Five Ways to Remember: The Shouse

Our old dunny was down the back and built in bricky union with the Chappies. The dividing fence separating our estates ran smack between the two feet that separated our privy doors.  Our cisterns rarely chimed in unison because it was part of the game that one did not hear the grunts of labour of the sighs moanings of ecstasy of the unseen partner.

It was a Chappie Man I liked most to be in residence with his noisome pipes somehow seemed to catharsize the often turgid atmosphere of the backyard villa.  There were always plenty of matches to be lit whilst he went through the Sydney Morning Herald and an ounce of Old Plug.  Sometimes we’d have all been down the back and perhaps even washed-up before the blue smoke from his curly pipe would cease leaking through the roof and the fiscus.  He had to wear his glasses down there for even with a house brick propping the door open there was not overmuch light.  Of course there was always a candle to help out on really dark mornings.  The candle was always an inch long and festooned with drippings which froze the curled and blackened matches in old enamelled holder.  I can’t remember what other type of pipe-side literature Chappies Man indulged in during those secret hours.

The dividing fence could not have been more than twelve feet long.  It stuck out like a row of toothpicks from the gloomy dentures of our wash-house which housed the sadly worn wringer whose perished middle was stop-gapped with an old trouser leg and half a tea towel.  Fifty years ago the handle of this wringer was propelled by a quarter horsepower boy with singularly little grace.

This fence wasn’t much in the way of fences even for those days.  It was very grey and most of the nails which upheld the privacy between 290 and 292 were museum pieces of iron oxide.  The moistest thing about the fence apart from its age and decrepitude was the fiscus which supported it.  This vine had gone berserk and its branches were closing up the lavatory door.  It crept its long cancers through the vents and dropped the obscenity of its figs beneath my feet that could not touch the floor when I was enthroned.

Our W.C. was a somewhat more elegant than the Chappies’. Beautifully shaped cobwebs, neatly cut squares of the “Herald” strung on the door and oleographed reproductions of Sir John Millais’ “Cherry Ripe” and “Bubbles” set off the rest of the furnishings.  Occasionally we’d switch and have squares of the “World’s News” and I was constantly amazed by the odd and scarcely credible information it provided before it met its predestined end.

Despite the artwork our lav was never in the first flight of mod. cons.  It was adequate for the traffic (since we were invariably constipated), and could most aptly be described as a high-up suite with cultural asides.

As I said, one pretended not to be in there at all when the neighbours were puffing and blowing in the semi-detached.  I could hold my peace when the Misses Chapman were in possession, but could not abide the long and wearisome wait for Chappie Man to complete the “Herald” and his movements.  I used to pull the chain and to Hell with it!

Apart from reporting my getting bitten on THE MUST’NT TOUCH IT by a harmless spider, and big brother dropping his fountain pen in to the gurgling depths, I have nothing more to add to on the evacuatory life and habits of 290.

[W.E. Pidgeon c.1966]

Bill Pidgeon (Wep) aged 9, in the backyard of 290 Glenmore Rd, Paddington, 1918.

Five Ways to Remember: Chappies

I can’t remember if I ever told you about the Chappies who lived next to us.  Chappies were there when I was born in 290 and were there when I left to get married.  At least two of the Chappie’s were, that is, Big Chappie and Little Chappie.  In my childish days there were three Chappies, the one with the moustache being Chappie Man.  He drank out of a very special cup which helped, but not quite, to keep his whiskers out of his tea.  He was the only adult male in the whole of our spinster and widow-ridden terrace.  Somehow this distinguished association with such a celibate company seems to suit him – it was hard to conceive even in a child’s imagination his lusting after tender virginhood.  He looked like a senior walrus and one could not imagine him in any occupation save grunting and wallowing in the Behring Sea, but was most probably, full of the social graces.

Chappies were always very kind to me.  They were lonely people who did not have many visitors, mad or otherwise.  They were used to my screechings and juvenile friendship.  By their standards, I suppose my mother was a real go-out. Sometimes they would be baby-sitters for me – although in those days one just looked after, or minded, a small child.

It was always a great treat to be looked after by the Chappies.  No matter how much food I had consumed at home I could always go their rock cakes and hop beer.  After the goodies and whilst they were madly knitting booties and bonnets for sale at Farmer’s, I would be allowed to pound, with all stops out, on their old foot-bellowed organ.  Chappies would occasionally drop a stitch but would forgive my ignorance of Bach, or Palestrina, and applaud my Stravinsky sounds even though they had not yet been written.  I suppose it was this sort of mod dissonance, and sheer magnitude of noise which started me off on my first abstract nightmares which haunted me when I had finally been rugged up and settled down on their settee. Oh dear!  Those crazy interlocking and ever-expanding circles! They engulfed and terrified me in their cosmic inhumanity. A commonplace enough vision of the world now, but real crook in Paddo in 1916.

 

Notes:

In March 1906, Mary Ann Chapman nee Nottage (1838-1906), relict of Albert died at 292 Glenmore Road. Albert and Mary were the parents of Edgar, Florence and Mary. In the 1903-04 Electoral Roll, Edgar Nottage was at 226 Glenmore Road, Paddington. Spinsters, Florence and Mary were not recorded as they were ineligible to vote at that time. In the 1913 Electoral Roll, Edgar Nottage Chapman, clerk, 292 Glenmore Road and sisters, Florence Mary (1862-1944) and Minnie Emma (1873-1945) (home duties) were recorded at 292 Glenmore Road. Edgar died May 1920.  In 1933, the year of Wep’s marriage, only Florence and Minnie Chapman were recorded at 292 Glenmore Road and again in 1936 but gone by 1937.