Housekeeping at Sea

From Ngaire’s Journal, 13th May 1958
Onboard RMS Rangitane II, En route for Southampton, England

The sea today is indigo, just like a tub of Reckitts washing blue water.
I have noticed the deck hands use electric scrubbers. Rangitane

In 1958, a time when travel was still something of a novelty,  my grandparents went on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. They sailed out on the Rangitane, and my mother remembers them leaving, dressed to the nines with an extraordinary amount of luggage. Ngaire had a small suitcase just for hats (I have it now, and it’s not the hatbox you might be imagining; it’s a proper suitcase.) It was a glamorous time.

Reckitts blueBut while you can take a girl away from the housekeeping, you can’t stop her thinking about laundry. Not in Ngaire’s case anyway.

My grandmother was a very proud (and very competent) housekeeper. I remember her telling me, in her bustling sort of way, that all she had ever wanted was to ‘keep her own house.’ Privately, she considered that she had been dangerously late to marry (she was 28), and had worried she wouldn’t have the chance to be a ‘proper housewife’. I was a teenager at the time she told me this and was probably studiously disinterested (in my defence, you did have to be on your toes around Ngaire –  she was like a one-woman marriage agency). But now, as I read through her diaries, I can see what the rituals of housekeeping meant to her – how for her, the cooking and the cleaning, the making and the caring was so much more than a job.

I plan to write more about Ngaire and Gerald’s ‘grand tour’, but in the meantime you might be interested in these posts:

Battle of the Bulge

Over the Edge

Acknowledgement: I found the postcard of the Rangitane on Reuben Goossens’ site I suspect it’s the wrong ship (they were on the Rangitane II), but the water is such a perfect colour in this picture.


princess-margaret-weddingFrom Ngaire’s journal, 6th May 1960
Princess Margaret’s wedding day. When we passed through the Square this evening the Cathedral bells were pealing merrily. Gerald and I went in to the Student’s Revue which we thoroughly enjoyed. We arrived home in time to hear Princess Margaret and her husband Antony Armstrong Jones leaving Westminster Abby.

Princess Margaret’s beautiful dress, described by Life as ‘the simplest royal wedding gown in history’ and by Vogue as ‘stunningly tailored’ caused quite a stir. It was designed by Norman Hartnell, who clearly knew all that is worth knowing about necklines.

Any brides contemplating a dress that requires the use of adhesive tape take note. Do I sound like Ngaire?

PS The Student’s Revue seems to have been less lavatorial than usual, perhaps in deference to the Royal Wedding.


The Usual Dash of Sex

From Ngaire’s journal, 30th April 1955
I have been learning how to use the new sewing machine. This evening we went to the Student’s Revue at the ‘Civic’,  which was very good with the usual dash of sex.’

I love this journal entry, but it’s not my favourite. That would be this one:

5th May 1961
Gerald and I have been to the Revue. It was the usual lavatorial sex show.’

Obviously a dash of sex wasn’t enough to put Ngaire off.

Scenes from Univ. of Canterbury recruitment film 1964

Once I read this, of course I was desperate to know more about the Student Revues, but I haven’t had much luck. What I have found though, is a promotional film made for the University of Canterbury in 1964.

The film (an indulgent 32 minutes)  includes wonderful footage of Christchurch and Canterbury, including of Christchurch airport (which brought back many memories for me).

And then there’s the students, fabulously dressed (look out for the rather formal law tute) and on the cusp of a new era.

Scenes from Univ. of Canterbury recruitment film 1964

There’s an academic procession through the city (and a less formal procession through the river Avon) but absolutely no mention of a lavatorial sex show. Which is a shame really.

Finally, just goes to show that nothing was sacred, here’s Ngaire’s report on the Revue of 1957:

4th May, 1957
This evening Gerald, Warwick and I went to the Student’s Revue. The theme was the South Pole, which was lost in Cathedral Square. The statues of Godley, Captain Cook (Cock) and Captain Scott (Scoot) were the chief ‘stars’.

As Ngaire once wrote, ‘we are not very narrow minded, but…


The photographs on this post are stills from the promotional film mentioned. The film was been posted on YouTube by the University of Canterbury.



The Remembering

Clockwise from top left. Ray Simpson &  my mother Carol Mottram, Ray, Carol & girlfriend Helen, Godley Statue, Ben Mottram, family picnic pre WWII (Ray second from left), Godley Statue from Cathedral spire (1963)

Clockwise from top left. Ray Simpson & my mother Carol Mottram, Ray, Carol & girlfriend Helen, Godley Statue, Ben Mottram, family picnic pre WWII (Ray second from left), Godley Statue from Cathedral spire (1963)

From Ngaire’s journal, 25th April, 1957
‘Warwick went to the Memorial Service at Christ’s College and planted poppies for Ray and Ben in the memorial plot by the Godley Statue. This afternoon I helped Gerald and the men with the picking.’

