Three baby chimps in the big
city zoo in 1955 were trained
to wear clothes sit at a table
in the arena hold tea parties
to entertain large audiences.
In time the tea parties ceased
the chimps stayed in their
concrete iron barred cage. After
twenty years new zoo managers
under a new city council set about
replacing barred concrete cages
with grassy enclosures under tall
trees with climbing places for
climbing animals. Later a new
troop of chimps arrived used to
living as true free spirited chimps.
The tea party chimps unable to
play, socialise or mate, stayed
separate from the troop.
Asthma carried Susie off at fifty
Ronnie’s old age a few years later.
As each tea party chimp died
the others’ distress increased.
At last only Sally remained.
Yet when introduced to the
troop through the bars she
screamed in further distress.
In her last years in a secluded
cage zoo staff daily visited her
on breaks or in passing till
old age ended her days.
In the mega hardware store
the young man in work boots
and overalls looked at displays
of garden pond water pumps.
As he closely examined them
a salesman asked what he needed
– a very tough pump he replied.
How tough ? … Umm tiger proof.
More curious salesmen drifted
over and were told ………………
… right at this minute zookeepers
were collecting up every last piece
of her pump off the grass patch
of Laila the tiger. She had spent
the night dissecting her pond’s
pump and was now locked in her
den with tiger treats until a new
tiger proof pump was installed.
The zoo’s proactive life
enrichment programme deemed
water pumps unsuitable for this.
When the salesmen recovered
from laughing they sent the
young man back to the zoo
with their toughest water pump.
After our large workplace closed
down restructured out of town
offshore we found other jobs.
Over a dozen of us still met for
dinner from time to time.
Ruth worked evening shifts then
rejoined our dinners after
retiring though often not quite well.
Her slim slight wiry frame often
coughed from chest infections.
She could not hold back her
exasperation for she wanted
to do so much in her retirement.
She missed a dinner, came to one,
missed one yet again. At the next
dinner someone spoke of her
illness. I asked how she was
– but at 69 she had passed away.
Two of us saw the death notice just
before the funeral, attended it.
When we exclaimed at this
unexpected passing Doreen said
Ruth did not expect it either.
Once again I am resoled to
read death notices daily.
At school our teachers taught
us how to speak our language
correctly with certain grammar,
word groupings, pronunciations.
At later tertiary classes we learnt
that language usages ebbed, flowed,
word groupings, pronunciations
grammar changed. We were
dismissive of older people who
complained of all the changes.
Now in retirement I find myself
repelled by some practices today.
“Bored of ?!? For goodness sake !
“Bored with ” is easier to hear.
“Different than ” ?!? Really ?
“Different from ” makes some sense.
“Mischief” gives us “mischievous”
Why say “miss-chee-vee-ous” ?
“Secateurs’ is a French word
we learn in class at school.
Allowing for Anglo Saxon accents
it becomes “seck-a-ters“.
Why now “seck-a-teers” ?
Myself ? Myself? whatever
happened to “me” and “I” ?
I can still understand the
English spoken around me.
But how long will it last ?
Evening cup of tea quietly
humming in the microwave
LOUD BANG !
Humming stops …
light off … evil chemical
burning smell fills kitchen.
URRRK ! Open back door
to release evil smell …
retreat to living room
close the door on smell.
Drink tepid tea … so so.
How could it do this to me ?!?
But microwave did its best.
Big bang after dinner
night before big department
store’s weekly Thursday sale.
Bus to town replacement at
good sale price taxi home
for carless senior citizen.
Time to read decode several
pages of operating instructions.
Dinner cooked by usual time
that night ……. Relief !!
1950’s summers now seem long hot
sunny blue skied as our garden
surged into rampant jungle growth.
On Saturdays Dad’s elderly lawn
mower roared forth scything
before him thick grass except alas
for that Australian invader’s
tall seed heads – paspalum grass.
Those wiry stalks gouged deeply
into the sides of our hands as we
picked them by hand across our
seemingly endless lawns as our
aching backs stayed bent for the
monster emerging from our garage.
Oh the relief when a young
efficient mower arrived.
The ancient Christmas plum tree
waited for the summer school
holidays then daily dropped a
deluge of tiny scarlet fruit with
enormous stones for six weeks.
A cloud of stones ricocheted
from the mower’s blades round
the back garden so we three had
to gather up the stinking sticky
mass of rotting plums with stones
into brother’s trolley remove it
to the hen yard, scrub out
brother’s trolley …… Yurk !!
Thankfully the old tree’s crop
gradually diminished over time.
Through February’s hot sticky
weather Mum preserved ripened
fruit off our elderly plum peach
apple nectarine trees made jam
with sunny heat beating down on
wide open windows she peeled and
cut fruit, packed it into preserving
jars poured in boiling syrup
screwed down sealing lids placed
jars in the preserving pan poured
in boiling water to heat the jars
until their sealing lids popped.
Mum was not in a good mood
when we came home from school.
A week or so later Dad would
arrive home mornings with cases
of fruit at rock bottom prices
from a mate at the city markets.
Prices at rock bottom because
the soft fruit was about to rot.
Mum had to peel cut preserve
fruit fast before it rotted.
She did try getting us to peel,
cut fruit but we were slow, got
in the way in our little kitchen.
Oooops ! No go !
We stayed away until it was done.
In the wicker shopping trundler
the huge ham was born home
from the butcher’s shop on our
street corner five minutes. walk
from our suburban house courtesy
of Chinese market gardeners
to Dad for additional services
rendered such as assistance
with income tax forms.
This vast joint was cooked
in the fish kettle on the long
element over the grill on the
new 1950’s stove steaming the
kitchen even with windows wide
open for our summer Christmas.
After its required hours of boiling
the ham was lifted out of
the fish kettle its unwieldy
weight unsteady between carving
forks skewering each end placed
on the large meat plate beside
the kettle. Woe betide children
entering the kitchen just then.
After several hours cooling down
by a kitchen window it was
ready to be eaten on Christmas
Day … and many other days.
To this day ham is not
our first choice meat.
As post wartime shortages eased
the old wringer agitator washing
machine bought second hand
from friends gave welcome
release from the early morning
wash day constraints of the
copper’s demands for water, for
fire underneath burning steadily
to boil the washing water after a
lucky inheritance brought also
a hot water tap to the wash tubs.
Relief from the clothes pole’s
weighty lifting of hot dripping
sheets towels clothes from copper
into cold water tub through the
wringer into the cold rinse tub.
The washing machine with its
moveable wringer and the rubber
glove, housewives’ friend,
allowed easier movement from
hot soapy water to cold rinsing
water to laundry basket to
outside clothes lines strung
across the back yard.
Some housewives occasionally
even found time for their own
creativity, usually practical crafts.
In the post war fifties of
expensive clothing stay at home
Mums made clothes, darned
and mended holes and tears.
Bus trips to town yielded fabrics
of low cost from huge department
stores with garment patterns
reels of cotton, needles pins
tape measures, tailors chalk.
Also twists of darning wool for
socks, jerseys, skeins of wool
to be unwound, twisted into
smaller balls for knitting into
socks, jerseys once rescued
from the cat’s sharp claws.
After daily visits to butcher and
baker, dressmaking days began.
Cloth spread out on the living
room floor covered with pinned
on pattern pieces, cut out, pinned
together sewn at the knee lever
sewing machine on the dining
table. Partly made garments tried
on homecoming children finally
checked for length with the
wooden skirt measure.
Hemmed by hand at night after
dinner cooked and eaten, dishes
washed and dried.
A long full day for a fifties
stay at home Mum.