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.


Where Ngaire and Gerald return from their Tour of Europe,
the National Party is re-elected
and Ngaire celebrates her birthday.

From Ngaire’s and Gerald’s travel letters

21st September 1958, from RMS ‘Strathmore’
We arrived at Bombay at 12.30 pm and went ashore at 2.45 pm when we commenced the Bus Tour organised by the British Women’s League of Mercy (£1 each)…The heat was slightly more bearable that that of Aden.
The Taj Mahal Hotel is a tremendous establishment…
In the centre of a public square were the Men’s conveniences, shielded only by a trellis fence – one better than Paris…
The Hanging Gardens were beautiful…

StrathmoreWe passed the Tower of Silence and saw the huge vultures…
There were men selling beautiful crochet cloths of all sizes…
We passed the Laundry where all the citizens send their washing. Men stood in the water and beat the clothing against concrete slabs. How on earth anything comes out white is a mystery, but our courier assured us that she sends her sheets and pillowcases there and they are returned washed and ironed, beautifully – 1/6 for a week’s wash.

Further along we heard some cheering and musical instruments and found a bridal procession. The bridegroom was arrayed in glittering gold and flowers…He was being led along the main street by his friends and followers, to the home of the bride.

Ngaire's 21st

Ngaire on her 21st birthday (1927)

23rd September 1958
At 1.15pm we passed the ‘Stratheden’ sailing northwards. Poor things. They have to pass through the Red Sea.
The SW coast of India seems to be covered with jungle and very seldom is a house seen.
We are due to arrive at Colombo at 6am; the pilot is to come aboard at 4.30 am. We have bought tickets for a tour, so should see a little more of the Mystic East.

Thank you so much for your birthday greetings. Daddy has given me some beautiful pearls and I am very thrilled.
My cotton frocks are getting a good wearing and washing so I suppose I shall need some new ones for home.

We haven’t entered the Deck Games on this ship. There is no Deck Golf and I am hopeless at the other games.”

I’ve been jolted into blogging action by Ngaire’s birthday (she would be 108 tomorrow), and the return of the NZ National Party. My very one-eyed grandmother would have approved (she even linked Labor with a shortage of nice dressmaking fabrics at one stage).

Tomorrow I’ll bake something suitable in her honour, or perhaps just iron the pillowslips.


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.

A Very Hot Day

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th February 1949
‘Another very hot day. There was a sharp earthquake at 5.30 am and Mt Ngauruhoe is in eruption. I bottled plums and made jam, and went to choir practice in the evening.’

Mt Ngauruhoe postcardI must say that my first inclination on a very hot day – and we’ve had more than our fair share lately – is not to crank up the bottling or make jam. Not that bottling is something that can generally wait. I remember as a teenager (not desperate to help) that cases of fruit always seemed to appear on the hottest days. Mum had the Vacola set up in the laundry, which was outside, but I’m not sure how much difference that made. Warracknabeal in February is hot, and before we had air-conditioning installed in the late 1970s we relied on a portable evaporative cooler, sometimes with a huge block of ice perched on a stool in front. Of course, in 1949 Ngaire wouldn’t have had anything remotely advanced in the way of cooling, especially in Christchurch where the summers are generally much milder. I don’t imagine she would have lowered her dress standards too much either, no matter what the temperature.

While I’m keen to walk in Ngaire’s footsteps, I really couldn’t be bothered bottling today and since I didn’t have any fruit waiting to be dealt with I made a pudding involving plum jam instead. Homemade jam of course, though not by me. Thanks Andrea Webster!

Baked Cinnamon Crumb Pudding

Cinnamon Crumb PuddingBase: 2 oz (60 g) butter, ¾  cup sugar,  1 egg, 1 ¾  cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp cinnamon,  ½  tsp salt, ¾ cup milk, ½ tsp lemon essence

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat well.
Sift in flour and other dry ingredients.
Add milk and lemon essence and mix well.
Turn into well-buttered and floured baking dish then make topping.

Cinnamon Crumb Pudding 2Topping: Rub 1 tbsp butter into 1 tbsp cinnamon and ½ cup sugar. Sprinkle over the cake mixture.
Bake at 180° for approx. 30 mins.

