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 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


From Ngaire’s journal, 25th February 1959
At 3.45 pm we all left home and accompanied Carol to the Airport. She was very excited and looked beautiful in her crème colour coat, crème shoes, gloves and bag, apricot frock and pale green hat. The plane, piloted by Geoff White, left at 5pm and was due at Melbourne at 9.30 pm.’

I’m sticking with the aviation theme this week.

My parents met in Christchurch in 1958. Dad  – an Australian  – was there on a working holiday, and pursued Mum after spotting her in the Durham Street Methodist Church choir. In early 1959, my mother flew to Melbourne to be reunited with him and to see (with a view to marriage) what she thought of Australia.  It was to be the first of many Tasman crossings, backwards and forwards between Christchurch and Melbourne.

My mother Carol and her brother Warwick at Essendon airport Melbourne, 1960

My mother Carol and her brother Warwick at Essendon airport Melbourne, 1960

It’s hard not to feel a little envious of a time where passengers dressed so well and where you may know the pilot by name.  Melbourne readers looking carefully at the photo of my mother and uncle at Essendon airport may also envy the helicopter service into town. For those of you not from here, getting to our city’s airport is a journey that is neither convenient nor glamorous.

Geoff White went on to become a distinguished pilot with Air New Zealand, flying their first DC-8 into Wellington for the initial trials. I think he may now live in Australia.

And a post script. My father was hours late to pick Mum up in 1959, and she was left sitting on her suitcase outside the shed that served as a terminal at Essendon. A cleaner, locking up for the night, told Mum he doubted her  beau would show, but he did and the rest is history. He has never been on time for anything since.

Eating Like a Bird

From Ngaire’s journal, 23rd April 1958
Carol had the day off school as she is to make her debut this evening.We had our hair set, did some shopping and returned home. We cleaned the house and prepared the dinner – baked ham, roast vegetables and greens, trifle and fruit salad.
Fortunately Mrs Shasky came in and helped Carol and me to dress, otherwise we should have been late.”

Caroline as a debutante

Caroline as a debutante

She certainly doesn’t look as though she’s just done some shopping, cleaned the house and eaten a good square meal – baked ham no less – followed by trifle and fruit salad.

I have a mental image of Mrs Shasky (the next door neighbour of tomato sauce fame) with her foot in the small of Mum’s back trying to get the zip done up. It’s all very ‘Gone With The Wind’.

“I wish to Heaven I was married,” she said resentfully as she attacked the yams with loathing… “I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird…”  Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind.

Happy Birthday Ngaire

From Ngaire’s journal, 23rd September 1950
My 45th birthday – dear me.
It has been a beautiful day – at Church we had the Spring Festival where the Sanctuary was beautifully decorated with blossom.
Gerald and the children presented me with a beautiful cameo brooch, Phyllis gave me a lovely blue silk lock-knit underslip and Mother a set of biscuit forcers.”

Lolly Pink and the Promise of Summer

From Ngaire’s journal, 25th August 1952
“Carol and I went to town and bought material for her summer suit – dark rose pink silk shantung – and navy shoes and handbag.”

Here we are on August 25th, and I haven’t given any thought to a summer suit. It’s been hard to think of anything but polar fleece here in Melbourne – summer seems a distant prospect at the moment.

What I have been thinking about is lolly cake. I follow a blog called Christchurch daily photo and came across a photo of it there. I hadn’t thought about lolly cake for years, but Ngaire always had some waiting when we visited Christchurch, and posted tins of it across the Tasman in between trips. I remember Mum trying to make it, but without the proper sweets (‘Fruit Puffs’), it wasn’t quite the same.  In a way I’m glad she wasn’t able to buy them in Australia – it left Lolly Cake as one of the many marvellous things we associated with Christchurch, and Granny.

There’s no point trying to put a sophisticated spin on lolly cake, it’s very, very sweet, but it does looks pretty in a jar on the bench.

New Zealand Lolly Cake

250 g malt biscuits, (crushed), 180 g Fruit Puffs (1 packet), 120 gms butter,  1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk,  coconut.

Chop the fruit puffs into thirds and put in a large bowl with the crushed biscuits. Melt the butter then stir in the condensed milk. Cool a little then add to biscuit mixture. Combine well then form into log. Roll in coconut and refrigerate.  Slice when set.

For those of you stranded in Australia, Fruit Puffs are available from in Queensland. The postage does make the whole exercise a bit of a luxury, but it’s worth it – at least as an occaisonal treat. Malt biscuits are available in most supermarkets, though I do think the kiwi ones are darker – and nicer.

Now I’m starting to sound like my mother who is completely biased and has been quietly running her own ‘Buy New Zealand Made’ campaign for years.

