Getting it Together

Towards the end of 1956 my mother bought a property in Boakes Road, Mount Wellington. We moved in on my fourteenth birthday. The house was new and it was small – only two bedrooms. It stood on a grass covered section that backed onto an area of waste ground, which is now Thomson Park.

We had the bare minimum of furniture – a Formica dining table and four chairs and three single beds. For over a year after we moved in, the livingroom stayed empty; the only covering on its wooden floors was the thick paper wrappings from the three mattresses.

Our first sleeping arrangement had my mother in one bedroom and me and my younger sister, Bridget, in the other. After a few months, however, my elder sister, Janet, asked if she could come and live with us. She had left England for Wellington ahead of us in the middle of the previous year but now wanted to be with the family. My mother obviously hadn’t figured on this possibility but she agreed. We bought another bed and Janet began sharing one room with Bridget. I moved in with my mother. It seems odd now, that we lived like this with, all the time, an empty living room, but I guess bedrooms were for sleeping in and living rooms weren’t. The arrangement didn’t last long, in any case. Within eight months Janet had found a job and a new circle of friends and was engaged. Not, not long afterwards, she got married. By that time it had become undeniable that I was beyond puberty and no longer a fit bedroom companion for either my mother or my sister. They moved in together and I got the other bedroom to myself.

One of the problems with a new house is that there are no paths or driveways. We did not need the latter because we had no car but the lack of paving to the front door and round the back of the house was a nuisance in wet weather. My mother solved the problem by striking a deal with an Englishman who lived up the street. I would help him lay his paths and he would help with ours.

His name was Lockerbie. He was a small, wiry, extraverted man and I liked his company. He taught me how to mix concrete and, I think, in the midst of all his chatter, he gave me my first insights into the mysteries of horse racing. He also had a beautiful wife who appeared rarely but often enough to keep my pubescent hormones live with anticipation.

Over an Easter weekend, we laid the boxing and the scoria base and then the concrete itself to make a path from the street to the Lockerbies’ front door. I did the mixing and the carting in the wheelbarrow. He did the smoothing and the finishing. It was hard work but I enjoyed it.

I had already laid the boxing at our place myself. It was a longer path than the Lockerbies’ by a factor of three. Mr Lockerbie delivered the mixer and the wheelbarrow and we ordered the cement and metal. He spent maybe an hour with me, watching how I mixed the stuff and poured it and smoothed it with float and trowel. He told me to make sure I hosed it down after it was set to make sure it cured properly. Then he went home.

My mother was furious that he left me to lay all our paths by myself. I didn’t mind. At least, I don’t recall minding. I was pleased with my new found skills (which I have rarely used since) and satisfied with the result. It was a good path, not perfect because I left the wooden boxing in between the slabs, but it served us well. In any case, I already knew that life wasn’t fair.

Gradually, over the following months, our circumstances began to improve. We bought carpets. We bought lino tiles for the kitchen and bathroom and, at last, furniture for the living room. New Zealand was the land of opportunity. Coming here was the best decision we’d ever made, or so my mother said.

One Response to “Getting it Together”

  1. Says:

    Oh ‘fancy,fancy’ as the character’s mother in “The Gate At the Stairs” would have said – Formica in the fifties, flash indeed. Enjoying your serial memoir.

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