My brother was always doing things for me. He always let me have a first go at the washing-up or do the messages, and he even let me carry his hymnbook back from church. Whenever there was a Smoko in the saddlery next door he (being acuter of hearing than I) used to relate the least blue of the speeches.
This affectionate solicitude became irksome on the evening of Mother’s Party. In 1916 people didn’t have radios and had to make their own noise. You’d never think to look at our old house now, with its ten or twelve rooms and gas-ring jobs, that one Surgeon-Commander, one Lieutenant (army) , and one Captain (army) and one widow and one spinster could have all fitted into one of its rooms.
A Commander, a ‘cello, a Captain, a flute, a Lieutenant, a tenor, a spinster, soprano, and one widow with piano and such accessories as chairs, epergnes, and aspidistras will fill any 10 x 11 room.
Well about 9.30 p.m. when they were all blowing and scraping, big brother helps his bleary-eyed junior out on to the top staircase redoubt.
From which impregnable post big brother helpfully launched me down the stairs into the midst of the ‘cello and the “Picardy Waltz”.
This slight-of-foot earnt brother no acclaim. Me, being small enough to be priggish, basked in the subdued uproar and was fed with cakes. I was not offered ale. Big brother, God Bless him! was rebuked and awaited in the cold and seedy hours my hand outs of leftovers.
Cousins were just as natural as fleas to me. I seemed to have millions of them and they were all up and down from my level. Somewhere or other, it seemed impossible to find one who added up to my number in the elementary scheme of things in those days. Nowadays, everybody is supposed to be your cousin and the world is full of do-gooders obsessed with piddling and no-one has the entrée to that bunch of cousins, those fabulous characters who seemed to have been born of chimera and who would bust the world apart for a zac which would have bought them a gospel in the times, I speak of. Not that those days were any better than that. Amongst the many cousins, I had – it seemed as if I had collected them, doesn’t it? – I can assure you that they were all foisted upon me before and after that auspicious Thursday in January, 1909, when I joined the galaxy – the Milky Way of cousinhood. The Pluto of my planetary world was of course gargantuan cousin, Bill who was expelled from his mother’s orbit in a 14 1b craft, in the very month in which I, also, was sputnicked into this horrendous space.
Now there was an older cousindom led by relative John, who was always cleaning himself, and could not leave dirt well enough alone. There were girl cousins to kiss and others to tease. And on Sundays at Church, you could find out from the Common Prayer book, if you could marry, the best looking one or not, even if you weren’t allowed to wed your grandmother; not that I had secret thoughts and passions and Freudian longings for that austere Scot who dominated, with a carbon steel rod, the cohorts and regiments under her command. A strong type, my grandmother in recollection; always in black or maroon.
Buttoned up in front, practically from the boots and with a surging pacific swell of a bosom breaking into a stiff-necked white collar of foaming frills which the white bones of the past paraded around the throat and were confronted by the indomitability of a North Head chin. One could hardly call it nestling. There was perhaps, branded, would be better, upon the black and unyielding bosom, my sole idol. A massive gold snake curled and entwined upon itself in convolutions such as only Laocoon himself has witnessed, all bestudded with diamonds and rubies and lights of flashing green and folded scales, like Baal, turning and re-entering upon itself, swallowing, digesting, illuminating and fascinating; a viscera of an emblem; a Europhobus tortured in gold; Heavy too! To top it all, beside the pin attached, it had a chain with a second mooring – I do not know who got it when the old lady died, I would like to see it now – but it doesn’t matter; I can still see it heaving on the waves of that Gaelic breast.
It is funny how you seem to lose your place in this memory story. Here I am choc-a bloc with cousins and I am off on Grandma. Anyway, I did not really need to consult that old Common Prayer, because the girl cousins got away, and I was left with the paragon of all cousins, Georgie. Now, Georgie is to be likened in this day and age to a hydrogen bomb in the ten-megaton range. Not that he was ever dropped whilst in my care by me; I had too great a sense of responsibility towards humankind, ever to have made that unchristian like gesture. Georgie was a dear sweet boy, as harmless and benign as an unfused bomb as long as you kept him in your own bomb bay, all was well with the world – which means in those far off halcyon times, 290 Glenmore Road, Paddington. But if the area door was not thrice bolted and key withdrawn, the back door nailed in and the chimney flue bricked in – well, one had had it!
