Our Little Family Home

CHAPTER 4 – Our Little Family Home 1956-58

Dad settled back into the kind of work he had tried to escape from for all those years. He purchased a chemist shop in Gloucester St, Taradale, a suburb of Napier, and a car.

Most people in New Zealand drove pre-War British cars, with small 4-cylinder 1000cc engines: Austin 7s or Morris 8s. These cars were especially designed to save on petrol consumption in the 1930s. Furthermore, the Government placed huge import duties on cars, and only the very rich could afford to buy a new 1950s car. And the very rich were the sheep farmers of Hawkes Bay: the Korean War made the price of wool jump to a NZ pound for a pound weight of wool, that is, $2 or a day’s working man’s wages. It was a memorable event at high school when a boy’s family, usually farmers, arrived in a brand new car: a 6-cylinder Ford Zephyr.

But Dad had to have an American car: a cream, 1938 Ford V8, a constant reminder of that other world of the past.

Learning from Dad

He bought a new weatherboard bungalow in a housing division in Taradale and there Dad, Paul and I settled down to a new life of sorts. Paul went to the local primary school, I bused to high school, and sometimes made my first meals for our little family: mince, peas and potatoes. There in Taradale, Dad, started to socialise. He introduced me to tennis at the Greendale Tennis Club where Dad and I played together, occasions I most fondly remember. At one stage I even became good enough to compete for the high school tennis trophy and won three games in a set off the reigning champ, mainly with a huge serve. Dad also introduced me to Badminton, where he and I discussed the deep court backhand snap return. I became good enough to play inter-club.

And at the little Town Hall theatre, I watched horror films “It Came From Outer Space” and The Thing”. At the back porch at home, I practiced line-out jumping and down at the Tutaekuri River I threw stones, and soon proved a stronger arm than my father. But nowhere as strong as he was at my age. Dad still had hopes that I might gain some kind of athletics success and so he trained me in discus and shot put for the high school champs. Hour after hour I tried to follow the correct moves for the shot put. On the day of the athletic sports, I found out very quickly that the sheer massive body weight and muscle of one of the Maori boys, with no training nor skill in the shot put, out put me by far.

It was there at home in Taradale under the clear night skies that my readings of astronomical physics took hold of my imagination: the universe, the “big-bang”, Einstein, Jeans and Eddington. This dreamy interest in the “big” questions stayed with me. Later, in senior chemistry classes, with others I would interrogate the teacher about the “why” of things sub-atomic but to no avail.

Rescue at Cape Kidnappers

And, I tried once more to connect with the Church. At the little old wooden All Saints Church of England in Taradale, I attempted to be an altar server, but the commitment to attend early service was too much. There were no other boys about of like mind, nor peer group to follow. Yet I managed to link up with a small C of E Youth Group of 16-year-old two boys and four girls. Our first outing turned into a disaster. We were to tramp from Ocean Beach to Cape Kidnappers and back on a warm February Saturday afternoon. Off we went, dressed in swimming costumes, light shirts and bare feet, walking the first few miles along the beach and then scrambling over the rocks past the promontory, and then on to Cape Kidnappers. The last part was particularly difficult as there was no easy path along the beach and we negotiated sheep tracks to our destination, all taking longer than anticipated. On the way back, in late afternoon, we discovered the tide had come in and there was no way around the promontory. Our leader suggested that we would have to climb around and over the bluff. It was now early evening. We climbed and climbed as night slowly fell. At last we found a way down the other side: we were to scale down a series of steep dry papa waterfalls with deep pools under each. By late evening we were trapped. The girls could not go any further, tired, frightened, and crouched on the lip of a waterfall in the dark. As each hour passed, the temperature dropped and so did our spirits. Hyperthermia was setting in and so by 1am in the morning, us two boys blindly scrambled the best we could down into deep, dark invisible pools, and ran along the long now-freezing beach for help. The summer bach owners rescue team soon had us all in hand. And I got to ride back home in a luxurious big Humber Super Snipe.

Uncle George, who was principal of a primary school in a suburb of Hastings, Havelock North, invited Granddad, Dad and I to an All Black test against Australia at Wellington, in 1958. We were to drive down overnight the 250 miles in Uncle George’s new Ford Zephyr car. How wonderful it was to be among us men, quietly and confidently discussing Rugby and how easy it was going to be, defeating the Aussies. And how wonderful to be among the huge crowds at Athletic Park, standing on the embankment, quietly “murmuring” support for the All Blacks (men didn’t really cheer then). In fact, when one scored a try, one rose to one’s feet and without expression ran back to the halfway line, perhaps shaking the congratulatory hands of one’s teammates. We won 25-3. That kind of manly Phillips occasion was soon to end.

It Couldn’t Last …

Our little family life was soon overturned: Dad met his new girlfriend: Doreen, about 3 years older than me. Within a year they were married, and soon Stephen was born, and for the next two years, until I left home, I was in an emotional nightmare. I slowly cut off all emotional expressions which would indicate submission to her authority; her Cockney family and culture were totally unfamiliar to me; and Doreen, was a very strong, proud, determined, and powerful woman, much more mature than her years, and one who had a taste of training in psychology. In 1959, we all moved house again, this time to a more prosperous-looking house on Hospital Hill, in Napier. A kind of truce developed where I sort of proved my keep, so to speak, by dismantling an old copper for Doreen, who was now pregnant with Mary. At the same time, though, Paul, disappeared! It was decided that he was too unruly and too difficult to look after. He was sent to a Barnardos home in Eskdale. I was not to see him again for 30 years.

By this time, I had taken up the guitar. Someone gave me a battered, warped old Spanish guitar, on which I learnt chords and chords and more chords, until I could accompany myself on old jazz standards. I never learnt to play finger-style – a strummer was I. Soon, I joined a skiffle group which soon started playing pop songs, led by one of those expert lead guitarists who played by ear, and who only just tolerated my clumsy attempts to follow along without the written chords. At the same time, I met a student pianist, who encouraged me to play those same jazz chords on the piano. Here, up on the hill, with the guitar, was a little solace.

But, I had hope. The year was running out anyway. I would be far away in Christchurch at university. Gone. Only six weeks to go. Christmas Eve arrived. There was a dance on downtown. High school students were assembling for the last time. I wanted to go. Doreen forbade me to go. But I would be going to things like that in six weeks? No. Without much fuss, I packed my bag. Miraculously was able to share a flat, and was out!

Took up smoking cigarettes within a week, big guy that I was, worked at a wool store, and soon – January, 1960, was off to Uni.

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