When the machine arrived

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It was the 1960’s. Mother’s cream and green electric washing machine replete with pump, agitator, and safety wringer took pride of place in the wash-house beside the old copper.  The mastermind behind this locally produced electric washing machine was an Estonian migrant Karl Pallo.  The washing machine bore his name.  Mother marvelled at the agitator that would replace her hands to rub and rinse and rid the clothes of grime.  Before the Pallo arrived in our lives, she boiled the bed sheets in the copper. A small fire would be lit beneath to warm the water.  A stick from the woodshed, bleached and boiled over the years, would stir, the way this new modern machine would now do automatically.  If there was no time for a fire, or to boil, Mother would hand wash.  She would hold a bar of bright yellow Sunlight soap and press the fabric of Father’s work shirts or trousers, firmly against the glass washboard, rubbing, scrubbing.  Sometimes this was done before clothes were placed to boil in the copper. Her biceps were legendary. Not just from scrubbing clothes, but hand beating butter and sugar for the light sponges she made and cooked in the Coal Range.  Hauling the coal bucket from the shed, chopping the kindling. She had no need of a gym membership and no time for Yoga.

The copper was legendary for more than just the washing.  It was used to cook the Christmas ham in the early years of my childhood.  Family lore has it, that one year, Father’s stepfather came to stay, and he tipped the boot polish (which was kept on top of the copper), into the copper when the ham was cooking.  It seems the polish formed a film on top of the water, and the ham that year was the best ham ever.  I cannot confirm or deny this as I do not remember the ham, but it obviously did us all no harm, as there were no aftereffects.

Now the machine had arrived, the cream and green Pallo.  Mother was wondering what she would do on a Monday.  But there was still the chore of lifting the clothes from the agitated waters, and hauling the bed sheets, heavy with soap and water, into one of the twin stone tubs to rinse.   Then there was the wringer.  This was attached to the washing machine and meant two rollers would press the water from the washing.  You had to be careful.  Stories abounded of young girls with long hair who had become entangled in the wringer rollers.  No one I knew, knew anyone to whom this had happened, but we heard about it. Whole arms could be dragged through the rollers, bones crushed, perhaps even necks wrung.  And there was still the mammoth task of carrying the heavy bed sheets, still reasonably dense with water, despite the wringer, and throwing them across the rotary clothesline under the plum tree.

Mother would stop for a ciggie, draw in deeply, inhale, and then blow the smoke back out energised by the nicotine, ready for the next stage.  The sheets would hang double over the line and the line would rotate if there was a decent breeze. Usually, the scorching summer sun was enough.  But in winter, a breeze was needed to spin the Rotary clothesline and dry the washing.

Years later, when Mother had died, and Father was living alone and doing his own washing, every Monday, we would visit with our children.  He was a man of singular routine. His day consisted of a walk to the rubbity-dub which opened at eleven o’clock on the dot.  Our two sons would walk with him through the school path, under the bluegum tree, past the Holy Trinity Church, down the road, past what was the old cinema, and he would buy them chewing gum and let them play at the playground, just close to the pub.  We would pick up the children as soon as the pub opened.  He would eat a half roast every day at the pub and return home for a nap and then back to the pub at 3.00 pm for another round.  This was primarily for the company by now.  A table of old war veterans who sat and talked.  Father was the listener.  He would sip his flat tap beer from the jug and nod and occasionally comment, and then head home.  If we were staying on holiday, he would arrive home to a cooked meal and if he were alone, he would open a tin of creamed corn, unheated to eat.

Mondays, Father would continue with Mother’s washing routine.  He would grab a handful of soap powder. A generous handful, never measured, and toss it into the agitating water.  Then he would call out to see if we had any washing we wanted done.  Hubby in those days, when our boys were young, had expensive linen shirts and learned to hide his good laundry and toss his boxer shirts for his father-in-law to wash.  We would discreetly hand wash anything that might not withstand Father’s washing routine.  The soapy water would swish and swash as Father’s sheets swirled.  Our lads would stand, mesmerised by the movement of the agitator which by now (after over 30 years), was held in place by a lump of 4 x 2.  Father had been a builder and he knew what to do with a piece of 4 x 2.   Then the sheets would go through the wringer, and this was even more fascinating to our young lads who would stand on the other side of the wringer, ready to receive the yards of sheeting being fed through.  By this stage, the wringers had bowed, and the sheets were almost as wet after going through the wringer as they had been before. There would be just the once rinse and not two like Mother always did.  Thus, the sheets would hang, stiff as boards, soap encrusted, whiter than white, mostly soap powder, drying in the scorching summer sun.  