Now Georgie, as a son of Uncle Percy, who often got kicked in the “deaf and dumb” when playing league with Bluey Watkins and who won his corps heavyweight boxing contest on the way to France was a two-man man and an inaccurate ikon to puling little weaklings like myself. He married a robust dark and to my eyes, passionate almost gypsy. Perhaps too much alive, like a femme fatale, for the rest of our somewhat reticent family group. Georgie equaled the equation.
Several times Georgie stayed with us and no-one could have foreseen such nuclear reactions as he could make out such an elemental meal as warm sop with pepper and salt. Don’t ask me the recipe for that sop. It is to go into the appendix to these writings. His sop with water added to the milk seemed to grant my cousin a superhuman sense of well-being and omnipotence. In no time at all, (that is if we had left unguarded a door), a bevy of tearful neighbours would be wailing and bemoaning, the scourge that had befallen over the district. Infantile paralysis was a non-sequitur compared to Georgie’s descents upon our precincts. Unbattered, unbloodied and unbruised, Georgie alone was serene. Neighbourly eyes and noses hammering on his inborn bricklayer’s fists had left him unmoved, or to be more precise, only mildly delighted with life as it came.
Georgie lived for the day, and each I suppose was good. One of the best, I guess was the afternoon I took him to West’s Picture Show in Oxford Street. It was probably one of my worst. I could have put up with paying for him in the ice-creams. I could have put up with his throw-downs and crackers during the show, but when he hung his feet up on the ears of the boy in the front of the pictures, I lost their interest. I cannot even dredge out of the past, the name of that picture. Maybe there was no picture at all. All I could see was twenty Darlo kids ready to tear Georgie apart, and not to make much of it, me too. Now that I think hard, nothing seemed to come of it except that I was the first to exit and lay awake that night in fear and trembling and in youthful hope that Georgie’s chemistry would become less fissionable.
There was one night and it was wet and cold and nobody seemed to be wanting to have anything to with anyone else in our household.
So far as I can recollect everyone was getting on each other’s G strings. That is, the G strings of two boys and one adult woman. Mind you in those days there were no shocking/psychological overtones when the G string were played. You could hammer them all you wanted, and if the discord fifths and sevenths and the halfs and ninths beat forth, it didn’t much matter. It was all out the window screaming to insignificance in the narrow ways of dear old Hoddle St.
But this night our pulses were crook, the temperature was down and the radiator was round the bend. I don’t know what occasioned this melancholia unless it was the chops.
Mother, after dutifully fitting us out with grilled mutton chops and mashed swedes heaved her customary sigh. God knows why she sighed because we always had grilled chops. That is, at least to my recollection, although to be strictly honest I do remember haricot mutton a couple of times during my life in Paddington.
Of course, up at Grandpa’s place on Fridays they always had fish. What’s more it always seemed to be bloody garfish. Mum and Jack and I used to invariably eat at the old man’s on Fridays and it was always me who had to go up to the flaming fish shop to get the flaming stuff. I couldn’t stand it! It was not fair to small boys to have to hang around all the old trouts who were hopping in for their chop of Lenten (and Pentecostal and every other Holy Day) fish. I was always last in the queue, even if I had started in the front, and it vexed me no end. But; In my knickerbockers (or poop-catchers as they were called) I was, even if stood back distinguished as the snottynosed grandson of the ex-mayor of Paddington, and there was always plenty of garfish for John White, who was my grandfather.
GARFISH! My mother made it look as she enjoyed it. Grandpa obviously did, despite the way I imagine it had been cooked. Jack and I used to have the horrors. Nothing but wretched hair-like bones without the semblance of flesh to bless the name. Little needles which stuck in our gums and between our wonderful new teeth. And the chips – well, somehow we could stand the chips – a bit cold and greasy by the time we picked the odds and ends of the classified advertisements off them – perhaps I should never have complained about the chips.
However, things weren’t as bad as all that on Fridays, especially when I could see my love on the way home with her hot greasy parcel smuggled neatly in the crook of her lovely skinny arm.
