brown paper bags, hanging out of the back pockets on the seats in front of us, for spewing in, if we felt sick. I let my sister have the window seat because I felt nervous and didn’t want to look out.
The roaring noise of the engines, and the plane walls shaking and rattling so bad, I thought they were going to pop open, was all pretty scary. But worst of all was hitting air pockets. Every little while, right out of the blue, the plane would go dropping downwards, making us leave our stomachs behind.
It seemed like we were flying for ages after taking off, and it was a big relief when I took a quick peek out of the window and saw little houses below us getting closer and closer. The Air-hostess came walking up and down the aisle sharing out a bowl of boiled lollies for everyone to suck on, she reckoned they would help stop popping ears coming in to land.
On the ground, at Hare-wood Airport, I was really happy to be safely out of the sky, flying had turned out to be, not that much fun after all. Spotting Nana’s smiley face waiting for us in the crowd, I felt pleased inside we were together again. I couldn’t wait to tell her the heaps of stories I had, since we last saw her.
She gathered up our suitcase and we boarded the bus to the Cathedral Square, in the middle of Christchurch. After another bus ride to South Brighton we came to the end of all our travels. At Nana’s shop, there was a big surprise waiting for us. A new, cute, little three year old cousin, named Judith, who belonged to our Auntie Bonnie and mum hadn’t even told us about her.
Nana told me our ‘cousin Judy’, as we named her had been in a children’s home for the first ten months of her life, and got quite famous, because a photo of her was taken with the Governor General’s wife, and put in the paper. Only seeing her mother at weekends decided Nana and Auntie Bonnie to buy their shop together. They wanted to bring Judy home. Nana ran the dairy and cared for our cousin, while, Auntie Bonnie worked nights at a posh hotel in the city and slept during the daytime.