Life Back Then

When I was 11 years old my Form 1 class was set an assignment.  We had to interview one or other of our parents about their childhoods and write in some form what life was like back then.  I came across my composition last night as I perused the pages of  “FABRIC OF A FAMILY – The family history and background of Mary and Jerzy Podstolski” by my sister, Jeannie Beauchamp.   (If Jeannie hadn’t added my words to the family history they’d be totally lost.)

I interviewed Mum for the project at home in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1971.  Mum was born in 1920 in Hucknall, England.  If she was alive today she’d be turning 99 on 25 October 2019 while I will be turning 60 in a few days.   And so, to celebrate two young lives, and history in general, here is my piece.

Mary Spray in 1929

Mum’s Generation

Family Life

Before I start I’ll let you know that Mum was born in a small town that was part of Nottingham, England.

Mum would have to get up at 8 a.m because she lived very close to school.  Her dinner was at 12 p.m and tea was at 4 p.m.  She had to go to bed at 9 p.m.

In the evenings Mum would read a great deal.  She would sometimes play outside with a ball and often she would play cricket in the back yard.  She would go for walks, write letters to her friend (who lived next door), knit and listen to the radio.

Mum was expected to do no work as her grandma did it all.

Mum was disciplined a great deal by her grandmother and she was never allowed to go for walks by herself.

Mum used to go to the sea a lot on holidays.  She went to Skegness, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes.  They would only stay for about four days.

My grandfather, Edwin Spray, tests the water.

Bournemouth holiday snap. Mum is the little girl 4th from the left in front.  1924.

In the weekends Mum’s parents would be busy in the shop so Mum could never go out.  Sometimes they would go for long walks in the country.  On Sunday Mum would go to Sunday School, and in the afternoon they would have visitors or visit someone else.

Mum got sixpence a week pocket money, and in the summer on Saturdays she would be allowed an ice cream which one of our relations made.  She wasn’t allowed to get ice cream from anywhere else other than her relation because in those days people made their own ice cream and sold it and you never knew what they put in it.  People only made ice cream on Saturdays and on Sundays none of the shops were open.

Transport

In Mum’s area they usually travelled by taxi, car or bus.  If they were going for a long holiday they would go by train.  To go to a beach they would go by train because the nearest beach was about 200 miles away as they lived in the Midlands.  Mum’s parents did not have a car but they lived with Mum’s grandmother who owned half a car.  Mum’s aunt (Grandmother’s daughter) owned the ofther half.  Often Mum would go out in Grandmother’s car with the family, but since no-one could drive, they hired a man to drive for them.

Left to right: My great grandmother (Lizzy), Aunty Mary, my grandmother (Ada), Mum (Mary), and the hired driver.

Mum needed no transport to get to school as her school was almost across the road from where she lived, but if she had needed transport, she would have been lucky, because there was a bus stop right by her front door step.

The mail would be delivered twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  It’s much better in England because the letterbox is in the door so no-one can steal your mail.

Mum lived right near an aerodrome and she heard planes fly over a lot but in those days there were no passenger services.

Housing etc

All houses were made of brick but mostly red brick.  Most young people lived in rented houses.  The suburbs which were being developed were mainly Linby, Papplewick, and Bestwood estate.

Mum had electricity.  She had never heard of vacuum cleaners.  Instead she had an ewbank sweeper which she pushed up and down the floor.  She didn’t have a washing machine but a tub.  Mum had two irons which were called sad irons.  While one was being used, the other sat on the gas element, and when the one which was being used got cool, they would be changed around.  They had a heater and Mum’s old-fashioned grandfather used to think it was the same as a fire so he would throw rubbish into it hoping it would burn.

Cake mixers had not been heard of, neither had electric blankets or fridges.  Instead they put their food in the cellar or meat safe.  Hot water bottles had been invented and so had treadle sewing machines.  Mum’s mother had one because she was a dressmaker.  Mum did not have a toaster but she toasted bread on a toasting fork by the fire.  Later on they had a radio.

In Mum’s day there was a lot of difference between the rich and the poor.

Education

Mum’s school was as big as ours if not bigger.  There was not a shortage of teachers, in fact lots were out of work.  The play area of the school was only a concrete playground.

The programme included maths, country dancing, physical education, composition, sewing and cookery, and housewifery.  The system was much better than now because in housewifery they taught you to keep your house tidy, wash windows, iron etc.

The holidays were four weeks at August, one week at Easter, one week at Christmas, and one week at Whitsuntide.

The schools were mainly public like today.  Anyway Mum never went to college.  She left school at 14 years old.  Lastly the schools were very strict.

Work

Work was very difficult to find and jobs were easily lost.

The pay was all right but not very good to miners.  Some miners who had big families to look after got a pay of 16 shillings a week.  Transport was reliable to and from work.  The main public job which was available was mining as Hucknall is a mining town.  The hours of work were 8 hours a day, 9 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

Working conditions were not as comfortable as now.