But this day I began about. It wasn’t a Friday, and I don’t know why I keep on talking about Friday. Why Fridays have suddenly become so important I don’t know – it could have been a Friday, or then it couldn’t because obviously we were at Grandpa’s, and it couldn’t have been a Saturday because we weren’t allowed out, and it couldn’t have been a Sunday, because the pictures weren’t on. What’s all this about pictures – who mentioned pictures? Oh yes, such a poor blizzardly night and much meagre chops. It must have so dispirited our mother that in response to our half-hearted request to go to the pictures she agreed. Of course I was too young to realise how happy she must have been to allow us to go after we were not supposed to have asked.
God knows who did the washing-up in those days – I don’t remember, must have been someone. It must have been your grandmother because we had willow-pattern plates and we had them for a long time, much longer than if you or I had been attending to the chores.
In those days such labours as I am speaking of were performed in a kitchen, not on the patio or sundeck. In our kitchen there was mostly stove. It jutted from its murky corner like an altar. Gas pipes convolved round its massive sweaty chest. It sported an asthmatic griller on which our mutton chops were eternally sizzling and spitting at the leaded walls.
All across the mantlepiece over the defunct fuel stove which was full of books and ancient newspapers and dog soap and boot polish, was the most Pidgeon-like embroidery in American cloth you could ever wish to see.
Most kids these days have the misfortune to live in functional houses. Harry Seidler and his butterflied mob of glassy-eyed ascetics ever worry about us kids? How in the hell can you ride a scooter behind the stove, or find somewhere to drape a newspaper cut in jaunty symmetry? There are those pallid marble mantlepieces which crumbled in boy made pieces into the inevitable and unmerited rubble?
We had a sink too. It was in a far corner. Our kitchen was huge and this corner was always dark and one could never really tell whether the tap was on or off unless by listening. The tap was close to two feet above the sink, and if one had the mind to, would have served most adequately as a shower. I can’t recall what the sink was made off but it always had washing-up about to be done, or halfway done, or about time it was done. It was just that somebody always seemed to be dirtying something. Either the fish and chip ware or the Shelley or the Royal Doulton – because, mark you, we sometimes had our little graces.
All this is a far cry from getting up to the brand new Five Ways picture show, a temple of beauty and joy for well-nigh ever. Brother Jack who could cope with anything had no preferences as to what he would like to see. Just to be around and eye the girls was his modest happiness. I, being less earthy, prayed shut-eyed grimly for a shipwreck and the Robinson Crusoe act. My call was heard and the Admirable Crighton was duly wrecked to my great thanksgiving but what that fellow got up to later on in the picture was not in the good man Friday tradition. Still, I got my wreckage and didn’t grumble. What with the hail doing a Cozy Cole on the tin roof and the frantic screechings of the shutters being hauled to, my cup was full of joy.
Pearl White lay her limpid neck on the railway track and Miss Withers dithered. Miss Withers, at the piano, gave with a Chopin Polonaise and breaked into “Hearts and Flowers”. Miss Withers, very alone, down in the front, at the mercy of the filmy hooves, lonely played all the heartbeats of silver love.
Ben Turpin rolled his crossed-eyed orb. Marches, mazurkahs, scherzos, cadenzas, scales, glissandos, a whole Hammond organ full of tricks jounced from the isolated knuckles.
I suppose there must have been only about a hundred people in the picture palace for times were hard and if you didn’t have a few pounds weight of old newspapers or a half dozen empty bottles to sell to the greengrocer you were a gone goose for dough. Today it is different because everybody is well off and sits at home watching the TV for thirty bob a week.
Anyway, there are these hundred people, a hundred and one counting Miss Withers banging away at the goanna, and all of a sudden, in the middle of the Ben Turpin picture this character starts to laugh. He (the character) is as poor as a St George’s Church mouse, but he laughs. Why?
Don’t ask me, except it is Ben Turpin. But anyhow, he laughs and you think he hadn’t a care in the world. He was in the last row of the cheapest seats which had set him back ninepence.
He trumpeted on the tonic chord of Eb major, got into all the arpeggios and fluted into A sharp enharmonic and then did a swift roll on the drums. Miss Withers had stopped. Mr Cheapseat kookaburraed to thirty-six points of the compass. He had the audience wet. They streamed stitchfully past the paralysed Miss Withers into the roaring exitful night.
I would like to draw that laugh for you. None of your swivel-nosed giggles for him. From the soles up, laughed he.
