Some of the Flats’ mothers took an interest in my sister and me, left to our own devices a lot while mum worked, kindly inviting us in for snacks or along on trips. The ‘Bell girls’ who were lucky enough to get to go to real dancing classes, got to show off their talents in front of judges at the, ‘Competitions’ held during the school holidays in the Wellington Town Hall. Mrs Bell would invite the rest of us flats’ kids, to go along to watch as they competed with dancers from all over our area.
I loved going and watching, but it made me so green with envy, I, really, really, desperately, wanted it to be me up there on the stage. I had begged mum to let me go back to ballet lessons, but no money, put the kibosh on that.
Not to be put off, when I read in my ballet books from the library, that if you got too old, it would be impossible to get your leg muscles to do the ballet exercises, I decided there was no time to lose. Taking a leaf out of mum’s book, I decided to make do and attacked an old dress with the big black scissors to create a ballet tunic. Next, I transformed my old slippers into ballet shoes sewing ribbons on each side to tie around my ankles. I tried experimenting stuffing the toes for toe work, but it hurt too much.
Remembering now, I must have looked a dag dressed up in my home-made get-ups, using the back of our dining room chair for a barre while attempting to imitate the positions and exercises in my library book on the table. After the exercises, I pranced around our tiny lounge making up dances and dreaming of becoming the next, Margot Fonteyn, while my sister looked on amused.
If mum wanted us out of her hair for a while, she scraped up enough money for us to go to the pictures at the Ascot or Rivoli theaters, over the hill in Newtown. Getting together with a group of flats’ kids we headed off on Saturday afternoons with a shilling each, ninepence to get in and thruppence for spending money. It never took us long to cunningly figure out, that if we used shank’s pony instead of tramming, we could add to our spending pot by saving on tram fares.
The posters on the hoardings outside the two theaters decided for us which picture to see. Inside, heaps of excited kids filling up the seats, were waiting for the lights to dim and the larger than life images to light up the big screen.
Each session opened with a picture of the new Queen Elizabeth up on the screen, and when the music played her ‘God save the Queen’ song, everyone stood up together and sang along. Next came the trailers, (previews to get you all keen to come back next week). Then they played an episode of the weekly serials. If you never went often enough their plot made no sense. Finishing off the first half was a cartoon like ‘Tom and Jerry’ or ‘Road Runner’.
At half-time, boys, dressed in white coats and caps, walked the aisles with trays hanging off their necks, selling, pre-rolled, rock hard ice creams with cones gone soft from waiting in the freezer. If we were really lucky enough to have some extra to spend we got extra special treats. An ‘Eskimo Pie’ ice cream, or ‘Joy Bar’, chocolate coated ice creams in tinfoil wraps. The joy bars had raspberry centers, and you ate them by pulling up a cardboard tab inside the box.
Eating our ice creams and looking around, we could see high up at the back, through a little square hole, a lighted room with the movie man, winding the film for the main movie onto a big reel. Mostly we saw cowboys and itchy bums, as we called the westerns, they were the most popular. I remember the kids got bored pretty quickly with the musicals, like, ‘Oklahoma’ where the corn was as high as an elephants eye, not keen on all the singing.
That was when the naughty boys liked letting off their ‘stink bombs’. They were some kind of berries that when cracked open gave off the most sickening pong, filling the theater and getting all the kids groaning. Sitting in the dark for a couple of hours then stepping out into the sun again made our eyes go all funny, blinking flat out.
Boring times at the flats, when we were sitting around on the lookout for something to do, we would dream up challenges and double dare challenges, to find out who was a ‘Chicken’. One we came up with was, racing up the stairwell inside the tower fronting the three stories high, flats and ringing the doorbell on each level. This had to be accomplished fast, with an escape out of the door leading onto the rooftops, before, Care-taker Jack, or one of the livelier residents twigged and came after us.
I was the only one dumb enough to do the super double dare we thought up, jumping off a very high concrete retaining wall into one of Jack’s lovely flowerbeds. Hitting the garden below the wall, excruciating shock waves of pain raced up my legs and my poker face was no help in not letting on to the watchers. The kids admiring my feat saw how hurt I was when I had to hobble off home to recover. I held the record for being the only one not chicken, for that one, as no one ever tried it again.
Other difficult challenges were running the marathons we invented. Varying amounts of laps circling the flats’ back boundary. The winner was the one still running after everyone else had dropped out, shouted ‘fans’, or collapsed pooped. Waiting for that to happen on Jack’s carefully mowed lawn we made daisy chains or searched for four-leafed clovers in the grass. Some fantasy in our head, had us convinced, if we ever did find a rare four-leafed clover, it would somehow bring us so much luck we would be millionaires.