Month: April 2014

Z says Zed or is that Zee?

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When I was a kid, I lived in a fairly insular little world.  Brisbane was a big town pretending to be a city because it was the capital of the state.  Half the city still had outdoor toilets and there were still lots of unsealed roads.  Mothers didn’t go out to work, families only had one car and nothing opened on Sundays.

So, when a kid called Chuck arrived at our school, my world wobbled just a bit.

Chuck’s father had been transferred to Brisbane from the United States on business, I can’t remember what sort of business, and so the family had relocated to our quiet, leafy suburb.  Chuck was the all American boy you see in the old television shows.  He was blonde with a crew cut, a flat-top.  He was the only boy in school with such a radical haircut…for about two weeks.  After that lots of of the boys started having their hair cut just like his, such was his celebrity status.

Chuck didn’t know how to play cricket. Although his batting was good, he could never get the hang of fielding without a glove. He preferred to play softball with us girls.  Because of his superior skills he chose to play catcher so as not to overpower us.  What a guy!

But the most intriguing thing about Chuck was his accent.  Wow!  It was amazing.  Everyone tried to copy the way Chuck spoke.  His Southern drawl was quite intoxicating.  All of the girls were a little bit in love with Chuck, just because of his ‘zee‘ instead of ‘zed’ and his short ‘a‘ sound when he said ‘can’t‘.

We taunted him with words like Coolangatta, Woolloomoolloo, Indooroopily and Yarralumla.  He responded with Minneapolis, Massachusetts and ‘y’all’.  His biggest challenge, as is the case for all non-Australians, was in saying ‘G’day, Mate‘.  It came out as ‘Good Eye Might‘.  We thought it was hilarious…and loved him just a little bit more.

Having that accent made Chuck so much more interesting than all of the other boys.  He only spent two terms at our school before his father was transferred again.  We didn’t even get to say goodbye to him because they moved during the holidays.  It was a sad day indeed when we came back to school for the new term only to find that Chuck had moved on.

It was back to ‘zed‘…no more ‘zee‘…but to this day, whenever I see a blonde boy with a crewcut, I think of Chuck and say “Hi, y’all” to whomever I am with.

I guess it’s true that the exotic is always that little bit more exciting than the homemade.

What do you think?

Y is for Yo Yo

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When I was a kid, we played lots of games.

Toys went in and out of popularity.  Some things had a “season”, like football and cricket, some things were around all the time like marbles and skipping. Then there the things that came in “crazes”.

“Crazes” were fuelled by advertising on the radio and in the newspaper.  Super peppy jingles and banner advertisements told us how much fun the newest craze was and how much we wanted to be part of the it.  This was especially true of the yo yo.

Apparently the yo yo has been around for hundreds of years, but my first encounter was when I was about eight.

A troupe of yo yo experts sponsored by a well known soft drink company toured schools demonstrating all manner of tricks with the specially branded yo yos.  These yo yos had special strings, double wound and slightly heavier and therefore twice as expensive.  The special yo yo and the special strings were, we were told, essential to expert yo yo trick mastery.

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Naturally, everyone had to have the special yo yo and the special strings. Without them, one was not cool. An ordinary yo yo bought in the toy section at Woolworths was not acceptable.  It was not the right weight, shape, colour etc. to be able to perform the tricks…or at least, to perform them expertly.

I craved the Russell Coca Cola yo yo.  It was expensive but I had to have one. I asked my parents for one. I was told, if I wanted one so badly, I could buy one using my pocket money. I checked my money box. I had enough to buy the yo yo but doing so would leave me with nothing. What to do?

Answer…split the cost.  Brilliant!  

I convinced my brother that he should buy a yo yo with me.  We would share it, I told him.  He was four and an easy mark for a con-artist like myself.  The yo yo was purchased.

I started practising the tricks.  I quickly mastered  “Walk the Dog” and was soon working towards “Around the World”.  I knew I could become a yo yo expert.  My brother had trouble just making the yo yo go up and down, and became frustrated easily, as I had known he would. That meant I had almost exclusive use of the treasured item.  My evil genius had paid off again.

