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.

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