To my granddaughter, Ava Renee
and grandson, Christian Tyson.
They will grow up in a very different world
to that depicted in the following pages.
There was a time, within the memory of a few, when
there were no computers, mobile phones, texting, wi-fi, Facebook or Twitter, and
cyberspace didn’t exist. People talked about any subject they wished to discuss
without the constriction of political correctness. It was an era inconceivable
to today’s young who are practically born with a phone in their hand. It was a
marvellous, uncomplicated time. Most families survived without a telephone,
communication was by letter or telegram delivered by a boy on a bike. Television
hadn’t arrived; the radio was the centre of entertainment along with music
records often played on a wind-up His Master’s Voice gramophone. Very few people
had cars; you walked, rode a bike, and for further travel, the bus or train
sufficed. School was different to that of today. Most pupils walked to school or
rode bikes; some even arrived on ponies or horses, especially in country areas.
The school provided a paddock to house that mode of transport. At mid-day, those
who lived close to the school walked home for lunch. They weren’t kept locked in
the school grounds as though they were in jail like the schools of today.
This wasn’t the Dark or Middle Ages but a time not
long ago. This is what the world was like between the two Great Wars and was
still like it for a time after the Second World War. It still lives on in the
memory of a few survivors and many think, for the world to survive, it should
revert to those far less complicated decades.
Two old men were discussing the way life used to be
in their youth.
‘It has certainly changed and not for the better,’
‘I can barely watch the news at night. It makes me
sick, the never-ending reports of violence in the Middle East and among our own,
mainly because of drugs and now imported terrorism. You know what you should do?
You’re an author, why don’t you write a book about the world and how it used to
be, before it’s all lost and forgotten, consigned to history?’
‘I’ll do that,’ I said. ‘I’ll go right back to our
boyhood days and what it was like to live completely different to that of
This is it.
The small boy ran into the centre of the street,
excitedly jumping up and down, shouting: ‘It’s my mother’s birthday and she’s
forty years old today. Forty years old, forty years old,’ he repeated over and
over again. His forty-year-old mother shot out of her front door, grabbed the
boy by the ear and hauled him inside. The problem was she had told the
neighbours it was her thirtieth. In her mind she didn’t look forty. Good
heavens, forty was more than halfway to three score years and ten when most
people croaked it. Two of her neighbours were sharing a cup of tea, something
they did most days. They watched the commotion in the street outside through
lace curtains. Most houses in the street had lace curtains from behind which the
inhabitants (the women) could observe in secret what was going on in the
‘Look at that,’ said Lorraine Boxall as she carefully
replaced her cup in the saucer. ‘That Doris Drinkwater told me she was thirty.
Goodness gracious me, I knew that was a lie all along, of course she’s forty,
looks it too.’
‘Yes, she does. If she was thirty it would have meant
she had her son Trevor when she was ten and the other one, Mervyn when she was
even younger. She should have worked it out,’ replied her neighbour, Lois
This was South Street. There was also a North, East
and West Street in the town, named after points of the compass. The residents of
South Street always maintained their street was superior to the other three. It
was the mid 1930s, a time with no mobile phones, no computers and the pubs
closed at six o’clock on the dot. That is why there was heavy drinking when the
men knocked off work at five, rushed to the pub and downed as many as they could
until the publican called: ‘Time, gentlemen, please, the doors are closing.’
Not all the men rushed to the pub every day, some
only went on payday which was usually a Friday and the pay always in cash, no
cheques or direct deposits paid straight into bank accounts. There was usually a
physically well-endowed barmaid to serve the beer. Friday was also late shopping
night, with the shops open until nine p.m.
Very few of the women drank beer; their tipple was
usually a cup of tea and a talk about any scandal, misdemeanour or gossip that
had surfaced. One subject discussed was who was pregnant, who might be pregnant
and the worst thing of the lot, a single unmarried young woman fallen pregnant
and sent far away to live with some remote relative until the baby was born,
probably adopted out, after which the young woman returned home as if nothing
had happened. Months were counted after a marriage when the newly-wed couple
announced a pending birth.
The pre-computer era was a marvellous age for
children. They weren’t stuck inside staring at a screen for hours on end.
Instead, they ran free and were often missing on non-school days from breakfast
until nightfall, coming home with scratches, scuffed knees, sunburnt but happy.