Reading through Ngaire’s journals is often an unsettling experience. The years fly past, and regular anniversaries seem to come faster and faster. 1957 marked the 15th anniversary of Ray’s death in North Africa.  I can imagine that keeping busy in the orchard would have helped that day, as she remembered ‘my little brother Ray.’

Placing poppies in the Godley Plot was an annual ritual – one for Ray and one for Gerald’s brother Ben, who had a short life due to injuries sustained in WWI. Assuming this was a Christchurch tradition, I expected to find something about it online, perhaps some photographs of poppies around the statue, but there is no mention of it (it’s odd, isn’t it, how we both distrust what we read online, and doubt the validity of what isn’t there). I’d love to hear from anyone who remembers their family placing poppies in the plot.

I  hope my grandparents knew that we would carry on the remembering – I think they did. What they probably couldn’t have imagined was a world where we could lay a poppy at a distance, via the internet. I have found both Ray and Ben’s war records on the Auckland War Memorial’s online cenotaph, and the process of adding a poppy feels  more substantial, and more moving, than I would have thought.

More on this story:
Ray Simpson
Ben Mottram
Post: Anzac Day
Post: Letters from the Front
Post: Outbreak of War

Photographs of the Godley Statue found on the Christchurch libraries site.





The Empire Line

Princess AlexandraFrom Ngaire’s journal, 24th April 1963
‘Listened in to Princess Alexandra’s wedding
from 11.30 pm to 12.15 am.’

If you have a moment, there’s a newsreel of the wedding here. Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby’s commentary is fabulous, and I can imagine Ngaire leaning in and agreeing that  ‘cars are not always easy to get out of‘.  As for ‘the congregation too are uplifted by the mystical union’. Priceless.

Image: Flickr – Mig_R

Married Before Breakfast

From Ngaire’s Journal, 21st April 1955
‘Carol has been re-packing and listing her Glory Box.’

Carol (right) as a bridesmaid

Carol (right) as a bridesmaid

My mother Carol was just nineteen in 1955, the perfect age, at least in Ngaire’s opinion, to get serious about marriage.

In fact, Ngaire had been serious about marriage for years, progressively stocking a carved camphor-wood box with household linens, china, silverware and kitchen essentials. Mum was still extracting new tea towels from The Box when I was a teenager (by which time the The Box was running on Australian TV, and schoolteachers, fresh from the city and calling themselves Ms, were telling girls like me that we could be and do anything we wanted).

While I refused to have anything to do with a Glory Box (or the dowry of 20 cows Dad was always threatening), I am very grateful for the beautiful tea cups and plates my mother quietly collected for me. (I am even more grateful that they came with no caveat or expectations of marriage.)

Quincey breakfastAnother thing Ngaire was serious about was breakfast (along with lunch, dinner, morning and afternoon tea and supper). She felt very firmly that nothing worthwhile could be achieved on an empty stomach.

I tend to agree (about breakfast at least) and like to have stewed fruit in the fridge to dollop on my porridge. Today it was quince (I kept some back when making paste) and prunes, with some yoghurt and nuts.

PS. I came across Married before Breakfast (1937)  when searching about for a title to link breakfast and marriage.  I’ve never seen it, but the synopsis is truly intriguing.
After a leading razor company pays inventor Tom Wakefield a quarter of a million dollars not to publicize a hair-removing shaving cream that makes razors obsolete, he makes plans to take his socialite fiancé June Baylin on a glamorous world cruise. However, before that happens he wants to spread his good luck to his friends and falls into all sorts of romantic intrigue in doing so.

You couldn’t come up with a plot like that on an empty stomach.

With a Runcible Spoon

From Ngaire’s Journal, 17th April 1959
Tonight we went to a family party to meet Laughton’s new bride Lela.’

Tonight we have all gone our separate ways – one to the football, one to a party, another to the couch. And one to the kitchen, to deal with the quinces that have been lurking in a basket under Myrtle’s tea trolley for the best part of a week. They came from my lovely friend Jennifer’s garden. Jen has the good fortune to live in Port Fairy, and has a very abundant garden.

CCMM - Quince TartI generally either poach quinces for breakfast fruit, or make jelly (or both), but this evening I was in the mood for baking, and so made a tart.
A quince and rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping.
No effort spared.

The rhubarb gives this tart its tang – necessary, I think, to offset the sweetness of the quinces and of the crumble.
Serve it warm with loads of cream, with or without a runcible spoon.

Recipe: Quince & rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
From The Owl & the Pussycat, by Edward Lear

Pears Go With…

From Ngaire’s Journal
1st March, 1956
Made pear ginger and pear sauce and bottled 10 quart jars of pears. Carol went to Phyllis’ millinery class this evening.’
2nd March, 1964

Bottled pears (Bon Chretien), made plum jam, baked.’
4th March 1951
Bottled pears. This evening went to the Annual Meeting of the Young Marrieds Group.’

Cooking with pearsInspired by a new season (I love Autumn – beautiful days, crisp evenings, the promise of boots and scarves…), and spurred on by my friend Sas’s return to blogging (you’ll find her at oneequalstwo), I have decided it is time for my first post of 2105.