It was with a sense of sadness that we sold the house with the washing machine still in the wash-house and the copper still in situ, when Father passed away.  I marvel now at my own built-in laundry (under the staircase), with front loading washing machine and dryer, automatic settings, and barely a bicep required. I go to body tone classes to earn my biceps and stretch my fascia.  Mother had no need of such classes.  Her body was always moving. She beat eggs by hand, chopped firewood, hauled coal, washed, waxed, and polished the linoleum, and rewarded herself on a Saturday with a 2/6d cake of fruit and nut chocolate, one leg under her bum, perched on a chair, eating chocolate, and doing the cryptic crossword.  Better than Yoga really.

Lockdown Poetry (I was there)

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This poem is not actually about lockdown, but written during lockdown after watching a video by Billy Collins… I am pretentiously channelling Walt Whitman.

 

 

I too sat in Noble’s barber shop

with my siblings for a haircut

high up on the swivel chair

 

although my hair has now turned grey

I recall the shape of my cut to this day

the nape of my neck exposed

 

A cowlick caused the problem

my fringe could not be restrained

but the feel of clippers I do not regret

 

I drank milkshakes in the Tea Kiosk

through many a paper straw

often so quickly, my head was sore

 

I queued at the War Memorial

for the Saturday Matinee on sunny

days but my friends were not allowed

 

I was called out of class

to the Murder House mid lesson

to face the consequences

 

Of too many toffee bars at

half time, the slow sweet decay

that I have paid for to this day

 

I remember Richmond Drapery

cinnamon seamless hosiery

the smell of bolts of cloth

 

Was it you and I who lay on the

hot asphalt by the school pool

peeing our maps of the world?

 

Was it you or me drinking

Cona Coffee, candles dripping

wax from empty wine bottles?

 

Were you there?

 

I climbed those blue hills with my lover

lay in those grasses upon which

the flash new subdivisions grew

 

Valhalla seemed grandiose for a

working class suburb, but the

new mall put paid to that

 

There’s a Mall my mother wrote

to me on a flimsy blue aerogramme

to my flat in Shepherds Bush

 

We all had our school feet measured

at Taylors at one time or another

secretly longing for patent leather

 

Herb was the Chemist who carefully

dispensed the avalanche of post war

Valium and sedatives to everyone

 

And everyone was married at one

time or another at the Church

of the Holy Trinity on the hill

 

Except us Catholics who of course

required a Papal dispensation

If we were wishing to deviate

 

I too was there each Anzac

and many after that too

In the bright light of Autumn

 

Where were you?

  
   

Saturday night fever and the supper waltz

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Saturday night fever and the supper waltz

Saturday night fever and the supper waltz

A friend’s blog has inspired me to write. She wrote about going to a dance recently at the local Cosmopolitan Club with her daughter. Her words conjured up tangible memories of the Saturday Night Dance at the Stoke Memorial Hall. It’s a long time ago. But reading Fiona’s blog, I was right there in my best frock seated on the wooden benches around the perimeter of the hall, waiting to be asked.

We’d spent all day thinking about going to the dance. We even went so far as to cycle to the river to swim with curlers in our hair. Sometimes (not often), we splashed out and bought a face mask from the local Chemist and sat in a hot bath to steam. We didn’t wear a lot of make-up but blue eye-shadow was big back then, I’m sure we wore blue eye-shadow. Pink lipsticks were pretty de rigueur also, or peach, or shades of pink and peach. I’m not sure we wore foundation, but I do recall pancake make-up that could be applied with a damp sponge – perhaps we did that.

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The Stoke Memorial Hall had a polished wooden floor and a raised stage where the band played. It was the days of more formal dancing and the highlight was always the Gay Gordons. My friend and I had learned to do the Valletta and the Foxtrot and the Methodist Church Hall in Richmond (even though I was Catholic). But the Gay Gordons was a wildly exhilarating way to meet almost all the boys in the hall. For some reason, the fat boys with sweaty palms were always the lightest on their feet. You might not want a ride home with them, but you loved the way they swung you around and too, their gentle soft bellies if you stumbled.