There was no rationing during the Depression in England.

Work was always hard to get in England because of the population, and it still is.  Lots of people beg on London’s streets.  Something you won’t see in Wellington.

Fashion

Everyday clothing was just the same as now except the dresses were longer and for women no trousers were allowed.  Mum wore just ordinary clothes to school.  She didn’t have a uniform.  It was easy for Mum to get clothes because her mother was a dressmaker.

Mum with her mother, Ada, directly behind her.

For a lot of poor people clothes would have to last a long time because people could not afford new clothes very often.

At balls and special functions women would wear long gowns and men would wear tails.

Wet weather wear did differ from today.  Coats were not waterproof, and there was no such thing as plastic.

Shoes mostly had buckles for women, and for men there were lace-ups.  I don’t think buckles were on men’s shoes like today.  Wellington boots were worn in wet weather.

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Well – it ends rather abruptly doesn’t it.  Either I hadn’t learn to finish off essays yet or the last page went missing.  In any case, I think the teacher liked it.

The author at the approximate time of writing this – aged 11.

Mum and I at a wedding reception in New Plymouth, 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise Reflected

“Sunrise Reflected”    Coloured pencils,   35 x 35 cm.   June 2019

As I walked home with Matthew late on Saturday night I said to him that I would definitely NOT get up at the crack of dawn on Sunday (as I had been doing every day so far in Venice) but I would sleep in.  I didn’t want to burn the candle at both ends; I mean, I’m no spring chicken!

“Silent Night” – a drawing from Saturday night when we stayed out late.

However, despite sensible intentions to rest, I flung myself out of bed and out of the apartment before sunrise.  I dashed across the ponte dell’ Accademia and straight onto a southbound vaporetto (water bus).  Just as the boat glided away from the stop and into the Grand Canal the sun was rising.  There before my eyes were the palazzos (and the vaporetto stop) madly reflecting back the sunlight.  It was a dawn chorus of light, a visual symphony on that Sunday morning.

After I took a whirlwind of photos an inspector came to check that I had a valid ticket.  I did.  We exchanged big smiles.  And all was brilliant with the world.

 

Silent Night

“Silent Night”
coloured pencils, 32.5 x 29 cm. May 2019

Late on Saturday night there are people partying in Venice.  We walk past a hot-spot where there is a silent disco on the campo.  (Silent? Yes, the dancers are all wearing headphones – a surreal sight.)

We continue on our journey, navigating ourselves deep into the peace of Dorsoduro.

No cars, not even the hum of far-away traffic.  It is a profound silence, broken only by the soft thuds of shoes on stone and perhaps a voice carried on the breeze.

And shortly after this, we find ourselves lost once again.  But we don’t mind.

 

 

 

Intrigue

“Intrigue”
Coloured pencils, 35 x 25 cm. May 2019

Within the web of Venice one wanders, and wonders, “Shall I turn right (or left)?  What is beyond that bridge?  I’ll go straight“, [side-tracked] “But oh – THAT way looks intriguing.  Which way, which way?”  And after a few more moments, glancing back, “Now, where the heck did I come from?” And so one twists and turns until one is deep within the labyrinth, hoping one has memorized the way back.

There are infinite pathways.  Each one offers another view point, another framed composition which must be stopped at and dreamily sighed over.  Accompanying the wondering wanderer is the sound of lapping water and (in spring) blackbird song amplified and bouncing off stone walls (those skew-whiff walls which frame compositions).

Of course it is early, for later on Calle del Caffettier (as indeed every other calle) will be choked with tourists.  But right now on this March Sunday morning I am almost alone.

Sigh!


Afterword: I had trouble getting back into drawing after my recent Italian trip.     As I walked in a fallow state of mind along my local beach it dawned on me that our West Australian shells contain the same colours as the marble and stone buildings of Venice.  (Well, after all, both shells and Venice are immersed in sea water periodically depending on moon, weather, season and tides.)  I carried a few shells home and somehow this collection of colourful calcium carbonate gave me the impetus to get back to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty in Pink

Revisiting Venice in March I am overwhelmed and enchanted by the colour pink.  In sky, water, buildings, lamps, mosaics, paintings, furniture, fabrics, outdoors and indoors – pink is everywhere!   So I give you a pink post.  The photos (taken over seven days)  begin in the early morning, move through the day and finish at night.

Sometimes bright, sometimes subtle – “Pretty in pink, isn’t she?” – “The Psychedelic Furs” ( and by the way, who remembers that song?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coast of Most

Wellington Cable Car

Home is where the heart is – and this past week I’ve been there.  Let me show you ‘my place’ – where I lived for the first eighteen years of my life (the formative years).

Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Karori

I grew up in Karori (the only bit of this post that isn’t on the coast).  Here we find Zealandia, an ecosanctuary where ornithologists are dedicated to studying and re-establishing native bird populations in the Wellington bush and suburbs.  What an inspirational area to visit – and I recommend you do.