Eventually, however, my conscience got the better of me and I gave my brother his money back.  It may have had something to do with the incessant reminders from Mum and Dad that I was supposed to be sharing the yo yo not monopolising it.

The yo yo craze only lasted a couple of months.  We were soon entranced by some new, even more fun activity thanks to the advertising arm of the toy industry.  I kept my yo yo and practised occasionally because Dad said that yo yos would come back into fashion.  They did too…only it was a new, improved yo yo…far better than the one I had…far cooler…and, not surprisingly, even more expensive.

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I craved that yo yo too but I did not buy it.  It was a valuable lesson in life, my father told me.  Just because something has a snazzy new coat of paint, it doesn’t mean it is any different underneath.  

Here are some yo yo tricks for you to watch.  How many can you do?

X Marks the Spot

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When I was a kid, I loved making treasure maps.

We had been taught in school how to reproduce maps from the atlas using tracing paper and a soft pencil. This was a long and somewhat tedious process because, once the trace had been made, it had to be transferred onto art paper. This was done first in pencil and then in blue using a pen and ink.  The lettering had to be done in perfect copy book script,  the page bordered in red ink and the whole thing carefully shaded with coloured pencils.  Using the pens was a messy business and one blot ruined the entire piece of work, meaning that one had to start over.

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Also, one was not permitted to use any creative license when naming the places on the map.  Brisbane had to be marked as Brisbane not Blood-Sucking Leechville.

When I drew my treasure maps, I used my best coloured pencils and sometimes one of those newfangled BIC ballpoint pens and I always had creative place names. The kitchen was Dorothy’s Dungeon of Dastardly Deeds.  The garage, in which many small lizards lived, was marked as the Pit of Foul and Ferocious Pythons.  Far more interesting, in my humble opinion.

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The purpose of my treasure maps was not so much to conceal some item, but rather to send my brother off on a wild goose chase and thereby get him out of my hair for a while.  My parents had this mad idea that we should want to play together.  Where they got that idea from, I have no idea.  We rarely wanted to play together. He liked to annoy me, and I liked to annoy him, but we did not like playing together.

So I made treasure maps, lots of treasure maps…and, in a treasure map, as you know, X marks the spot where the treasure can be found.

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Well, it does in most treasure maps but, in my maps, not always.  I found that it was much more fun to hide the item and draw the map so that when my brother arrived at the X, I would be lying in wait, ready to leap out and scare the socks off him.  Of course, this practice usually resulted in my being sent to my room to think about what a mean, nasty big sister I was, while my brother sat at the kitchen table enjoying a calming snack of milk and cookies.

I didn’t really care. My bedroom, aka Hepzibah’s House of Brain Melting Horrors, was where my books and my real treasures were.  My collection of tiny bottles, my miniature china tea set given to me by Nanna, my gold bangle (real gold, not just yellow metal), my shoebox full of cards and letters and my special set of colouring pencils in a wooden box, sent all the way from England by my great aunt…all my most precious possessions were hidden in secret places in my room.

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And yes, I had made treasure maps for each of those secret locations, just in case I forgot where I had ‘buried’ my treasures. I had attached them to the back of my bookcase, the side that faced the wall, so that any snooping, pesky little brother wouldn’t find them.

Nobody was going to find my treasure…and in those maps X really did mark the spot.

W is for Winter

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When I was a kid, winter started immediately after Easter.

It didn’t matter whether Easter fell in March or at the end of April, as soon as it was over, my mother moved into winter mode.

It was as though some sort of trans-seasonal switch was flicked.  Cotton sheets were replaced with flannelette ones.  The eiderdowns were taken down from the top of the linen cupboard, aired and fluffed, ready for service. Short summer pyjamas were put away in favour of long warm pj’s.  Salads disappeared from the table. We started having stews and casseroles for dinner.

My brother and I were ordered to wear our singlets so that we would not catch colds.  I hated wearing a singlet. I hated the way it made the rest of my clothes feel tighter. I hated the way it made me extra hot and sweaty when I was playing. I hated that the shoulder straps had a way of falling off my shoulders and becoming tangled around my upper arms.

