Harsh times

We lived in Te Kuiti for a couple of years then, Mum decided it was time to move on. Peter was left with a school friend’s family for the rest of the year and I went to stay with a friend of Mums.

I think the main idea was that I would be able to help her take care of her five year old son, by taking him to school each day and sometimes picking him up afterwards. The only problem was that his school was at the opposite end of town to mine, which meant setting out at least half an hour earlier to get him there and me back to my school on time. The spoilt little brat was not used to having to get a move on, and his mother did not help matters by letting him take his time. So long as he got to his school on time she was not worried about me being late. She was a bit of a hypochondriac and often took to her bed and kept me home from school to look after her.

She would dose the poor kid up on all sorts of things whether he needed it or not. One day it was castor oil, and she made me take a big spoonful. As I was not used to taking anything like that, it had rather drastic effects on me – I was up to the loo most of the night. The problem with that was the loo was out down the end of the back yard. By morning, I was so exhausted I could not get up any more. The silly woman was so scared of what she had done she sent for the doctor who gave her the telling off of her life. Later when she got the doctors bill of ten shillings, she gave it to Dad to pay and got another bollocking, as Dad did not believe in doctors unless someone was at deaths door.

I missed quite a lot of school that term so Mum, who was living in a one bedroom flat in Parnell, took me to Auckland. For the next two terms I went to a girls’ boarding school at Grey Lynn. By the end of the year Mum had got a two bedroom flat above a block of shops at Highbury. This is where she and I lived over the Christmas holidays. Then we got an awful little concrete house just down the road from the shops. It was built on the side of a gully that was overgrown with bush and scrub, and drained all the gutters from higher up down to the sea between Birkenhead and Chelsea. The house had two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen with stairs going down to the back door and a loo outside. There were a couple of wash tubs facing under the house, and a copper for boiling the water for washing or for a bath. The bath was partitioned off beside the copper. There was no hot water and if anyone wanted a bath, the copper had to be lit to heat the water. Then the hot water had to be ladled into the bath, and even then you ended up with only a couple of inches of water that went cold very quickly.

The kitchen had an old black wood range that we could not use. It was supposed to be for heating the water but the cistern had holes in it and would not hold water. Mum would not ask the landlord to fix anything because he would charge such a high rent that she could not afford it and we had nowhere else to go. She tried for years to get a state house, but because we had a roof over our head we were not eligible for one.

The sitting room was the best room in the house. It had an open fireplace but when any other members of the family came home it was turned into a bedroom as well. The second bedroom was shared by Peter and I and was divided down the middle by an old curtain. The house was unlined concrete walls and someone had tried to put wallpaper up, but because the concrete had not been sealed the wallpaper would not stick properly and kept peeling off in great strips leaving bare concrete.

A bit of history…

Kath did a bit of research on the family tree about 14 years ago to trace the emigration of the Spinettos from Italy to England. From what she could make out, there were four young Spinetto boys, either brothers or cousins. They left Italy and made their way to England in the 1830’s, settling in and around the Manchester area. One of them was Kath’s great grandfather whose name was Michael.

Michael’s son was Joseph (Kath’s grandfather), who had a jewellers shop in Yorkshire. He and his wife had 7 or 8 children. Kath’s father was Oliver, who was the seventh child. Oliver and Kath’s mum decided to emigrate to N Z in 1920, as there was very little prospect of good jobs for ex soldiers. The rumour was that Oliver’s father had offered to help him set up in the jewellery trade in Auckland, but on the way out, he got caught up by a couple of con men and was talked into farming instead.

What a very different set of tales we might have had if Oliver had kept to the jewellery plan!

Te Kuiti times….

After meeting me in Auckland, Mary saw me safely back to Te Kuiti where Mum had a shop. Here she did dressmaking, and she also had the agency for the sale of Singer sewing machines.

It seems that after I had gone to England, Mum decided to try and get Dad off the farm. To do this she took Peter, who was aged eight, and moved to Taumaranui and set up shop there. She went back to the farm at weekends to cook and clean etc.

When she knew I was coming home, she moved the shop back to Te Kuiti, as it was nearer to the farm. Now at weekends, she would take Peter and go back to the farm on Friday night returning on Sunday. I was left to fend for myself for the most part, and was allowed to go to a friends place for a short while in the afternoons, but was not to stay long.

