The Bata Shoe Factory, near to mum’s friends, Mr and Mrs W, in Happy Valley were looking for workers. When I applied they hired me to work on their gumboot line. An endless conveyor belt going round and round in circles, with part boots on at one end and finished ones off at the other. Each time the upside down boots stopped for a few minutes in front of us workers we did our
At my stop, the gummies got a slosh of glue on their soles and a yellow rubber ‘BATA’ label, that I needed to line up straight and press hard into the glue. Standing around in one spot all day was not only tiring but totally boring, leading to a lot of tom foolery going on among all us young high spirited school leavers. To help the day pass quicker, the young boys spent a lot of their time being cheeky to the girls. Joking and fooling around, they used various ruses to get attention, like tossing rolled up bits of rubber at us.
Reg, our boss, was newly imported from England and tried without success to stop the hi-jinks and impose law and order. Everyone on the factory floor though, was careful to keep a weather eye on the big glass window upstairs, where, the really big-wig bosses, often stood looking down on us workers.
Gum-boots must have been selling good because every week the boss would call for volunteers to sign up for overtime. This extra work was paid time at time and a half, so I was keen, however, the lack of transport back to civilization week-nights and Saturday mornings, was a problem. Trams had never made it as far as Happy Valley, the bus’s last run, was at five pm, and it was miles too far, for what Nana called, ‘Shank’s Pony’. Fortunately a boy across the gumboot line from me, offered me a ride in his car.
It took me no time to say yes as I thought he was quite cute. I didn’t want one of the other factory girls to get their hooks into him. His car was a 1939 Ford Coupe, and we quickly realized we had been neighbors, living just around the corner from each other when mum and us kids lived up Sidlaw.
I heard all the news of the people still living up there. My friend Berys had moved away, the Hudsons who had a boy with Down’s Syndrome, and another son who was an announcer on TV, and poor old, Mrs Ripey, whose husband had been killed in a car accident, leaving her to raise her small children alone, were still there. I remember some neighbors reckoned she had gone a bit ‘funny’ in the head, after seeing her outside cutting her grass with scissors. Probably all she only needed was a lawnmower.
When he asked me if I wanted to go out with him on a Friday night, I agreed, but expected there to be a fight with mum. Surprisingly, she had nothing to say, perhaps because, I was now a board paying worker. Friday night when he turned up at our door, he was all done up flash and I let him say a quick hello to Mum before rushing him off. I was scared she might create a fuss at the last minute.
Wellington Town on Friday nights in 1958, was a blaze of lights and abuzz with noise. An endless convoy of crawling cars, and hot-rods, slow cruised along the main drag, giving shout-outs to anyone they knew in the throng milling along the footpath. It looked like all the residents had turned out to walk the streets all at once, and hand in hand we joined them.
Up one side and down the other we followed the crowd on a circuit through the center of town. With our wages in our pockets we stopped to gawk at all the latest stuff on offer in the shops’ windows. At the most popular place for people to meet in town, a large department store, James Smith’s corner, a bottle-neck of jam-packed people slowed our progress right down.
Waiting to move on, we noticed in their shop window display, vivid colored clothing, screaming out for attention. They were the latest current rage, coming in shades of lime green, shocking pink and burnt orange. Popping into the store, glad to be out of the crush, my date decided he would buy both of us matching outfits in burnt orange. Along with shirts and socks, he adding a string tie with a metal clasp for himself, supposedly cool when worn dangling down the front of a shirt.
After that, to escape the crush on the footpath, we crossed over the road to the ‘Royal Oak’ pub corner, where a kid selling newspapers was yodeling out, ‘Eeening Yoke’. We sat on the seats at ‘Pigeon Park’ exchanging greetings whenever familiar faces came past in the moving mass of people. The real live pigeons rushed around ducking in and out of people’s feet snatching up tossed scraps, mostly fish and chips.
Over opposite us, outside the Opera house, a circle of black uniformed ‘Sallies’, were singing along to brass instruments, struggling to be heard above the street noise. Their bonneted ladies rattling wooden collection boxes were giving out copies of ‘War Cry’.
My date wanted us to go up the road to the ‘Princess’ continuous movie theater, this was two movies endlessly repeating back to back. Probably because the theater never shut, and was warm, there were some very beery smelling characters fast asleep in the seats.
Taking seats up the back, we began watching in the middle of one movie, which was rather hard to get the gist of, not knowing what had been before and sat through the second one. During our watching we had a little kiss which I didn’t mind, but, thought it was a bit strange when he tried to put his hand up my skirt trying to touch my under-wears and squirmed to make him stop. It reminded me of the song on the radio ‘Wandering Eyes’ but he had wandering hands. The beginning of the first movie came around and we left.