Topic: The Queen of Pleasant View by Alan McCabe

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Over the waters from Lyttelton and on the gentle slopes of Banks Peninsula protected by stands of pinus radiata and blue gums is the historic dwelling, Pleasant View.

In 1943 our mother introduced all thirteen of us townies to our new home, which was miles away from our nearest neighbours. As our father, a bricklayer had to stay in Christchurch midweek it was left to Mum with our help to clean the rundown house situated on a two hundred acre farm.

“Think of our new life here as an adventure,” she coaxed soon after our arrival. “Because I’m going to have the sole responsibility of bringing you children up, as well as running the farm I’ll need your help.”

Once settled Mum had the place humming with activity.

“It is rough, but together we’ll have a clean and shining home. If we do a good job we could get a visit from the king,” she teased.”

As well as the 3-bedroomed house there were a trio of sheds, which provided extra bedrooms.

“We’ll need to clean the walls and floors first.”

Mum had inherited her mother’s cleanliness before Godliness ethic. Following her example we boys scrubbed the wooden floors with sandsoap until they whitened while the girls polished the linoleum areas making them glow.

“You’re doing well,” Mum said as we scrubbed the exterior painted walls back to their former glory and roughened our hands in the process.

At last her cheery voice called, “Time for a break,” which gave us time for a dinner of potatoes, cheese and onions. When this was over it was back to the hard labour.

“That’s enough,” Mum called straightening her back after another hour’s work. “Well done; you’ve nearly finished; time for a rest.”

We dropped our cleaning gear and were off. Not Mum, as tea had to be prepared. The open spaces heightened our appetites.

Twelve of us shared the table eating stew made from a mutton flap and potatoes, carrots and onions; no greens this night as the proposed self-sufficient garden needed Dad’s guiding hand.

Before eating we all had daily jobs. As cow spanker I rounded up the six that were with milk and chased them into the bales where some of my sisters did the milking under Mum’s supervision. I had failed the milking test, but my smug sisters were hooked into that never-ending chore.

To feed us all so far away from the shopping centres was a challenge. It was Mum’s choice to keep six cows to cover the basic necessities. We were able to have milk in our cocoa, cream on our porridge and butter on our bread; the last sentence could have been taken from that well-known poem, The King’s Breakfast.

In the evenings Mum, using our help made the butter in a glass churn with metal butterfly beaters, though the final salting and shaping were her domain. Much of this was illegally sold to grateful pensioners whose wartime coupon allocations were insufficient. I remember the special design she made on every pound, which she sold for nine pence.

After the evening meal the girls were bustled into dishwashing duties with Mum’s admonitions: “Not too much water” or “Turn off that tap!”

Water. Liquid gold. Its availability was a constant worry. Our entire supply, caught on the red rusting iron roof was collected in one concrete and two iron tanks. Dead birds, rodents, opossums and the ever-present dust flavoured our drinking water, which though never boiled didn’t cause us sickness.

After tea, the jobs completed it was serial time. Dad and Dave was the favourite, and then to bed while Mum cut our lunches and organized clothing.

We of school age left home at 7.30.a.m. scattering the sheep as we ran to catch the launch to Lyttelton, as the Diamond Harbour School was still weeks away from opening.

For me as a seven-year-old, the downhill three miles run was a breeze in fine weather, but not so the uphill climb mostly on narrow tracks made by sheep; this often in drenching rain or excessive heat.

Eventually with Dad’s help Mum developed a miniature Garden of Eden, at least a quarter of an acre of it. My sisters and I barrowed countless loads of decomposed sheep and cow manure mixed with rotted pine needles that was spread over the freshly turned soils.

Our toilet, a small outside shed twenty yards from the house contained a bucket and some ugly but harmless wetas. In Dad’s absence our mother emptied the foul-smelling contents into a deep trench.

As a family we were later kept healthy on the endless supplies of cabbages, spinach, silver beet carrots and lettuces. Mum capitalized on the berry crops, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants for puddings and jam.

The old orchard was rejuvenated by Dad to produce apples, pears and plums in abundance for jam and eating, especially in the winter. How many people today would remember the Astrakhan or Black Prince apples with their white juicy flesh and tangy acids?

Washing day in the Forties was a Monday; no washing machines then. Our outside copper was held in place by a concrete frame with the firebox underneath. Mum was afforded partial relief from the wind and rain by a huge macrocarpa tree.

A visitor described her in action.

“There she was, red-faced from exertion amid explosions of smoke and steam, straining the dripping clothes. These she extricated from the bubbling copper with a whitened manuka stick. The hand wringing of the sodden washing was necessary before this tired lady was able to peg the damp clothes on a forty yard line.”

“Muscle-building,” Mum said to the sympathetic visitor while recovering from this strength-sapping labour.

Dad killed weekly. The meat was kept in a coffin like box called a safe that hung under an outside tree. Despite the fine mesh door, blowflies had been known to find a way in forcing us to throw the resulting maggoty mess to the dogs.

Once we started at the Diamond Harbour School seven of us shared lunch from a large cube-shaped Aulesbrook biscuit tin, which contained numerous slices of buttered brown bread, seven salted hogget chops and some assorted fruit.

“Are we poor?” younger sister Marie asked one day looking at her bare feet, as several of us children stood in the garden talking over the day’s events.

“Poor?” Mum looked puzzled. “Think about your lunch today. We are rich in the things that matter. You eat well. You are clean and tidy, and well mannered too I hope. Have you thought why this place is called Pleasant View?”

She pointed across the water to Lyttelton shrouded in smoke from ships, trains and domestic fires.

“You children breathe the freshest of air.”

We could see the Port Hills dotted with houses. We watched the cheeky yachts dodging an incoming foreign cargo ship, a drab grey because of the war. Pointing to Diamond Harbour Mum finished with, “Pleasant View? Magnificent View I’d say.” That night we had apple pie and custard for our pudding. This was eaten off the same plate saving extra washing up.

Visitors flocked to Pleasant View where Mum’s hospitality, though spontaneous, came at a price. I shudder when remembering how she coped with city visitors, some unexpected who taxed our limited accommodation facilities with their overnight stays. A few of these many guests through sheer ignorance or laziness expected to be waited on hand and foot.

On a hot Sunday afternoon there were the men drinking beer while watching Mums’ Herculean efforts to produce the famous Kiwi mutton roast from home-grown meat. It was served accompanied by five vegetables with thick flavoursome gravy made from residual meat and vegetable juices.

Mum’s helpers, us children, as part of the team would be keeping wood up to the fire, setting the tables while also attending the needs of our guests. Serving the meal could be as late as two o’clock with the accompaniment of the midday request when Bing was king; the wood-fuelled fire now receded into soft, white ashes. Still remaining was the heat, the resinous odours of the pinewood on the hearth, the food smells, and the ever-present flies just waiting.

With military precision Mum directed and assisted my sisters into cleaning up mode. “Work before play,” she’d insist.

The girls responded with alacrity knowing if they’d done a good job they’d be allowed two hours down in the village to mix with the local lads to play tennis or later hang around the settlement store.

It was not Mum’s choice to sever her ties with Pleasant View with its moments of magic. Many years later when she failed to answer a question immediately, I’m sure her mind was feasting on those twinkling harbour lights, the elusive yachts, the Red Cross hospital ships with their sad cargoes or her children coming home to roost.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/LUR5-GNMS

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