Eventually Dad moved from the old farm at Waitomo to a smaller farm about a mile from town, and we used to walk out to get fresh milk. We lived on at the shop, and after about a year Dad finally gave up on farming and came back to live with us at the shop. He got a job with the town council, and Peter and I went to the local Catholic school.

One Saturday afternoon when I was wandering round looking for someone to play with, I saw a group of boys throwing stones at something. I went to look and was horrified to see it was a box of a 100 live detonators. The kids had tipped them out and thrown water on them, then stood back and took turns at throwing stones to see if they could set them off. I was scared stiff myself, as I knew what detonators were used for, but hoped they were safe enough on their own. I told the kids off and scared them enough to chase them off, then very gingerly gathered the detonators back into their box and took them home. I asked Mum what to do with them, and she made Dad take them and me up to the police station to explain where they had come from. The police also wanted to know how I knew what they were. I had to make an official statement so a policeman could write it down, then I had to read it and sign it.

I was scared I was going to be locked up and was glad to get out of there. I know the police made a few enquiries about them, but they did not concern me any more.

The End of the Road

In our travels we went to visit Mums sister Kathleen and her two daughters, Marion and Kathleen, in Blackpool. The girls who were a couple of years older than me, were so excited, they took me by the hands and ran me up the road a short way to show me off to their friends who had never met a Kiwi kid before. It was in Blackpool that I spent my last penny to buy a stamp to go on a letter home. That was the only time I saw my aunt and cousins, as there was no love lost between the two sides of the family.

As the school term ended I was told I would not be going back to school. The aunts had decided to send me home because there was so much talk of war, and the thought of air raids and gas masks and bombs was too big a responsibility for someone else’s child. So passage was booked on the first available ship going back to N Z. Angie was to travel with me and Emily was to stay and look after the house in case of any more break-ins.

It was early 1937 and the ship we travelled on was the Mataroa – a sister ship to the one we had come over on. The trip was uneventful and there were only a couple of other kids on board. We retraced our route back through the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean making the same stops as on the way over. When we got to Pitcairn Island the canoes came out to meet us and I was given sixpence to buy a little straw hat for my doll. I had to put my sixpence in the basket and send it down to the canoe and the little hat was sent up to me.

When we arrived safely back in Auckland and I was handed over to my sister, Mary, while Angie returned home to Wales.

Music to my ears

It was decided that I should learn a musical instrument of some sort as both aunts were very proficient musicians – Angie with piano and organ, and Emily with violin and other stringed instruments. There was a mighty row over who should be my teacher. Eventually it was decided Angie would teach me the piano. So my lessons started with my learning the lines and spaces, E G B D F and F A C E for the treble cleff, and G B D F A and A C E G for the bass.

These were drummed into me at every lesson and I was getting along nicely, and was even playing simple tunes with both hands when trouble struck. At school we were learning the vowels and consonants, and they were also being drummed in to us. I started getting them mixed up with the music notes, so that when I sat down for a lesson and was told to recite the lines of the treble cleff, I smartly replied with A E I O U. I got a frosty look, but no comment and was asked for the other lines and spaces over and over several times. Then suddenly the piano lid was slammed down and I was forbidden to touch it again. I still did not know what I had done wrong until our next English lesson, when I realised I had quoted the vowels by mistake, and that Angie must have thought I was making fun of her. Oh well, it saved me from hours of practise and from singing lessons. They had already taken me to a singing teacher, but he said that when I could accompany myself on the piano he would consider me for a pupil.

Sometimes on a fine weekend we would go for a walk down to the beach where there were donkey rides on the sand. One day as a special treat I was given a ride but I was disgusted with it. The poor old donkey was led by its owner a few yards along the beach and back to where we started. It was pathetic after I had ridden all over the farm on horses three times as big as that poor donkey.

Other times we would go up through a little wooded area that was carpeted with bluebells and only a narrow path through them. They were so pretty I decided we should have some in our own garden and when no one was looking I pulled up a couple of bulbs. I sneaked them home and planted them in the garden near the gate where they could be seen and admired by everyone going past. I did not know they were regarded as a weed but was quickly informed and made to remove them.

During school holidays we would go on day trips to some historical site or an old castle in an attempt to further my education. I cannot remember anything about them except a heap of old stones.