Not a soul was saved.
Wep’s sketch of that laugh has not been found, if indeed it was drafted. However, the following cartoon gives suggestion as to what he would have intended.
You remember Ettie Rudd? Well Miss Rudd lived in Ormond Street and she had a verandah on her body just like a verandah on the house that was haunted just down the street. This haunted house had cobwebs and dirt and weeds and cracks all over it. And nobody was game to go near it. Except that big oaf Andrew Niminski who lived in a haunted house himself in Cambridge St and, whose father made wicked cigars. Well to tell the truth Andrew N. was no closer than Glen Street which was a block away and scared off the ghost boy, enough for Ettie to sell the house.
I remember standing outside the fence in Duxford Lane near my Grandfather’s house and it was under the peppercorn tree that spread over the lane and to where I was hearing from. I remember hearing inside the Churchyard or more, precisely the men’s Thing inside the Churchyard, many things that should never have been said – at least, in That place – if you didn’t want to be struck by lightning, or possibly by a great enormous fireball.
But I suppose a well-directed shaft of lightning would have to be more just, if it has to come, than a fireball, because Goodness knows what a decent sized fire-ball would have done to the innocent as well as the wicked around those parts.
In the twilight you could see clearly through the cracks between the palings and the air was warm enough to encourage the dawdling over the relievings and speakings that went on in that unholy place. But, now I come to remember I didn’t hear anything that provoked the lightning when I was a boy. Perhaps it was the hot early evening that made me think of thunderbolts and hellfire – I have forgotten what the sweaty grown-up choir boys said that night. If it was bold I don’t suppose it matters much now.
I tell you what I do remember, and what is more, never expected to tell of to a small boy of my own, is that I was about your age, and if I can carry on with a sentence which is about what I am trying to remember so long ago it is that, that night, after I had heard my big brother in the church thing, when he shouldn’t have been there and was supposed to be at home looking after me who shouldn’t have been there listening either, is that I remember standing on a chair and big woman was sticking all of the top part of her body in front of my face, and on it, it had a piece of string with a cardboard C on it.
Don’t ask me how it happened. But somehow or other brother Jack and I were all dollied up and were back in the Church hall. It was guessing night of the suburbs and was a very social do. Well, I didn’t know what the old suburb was and before I could think it up my brother Jack started playing the piano bang in the middle of the stage. “Rachmaninoff’s Prelude” (I always played the first two chords better myself). Anyway he finished it and got a lot of claps. I was proud of Jack but he looked silly shy in his great celluloid collar and Grandfather was shoving him behind the lousy old tinkly piano past the ferns and aspidistras and off to the stage into the wings which led to the Thing.
I was waiting for Jack outside the Gents and we both went up to the cake and sandwich department. This cake and sandwich place was way back in the Hall and was pretty dim under the forest of paper Easter daisies and Xmas bells and concertina-ed what-nots and long coloured streamers like we used to send our soldiers off to the war with. The cake and sandwich Mecca was guarded by a very fierce churchwoman, who stood us in a corner.
Ettie Rudd, a powerfully built friend of my mother’s, sang a very strong song. I think it was a female Invercargill March. My mother smiled and kept on talking to the fellows who worked in the saddle factory underneath Bull’s the grocer’s shop. I didn’t like these characters, I suppose I was jealous, and I am glad that horses were dying out in Paddington, although I had nothing against horses, or lampposts either, because they were to die out too. I liked them both really well, and Sharkey’s old dog “Barker” who used to inconvenience the people who leaned on lamp posts. Gas lamp posts were a joy for the young. We climbed up them in the daytime and put them on … in the evening we climbed up and pulled them off. Professor Brennan, who lived opposite our place in Glenmore Road liked that. Not that he was ever capable of doing it himself, but he liked us doing it.
Anyway, I was supposed to be telling you about the woman with the big C on a string on her bosom. Well, the bosom, though ample, had nothing to do with it. C on cord… CONCORD! Real clever.
After that I don’t remember much. It was an awful party for boys, even if it was held in St George’s Hall, Five Ways, Paddington, about 1917.
Duxford Lane, now known as White Lane after Wep’s grandfather, runs from Duxford Street, immediately behind John White’s property (Bill’s grandfather) through to Broughton Street past the rear of St George’s Church.