Most of the lads wore suits. It’s hard to imagine, but they did. Suits and ties to dance, or a sports jacket. We loved sports jackets. There was something quite dashing about a sports jacket, or even better, the reefer jacket with the extra silver buttons on the outside sleeve. Single versus double-breasted, a lot could be elucidated from such sartorial observations.

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We gave no thought to the terror the lads felt at having to cross the room and ask us to dance. All we knew was the terror of waiting to be asked. Naturally we reserved the right to say no, but it never occurred to us how awful that might be for the rejected suitor. Inevitably, there’d be one or two absolutely ‘must-have’ lads and inevitably, they were snapped up by the one or two ‘must-have’ lasses. This left the rest of us to make do with each other.

The Gay Gordons gave you a decent over-view of prospective rides home…

My friend and I would catch the bus to the Stoke Dance. The buses stopped running some time after ten o’clock and so we had a pact. One of us would find a boy with a car to drive both of us home. It was usually around supper time, after the supper waltz that such arrangements were confirmed. In the bright lights with asparagus rolls on side plates, or a chocolate lamington, we’d make eye contact perhaps for the first time that night with a potential ride home. In the full glare of the supper lights, potential rides home were able to be scrutinised and must have lads and lasses, sometimes faded to also-ran in the 100 watt reality. I guess that’s why the story ‘Supper Waltz Wilson’ the title story of Owen Marshall’s first short story collection, captured my heart immediately.

I don’t recall any of those rides home, but we were pretty safe, as we always went together – one ride was all we required. Whomever of the two of us was lucky enough to be liked for the night, scored a ride for their friend. I wonder what the boys thought about this? There’s no shining moment for me, just the excitement before the dance, the preparation, a kind of pageantry, and of course, the music.

Too, the Sunday post-mortem when we walked the switch-backs, sat in the long grass or swam in the river, comparing notes about the lad we wished had asked us to dance.

And how very strange that one of the most memorable songs from the Stoke Dance is an old Kiwi Folk song about the Māori Battalion – a song about war- but we never really thought about it in that light – well, I know I didn’t.

But don’t get me wrong, we did do the Hippy Hippy Shake, and Twist and Shout on those old polished floors – it wasn’t all waltzing.

P.S. I just found a link to this beautiful waltz

Emmylou Harris and a guava lipstick

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Emmylou Harris and a guava lipstick

Last weekend, I went to see Emmylou Harris and Her Red Dirt Boys play at Vector Arena.   My girlfriend and I met each other in Auckland for this special event.   I listen to Emmylou when I drive my car.   She is my driving music, the background to my many journeys from the bay to the city and home again.  I sing and hit the steering wheel in time to her music.   I try to hit the high notes and imitate the soft throaty whisper.    I’m a fan.   When she sings ‘From Boulder to Birmingham’ I feel her loss, I love the man she mourns, even though I didn’t know Gram Parsons.   She’s seen me through a broken heart, my own.

So, because we live in different cities, we took this weekend out to be ‘girls’, to do the girly weekend away thing and to go to the Emmylou Harris Concert.    We shopped.   We’re older girls now, so we shop differently.   And too, we noticed that not only do we shop differently, but the shop assistants treat us differently.   One of our rituals is to buy a lipstick when we shop together.   It means that if we buy nothing else, we have the fun of knowing that yes, we bought a lipstick on holiday.   Sometimes we’ve been known to buy the same colour lipstick.    The last time that happened it was the colour Raisin.    Raisin has served me well now for several years.  It’s my fall-back lipstick, my almost match my lips lipstick.   But my friend deserted Raisin years ago.

We started at one counter which I won’t name.   This is not a name and shame sort of story.   But any slightly older woman will recognise the story.  Gorgeous young things were seated having their eyes done.   Beautiful young things, who didn’t need eye shadow and certainly not the amount being applied.   We vacillated, trying lipstick colours on our hands.   My friend has a lovely tan and I have pale freckly Irish skin.   The same lipstick turns a different colour on our different hands.   We wiped, swiped and rubbed off the test stripes.   We waited patiently for the assistant on the beauty counter to notice us.   We wiped, swiped and rubbed our hands with tissues.   And then in desperation, we moved to another counter.