The singlet was particularly hateful when worn with a flannelette petticoat (because of the westerly winds) under one’s school uniform. When the winds blew or if I had shown any signs of having a sniffle, a little bag of camphor would be pinned to my singlet to help keep my airways clear and to add to my already enhanced state of embarrassment.  The camphor could be smelt miles away.  I was probably not the only kid in school who had to wear all this paraphernalia, but I felt like I was and I was mortified.  Hate, hate, hated it.

Along with the camphor bag, mum had a whole swag of folk medicines to inflict upon us at the change of seasons. Firstly there was the laxative to give us “a nice clean out”.  At first it was castor oil that was administered but then a product called Laxettes came along. This was like a little block of chocolate but with a secret ‘cleansing’ ingredient.  Far more palatable but just as effective.

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Then there was a cocktail of milk, raw egg and honey that had to be drunk each evening to build our immune systems.  Oh my, that was so horrible.  I remember volunteering to dry the dishes so that I could take my icky drink with me to the kitchen and, surreptitiously tip it down the sink. I know Mum meant well, but we were sure she was trying to poison us.  Surely, we weren’t that bad!

Finally, every morning, we set off to school with a vitamin C tablet in our mouths.  We didn’t mind these. They were like little orange sweets.  Whether they helped us to avoid colds, I don’t know, but they were an essential part of winter for us.

The best thing about winter, apart from going to the football with Dad, was cocoa.  We were allowed to have a lovely cup of cocoa before bed. I would curl up with my book and sip the wonderful chocolatey drink as I read about the Famous Five.  Bliss!

In fact, I still like to do that on a chilly evening…curl up with a good book and enjoy a warming cup of cocoa.

But, I am not wearing a singlet!

 

 

V is for Vegemite

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When I was a kid, Vegemite was a staple in my diet as it was for most kids of my generation in Australia.

Vegemite is a yeast extract with vegetable and spice additives which has been around since the 1920s.  It is a black paste that we Aussies like to spread on toast, crackers and bread.  It has a salty taste rather like a strong boullion. It is highly nutritious, being rich in B group vitamins.  Mothers start their babies  on Vegemite early by spreading it on teething rusks or dissolving a little in water.

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As kids we ate Vegemite every day.  My brother hardly ate anything else, even on Christmas Day. He liked his Vegemite sandwiches and would turn down all the wonderful Christmas food in favour of “a Vegie sandwich”.

My cousin and I created our own delicacy.  We would spread butter and Vegemite on crackers, and set the crackers on the back steps until the ants crawled on to them.  When the ants became stuck in the Vegemite, we ate the crackers.  Yes, I know it sounds disgusting now, but at the time it was fantastic…and there were never any ill effects.

The secret with Vegemite is to spread it lightly.  The saltiness of the Vegemite then blends nicely with the butter, cheese or whatever.  Most visitors to Australia, intent on savouring this iconic product make the mistake of slathering it onto the toast or cracker so thickly that, when they bite into it, the salt causes their throats to close up and tears to well in their eyes.

There is an ongoing argument about whether Vegemite is better than Marmite or vice versa.  My vote goes to Vegemite.  I think Marmite is slightly sweeter.

I will always be a Vegemite kid.

I believe I can still remember the words to the jingle.

“We’re happy little Vegemites, As bright as bright can be. We all enjoy our Vegemite, For breakfast, lunch and tea.

Our mummies say we’re growing stronger, Every single week, Because we love our Vegemite. We all adore our Vegemite.

It puts a rose in every cheek.”

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Yup! Definitely a Vegemite kid.

 

 

 

 

 

U is for Uniform

 

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When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marching girl; not so much for the marching but for the uniform.

One of my friends at school was a marching girl. She would go to practice sessions after school and competitions on the weekend. She was always bringing trophies to show at school.  She got to wear the most wonderful uniform I had ever seen.  There was a little white pleated skirt topped by a scarlet jacket with gold buttons and fringed epaulettes.  Oh, but the hat…the hat was an amazing concoction. It was tall, sparkly red with a navy blue band and brim and it was set off by a white feathery cockade.  Gorgeous!

I so wanted to be a marching girl wearing a uniform like that. 