The crate of pears in the laundry prompted me too. Dad delivered them the other day, picked from the trees my partner and I planted along the corrugated iron wall of the shearing shed. We’ve been surprised at how well they’ve done – the ground is stoney and the iron gets very hot in summer, but they’ve thrived. Dad’s kept a close eye on them of course, and kept up the water all summer, so we’ve had a fabulous crop.

Old Delhi marketsI was going to bottle them, but I waited a day too long and they were a bit ripe, so instead I stewed some for breakfasts and turned the rest into sweet treats for the long weekend.

Pears go with chocolate like a Young Marrieds Group goes with 1951, so I made an old favourite that we call Capricious Pear Pudding (a name I’ll explain in another post – it’s a long story) and a Chocolate Pear Tart. The subtle sweetness of pears seems to call for spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamon all work well. We’ve recently returned from a trip to India, and in Delhi, where we stayed at the  lovely Devna B & B, our host David took us into the old town, including to Paranthe Wali Gali (yum!) and the spice markets. This afternoon I cooked my pears with some of the saffron and cinnamon we bought there. They’ll make a perfect Autumn breakfast – porridge with stewed fruit, toasted almonds and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

PS Banana Paranthe would make a perfect breakfast too  – I’m on the hunt for a recipe, though it will never taste as good as in Delhi.



On a Roll

Harrison farm by Menzies Gibb

Harrison farm by Menzies Gibb

My grandmother Ngaire was related to the Harrisons of Christchurch in all sorts of complicated ways. With twenty-three children in the Harrison family, it was probably hard not to be related to them.

The Harrisons’ house ended up on Francis Avenue when their farm was subdivided around 1910, and a number of the children built in the street as they married and left home. William Menzies GIbb’s painting ‘A bit of old Christchurch’ is of the original house, with the Port Hills in the distance.

Choc Roll Pudding2Gertrude Harrison (who is said to have commissioned the painting) was married off to Ngaire’s father after the death of his first wife, and while she proved to be a less than tolerant stepmother, she was a wonderful cook. Given this I’m sorry that I had no success with her Chocolate Roll, but I have had more luck today with her sister Ollie’s Never Fail Sponge. I’m not sure if that would please Gert or not!

I added a generous quantity of good cocoa to Ollie’s recipe and turned it into a roll. The result was not quite the light-as air sponge I was hoping for, but an even better pavlova-meets-cake concoction with a chocolate fudge centre. As good as this is, I’d still like to master a proper chocolate sponge roll – I’ll just wait for our cholesterol levels to settle down.

The daunting Harrison sisters (1950s)

The daunting Harrison sisters (1950s)

Ollie Harrison’s Never-Fail Sponge (turned into a chocolate roll)

3 eggs, ½ teaspoon bicarb. soda, 1 small cup of castor sugar, 1 large cup of flour, 2 large tablespoons cocoa, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat eggs well. Add bicarb. and beat well. Add sugar and beat for 3 minutes.
Add sifted flour, cocoa and cream of tartar and mix through.
Bake in greased and lined lamington or slice tray at 180º for 10 – 15 minutes.
Turn out onto sugared grease-proof paper and roll up in the paper while still warm.
When just cool, gently unroll and fill with strawberries and cream then roll up again. Dust with cocoa and icing sugar.

Something Special

From Ngaire’s journal, 24th September 1953
This afternoon a class of students from Lincoln College came for instruction from Gerald. I served afternoon tea which they apparently enjoyed. I had made scones, sausage rolls, chocolate eclairs etc.’

choc roll2My grandfather Gerald had a long association with Lincoln Agricultural College.  The college was quite close by, and Gerald was a member (and President for a period) of the NZ Fruitgrowers Federation. Although he came to agricultural life somewhat by accident, and not entirely by choice, he was serious and very knowledgeable about orchard life.

Lincoln College Woolclassing school 1958

Lincoln College Woolclassing school 1958

Students visiting Prestons Road might have learnt about grafting techniques or perhaps new varieties, but however fascinating those visits were, I suspect afternoon tea was the highlight  – especially if it included ‘chocolate eclairs, etcetera’. Ngaire seemed to think the vast majority of men were under-fed, and would have seen students as an especially needy group.

Gert Simpson's Chocolate Roll

Gert Simpson’s Chocolate Roll

Anyway, today as promised I made Something Special to mark Ngarie’s birthday. Gert’s Chocolate Roll (Gert being Ngaire’s stepmother), with no etcetera required.

The result – OK, but not fabulous. The family demolished it of course, but I thought it was a bit ‘cakey’ so back to the drawing board. There’s another recipe in Ngaire’s book which I’ll try out tomorrow.

And a final aside. My father Stan attended Lincoln College as a woolclassing student during his 1957/58 wife-finding tour of New Zealand. He’s on the far left in the front row of the graduating class photograph, having set the auto-timer on his Voigtländer and raced back into position.