And it was here we met the kind of young girl that every older woman buying a lipstick needs to meet.   She joined our fun.   She coaxed and encouraged us.   We took risks with pale and deep and dark and we talked of tones and we spoke of blue-pinks and pinks that are not blue, the true pinks.

“You don’t think it’s too blue and wrong do you?”

“No, it suits you.  I know what you mean, but it’s not too blue.”

Guava is the colour I chose.   Guava, like a split fruit with the ripe pink bleeding.

“Oh, I like it.”

And I do, I really do, although I probably really should have stuck with Raisin – except it sounds shrivelled, and Guava sounds delicious.

Years ago, we might have purchased a dress each.   A rash, exciting, and expensive dress, encouraged by one another, the sense of beauty, the sense of yes, this dress, this dress…   But now we’re older.   We have grandchildren.    We run into bookshops and toy shops the way we used to run into dress shops.    I bought an educational word game for my granddaughter – a German version of scrabble for a five-year old.   We shopped for Christmas decorations for our grandchildren. We shopped for our husbands, looked for boxer shorts that didn’t grip, or weren’t too tight in the legs, and not too shiny, silky and silly.   Neither of us was sure exactly of what size to buy – we took the boxers from the hangers and we stretched them outwards asking one another – will this fit?   We still weren’t sure.  We know each other’s husbands, but we still weren’t sure.   How big is comfortable?    Will they really want boxers or should we be rash and buy the stretch jockeys that look so good in the picture?

And then, en route to find a restaurant, we found a shop selling new, but old fashion.    We stumbled into fabrics that spoke to us.   I found mustard corduroy and it swamped me in something visceral like hot bread, or brewing coffee, but stronger more emotional.    I fondled the mustard corduroy, and I knew the feel of it, the look of it and the colour I could taste if you can taste colour.

We spoke of crêpe Georgette as we fondled a dusky pink frock remembering Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity (especially Simplicity).   The fabrics were not imitations, but copies, identical copies of fabrics we knew.   I saw my mother’s wedding suit – the one she wore to my brother’s wedding and a year later to his funeral.   We both recognised frocks we’d worn to the ‘dance’.     We wanted to wear them again, to go to those dances, but we agreed to settle for Emmylou Harris, the concert, that night.

                Before the concert, we went looking for somewhere special to eat.   The waterfront beckoned, but the tapa bar we chose was closed on Sundays.  Our hearts were set on tapas, but we’re older now and flexible.   We found a bar with a view of the harbour and seating upstairs.  We watched in delight as gorgeous young things in tight-fitting frocks knocked back cocktails.   Nowadays we have to consider what food we order and what drinks we drink, not just how much and how many.   But we were up for bubbles.     And bubbles we had… one glass each and then we eyed the menu for food that wouldn’t be too acid, too fatty or just too…

We walked from the café to the Vector Arena, joining the swarms of baby boomers.    How fascinating to be entirely in your own genre.   It was extraordinary.    The ‘once were sexy brigade’.   The pretty girls crumble the first.    Once pretty faces are now pretty lined.   The handsome girls come into their own.   A handsome face on a woman is a very fine thing when you’re over sixty.    Tall is good, because everyone has shrunk a centimetre or so, except for the very tall men and the very tall women, or perhaps even they have.

It’s a wonderful thing to be sitting among so many ‘contemporaries’ – people who were there during the sixties and seventies and who love Emmylou Harris and her music.    There is something quite reverent about a crowd who remembers.   How lucky are we?   To be there, and to share, and to enjoy the atmosphere – all those pacemakers, titanium hips, the enamel (backed in heavy metal) smiles, and barely a Botox babe in sight.   Well, the lights were dim, but you know when you rock up to watch a girl like Emmylou with her unabashed grey hair (it looked white to me) – my friend thought she might have highlights.

She was the highlight.   She sang I think for two hours, barely stopping to breathe – every song you wanted to hear and she kept the best till last – my favourite – ‘From Boulder to Birmingham’ – after two standing ovations and a stomping encore call – this amazing woman rewarded us.   My heart broke when she sang ‘My Name is Emmet Till’ from her new album.  I cried when she sang ‘Darlin Kate’.  She spoke about being a girl from Alabama who never imagined seeing a Black President.    I think she spoke for all of us.

AWESOME Emmylou and awesome too, the ageing baby-boomers who came out in their droves to listen to her.