School holiday breaks gave our little flats gang more time to venture further afield. The Wellington Zoo, at the top end of Newtown, was like a big magnet that was always drawing us back. We followed the Zookeeper, Mr Cutler’s radio program, to hear what was happening at the Zoo with the animals, and when to visit. Sunday afternoons were a good day, as that was when the ‘Chimps’ tea-parties’ were held.
To get in for free, we walked the few streets over from the flats to the edge of the Newtown Park, beside the Zoo, to take our shortcut. Climbing the fence we crossed through the pine tree boundary, over the park’s nicely mowed lawn, and at the Zoo’s boundary fence, it was up and over again. After sneaking in, we mingled with the big crowd, gathered to watch the ‘Chimps’.
When the ‘Chimps’ came out, holding hands with a helper, they looked hilarious, all dressed up in real kids’ dresses and trousers. Sitting on small chairs at a kid-sized table, they chomped down plates and bowls of delicious looking, chopped up fruit salads. Seeing them stuffing it in using their furry paws, got everyone laughing. Whenever, they fancied a piece from another ones plate, they just dove their sticky furry paws in and stole it. Pinching off each other always triggered an outbreak of screeching fights that the helpers had to calm down.
My sister and me would drool at the sight of the yummy mouth watering ‘Chimps’ fruit. Fruit was rare at our house, mostly it consisted of ‘speckles’ bought from the Chinese, greengrocer, up at the shops. Mum occasionally came up with a shilling, to send me off to buy a big brown, paper bag-full, of the ‘speckles’ just before they closed at midday on Saturdays.
‘Speckles’ were all kinds of different fruits getting sold off cheap as it was too far gone to make it to Monday. Mum washed them off and cut off the bad bits and we would enjoy a fruit feast. When mum could afford it, my sister and I also got to buy an apple for our morning tea break at school, red for me, green for her.
Behind the golf links, just down the road a bit from the flats, was a big pine plantation we loved going to explore. The ooky, spooky, gloomy green light, and super quiet, in there, made us feel like it was a little bit dangerous and scary. We ran among the tall tree trunks playing hide and seek on a giant mat of thick pine-needles, with pretty red spotted mushrooms pushing through. One kid reckoned the mushrooms were poisonous. They reminded me of ‘Brown Owl’s’ big mushroom at ‘Brownies’. After our game we gathered up fallen pine-cones to carry home and turn into owls by gluing eyes on them.
In the summer holidays, grabbing anything we could scrounge up for lunch, we went anywhere we could for a wallow, or swim in water, to cool off. Tramming together for a day out at the Te Aro salt water baths was one of our places. We also tried out the Thorndon public baths for a change and if we had no tram money, we took a long hike down to the beach at Island Bay.
The Te Aro baths were built out into the sea, on Oriental Parade and actually were two separate baths, side by side, one for girls and one for boys. Separated from each other by a wooden dividing wall, each gender peered through the gaps in the wooden planks attempting to get a gander at the opposite side. If we spotted someone we knew, we would chat also through the cracks.
My sister nearly drowned on one of our visits. She was unable to swim and had been getting around in the water clinging on to the edges before slipping and going under. Luckily she made it to the edge. In her memory she reckons, I gave her a push, but I don’t remember that bit. Anyway it scared her up so much she never came swimming anymore.
Anchored out from the shore at the Island Bay beach, was a floating wooden platform, for kids good enough,to swim that far. It was used to take dives off. Out a bit further was a dark rocky island we never knew the name of, but nicknamed it ‘Rat Island’, local kids told us it was covered in big rats. When we were done swimming, we lay on the sand cooking our bodies, watching the pretty colored fishing boats that lived in the bay coming and going. Their fishermen unloaded the fish from their bigger boats into small rowing boats to bring ashore.
In between our dips into the sea, we crossed over the road to the kids park for a play. As the biggest, I was chosen to do the donkey work and race madly around getting the roundabout, loaded up with kids, spinning flat out. When I slipped, my foot slid underneath and got jammed, ripping a chunk of skin off the top. Limping home, I knew not to tell mum as she would’ve got mad at me for being ‘stupid’ again. I just kept it hidden until it healed and only a funny shaped scar was left.
School cooking lessons, for us girls, was the funnest part of our Intermediate week, but a stretch for mum’s budget to come up with the various ingredients needed. Held at the cooking room at Mount Cook School in Wellington town, we got to escape the school-grounds and ride the tram together.