Mum and Dad did not agree with my suggestion that I should add marching to my list of achievements.  They were of the opinion that I would soon tire of the activity. This was based solely on the fact that I had begged to be a Girl Guide for ages ( my best friend was a Girl Guide), swore that I would dedicate myself to the Girl Guides, promised that I would be a Girl Guide for at least twenty years, and then had only lasted two weeks as a Girl Guide.  Luckily, they had only ordered the uniform for that and had not yet paid for it.

I could not convince them of my deep, heart-felt yearning to be a marching girl. I marched everywhere. I marched up and down the hallway. I marched to the bus stop. I practised sharp turns and salutes when I was clearing the table after dinner…not such a good idea when one has an armful of plates and cutlery.  I even tried playing marching music as part of my piano practice. You would be amazed how different “The Blue Danube” waltz sounds when played to a marching rhythm.

Nothing worked.  I was destined to remain a non-uniformed marcher.  The only uniform I had was my school uniform, a grey tunic worn over  a white blouse and completed by a white panama hat. Boring!  To compensate, I took to wearing a feather in my hatband. My first attempt at style!

As a teacher I continued this tradition/affectation.  The rule for school kids in Queensland is “No hat, no play”.  My yard hat was quite spectacular. It was a straw breton style hat with a green scarf wrapped around as a band.  Into this band I stuck a feather…any feather…whatever I found on the ground.  When that feather became a bit frayed, it would be replaced by another.

Of course,  the children began bringing feathers that they had found to add to my hat.  I was soon wearing a hat that resembled a Native American headdress, so many feathers did it bear.  The crowning glory was a fabulous wedge-tailed eagle feather that a child had found whilst on vacation and brought back to school especially for me.

When, the Harry Potter stories came along and the children noticed the line “all witches wear feathers in their hats”, my reputation for having magical powers was enhanced tenfold.  That hat became an object of wonder.  It was part of my uniform as a teacher; a uniform I was proud to wear.

 

T is for Television

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When I was a kid television was something we only saw in the movies.  Our entertainment came mainly from the radio.

My parents listened to serials and dramatised stories on the wireless as well as news and sports broadcasts. I remember my mother sitting down with a cup of tea and a biscuit every morning to listen to “Portia Faces Life” or “Dr Paul”.  These were never to be missed and the day’s activities were planned around them.  The ladies of the neighbourhood would discuss each episode when they met at the store or at the hairdresser. I was a member of the “Argonauts” club and listened every afternoon to see if I had won a prize. My brother was devoted to the  “Hopalong Cassidy Show“, and my father would lie in bed listening to the broadcast of the Test cricket coming from England in the wee hours of the morning.

But then, in 1959, television came to Brisbane.  Melbourne had had tv since the city hosted the Olympics in 1956.

Television sets were large wooden cabinets with screens, quite impressive pieces of furniture.

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Dad drove us into the city to see the sets displayed in the department store windows.  Crowds of people stood on the pavement outside those windows marvelling at these wonderful new devices.  My father was unsure as to whether these new fangled gizmos would be worth the money one spent on them. My Dad was never one to move quickly on a decision. He waited until our neighbours bought a set and he could actually see one in a house being used by a family.  The first telecast of live cricket sold him and, shortly thereafter, we too owned a television set.

We would rush home from school each afternoon to watch “Mickey Mouse Club”, the “Tom and Jerry Show” or “The Lone Ranger”.  Our evenings were filled with game shows and variety programs as well as “Gunsmoke”, “Rawhide”, “Maverick”, Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip” and “Perry Mason” all in shiny black and white.  At close of programming, I can’t remember if that was eleven o’clock or midnight, the National Anthem would be played and the test pattern would appear and remain in place until the next morning.

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Televison changed our world. It brought pictures and stories from all around the world right into our living room.  Things that we had had to go to the cinema to see on news reels were now there to be seen on the six o’clock news.  We felt more connected and not quite so far away from the rest of the world.

If someone had told me in 1959 that one day I would be able to watch television shows on a phone that I could carry in my pocket, I would have laughed at them.

Doesn’t technology move quickly? 

