NannyGranny’s Olden Days’ Beginnings 41

Another class, the girls in our grouping took, was learning how to make and sew our own clothes. Our teacher for this, was a short French lady with an accent that made her almost impossible to understand. She had us making our own clothes patterns, drawing the shapes onto dotted paper, cutting them out and converting it onto the cloth. We took each others bust measurements, with much girly, nervous, twittering, and before she let us loose on real material, we had to master sewing stitches in straight lines onto brown paper.

The first real sewing assignment was to make ourselves an apron to wear in cooking class. Progressing on, we made more of those disgustingly, ugly black bloomers used at Intermediate and now here, for gym activities. Mum’s ‘Singer’ sewing machine at home helped me quickly sew my way through our projects. Embroidery was another feature of this class, creating lots of little samplers of the various embroidery stitches, including smocking stitch, for the front of little kids nighties and clothes.

‘Homecraft’, included lessons delivered by a Plunkett nurse about how to care for and what to feed babies, practiced on a fake, oversize baby-doll, with real baby gear. After demonstrating mastery in folding up napkins the different ways for girl babies and boy babies, we then had to get them on the fake baby without sticking the big safety pins into its body parts.

Bathing the baby was done holding it wrapped in a napkin like a papoose, tucked under one arm, and shampooing and rinsing the head before putting it in the bath for a body wash. Threading tiny arms and legs into equally as tiny clothes took a lot of patience.

Miss Dixon, was our Gym class teacher, a svelte, fit, immaculately turned out lady with lovely deportment, I really admired. She carried herself like a real ballet dancer.

However, I never liked having to openly strip down in her class to our white blouses and ugly black bloomers, in front of everyone. Mum’s idea from the dark ages of wide elastic garters to hold up the thick, black woolen, school stockings in winter made me feel very embarrassed. After they were removed, they left behind bright red rings imprinted on the tops of my legs. Most girls wore suspender belts with little clips on, that didn’t leave marks.

All the jumping and leaping around, vaulting off the spring board or over the box, in Gym class was also cringe worthy for blossoming girls, quickly exposing whether you wore bra’s or not. I was in the jiggling, flopping group.

A new discovery in the College’s toilet were the two machines for sanitary pads. One was a penny in the slot for getting out clean ones and the other a burner for used ones, filling the room with a funny smell. I was still ripping up our old rags to improvise pads. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to tell mum these new revelations of bra’s, suspenders and sanitary pads, as she never talked about stuff like that. All requests had to wait until she had some money.

‘Touch Typing’ class as the name suggests had to be learned blind. Little wooden boxes, designed to stop any opportunity for, ‘cheating’, (peeking at the keys), had been created to fit over the keypads. Slipping our hands underneath, we were supposed to type exercises written on the blackboard in unison to the loud music playing at an ever increasing tempo.

The ‘Touch’ turned out to be a real nightmare for me. I couldn’t get my head to read the exercises, translate it to move my fingers fast enough to the right keys to keep in time. The faster the music went, the further behind I fell, until overwhelmed with panic, I decided I was a hopeless case and gave up, that class was curtains for me and typing.

Art class field trips, were definitely the best part of college for me. The teacher took a group of us girls, armed with sketch pads and pencils, out and about, to try and re-create the sights our eyes were seeing onto our sketch pads. Climbing up into the hills behind the College, we sat in the long grass of the town-belt, a ring of green hills surrounding Wellington City, covered in towering old man pine-trees.

Looking out over the town, harbor and sea view, spread out below us made me feel like, ‘I’m the ‘King of the castle’. The Governor General’s big posh house, hidden, when passing by its entrance riding the tram around the basin reserve below, from up here looked like a medieval castle with its flag flying from the roof.

Another drawing expedition we went on, was to Oriental Bay itself, for our source of inspiration. Walking along the edge of the Harbor we stopped to sketch the row of little boat-sheds, the boats tied up alongside the wharves, or coming and going across the ever so blue sea of the harbor. My sketches never seemed to come out right, but I loved trying.

March 1957, my fourteenth birthday, mum gave me a heart signet ring, the best gift, I had ever had. I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps it was the ring my dad had promised to send from Australia all those years ago when he left us.

School rules prohibited the wearing of any jewelry, except for watches. I wanted to show it off to my friends and couldn’t resist wearing it. Knowing it would be confiscated if any teacher saw it, I kept it out of sight tucked into my top blouse pocket. When I went to retrieve it, somehow it must have fallen out, because it was lost.