Friday, 23 February 2018

A taste of childhood

On a hot Canterbury NZ day, after a meeting with my future home builder I took a detour from my route home and drove down streets from my childhood. I expected change after so many decades, I expected changes after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Much of the suburb was unrecognisable visually, except for the street names which had an odd haunting quality to them. Haunting because they had been such a big part of my growing up as I biked down them when young, yet had been changed so much, There was a disconnection with everything that should have felt nostalgic. The disconnection was enormous. The suburb had radically changed in its street layout, the vegetation was very different, the houses seemed old and often ill-kempt.

Gone of course were the days when school children like me walked a very long circuitous route to get to school; past open ditches where each house had a wooden bridge to access their driveways. Entire blocks of poplars had disappeared.

I remembered watching the steam trains puffing smoke along the line of poplar trees while I stood on the dining room chairs to catch a view. I was probably 5 years old.

I remembered cycling to school on my bike, balancing my violin and trying to rub warm my fingers, chillblained and cracked by Christchurch frosts. Zephyr and Humber cars parked in the driveway.

My parents bought some land in what would become Casebrook but at that stage was still considered Northcote, Christchurch. They capitalised the family benefit and took advantage of 3% State Advance loans. The new subdivision had been a dairy farm and the land was very clayish. My parents got trailer loads of manure each year trying to improve the soil texture. I can remember a visit to the house under construction where I was afraid to walk on the floor beams in case I fell through between them. My mother cautioned me. She cautioned me about everything and the world seemed a dangerous place.

My bedroom was to the right of the angle at the front door between the two wings.

Back in the 50s, 60s and early 70s women often stayed home and amused themselves while the kids were at school. Kids got themselves there and back. They weren't ferried in cars.

After the subdivision was finished some merchants opened a little string of shops nearby, consisting of a grocery store (supermarkets didn't exist), a chemist and a fish and chippie shop. Chinese food and hamburgers had not yet reached New Zealand. I hated fish so sometimes I was allowed to order a meat pattie and chips.

 Every Friday night we ate a mince pie with tomato sauce while watching Clutch Cargo cartoons on TV. On Saturdays we ate fish and chips while watching Yoyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Bonanza or even Laramie, the Virginian, the High Chapperal. Westerns were big then and so was Doctor Who with those pesky, scary Darleks.

I was coming up to that little group of shops where a pie had been 50c and so was a big tablet of chocolate back then. Now there was a doctor's surgery where the dairy used to be, the dairy was in the middle and at the other end was a takeaway run by chinese folks. I parked and went in. On the board I found 'meat pattie' was an option so I ordered it. I popped next door and bought a bottle of BBQ sauce.

Two minutes later I was parked across the road from my childhood home, eating my pattie and chips from the paper, sauce splottered over the food. It was wonderful. The taste of the meat and onion and herbs was exactly as I'd experienced 55 years ago even though those cooking it were newish immigrants. How could that be? No matter. Those moments were sublime as I munched and regarded my old home. Rather changed it was. The garage Dad built had been altered, the front of the house had two new rooms added, the fireplace had gone, the garden was completely different and rather unkempt. The house needed some serious mainenance but I could see the driveway I used to weed, the path I used when I came home from school. The last time I was in that house was 1976, the day of my first wedding. I hadn't seen it since.

 Many of the lives that came and went there had extinguished. What had happened to John Smith, my first boyfriend? The two of us are photographed in front of the garage when we were both 15. I heard Graham Johns who lived down the road and attended Papanui High with me had made it big in music overseas, orchestras etc. I would have liked to catch up with him. Names are fading from my memory.

The Barnes lived across the road on the corner in the partly bricked house (see last photo). I didn't have much to do with them but my mother, who had plenty of time on her hands, used to fraternise.
I still have my old violin and inside the case is this address biroed in my hand, 12 Brockham St, Papanui. The suburb is now known as Casebrook.

This was just one little experience of 'coming back'. Many of the places I worked, had dates, lived ceased to exist after the earthquakes. It's very hard for me to drive around Christchurch and see so, so much loss of heritage, identity, facilities. There's resilience out there because there is no choice but I can see a lot of political incompetence and uncaring too.

It was just an hour, a drop in time but that taste of childhood gave me momentary grounding. I started the car and drove away from Christchurch. Perhaps there will be other personal revisitings.

Photos show: the house under construction in the mid 50s and what it was like in the 60s and 70s, and now; me staring at the Barnes' house on the corner of Cherry Place, my brother and I doing 'carpentry - the only time I was allowed to play with a hammer, just for the photo - because I was only a girl; dressed as Miss Muffit outside the front door 1959 (in those days fancy dress competitions were popular with competitive mothers); standing on the driveway in my Sunday best for church 1969, cooking sausages swimming in dripping, as we did in those days while wearing my obligatory 'pinnie'. Stick on decoration on walls was popular then too. It wasn't wallpaper and we used the same stuff to cover our school books. Here it was bright red lobsters. My mother had a thing about red and green and lilac.


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