Patracat's Memories

This blog is my story. I have created it for posterity, as some of my early memories are of a way of life that many of my peers have forgotten, and the younger generations will never experience. I hope the reader enjoys it, and will be encouraged to write their own story. Once you have gone, your memories go with you and can never be recaptured unless you write them down.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Chapter 1: My first decade at home in the 1950's.

When I read stories of child abuse in the media, I realise how lucky I was to have a childhood where I was loved and protected. I took it for granted that I was clothed, fed and educated. As I was the only daughter in the family, I also took it for granted that I had my own bedroom, but I still appreciated that fact. I could shut myself in there and listen to music, read, stick posters on the walls, and so on. It was my personal space and I loved it. Periodically I would be told to clean up my room. For me, the easiest way to achieve this was to shove everything on the floor under my bed. I couldn't understand how Dad knew to look under the bed first, when he came in to check on my progress. Of course I had to pull it all out and start again.

My older brothers Ian and Bryan shared a bedroom. You could have drawn a line down the middle of the room. Ian is 10 years old than me, and his side was neat and tidy, and had his model trains running around the walls on his side of the room. I liked to watch him working on his models. Sometimes he would allow me to help him glue the ballast (chopped cork pieces) to the tracks. Bryan is two years younger than Ian, and his side of their room was disgusting. His clothes were strewn everywhere, and when he started smoking in his teens, the room stunk of smoke, even though he wasn't allowed to smoke in the house. The smell came from his clothes and the butts that fell out of the pockets. When he started work at the age of 14, he had no regard for money. He would leave all his small change lying around - on the floor, on his dressing table, in his pockets - anywhere. Mum gave up telling him to save it, and started to pick it up herself and put it aside. Every so often she would have enough to put into the bank. On Bryan's 21st birthday, Mum presented him with a bank book showing a balance of several hundred pounds - a huge sum of money in those days. He was speechless, but I think he learnt the meaning of 'look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves', and was more careful.

In the early 1950's Ian and Bryan built a cubby house at the bottom of the back yard. I wasn't allowed to go there because I was too little. One day when the boys weren't home, I was playing in it, and I must have found some matches. The cubby house caught fire with me still inside, and it was only quick work by Dad and possibly some neighbours, using the hose to douse the fire, that probably saved my life, although the cubby house didn't survive.  Ian and Bryan were extremely annoyed about losing their cubby house, and I don't think they were allowed to build another one until I had grown a bit and accumulated some common sense. It's a wonder I don't have a phobia about fires after that!

Ian had endless patience with his little sister. One day he brought home a new record (78 RPM) "The Poor People Of Paris" by Les Baxter. He played it once, then left it on the couch in the lounge room, to put away later. Unfortunately, somebody inadvertently put a cushion over it, and I was bouncing around on the couch later on, and heard an ominous crack under the cushion. I don't recall being punished for this; in fact I think Dad told the boys that it was a lesson to be learned - put things away in their rightful place when you have finished with them. Dad must have temporarily forgotten his own advice one day. He still had his childhood stamp collection and one day it was lying around in a spot where little hands could reach it. I was discovered tearing "all the dirty old bits of paper" out of the album! I must have been an awful nuisance to everybody at times!

When I was about 8 years old, my parents gave me my first wrist watch, and I was so thrilled and proud! It probably doesn't mean as much these days, but back in the 1950's watches were usually Swiss made and gold or silver. No battery operated throw away plastic watches then! Not long after I got mine, I was playing with a friend in a park. We were jumping around as little girls do, when my watch flew off my arm into the long grass. The band must have been loose, or the catch faulty. We searched for hours, but didn't find it. Mum was fuming all the way home. "Your father will kill you. He paid a lot of money for that watch. How could you be so careless?" By the time Dad got home from work that night, I was nearly hysterical. I waited at the front gate for him to turn the corner into our street, and as soon as I saw him I raced up the street crying "Dad, I lost my watch! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to". Dad dropped his briefcase and scooped me up in his arms. "It's all right," he soothed. "Don't worry, we can buy you another watch". Mum scolded him: "You spoil that child" but Dad remonstrated with her. "Come on dear, can't you see how upset she is? Don't be so hard on her - she didn't lose the watch on purpose". That was just one example of his kindness and how fair he was.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Chapter 2, Christmas, Pets, and Food.