For the Want of…

From Ngaire’s journal, 12th August 1959
Did some shopping. Trailed the town to match material but without success. This Labour Govt. needs to be voted out.”

Honestly, was it really too much to expect that the shops would carry a decent range of matching accessories? After all,  in 1959 New Zealand was being led by Walter Nash who, prior to becoming Prime Minister, had run a tailoring business and been a wool and cloth salesman. You’d think he’d have had some idea.

Of course, four months out from her only daughter’s wedding, Ngaire may not have been at her most forgiving. In the end, in typical Ngaire style, she decided that the issue was one of exclusivity.

17th September, 1959
The material I have bought to wear at Carol’s wedding is so exclusive that I cannot get anything to match it. I have had shoes and handbag dyed.”

Over the Edge

Letter from Ngaire on board RMS Rangitane II en route to England, 4th June 1958
As you know, we are not very narrow-minded, but the drinking on this ship is over the edge.’

It’s true: Ngaire wasn’t very narrow-minded, but she did have very firm ideas, particularly in regard to how people ought to behave. I’m not sure what prompted this particular observation but perhaps, as a teetotalling Methodist lady, she was beginning to find all the dinners, parties and pirates a bit too much…

31st May
This evening was the Fancy Dress ball. I went with a group of seven ‘girls’ who were captured by a pirate, the pirate being a Mr. Clinton who has a black bushy beard turning grey.’

While Ngaire didn’t drink, she did like to Do Things Properly, which must be why she had this clipping in her recipe book.

I’ve had cider on my mind today. Not how to serve it (in any sort of pretty glass I think or, if someone insisted on giving you one for your 21st, a hideous pewter mug) but how to make it.

Mum and Dad have picked the rest of a bumper crop of Fuji apples at their farm but unfortunately they’ve been affected by Black Spot this year (the apples, not my parents as far as I know). We’ll still stew and freeze some, but there’ll be a lot left over so tomorrow I’m going out in search of a cider press.

All advice on cider-making gratefully received!

(Postcard from the Rangitane found at

Battle of the Bulge

Letter from Ngaire on board RMS Rangitane II en route to England, 19th May 1958
‘Today is warm but pleasant. I have discarded all unnecessary undies but will continue the “battle of the bulge” when we dress for dinner.’

1958 was the year of Ngaire and Gerald’s ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. Ngaire firmly believed in keeping up appearances (who knows what she’d make of me discussing her underwear here) and took so much luggage, including a small suitcase of hats, they could barely move in their cabin. It must have been very warm in the tropics for her to have dropped her standards to this degree. The officers on the other hand, were clearly keeping themselves nice.

17th May 1958
‘The ship’s officers changed into tropical kit today – all white, mostly with shorts. The dining room stewards wear white coats with dark trousers and other stewards all white.’

In fairness, I should make it clear that the underwear she found to be ‘unnecessary’ would only have been her corset. Not that this diminishes the significance of her ditching it. I have travelled in the back of an un-airconditioned Holden Kingswood from Warracknabeal to Broken Hill sandwiched between Mum and Ngaire and can clearly remember the bones in her undergarments sticking into me. If the ship was hotter than the back of that car it must have been unbearable.

Fortunately, the ship’s captain wasn’t going to let things get out of hand.

15th May 1958
‘The Captain is very fussy over dress, and has given us all to understand that we are to be decently covered while at meals in the Tropics. Perhaps he is afraid of the wandering eyes of the young waiters.’

Back on with the all-in-one then.

Obviously the only sensible response to a story about battling the bulge is to cook something devastatingly delicious and almost certainly bulge-making: Chocolate Éclairs. The surprise is that they’re devastatingly easy to make. Who’d have thought.

Chocolate Éclairs

1 cup water,  100 gms unsalted butter,
1 cup sifted flour,  4 lightly beaten eggs

Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add all the flour and stir very quickly until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball. Cool for about 10 minutes, then beat in the eggs one at a time. I transferred the mixture to my mixer to do this.
Put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe 10 cm lengths onto a baking tray (lightly greased or with baking paper). They should be 3 or 4 cm apart.  Bake in a very hot oven (I used 230°C) for 10 minutes then turn down to 180°C for a further 10 minutes. Take out and, when cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise. Return to the oven for a further 3 or 4 minutes to dry out. They should be golden and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

To assemble, fill with whipped cream (add 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and 1 tsp of icing sugar if desired) and ice with chocolate icing. To make the icing beat together 1 cup icing sugar, 2 teaspoons butter, 2 tablespoons cocoa and about 1 tablespoon boiling water.

Best eaten without your corset.