A kaka sizes me up.

Matthew and I stay at Island Bay, one of the southern beaches.  The view is so different depending on the weather that throughout this post there are several photos of views from our lounge window.  The hills beyond are the eastern ranges of Pencarrow.  This is a pearl of a morning.  (We watch the planes coming in if it is a northerly and going out if it is a southerly.)

Island Bay calm morning (but cold!)

Several times per day the Interislander ferries sail past us commuting between North and South Islands.

Island Bay stroll.  (These must be locals because they are dressed as if it is warm – which it isn’t.)

The next beach along is Owhiro Bay.  The mountains in the distance are the Kaikoura mountains of the South Island.  They have fresh snow on them – gorgeous – due to a sudden southerly blast the previous day.

Owhiro Bay houses

Owhiro Bay life.

Kaikoura mountains, ferry and SPRAY!

Right in the heart of Wellington city is Oriental Bay.

Oriental Bay

Oriental Bay sky on a breezy afternoon.

Late afternoon lounge view.  The end of a sapphire day in Wellington.

The following morning the weather has changed.  Clouds and northerly gales are the order of the day.

Island Bay view from the lounge

We drive across the Rimutaka Range to Palliser Bay.  To call it windy is a gross understatement!

The coastline at remote and wild Lake Ferry.

Southern black-backed gull

White-fronted terns and black-backed gulls.

Matthew, flying cormorant and tern flock.

Wild windy sky over Lake Onoke.

Further around the coast (another 50 kms) is Ngawi where crayfish are caught.  Lack of a harbour means that bulldozers have to haul the fishing boats up onto the sand.  “A graveyard for bulldozers” is how it is described to me.

Ngawi

New Zealand fur seals live here.

“Hello”

Two friends.

Cape Palliser is the southern-most tip of the North Island.

We approach the lighthouse

250 steps – rather scary as they are so steep!

We make it to the top! And the wind is screaming!!!

On the drive home the northerly gales are so strong that rubber piping on the roof of our hire car actually peels off and starts to flap about!  We have to get out (hold onto the car) and pound it back in with our fists and finger tips.

Sky patterns on the drive back.

Back in the lounge at the end of the day.  (We had been on the other side of those far hills.)

By next morning the wind has changed back to southerly – so in our lounge view planes are taking off.

Southerly morning at Island Bay

A ferry pushes through the swell.

We drive over to Makara to see our dear friends Jenifer and George Welch (who used to own Makara Riding School where I spent as much of my teenage years as I could riding horses).  Jenifer and George give us a huge treat, a history and geography tour over the hills into Terawhiti Station, completely out of bounds to the general public.

Karori Rock lighthouse at Tongue Point.  Kaikouras in the distance.

The wild coast of Cape Terawhiti, and far away a ferry approaches (a distant white dot).

…the white dot has materialized into the ferry…crossing the Cook Strait.

Looking north, wind turbines on the skyline of Makara hills.  Mana and Kapiti Islands beyond.

Our dear friends, Jenifer and George with Tick, at their bach.

Later that afternoon, back in Island Bay…

On the move – cruise ship, plane and seagull.  (Our view again).

I hope the passengers remembered to take their seasick pills.

Finally it is our turn to fly out of Wellington.  We take off to the north.  Can you see our Air New Zealand shadow?

Flying over the bays

Goodbye Fair City – for now.

The Coast of Most what?  Most hills, cliffs, waves, spray, swells, seabirds, winds, rain, clouds, sun, planes, ships, inter-island ferries, rugged landscapes, distant mountains, seaside cafés with great views, friendly locals, narrow winding twisty roads, and constantly changing light.  And because Wellington is just a little bit seismic, what you see today might look different tomorrow.  You just never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Remains of the Day

“The Remains of the Day”
Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 36.5 x 30.8 cm. February 2019.

Venice: November 2018.  It is nearly 4 pm and the sun is already inclining westwards.  I am going west as well, back towards my apartment, plodding along happily worn out.  But then…a light bulb moment…

‘I know – what if I point my lens into the sun?’  It is poised above Punta della Dogana and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, shining directly into my eyes.  (I raise the camera, quickly compose and then close my eyes as I click, click, click.)  Voilà!

The air is all haze and halo, evaporating some objects while solidifying others (including people) into dark abstractions.  Sea mirrors sky; blazing here, sparkling there.  A seagull has swooped into my view.  Perfect.

There are probably only 90 minutes of daylight left.  I will be back sitting on my bed by 5 pm scrolling through photographic images.  ‘Here’s a good one.’

The two drawings from this day are bookends – starting with “Early One Morning” (07:50)  and finishing with “The Remains of the Day” (15:50).  Matthew (husband) came up with the titles – the first being a Celtic folk song and the second, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Early One Morning

“The Remains of the Day”