It's funny how some people seem to go all out for Christmas even after their kids have grown up, or if like me, they don't have any kids. I was past celebrating Christmas before my mother died, just before I turned 21. My brothers were both married with young families of their own, and Mum was disabled for the last few years of her life, so Dad and I didn't see any reason to do anything special. Dad always went to church anyway - he was in the choir, and he was gone in the morning and again in the evening. I really can't remember anything about Xmas once I'd got into my late teens. When my brothers and I were kids, and Mum had better health, we always had lovely family Xmas Days. Even in our Aussie summer, we'd have the traditional roast chicken and vegies, pickled pork (no turkeys over here back in the 50's!) followed by plum pudding. The pudding always had threepences and sixpences mixed through it, and you had to be careful that you didn't break a tooth by biting on a coin. My Dad's two brothers - Uncle Len and his wife with their two sons, and Uncle Jack (a batchelor) would come over, or we'd go to their place, and it was just great.

In the 50's, none of our pets (dogs and cats) were ever taken to a vet. If they got sick, they just seemed to get better of their own accord.
The only time I remember seeing a vet was when one of our dogs got distemper,and Dad called someone to our house. He brought a gun and shot the dog. I can only assume he was a vet, and he would have discussed it with Dad and Mum before shooting the dog, as they wouldn't have permitted anyone to bring a gun to our home otherwise.

About food.
Chicken was a luxury item. We had it twice a year – at Christmas and on Easter Sunday, along with Pickled Pork and roasted vegetables.  Dad and my brothers killed one of our chooks for the occasion.
On Good Friday, Mum sent Dad to the local shopping strip for fish and chips for tea.
Most weekends we would have Roast lamb for Sunday lunch, cold cuts for tea, cottage/shepherds pie for tea on Monday, and by then there was nothing left of the leg except the bone, which was given to the dog to chew on for weeks afterwards.
We all sat down together for breakfast. There was porridge or Weet Bix, grapefruit halves, mixed grill of lambs kidneys, bacon, sausages and mushrooms, and toast and marmalade. And yes, we all had a bit of everything.
I can’t remember what the rest of the family had for lunch during the week while they were at work or school, but I had sandwiches with cheese, Vegemite, or jam, and a piece of fruit – banana, apple or orange.
In winter, dinner menus often consisted of offal such as kidneys, lambs fry (liver), sweetbreads, brains, tongues, or tripe. I developed a taste for all of them, although lambs fry took a bit longer to get used to. Mum did the tripe in parsley sauce. Sometimes we would have lamb chops or rissoles. She served all these with fresh vegetables – potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower – whatever was in season or cheap at the time. We didn’t have broccoli, capsicum, zucchini or any other ‘foreign’ vegetables, and only occasionally had rice or pasta. Mum would also make soup – only one kind – vegetable soup with lamb shanks. It was delicious and none of us got tired of it.
In Summer we had salads – sliced Spam or Corned beef (from a tin) with lettuce and tomatoes from our garden, canned beetroot, hard boiled eggs, and occasionally canned pineapple slices (Mum would smirk and call it a Hawaiian Salad).

Our meals were always two courses – mains and dessert, although in winter we’d sometimes have soup to start off with as well as mains and dessert. On weekends, dessert could be steamed puddings of which there were several varieties (Sago, jam roly poly, golden syrup, and so on), or lemon meringue pie, Queen pudding, or another typically British recipe. During the week, dessert was usually a can of fruit (apricots or peaches) with icecream or on a pavlova shell. I remember one night when Mum had bought a pavlova shell in the local cake shop instead of cooking one herself. It was at the end of the dining room table still in a brown paper bag. My brother Ian had finished his main meal, and looked around the table saying ‘What’s for dessert, Mum?’ As he asked that question, he thumped the flat of his hand on the brown paper bag, thinking it was just an empty bag. POOF! Pavlova shell crumbs sprayed over everything. Mum said icily “THAT was dessert, Ian”. None of my family can remember that, but I still giggle when I think of it!

Like many of the women of her generation, Mum excelled herself with her baking. Christmas cake was cooked a month or so in advance, and wrapped up in tin foil to develop the flavours. (I still do this). During the rest of the year we enjoyed all kinds of cakes and biscuits. She had a dozen or so cookbooks, and a drawer full of magazine and newspaper cuttings of recipes, and after she died, I took most of them with me to use over the years.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Chapter 3: Singer Sewing machines.

A recent post on another blog has prompted me to add a post about my memories of our sewing machines at home when I was growing up. Mum had a Singer Treadle machine but I never saw her use it, as since she had the stroke that paralysed her right side, she was unable to use the machine without the use of both hands. So it gathered dust until I learnt to sew while I was at school. When I started making my own clothes, Dad suggested to Mum that they scrap the old treadle machine and buy me a modern electric one. I was used to the treadle, but I was excited to have the latest model Singer Hushmatic! It was a pale green colour, and the cover clipped on to the base when it wasn't in use, making it completely portable.