Waiting around for a tram to come along, one of us would nick across the road to the bakery, where, boys all dressed up in white gears were giving us wolf whistles. They would pass out their open door, hand-outs of yummy hot bread and freshly baked buns, we sneaked on the tram to munch all the way into town.
Back at school, the boys got to do wood-working classes, which I rather fancied more than cooking. They made neat things like wooden pencil cases with sliding lids or milk-bottle carriers to put out for the milkman.
Our cooking teacher taught us the basics she thought every girl should know. We separated egg whites from their yolks, taking out all the little bloody bits, boiled up beef bones to make something called ‘stock’ and created homemade meat pies called ‘Cornish pasties’. My favorite were the ‘Cinnamon wheels’. We rolled up scone dough covered in brown sugar and cinnamon and sliced it crossways to show off the rings of filling on the top, before cooking.
At another lesson, we spent time learning about what teacher said was really healthy food, before putting together a lettuce salad. I enjoyed it so much, that, I used the tea money that night to shop for salad stuffs, making tea for mum and my sister was my job. I was hoping they would like it the same as me.
There was a big uproar from mum when I served it up, she flipped her lid and slapped me around the ears, yelling at me, she was ‘not a rabbit’ and didn’t want to eat any ‘bloody rabbit food’. Mum’s idea of eating healthy was making us kids swallow large spoonfuls of ghastly tasting white cream stuff, called ‘Lanes Emulsion’, that tasted like car oil, and another one of ‘molasses’ in the winter time.
Sanitarium ‘Weetbix’ featured big in our daily diet and the opening of each new box triggered a fight with my sister. With both of us begging mum to let us have the collecting cards inside, declaring emphatically it was ‘my turn’.
We ate our ‘Weetbix’ for breakfast, wet, with hot water, sugar and milk on top. For snacks when we were hungry we ate them with the tops smeared in butter with Marmite, or Golden Syrup toppings. When times were tough, in desperation, we even had to eat them bare, which was a bit hard, as they were so dry and crumbly they fell apart into a million crumbs in our mouths. Once in a while when mum had no food, we repeated breakfast at our teatime.
Every day, mum sent me to buy a half loaf of bread from the bakery up at the shops. After the bakery lady pulled the two halves of a whole loaf apart, each side was left with a soft fluffy front face, my sister and I named this, the ‘bunny piece’.
Carrying it home, it was just so tempting to go crazy and rip it off and stuff it in my mouth. Sometimes, I would pick little bits off, around the edges, hoping mum wouldn’t notice. At lunch we both fought to get this prized, first, delicious slice for our sammie. Any left over stale bread, mum cut up into little cubes to boil in milk, for bread and milk breakfasts, we ate sprinkled over with sugar.
Back in their farm days, mum’s sister, Bonnie, did inside work and cooking, and mum helped with outside chores and the milkings. Because of this mum claimed to not know how to cook very much and said one time, she would have liked to make us hot soup in the winter times, but didn’t know how. ‘Bubble and squeak’, fried up left-overs, was one of the few things mum knew how to make. She never tried to use her ‘Edmonds’ cooking book after dad left, it just lay in the kitchen drawer, ignored.
Whenever we asked mum on her days off,
‘what’s for tea?’
she thought she was funny telling us,
‘bees knees and chickens elbows.’
Our milk at the flats’ arrived on the same sort of horse and cart as Nana’s night-cart man had. The milkman parked up out front and accompanied by the sounds of clinking rattling, bottles, trotted around swapping the empties, in wooden milk crates on every front porch, for full.
Berhampore had lots of hilly steep streets, and when the milkman was parked up a hill one afternoon, the cart’s brake gave way. This sent both horse and cart careering downhill and crossing into the path of a passing tram, causing a big accident.
Sometimes, if mum was home to share lunch with us on a weekday she stretched her budget for a treat, sending me off to the bakery to buy us a ‘Sally Lunn’. These were round flat buns, smothered in really yummy, thick, soft, white icing, sprinkled all over with coconut. Inside they had a few sultanas you had to search hard to find, let alone taste.
Carrying a ‘Sally Lunn’ home, made my tongue hang out even more than the ‘Bunny piece’ I could taste it already. Mum sliced the ‘Sally Lunn’ through its middle and buttered the insides, then we all devoured our slices, washed down with cuppa’s.