Nobody worried. They built cubby houses and forts on the ground and in the
trees, they fished for trout and eels in creeks, they built small dams in the
same creeks and swam in water holes. They made bows and arrows and cricket bats
from willow trees and they usually got a penny a week to spend as they wanted on
an ice-cream cone or chocolate bar. It was a great world and a wonderful time to
be a child.
Education also was very different from today. Pupils
in the first classes wrote on slates with slate pencils and didn’t graduate to
writing with ink until later when they were taught running writing. This was the
world of the adults and children who lived in South Street, which was similar to
every other street in the town, except Jermyn Street where the residents were
continually being kicked out for not paying the rent. Jermyn Street had that
sort of reputation, a bit shady.
The Crosby family lived in Cadbury Street which was
considered to have the town’s better houses so they felt they were a cut above
anybody who lived in Jermyn Street. Head of the family was Frank Crosby who,
when only a teenager had served at Gallipoli with the ANZAC forces during the
First World War. He was a member of the returned Services Association (the RSA),
played bowls at the local bowls club and marched proudly with the veterans on
Anzac Day. He had a big vegetable and fruit garden in the back yard which also
housed a chook run so they produced their own eggs. Mum Shirley stayed at home,
did the housework and looked after the kids as mums did in those days. She was
very proud to be called Shirley because Shirley Temple was a very big child film
star and many girls were called Shirley because of that. She was born before
Shirley Temple, so she was very glad that her parents had called her Shirley as
it was such a popular name. The rest of the family consisted of two boys, Geoff,
the eldest, followed by James and a baby sister, Dora. They lived in an inland
town in New Zealand that had been settled by pioneers from Denmark and had been
given a Danish name, which annoyed the local Maori population who lived in a
pa outside the town. The family had many relatives in other parts of New
Zealand and also an extended family in Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia. After a
lot of questioning, Frank told Shirley that one of his earlier relatives, a
great uncle, had been shipped to Australia as a convict. He had been caught
stealing a horse. One of the great uncle’s brothers immigrated to New Zealand so
that’s how the family came to be there. The two boys were glad to have relatives
in Australia. It put them a cut above the other boys in the street who didn’t
have relatives in Australia.
‘Mum, Surry Hills sounds a bit like it’s in the
country, doesn’t it, hilly, that sort of place?’ queried Geoff.
‘No, Geoff, Surry Hills is a suburb in the middle of
Sydney, nothing to do with the country.’
‘I would like to visit one day, Mum, do you think
we’ll ever go to Australia for a holiday?’
‘Very unlikely, Geoff. There would be the cost of the
train fare to Wellington to catch a ship to Sydney and the cost of berths on the
ship. It would be far too expensive. Switch the wireless on, it’s time for
The Fourth Form at St Percy’s. You don’t want to miss your favourite show.
After that I want you to run down and get me a pound of butter and a pint of
milk. Here’s threepence for the milk and a shilling for the butter.’
‘Mum, why do I always have to go and buy milk? Why
don’t you order more from the milkman when he delivers in the morning? It would
save me many trips.’
‘Stop complaining. I just keep the standing order of
a quart because I don’t know how much I’m going to use during the day. James,
come here, you’re supposed to be doing your homework, learning your times table,
so no listening to the wireless for you. Go in the front room and get to it.’
‘Aw, Mum. Do I have to? I hate doing sums. Sums are
hard. Everybody hates sums.’
‘Nonsense. You have to learn your numbers and sums
because if you can’t count you’ll get nowhere in life. When you learn your sums
you can count money and then you’ll find there’s twelve pennies in a shilling,
twenty shillings in a pound and so on. It’s very necessary so off you go.’
Geoff got his bike out of the back shed and set off
down town. It was starting to get dark. He pushed the dynamo attached to the
front forks of the bike onto the tyre which, when the tyre turned created
electricity and lit up his headlight and red taillight. He made sure he did this
because in a previous week he had been going on another message for Mum in the
twilight without his light on and had been pulled up by Constable McDonald who
asked him what he thought he was doing riding his bike without a light. ‘Put it
on at once or you’ll get into trouble if I catch you again,’ warned the
policeman. Geoff felt very uncomfortable being pulled up by the law and made
sure he always rode with his light on when it was dark or almost dark with the
sun about to set.