Monday, June 29, 2009

More Remeniscences of Ryde

Well, thanks to (and for) your encouragement, I shall wrap up some more Bowden St Memories.

Mrs Winterbottom, yes. It's just the name that grabs me. What's more, across the street in no special order were Mr Chin, Mr and Mrs Woodhouse, Mrs Rottenberry (I'm not making this up, you know) and Mrs Hood and son Graeme. Don't they all sound like characters from a Roald Dahl kids’ story?

Mr Chin, opposite Nona and Grandfather, had a circular lawn. He also had a self powered mower with roller, the sort that you saw on bowling greens. He had it tied to a long rope which he wound round a stake dead in the middle of the lawn and, believe it or not, he'd start up the mower and it would gradually travel in a spiral from the edge to the centre of the lawn as the rope curled round the stake while he sat in the shade and read.

The Woodhouse's son was Kevin, a few years older than me. His favourite thing was to get out his collection of National Geographics and show me pictures of bare-breasted dusky maidens. He even had a magnifying glass. I was particularly uninterested, but thought it polite to feign interest. It was something for confession, too.

In the afternoons, esp Friday, I'd have to "do the messages". Mum would write up a shopping list and I would go up across Victoria Rd to the corner shop run by Mrs Scott and her adult daughter (Helen? Dorothy?) Usually I was allowed to add a McNiven's ice cream cone to the list, at a cost of threepence halfpenny (4c to the youngies). Then to the other corner, to Mr Hall the butcher. He already had Mum's weekend leg of lamb wrapped up and also Nona's rolled roast beef tied in string, wrapped in butcher's paper with Mrs Burns (her name was Byrne, but he never got that) written on it. And he'd always say when I asked, "Aah, Mrs Burns, the lady with the one top lip". I didn't get it for ages.

On the subject of weird names, next to the butcher's shop lived the Crusts. June Crust was a school chum of Nanette, my older sister. I remember very little of Nanette at this time, strangely - she was seven years older than me - but I do remember her taking me on my first day of school at St Charles Borremeo, Ryde - the Mercy nuns (oxymoron). I started school at four years and four months and was forever after the youngest in the class.

Our family doctor, a little way up Victoria Rd, was Dr Wherrett. I was generally pretty healthy but I do remember, around the age of six, being rushed off to Camperdown Hospital in the middle of the night with croup. I was in hospital for a few days and have never spent a night in hospital since - touch wood. A little further up from the doctor were Ryde Police Station and Courthouse, where I'd go with Mum to pick up the monthly ration coupons for butter, sugar and such like - this was only just post WWII.

More soon


Yes, folks, your family folk historian is back, thanks to your positive response. Just a couple of Ryde stories before we move on.

I lived in Ryde from three years of age to eleven. When I was eight or nine, it was, of course, time for me to become an altar boy. I trained with others at St Charles Borromeo, where I also went to primary school. I can't remember who trained us (was it Fr Munday?) but I used to ride to church on my Malvern Star. (Dad had taught me to ride a bike back in Bowden St. He held on to the back of the saddle as I pedalled down the street - it was only when I looked around to find he wasn't there any more that I fell off! After that, things were fine.)

I remember my first performance on the altar. It was a weekday morning and the other altar boy hadn't turned up. I had to do everything. Worse still, Mass was being said by the parish priest, Fr Phillip Reeves, a thoroughly tough old crank. After communion I was down turning the altar rail cloths back and shouting responses to the priest. The boarders from Holy Cross College found this very amusing.

As I say, Fr Reeves was a total tyrant. As were the only other parish priests of my "Catholic" years - Charlie Smith in Goolmangar (a total nutter) and Bill Power at Strathfield, among other things a great apostle of the corrupt US-supported regime in South Vietnam. None of them would lead a young person to believe that Jesus was meek and mild or might, indeed, "suffer the little children". Nowadays I realise that they all three were severely in need of psychiatric help, but that didn't help back then.

But now a happier story. I was in third class, seven years old, and sat next to Colleen Flynn, the most beautiful being I had ever seen in my life. At playtime the boys would play Cowboys and Indians over the gravestones and the girls would retreat to the holes in the privet to play House. (NOT Doctors and Nurses, we knew nothing about that stuff - just imaginary tea parties.) Of course, you're way ahead of me, I played with the girls. One day they dared me to kiss Colleen and I did, discreetly on the cheek. I had never felt anything so soft and sweet in all my life, and if I close my eyes I can feel it even now, almost 60 years later. She lived at 17 Sherwin St, Henley, an address I have never written down, but never forgotten. Many years later, when I was teaching at St Pat's, I saw on the class roll that a pupil lived at 15 Sherwin St. I asked if the Flynns still lived next door (I didn't tell him why!) and they did. But Colleen was married with children and lived somewhere else. I wonder where she is now.

Love a bit of whimsy


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