It took a while to get used to the electric pedal, as only a light touch would set the machine going at a furious pace! One day I was feeding fabric through, and my index finger was under the needle. I must have stepped on the pedal too soon, because the needle came down right through my nail and finger, pinning my hand to the machine. My scream was loud enough to wake the dead! Dad came over and said "Now just calm down. All you need to do is draw the needle back up again". I was petrified with fright and whimpered like a baby for the few seconds it took for Dad to ease the needle out of my finger. He bathed it in Dettol, and amazingly there were no ill-effects apart from it being painful for a few days.

That machine was purchased new about 1962 and I still have it today in 2006. I don't make my clothes any more, but I wouldn't be without it to do repairs and alterations. It only does straight and zigzag stitch, but that's all I need.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Chapter 4: What I like reading and why.

My parents had a strong influence on my choice of reading matter. They were both avid readers, but had very different tastes. Dad read two or three newspapers most days (The Herald, The Sun (when they were two separate newspapers) and The Argus until it ceased publication. After that I think he read The Age. The only magazine I can remember him reading was a monthly mag. devoted to classical and church music.
He had eclectic taste in books, and I was glad to be able to bring some of them home with me when he died a few years ago. Here are just a few of them on my shelves at the moment:

'Horrie The Wog Dog' by Ion L. Idriess
'No Room In The Ark' by Alan Moorehead
'Born Free' by Joy Adamson
'The Trials Of Life' by David Attenborough
'A Fortunate Life' by A.B. Facey
'They're A Weird Mob' by Nino Culotta (and all the books that followed)
'Atlantis: The Antediluvean World' by Egerton Sykes.
You can see by that where Dad's interests lie - natural history, biographies,etc.

Mum liked fiction and she borrowed books regularly from the library. She also read several womens' magazines a week - Women's Weekly, New Idea, Woman's Day, and some English magazines as well. They were vastly different from the magazines of today. Back in the fifties they were full of recipes, craft patterns, helpful advice on many subjects, and short stories. None of the trashy gossip like today's mags. Here are some of my mother's books that I have on my shelves and still enjoy reading:

'Harley Street Hypnotist' by Alan Mitchell
'Scalpel - Men Who Made Surgery' by Agatha Young
'Men With Golden Hands - A Book of Surgical Miracles' by E.H.G. Lutz
'Harry Price - The Biography of A Ghost Hunter' by Paul Tabori
'The Andromeda Strain' by Michael Crichton.

I don't buy books of fiction as once I've read a story, I rarely go back and read it again. Not because I don't enjoy them - I do! In fact I still have a lot of books from my childhood, such as Enid Blyton's books, classics like Pollyanna, Anne Of Green Gables and Little Women. But there are so many more books to read without repeating the ones already read! So I borrow most of them from the library, or from friends. Some of my favorite authors nowadays are Patricia Cornwell, Danielle Steel, Di Morrisey, Catherine Gaskin, Rosemunde Pilcher, Charlotte Bingham, and several others whose names escape me as I write this. The kind of books that I buy and have on my shelf to read and dip into again over time are these:

'Why Things Bite Back' by Edward Tenner
'Asleep At The Wheel' by John Nieuwenhuizen
'Minutes Of The Lead Pencil Club' by Bill Henderson
'Boomers, Xers, and Other Strangers' by Dr. Rick and Kathy Hicks
'Down Under' by Bill Bryson
'Doing Up Buttons' by Christine Durham
'The Heart's Code' by Paul Pearsall.

I'd be surprised if anyone reading this would have heard of (let alone read) many of these titles, but please post a comment if you have. I'd love to hear your opinion of them. If you are wondering what any (or all) of them are about, leave a comment and I will reply here.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Chapter 5: More about Dad.

Until I was about ten years old, Dad would take me for walks on the weekend, to the local store to buy bread or milk, and to the park on a nice day, where I would spend time on the swings and slides. Sometimes he would give me a penny or threepence to spend on lollies, and I would deliberate for several minutes on which ones to have. To have as many varieties as possible, I would ask for "a ha'penny of those, a quarter penny of those, and one of them" and so on, pointing to each jar. Dad and the shopkeeper always found this most amusing, and I remember Dad saying he had never seen anybody divide up their money so carefully to make the most of it, the way I did.