S is for Silkworms

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When I was a kid,  springtime was the time for silkworms.

Shoeboxes and mulberry leaves became currency in the neighbourhood.

To successfully raise silkworms and thereby become one of the cool group, one required a shoebox of reasonable size.  Shoeboxes were perfect because they had lids which could have air holes poked into them.

There was always someone who had, at the end of the previous silkworm season, had the foresight to seal up their shoebox tightly, so that the eggs would remain viable until the following year.  These were the entrepreneurs of my childhood.  They would sell these eggs to their friends at reasonable prices, and to anyone else at exorbitant prices e.g. a teaspoonful for two shillings (a whole week’s pocket money).

With a shoebox and a some silkworm eggs in hand, one then went in search of mulberry leaves, the favoured food of silkworms.

Anybody who happened to have a mulberry tree in their garden immediately became the popular kid in school.  Silkworms eat voraciously. New leaves are needed everyday, so a ready source is vital. The elderly couple who lived next door to us allowed my brother and I to take the leaves from their mulberry tree to feed our silkworms with the proviso that we didn’t eat all the mulberries while we were there.

Our silkworms thrived as long as we remembered to supply them with fresh leaves.      Image                                               Image

Soon the fat little chaps would begin to spin their silken cocoons.

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Then, eventually, the moths would hatch out and lay more eggs.     Image

Nobody really knew what to do with the cocoons.  Some people boiled them to get the silk off, but most of us just tried to unwind the silky golden threads from the cocoons.  The aim was to get enough silk to cover an entire pencil which could then be proudly displayed on one’s desk at school.

My cousin, Greame, and I conducted experiments with different leaves for our silkworms. We were successful in getting pale green threads by feeding our worms lettuce and reddish threads by feeding them beetroot leaves.  These achievements were hailed as works of genius by our school mates and afforded us hero status for a day or two.

The keeping of silkworms seems to have become less popular, maybe because people don’t have mulberry trees in their backyards anymore.  It was a fun thing to do and let us see a complete life cycle in quite a short time.

All hail the Silkworm!

(Pictures from Google images and Wikipedia)

R is for Recreation

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When I was a kid we had plenty of time for recreation.

Television didn’t arrive in Brisbane until 1959 and, even then, was limited in programming and broadcast times. So, unlike today’s youngsters, much of our time was spent outdoors.

My parents decided, when I was about eight years old, that my recreation periods should have some semblance of organisation.  I found myself learning to play the piano, attending elocution lessons and learning to play tennis.

Piano lessons took place before school on a Friday morning.  This meant that, by the time I had had my lesson and walked from the teacher’s house to school, I missed the Friday morning school assembly.  I didn’t mind that.  Assembly or “Parade” involved the entire student body assembling in class groups on the parade ground at the front of the school. We did this every day, weather permitting. Each class of about 40 students stood in three straight lines, in the ‘at ease’ position, feet apart and hands behind backs, until called to Attention.  Then the National Anthem would be played, the flag unfurled and the Pledge of Allegiance to Queen and Country was recited.  After the Headmaster made any necessary announcements, each class would make a smart right turn and march like soldiers to the classrooms.  Anyone not marching properly would be chastised, with the whole class likely to incur a lunchtime marching practice.  Oh no, I didn’t mind missing out on assembly.

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I quite enjoyed my piano lessons and kept it up for about six years before the work load of high school and the advent of the Beatles caused me to lose interest.

Tennis lessons were fun too.  Once I had learned for two years, I realised I knew enough to enjoy a game but that I was never going to be the next Wimbledon champ.  Why waste my Saturday mornings and Mum’s money on the lessons for any longer?  Anyway Saturday mornings were when I made my extra income from collecting bottles. (See I is for Income.)

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Elocution lessons were an after school event.  On a Monday afternoon I was to walk to the teacher’s house, have my lesson with about six other kids, and then walk home.  Elocution lessons were, according to my mother, supposed to teach me how to speak “like a lady”. These days I guess they would be called speech and drama lessons.

