Saturday, 7 August 2010

I have just read Jane Smith's account

of life in a 'remote' area of the UK and been reminded of our own houses in various places.
I do not, of course, remember moving in to the first one - or leaving it either. It was a galvanised iron 'shack' on top of a hill outside a small country town (village to you UK residents). It had a dirt floor covered with linoleum off cuts. There was no running water and intermittent power from a windmill. Housing was acutely short and my parents considered themselves fortunate.
The "Housing Trust" later built four houses down the hill - all for the teachers - and my parents were required to live in one of those. They were fibro-asbestos and still standing more than fifty years later - although not looking wonderful.
I can remember once going back to visit the first house with my father. I must have been about three at the time. The windmill was noisy. The new resident had put in a floor of sorts - where he obtained the timber from remains a mystery to this day. The house no longer exists. There is a veritable mansion in its place.
We moved to the city for a short while, lived with my paternal grandparents for three months until a house became available. It was another inconvenient place. There was a cellar and that always flooded at high tide. The rest of the house was damp and drafty. There was a passageway eight feet wide running down the centre. My father turned that into another room by blocking off one end of it. My mother's youngest aunt and her five children lived with us. My mother was pregnant with number four by then.
At least there was a back garden of sorts and we children disappeared into that whenever we could - and the second shed at the back if the weather was bad. My father had the other shed as a workshop. Beyond that there was another house and then a small field where the horses who pulled the local bakery carts were kept.
After that it was another fibro-asbestos house in a remote hamlet in the bush. There was no running water, no electricity and so much red dust that my father had literally to shovel it out before we could move in. The house was so badly built we slept on mattresses on the floor because they could not get beds into the rooms. There were trees struggling to grow underneath the house because the land had not been cleared properly. On more than one occasion my mother had to remove a highly venomous brown snake from the tiny 'laundry' lean to at the back. The 'butcher' was a local farmer - a forequarter of mutton one week and a hindquarter the next - alternating with the banker's family - the hotel had the other half for the occasional traveller passing through. The bread came from seventy miles away - once a week. It was always the same square white loaf. If we ran out of bread that was it. Most farmers' wives made their own.
We went on like that. The houses were always substandard. In one place they took out one of the windows so that the furniture could be passed in that way. My father had to pay excessive sums in rent for these places. He was not given a choice. This was the accommodation provided for teachers. It was taken directly from his pay cheque. There was also the need for a car sturdy enough to go over the dirt tracks that led to these places. The local mechanic in the first place gave him a rapid course in car engines (much simpler back then) and tyre changing and advised about carrying an extra container of petrol.
Teachers now would not put up with what my parents put up with. In one place the single teachers had to live in small caravans - for another excessive rent. These were places at the end of the long bus routes. They would drive the bus to school and pick their pupils up along the way. If there was a puncture they would change the wheel with the help of the oldest boys. If there was a more serious breakdown the deputy headmaster would leave his teaching responsibilities and go in one of the other buses to see what had happened. Some of the children would also have driven - inside their own properties - some miles to the pick up point. There were no mobile 'phones.
In Jane's account there is snow. We had heat and bushfires and, once in a while, floods or patches of ice.
There are still school buses but most of the houses we lived in have gone. I do not remember any of them with pleasure.
Now we live in a very ordinary but quite modern suburban house. My mother liked it. My father likes the shed at the back but, for him, the house is just a house. He would not want to go back to the isolation or the inconvenience of the other houses but I suspect that this one lacks character.
None of them have the character of my paternal grandparents' house. That was home for him - and for me too.


Rachel Fenton said...

It is fascinating to me what makes one place a home in someone's mind (and heart) and another a shack.

Amazing imagery.

catdownunder said...

I admire Jane no end though - I think it was harder for her.
It is hard to love a 'house' that reaches into the 50's in summer and then the minus teens in winter!

Frances said...

In my first teaching appointment, three of us lived in a converted fibro garage.
We took it faitly lightly: I recall that we used to play squash in the "kitchen", and, inevitably someone eventually crashed into and splintered the wall.
We walked the railway line sleepers to school: the country was so flat that you could see the train coming for 10 minutes or more before it reached you.