One day in the park, we saw a disabled man and Dad said "There but for the grace of God go I". Another time I was grizzling about something I wasn't allowed to have, and he said "Remember this. I cried because I had no shoes, but then I saw a man who had no feet". Those two sayings have stayed with me ever since. My school friends just adored Dad. When they came to our house to play, or stay the weekend, Dad would always find time to play cards or board games like Snakes & Ladders and Monopoly. He would play the piano for us so we could sing with him, or just listen. On a hot day in summer, we would put our bathers on and run around the back yard shrieking with delight while Dad chased us with the garden hose. And I think they liked the way he came to say goodnight. He would tuck me in, kiss me on the cheek and whisper "Sleep tight Miss Muffet". For the rest of Dad's life, three of my closest childhood friends continued to send him Christmas cards every year, and Dad always reciprocated. On the occasion of my 50th birthday, two of those friends were present and they were delighted when Dad, at 92 years of age, acknowledged them as it it was only a few weeks ago that he had last seen them.

When the young Queen Elizabeth came to Melbourne in 1952, Dad took the family in to see her in the motorcade along St Kilda Road. At the age of four, among thousands of adults, I couldn't see anything, so Dad hoisted me up on his shoulders to see over all the heads. But she had already passed by, and all I saw was the back of her head in the car disappearing from my view. I was terribly disappointed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Chapter 6: Mod cons. (Modern conveniences)

The chook house was there all throughout my childhood. I don't remember if all the hens and roosters were named, but there was one called "Cherrybottom" because all the other hens had pecked her feathers from her rear end. For special occasions, a hen would be killed so we could have roast chicken - usually only at Christmas and Easter. Dad and the boys would round up a hen, lop its head off with the axe, and laugh while the headless creature ran around the yard until it dropped dead. They would then pluck the feathers and clean the carcass ready for Mum to cook. Mum and I would not go outside while all this was happening, but even though I knew what was going on, it never put me off eating chicken.

The toilet in our house was civilised compared to many other homes in the fifties, some of which had outdoor dunnies, which had to be emptied by a man who came into their back yard, lifted the trapdoor at the back of the outhouse, took the can holding the effluent to his truck, emptied it, and replaced the can in the dunny. The kids who lived with this primitive plumbing endured merciless teasing and practical jokes by the others who lived in houses that were connected to the sewer. Boys thought outdoor dunnies were great fun. If a kid was sitting in the dunny, someone else would sneak up at the back, lift the trapdoor and shout "BOO!" or poke the victim's bum with a stick and run off laughing. The girls didn't escape lightly from these jokes, although their 'treat' was more likely to be a dead Huntsman spider planted on the seat. Redback spiders under the toilet seat were a reality in those days, but the much larger Huntsman corpse was much more effectively used to frighten small girls out of the toilet at first sight.

Our toilet was part of the house, but we had to go on to the back verandah and through the wash house (laundry) to reach it. Even though we didn't have to go outside, it was still a chilly trip out there during winter, especially at night. So we all had potties under our beds for night time use. If we were sick, we usually headed to the bathroom to use the vanity basin or bath. Once when teenage B2 was taking a shower, I felt sick, so I rushed into the bathroom and hung miserably over the vanity basin. Dad was right behind me to hold my head, but B2 was outraged. He stood under the shower trying to cover his genitals with his hands, complaining loudly about the lack of privacy. Dad rounded on him angrily - "Can't you see your sister is sick? For goodness sake, she's not the least bit interested in looking at you right now!" I must admit to have a peek in the mirror inbetween bouts of vomiting, as until then, I hadn't seen any of the males in our family naked. But as Dad said, I wasn't in in a fit state to appreciate the view!

Mum loved mod. cons. She nagged Dad incessantly to get wall to wall carpet, a telephone, a refrigerator, a car, a Mixmaster, a television, etc. We got the fridge first, as that had become a necessity for most people by the fifties. I can't remember what year we bought our Servex brand fridge, but I have fond memories of the icebox we had before that. A huge block of ice would be delivered once a week and placed in the top section of the icebox, which had one door, a compartment at the top for the ice, and a few shelves underneath. The ice was delivered by the Iceman, who carried it wrapped up in hessian, from his truck into the house. Mum would be fussing around, holding the door open, making sure the ice was positioned where she wanted it. In summer we would chip off pieces to suck. Mum used to panic when we had a run of very hot weather, because of course the ice would melt more quickly. She was always worried that milk and meat would go 'off', but I don't recall that happening. She probably cooked the meat well in advance so it would keep longer. Of course we couldn't have stored ice cream, even if it had been available in cartons, which it wasn't. Icecream was a treat enjoyed on an outing, bought as a scoopful in a cone, from a milkbar.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chapter 7; More about mod.cons.