I was a shy child. Within my family I was fine, but in the world at large I felt very small. I lived mostly in my own head, in the world of the stories that I read. In that world I was comfortable and capable. I would have loved to have been popular and to have been the centre of attention and have had heaps of friends.  I looked at some of the girls at school who seemed so self assured and I would wonder why I couldn’t be as relaxed and confident as they were.  I tried to melt into the background so that nobody would notice me, because I felt there were always eyes upon me, judging me and finding me wanting. When I met new people, I had a tendency to put my head down and speak to my shoes. When I had to present a project before the class, I would be physically ill beforehand.

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At elocution lessons I was given a role to play.  I didn’t have to be me. I could be this new character and it was wonderful.  At the end of each semester we put on a performance for the parents. I just loved it.

Later, when I was a teacher (yes…me…the kid who used to throw up if I had to stand before the class), I used stories and drama as a base for many of my curriculum units.  I found that, just as it had for me, the drama brought quiet strength to the shy students and allowed them to show themselves to the group without being judged.  The children loved it and threw themselves enthusiastically into their learning. It was a most successful method of engaging my students.

I did, twice, skip elocution lessons. I spent the two shillings Mum had given me to pay for the lessons on a bag of lollies, and met my friend Carol in the park.  We sat there under the big Moreton Bay fig tree and gorged ourselves. I was caught, of course, and threatened with immediate removal from the class.  Yikes!

Those lessons were a drain on my free time, but they gave me something far more precious.  They gave me a sense of Myself.  They helped me to see that I could be whoever I wanted to be.   I was still shy. I was still awkward and self-conscious, but I could step into the world with more confidence. Many times I approached difficult situations as if they were roles I had to play. After a while, I would find that the mask of the actor would slip away and I, myself, was coping with the situation.

To this day, I give thanks that my mother made me take those Elocution lessons and I hope that, for her sake, I speak like a lady.

Q is for Queen

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When I was a kid, I saw the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth  came to visit Brisbane.  There was so much excitement about this visit of the new young Queen. It was 1954 and fascination with the monarchy was at an all time high.  After the dark days of World War 2 and the subsequent illness and death of King George, people were delighted by the vibrant young woman who was now Queen of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

My father was a supervisor at the Arnotts Biscuit Factory in Brisbane and, as it happened, the Royal motorcade was to pass right by the factory.  Dad and his fellow workers were informed that they might bring their families in to the factory canteen so that they would have a good view of the motorcade.

I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders and watching out through the big windows that fronted Coronation Drive.  There were people everywhere, lining the road, sitting in trees and, like us, looking out of windows.  Flags fluttered in the breeze and strands of bunting were strung above the road.  It was all very festive.

As a three and half year old, I didn’t really understand the significance of the whole event.  I had been told to watch out for the big black car which would be carrying the Queen.  My mother had told me that the Queen would be waving to me, so I should wave back.  I had my little flag to wave at her.  I was ready, eyes on the road, flag held high.

I knew what queens looked like.  I had seen plenty of them in my story books.  It seemed perfectly simple.  I just had to watch out for a lady wearing a crown.  Easy.

Then everyone was cheering.  A line of cars came by.  One of them had a lady and a gentleman in it.

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I watched the car go past.  The lady wasn’t wearing a crown so I knew she wasn’t the Queen that I had been told to watch for.  People around me were making a lot of noise.  My mother and father were cheering and waving.

And then it was over.  Dad lifted me from his shoulders and set me on the floor.

 “How about that?” he asked me. “Wasn’t that great? We saw the Queen.” 

I promptly burst into tears, because I was sure that I had not seen the Queen at all.  Yes, I had seen the lady in the car sitting beside the gentleman but, no, I had not seen any queens. There had not been a crown in sight.

It took a lot of calming down and explaining about crowns and queens before I could accept that I had indeed seen our Queen.  I was left with mixed feelings. It was good to know that I had been part of an important moment in Brisbane’s history, but I felt really sad, and somewhat guilty, that I had not waved my little flag at the lady in the big black car.

To me she had been simply a pretty lady not a queen and that somehow dulled the whole experience.  I had seen the Queen and not realised it.  I felt as though I had been cheated.

 Who knew there were fashion rules stating when and where one should wear one’s crown?