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: B.P. – L.H.

There it was. Irrevocably stated in juvenile chalk marks on the fence in Lawson Lane. Flanked on the right by a swung decrepit gate, and on the left by a battered dirt-box, (or garbage tin). Was this ultimate truth? Within an ill-drawn heart was emblazoned the legend that B.P. luvs L.H. It was quite true. Lois had the moistest. Although young, she knew how to cast a glance. I had determined to be a Sir Galahad to her, and if she had wished to walk down to Rushcutters Bay across the Chinamen’s gardens, I would have escorted her; and I had hoped defended her against such assaults as were common among the lecherous young in those days. I envisaged myself fighting off all the bikies, the “onion mob” and all. Not that bikies as such existed in those days, but they had their progenitors.

It so happened, I was too timid to ask her to walk down to the Bay with me, so my valour was never put to the test. She must have been a jolly good looker, because I was choosy in my devotion. Bolder lovers than myself, used to mate up with bolder and less beautiful girls. She was Maid Marion. Confrontation with her always embarrassed me, such was my excess of modesty and love. Mother complained about the shattered toe caps on my boots, which I had kicked to death in shyness on the gutters of Lawson Lane. (Incidentally, we, Brother Jack and I had outmoded the old button-up boots which needed a button hook and expertise to attach to our sweaty feet. We were now on the modern lace-up boots.)

I had not chalked up that soft affection in Lawson lane. I did, God forgive me, repeat the message on Sharkey’s fence in Hoddle Street. I liked it be known that L.H. was loved. Years later when I was under the shower, I used to think fondly of the girl who parents inconsiderately moved to Bexley or the bush.

Other boys seemed not to be troubled with tender scruples relative to maidenhood. Occasionally, on the way home from Womerah Avenue, (Darlo School), the boys and girls would play hide and seek in the grounds of the Scottish Hospital. Sometimes when someone was extra hard to find, I would be informed by the more knowledgeable R.P. that “It’s no good looking for R.M. He is up E.D.” Even at that tender age, I understood the message and made due allowance for juvenile research. This research, which I am sure was purely academic, could not have led to any ill-consequences. Eight or nine-year olds do not get Ph.D.s or babies. Not all of the residents of Paddington were all as pure in their research. Some adults, accused of selfish and forceful knowledge of those matters relating to the young, disappeared from the social scene.

[W.E. Pidgeon c.1974]

NOTES:

  1. Lois Hoskins lived in Lawson Street, Paddington
  2. Mrs Annie Sharkey along with Frederick William, Edith and Graham lived at 26 Hoddle Street, Paddington, opposite the rear access laneway from 290 Glenmore Road. Annie died 12 June 1920 (Source: Ryerson Index)