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.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chapter 4: 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!

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