Ethel Stewart (Ettie) Rudd (1878-1953) of 32 Ormond Street. Ettie Rudd was the daughter of a well-known contractor of 32 Ormond Street, Mr Henry Rudd. Ettie never married and lived her entire life in the same home. Presumably her father, Henry Rudd and Wep’s grandfather, John White did business together at times. (1898 ‘SOCIAL ITEMS.’, Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 15 April, p. 3. , viewed 07 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109650568)
Ettie may well have proven an inspiration for Wep’s propensity to draw large women in his satirical cartoon strip “In and Out of Society”, which he drew weekly from 1933-1949. A faint pencil sketch on one of his drafts for this story shows a small Wep standing on a chair in front of large Ettie Rudd.
It would be about 10 o’clock in the morning and there was nothing to look forward to all the live long day. It wasn’t a Sunday because every Sunday morning at 8.30 am brother Jack and I had to fetch the Sunday papers and make hot-buttered toast and tea (Goldenia) served on a tray with serviette to Mum who was earning a Sabbath rest and chewing the cud about the terrible post-mortem over who mucked the six no-trumps the night before. Of course, some weekends she’d be on top of the world when she’d sent Emmy Johnson down for three and to collect 1/6 into the bargain. But still, Brer John and I had to front up with the hot-buttered and tea, no matter what.
Seems like I’ve gone off orbit again, because it obviously wasn’t Sunday I was complaining about: certainly couldn’t have been Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday or Friday for on those days I was nailed to an ancient, stained yet well carved desk, now an antique piece at the Darlo Public School where I learnt the three Rs and lots of buried wrongs. I had graduated from Glenmore Road Public School, mostly to bask in the penumbra of my brother’s brilliant pass in the Q.C. (In those days there was no confusion as to what a Q.C. meant. You had earned by sweat and corporal punishment the distinction of a Qualifying Certificate and no one for a moment would have considered you as a Queens Counsel (a legal upper-crustiness known in those days as a King’s Counsel)).
As I have said I was always at school on week days, toasting on Sundays, so it must have been on a beautiful Saturday morning that the bottom of the world was right there in the back yard of 290.
There it was, right bang against the ficus and the droopy cosmos growing out of the cracks in the back wall.
The ficus hadn’t been trimmed since Grandpa had lopped it six months before. All its trailing tendrils had branched out in one fierce endeavour to repossess what was left of our backyard. We had to grope our way through the oozing sap and he figs to find our way to the old dunny even in the high noon.
It just so happened that Big Chappie had to go to the semi-detached about 10 a.m. this Saturday morning just after the first World War. This is not to impute that Big Chappie had never been there since the Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated at Sarajevo – or that she had never been there on a Saturday morning at all. It was just that a conjunction of astral bodies had brought us together in our respective backyards on that particularly august day when she had felt a fundamental need.
In a superfluity of easement and goodwill she had asked me to join her and Little Chappie in the preparation of their witches’ Sabbath brew.
The Chappies homemade hopbeer was renowned, even held in a sort of numinous awe by the more holy of the fraternity around the corner of Hoddle St. and Glenmore Rd. Of course, I knew the brew was on; I could smell the ficus and asparagus ferns, the pungent aroma of those hops boiling madly in their huge cast iron boiler, big enough to stew Jack and his beanstalk and the giant too. Three of us sat in sanctified convocation before the warm and fiery salamander of a stove, the cauldron bubbling and wheezing over the flames like Stephenson’s Rocket. Big Chappie’s spectacles misted and glinted in the hoppy steam. Bubble, bubble, boil and bubble. Little Chappie heaping sugar on the encrusted and blackened spoon which I held timourously over the flames, the sugar boiling like treacle and poured splutteringly into the depths of Chapman’s Easter Special. And a toast with a bottle of the last vintage to celebrate the birth of the new. The Kind is dead, long live the King!
In all fairness to Chappies, they weren’t out to defraud our Customs. It was just that some brews had the edge on others – some were pretty innocuous and rather like Good Friday Showtime stuff, alright for polio victims or the Deaconess. Others had something of a wild Bachanalianism in their forthrightness – a quality which unleashed the springs of effusiveness and loving-kindness. A week later there would be shrieks and giggles when consumption began and bottles and plates of hot dinner passed back and forth over our fence interminably on the Day of Rest. Ah, those dear Old Dears!