I was still very young when we got wall to wall carpet – before that we had large rugs on the unpolished floorboards, so Mum was ecstatic about finally having carpet. The telephone came in the late fifties – a heavy black unit identical to every other telephone in Australia, probably; no designer pastel coloured cordless phones back then! As for mobile phones, I doubt if anyone could imagine what they would be like.
Television came to Melbourne in 1956 in time for the Olympic Games, but we didn’t get tv until the early sixties. Dad didn’t want one at all. He was content to listen to the radio or his records, and never really saw the attraction of tv until later years when they started showing ‘decent stuff’ like British comedy shows and the occasional classical music concert.

Mum never got a Mix Master, nor did they ever get a car. We used public transport, or taxis on special occasions. After Dad retired, he would book a taxi for a whole day and take Mum for a drive up in the hills around Melbourne. He always used the Black Cab company and they often had the same driver. After a number of trips, this man got to know Dad and Mum, and when he understood their situation (no car, Mum disabled), he turned off the meter and simply charged a nominal amount to cover the cost of petrol. It was very good of him, but he insisted that he enjoyed the outings as much as Mum and Dad, and didn’t feel right about asking them to pay per mile.

Right up until his final years, Dad prided himself on the money he had saved by not buying a car. The initial cost, the upkeep, the registration, insurance, petrol, etc. – much cheaper to hop on a bus, tram or train. “You can go anywhere on public transport,” Dad would say, and he was right. We lived in South Caulfield – about six miles from the city of Melbourne. Dad worked at the I.C.I. ammunition factory in Deer Park – about twenty miles from where we lived. He caught a bus and two trains every day to get to work and back. He left home about 7.30 am and returned about 6.30 pm. In those days public transport was very reliable; strikes were almost unheard of and mechanical breakdowns and accidents were rare. And the roads were not congested either.

The one mod.con. Mum flatly refused to have was a washing machine, although Dad tried many times to persuade her to have one. We had a copper and two concrete troughs in the wash house (laundry), and Mum boasted that her washing was the whitest in the street. Nearly everyone else around us had washing machines, but Mum would boil our sheets and towels in the copper with pieces of Velvet soap. The washing was then lifted from the copper with a long stick of wood (bleached almost white after years of dipping in the boiling water) into the first trough which held cold water with a Reckitts ‘blue’ knob floating about. The wash would be stirred vigorously to distribute the blue dye evenly, then the whole lot would be transferred to fresh cold water in the second trough. From there it was wrung out by hand, placed into a wicker washing basket and taken out into the back yard and hung on the clothes line which was strung across the yard. This line was replaced by a Hills Hoist rotary line early in my childhood, and was a most useful piece of apparatus for us to hang on to and swing wildly around in circles, until Mum or Dad spotted us and roared “Get off that line – you’ll break it!!” My brothers would spin the line around and encourage our dogs to chase the washing, which of course they loved to do, and inevitably they would sink their teeth into the sheets or towels as they were closest to the ground, and be madly swung round and round by the boys. I vaguely remember seeing a photo of one of our dogs doing this – wish I could find it!

Mum’s antagonism over washing machines was probably exacerbated by a terrible accident which befell one of our neighbours. One day I was playing outside, when I heard someone screaming. I thought it was some kids in the next street, but it went on and on, and finally Dad walked up the street to investigate. He eventually returned, looking pale and shocked. Washing machines in those days were not fully automated and enclosed as they are today. Some of them had a wringer or mangle on the top – two rollers that took the washing between them and squeezed out the excess water. In some machines they were hand operated, in others they were electric and automated. It appeared that our neighbour got her hand caught in the automatic wringer on her washing machine, and much of her arm was mashed before the machine came to a stop with her arm jammed in it. When Mum heard about that, she vowed she would never get one. The other aspect of this was that Mum only had the use of her left arm as it was, the right arm being paralysed through a stroke. So I guess she didn’t want to risk losing her good arm.

The other thing Mum didn’t want was an electric blanket. Mum and Dad had twin beds, and we all had electric blankets except Mum. We tried for months to convince her how cosy they were. But she wouldn’t be persuaded, although she felt the cold keenly, being of small build and especially since having had several strokes which left her almost bedridden and unable to talk. Dad must have got tired of heating hot water bottles every night, because one day he bought an electric blanket and put it on Mum’s bed while she was in another room watching t.v. That night, having turned the blanket on, warmed up the bed, then turned it off, Dad helped Mum into bed, watched by the whole family. Mum was puzzled by all the attention at first, then it dawned on her that the bed was warm but there was no hot water bottle in it. She looked frightened at first, then scowled at us and shook her head. We waited. After a few minutes she relaxed, and although she tried not to smile, she ended up giggling and nodding, thereby letting us know that she had accepted it. From then on she looked forward to her warm bed every night!