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A Variety of Views

My childhood home had a plaque by the front door declaring the grand name of

 ‘Sea View’.

  As a child, I could only see willow trees by the swamp across Muritai Street, although I knew the beach was quite close on the other side. I often wonder why our house bore that name. Was the sea visible when the house was built? Or did the original owners anticipate having a sea view once the planned second storey was built on their single storey villa? 

 This family home was built in the early 1900s, with my parents buying it from the original owners (Mr and Mrs Lendorf)  in 1947 or 1948. It was a large, gracious wooden villa, with an eleven foot stud, set on the traditional quarter-acre section. 

I believe the ‘footprint’ foundation was the first to be built in concrete in Nelson.  It was built in a traditional design of the era, where a hall ran the length of the house, separating the bedrooms on one side from the living areas on the other. Our hall was exceptionally wide, and a great place to play and even ride trikes. I was an adult before I realised our hall was the XXL version, because the original owners anticipated this would house the staircase after they’d added a second story.  As a child, I just knew it as a huge play space. In later years, Dad put a small table, a couple of chairs, and a piano in the hall. 

 Muritai Street’s deep open ditches became mini-rivers when it rained. The night cart collected the deposits from our ‘out-house’. Mother didn’t like her daughters using the fairly primitive lavatory in the back yard, with its Auckland Weekly toilet paper, so we each had our own china potty tucked under our beds. I still remember the excitement when the sewer finally reached us, and our lavatory moved indoors. My Dad was a big do-it-yourselfer, and had created a large, fully enclosed back veranda. The external wall was floor-to-ceiling panels of glass, which made the veranda light and airy, but also quite public. Around a large open space in the middle, were various storage cupboards, a small door allowing internal access to the external coal bin, and a narrow passage gave us covered access to the garage. But the most exciting addition was our brand new, state-of-the art lavatory, complete with a tiny handle which made it flush. Such luxury.

 Whatever possessed Dad to install a glass-panelled lavatory door or paint the walls fire-engine red, I’ll never know. I do know that the colour made people stop in their tracks on their first visit.  As a teen it was very embarrassing, trying discretely to visit the lavatory when someone was in the veranda or chatting at the back door. A curtain was soon hung inside the textured door-glass, but the shadowy movements behind it remained. 

Dad was quite artistic and a window dresser by trade. He disliked straight lines, loved colour and enjoyed being different. I think I inherited those genes.  I guess the lavatory walls were in keeping with his bright sunset pink bathroom ceiling with its huge concrete based shower-without-a-door, and the full length mirror directly opposite the bath. We were reminded every day what shape we were in. 

 When I was little, our previous cramped bathroom was right beside the kitchen. The tongue-and-groove panelling was painted pale green, with borer holes here and there.  The bathroom was directly opposite a small building across the drive. This housed the wash-house, with a tool shed one end and the previously mentioned out-house on the other. 

 Mother would often put Judith and me in the bath while she cooked tea.  

Those steamy bathroom windows were just perfect for drawing on, and of course I could never resist. 

I’d just get started, and suddenly hear: “Heather, stop drawing on the window.” 

How did she know? 

When asked, mother’s stock reply was “Mothers always know these things”. 

I wondered what other psychic knowledge mothers had?

It wasn’t till the old wash-house was pulled down when I was a young teenager that I discovered her secret. Mother finally confessed that her supernatural ability to see through walls was aided by her physical ability to see clearly my back-lit shadow being perfectly projected on the wash-house wall as she looked out the adjacent kitchen window. 

 In our wash-house was a copper, heated by lighting a fire underneath, beside two concrete tubs with a wringer between. Mother used a stick, similar to half a wooden broom handle, to lift the washing out of the copper and into a tub for rinsing. One end of this stick was swollen and fibrous from the hot water.  We had Ricketts blue-bags for keeping things white, and they also came in handy for relieving the pain of bee-stings. There was a small, square wire basket containing bits of Sunlightsoap to swish around and make soapsuds. I think this must have been before the advent of washing powders like Rinso and Persil.  

As well as a cane washing basket, we used an old tin baby’s bath to carry the washing to the rope line strung across our back yard. Once clothes were pegged out with wooden dolly pegs, a notched pole lifted the line so sheets, towels and tablecloths didn’t drag on the ground.  

The tin bath had another, more exciting, use.

Because our section was lower than the road, and Tahuna had no storm-water drains, our section flooded quite often. 

While the continuous concrete foundations kept our house safely above water, it often became a kind of  ‘island’ in the middle of a lake. It was such fun paddling around the garden in the tin bath, dramatically rescuing my dolls, or creating other nautical adventures. 

 I hated the way Dad’s submersible pump could drain our land within a couple of day’s pumping. Children don’t consider the consequences of contaminated water, or mourn the garden destruction, or clean up after muddy boots!  

Interestingly, Dad gave the pump to Graeme many years later to drain our swimming pool, and it has only recently been retired. Things were built to last in the old days.

Heather T

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28.02 | 20:31