Footnote. It is not denied that time and memory lend enchantment to one’s recollections; nevertheless, apart from the remembrance of a memorable occasion of the absorption of some litres of Munich Oktoberfest beer, I have yet to recall so favourably a brew which was all things to all men (and women). CHAPPIES’ could be drunk, supped like pea soup or served sliced – but in any presentation was always unforgettable. I regret to say that the recipe and its creators have long since passed away.
Emma Johnson, 52 Glenview Street, domestic duties, 1913 Electoral Roll. Also Nils Edward Johnson, Labourer and Lee Howard Johnson, Traveller (a ten minute walk from 290 Glenmore Road)
Mary Emma Johnson, 463 Oxford Street, Saleswoman (a 16 minute walk from 290 Glenmore Road)
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.
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.
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.
Our family was not one for the world of mystic card games. I doubt if they had ever heard of the tarot. If any precognition was expressed, it was in terms of tea leaves clinging to a cup, or of the fortuitous designs of chop bones left on the plate. We were well up on bridge; auction, not contract – and poker. Not that there was much money in it. Even on the wildest night of gambling, hardly more than a half crown would change hands.
Emmy and Otto, who made a reasonable living out of playing at the Sydney Bridge Club, used to observe and abide by the modesty of stake money.
Occasionally when Norman B and mother were fed-up with two handed gambling I was allowed to sit in.
I remember the sitting-in in a traumatic kind of way. Sitting under the silk beaded and dusty lamp shade losing all my message money. I was suddenly dealt a sting. It couldn’t have been purposeful on my part because when I shuffled or sprayed the cards they all fell on the floor.
Perhaps Norman jiggled it for me – maybe he wanted a quick end to my company, or had suddenly come into riches.
We were not on brain bridge – just simple poker – and he dealt me a ROYAL ROUTINE FLUSH.
It was his mistake of course.
Something which he should have dealt himself. Anyway I collected them for a whole ten pence and was sent to bed.
This butcher fellow was only an employee in one of the two butcher shops in Five Ways. He was very very helpful. If I asked for a set of brains of a sheep (or perhaps of an idiot) I got them always large and soggy. He was about as obscure with his dirty jokes as the people I know now.
Uncle Harry had a bag full of meat – a Gladstone bag full – not of good quality but still meat. It was 1917 sometime, Uncle Percy had been killed in France (1). Perhaps only Grandpa White. The kids needed meat, otherwise Uncle Harry would hardly have gone to all those shenanigans to get it. He got around saying little against the Railway strikes. He said little against anybody. I suppose that’s how he got it. Meat was hard to come by. Possibly he was the only pink in the white White household. True Blue rinsed White our family, circumspect and unquestioning, we ate the red red meat.
It’s not much good trying to tell you what a butcher was like in the bad old days and just after I started running messages for two families for a penny a day, I got to recognise meat when I saw it. Dead that is; and off a lawfully killed scrub goat or bobby calf.
Uncle Percy, did I mention Uncle Percy? No, it was Uncle Harry, he was the longest thinnest one of all. You never knew, anyway, any of them. Harry or Percy, Uncle for sure, had, round about nineteen sixteen or seventeen, a work bag one day, full of meat. Quite full, enough to do all the White family a meal, and there were plenty of Whites in Paddo then. Modern social science calls for an extended practical education, but one peep in that old Gladstone taught me one aspect of it for life. Never had I imagined that such seemingly warm and jovial people as my uninhibited relations were, could be sustained by those unpalatable and revolting slabs of meat – perhaps it was the meat strike which had affected their discrimination.
Afterwards I took much notice of the old butch shops. It might seem Dickensian to you but they were a source of wonder and colour in my youth. A butcher really butchered in those days. The shop meat and fat, blood, sawdust ferns, running water down the windows, lights (or lungs to you) in buckets, livers on hooks, brains in the head, tails in the hair, yards of sausage gut skin, smiles, plastered down hair and credit too. None of your prefabricated T-bone steak or short loin chop which extends from tail to neck. No plastics – no prices.
[W.E. Pidgeon c.1974]
Percy Rowett White enlisted 5 Sep 1916. He died from wounds, 24 April 1918 at Amiens, France.