Five Ways to Remember: Cousin Georgie

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.

Wep’s maternal grandmother, Isabella Garrick White, nee McRitchie (1853-1924), c.1916

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.

Wep’s uncle Percy Rowett White (1887-1918) and grandmother Isabella, c.1916. Percy played for the Eastern Suburbs Rugby premiership team before enlisting in 1916.

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!

Percy Rowett White and son, George Edward White (1913-1979), Wep’s cousin Georgie, c.1916

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.

Cousin Georgie’s mother, Miriam Elizabeth White, nee Moyle (1887-1963). Following Percy’s death in the war, Miriam remarried in 1921 to George Henry P. Church and the family lost touch.

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.

 

[W.E. Pidgeon]

Five Ways to Remember: Butching

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.

Harry Edgar White, c.1905

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]

Driver Percy Rowett White, October 1917

Notes:

  1. Percy Rowett White enlisted 5 Sep 1916. He died from wounds, 24 April 1918 at Amiens, France.
  2. Freddie Thompson and Son, Butchers, Glenmore Road
  3. George Low’s Butcher shop, Glenmore Road