Sauce: Combine 6 good tbsp jam with 1 cup of water and heat. Allow to reduce until thickened but still easy to pour.
Pour the sauce over the warm cake, reserving some for serving.
Serve with cream or ice cream then have a nice lie down and congratulate yourself on having cooked anything at all on such a hot day.

Postcard found at Skufan Postcards.

Bathtime at the Waitomo Hotel

From Ngaire’s journal, 29th January, 1955 (holidaying in Waitomo)
This evening we visited the Waitomo Caves which are very beautiful, the highlight being the wonderful glow-worm caves which we saw from a boat which was taken along by the guide. It was like fairyland.

Ngaire's sketch of Gerald in the hotel bath

Ngaire’s sketch of Gerald in the hotel bath

The Waitomo Hotel is just luxurious and we only wish we could have stayed here a week. In a large cupboard in our room is a sitting bath. It is about 4 ft long and 2 ½ feet wide and shaped like a seat. It is very comfortable. A spray shower may be used in it as well.’

As far as I can tell, the Waitomo Hotel hasn’t changed very much since the Mottram family visited in 1955, though the rooms don’t feature baths in cupboards any more. There may be a reason for that. Apparently the hotel is the ‘fourth most haunted spot, and the most haunted hotel, in New Zealand’. Reported paranormal events include bathtubs dripping blood, the noise of a maid’s trolley in the hallway and the ghost of a Maori princess ‘stalking the corridors’.
All of which makes the sketch of my grandfather in a sitting bath seem rather ho-hum.

Of Akaroa

Notes on Akaroa by Gerald Mottram

Gerald & Ngaire Mottram, Akaroa (late 1940s)

Gerald & Ngaire Mottram, Akaroa (late 1940s)


The town has not changed much. The section where Jack McLeneghan’s shop was is still empty and desolate. However, I do not think I would like the place to progress too much. It is probably better as it is. The provision of rowing boats and powered dinghies for hire is a big improvement. The wharf needs new decking badly and a bathing shed at the south end of the town would be very convenient. If some good angel would remove the pine trees from the L’Aube hill I would rejoice greatly.”

There was an old French cemetery on L’Aube Hill above our home. It was fenced and there were two large willow trees which were said to have grown from a cutting from a tree by Napoleon’s grave at St Helena. It was quite picturesque with wild rose growing freely. Unfortunately it was completely neglected. It was apparently nobody’s business to look after it. Many of the graves had wooden tables instead of gravestones, and the names had become unreadable. Eventually some years after we left Akaroa, it was decided to flatten the whole cemetery, trees and all, and erect a tablet with the names of people who were known to have been buried there on it. I think it was paid for by the Government. I thought it was a pity that the cemetery could not have been looked after and preserved, but these things require money and effort.

The Little Bistro, 33 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa

The Little Bistro, 33 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa

My grandfather Gerald Mottram was born in Akaroa. His father was a tailor and they lived behind and above his workroom on Lavaud Street (now Rue Lavaud). Today the house is a French restaurant — The Little Bistro — and by all accounts a very fine one. If you go there, look up at the attic window. That was Gerald’s bedroom.

Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula have been on my mind this past week. Regular readers of this rather irregular blog might remember some letters I published around ANZAC Day. They were written by my great-uncle Ben (Gerald’s brother) from France during the First World War.  The other day I heard from Craig Giddens, the great-grandson of one of the ‘Peninsula Boys’  mentioned in the letters. Craig says Ben would have been referring to  Martin Giddens from Little River, or perhaps his cousin John Thomas Giddens, who was later killed. It is very moving to make these connections, to join the dots, nearly one hundred years later.

Sadly, the other reason for thinking of Akaroa this week was the death of a dear friend. Alisdair MacLeod was one of the truest people I have met, and we are deeply sad to have lost him. Al came to Australia to build a life with my beautiful friend Kaye, and over the years we have often talked about New Zealand, but it was only this week that I learnt that he was born in Akaroa. Sometimes the smallest places produce the most remarkable people.
Vale Alisdair. We will miss you very much.

Thank Goodness

From Ngaire’s journal, 1st September, 1951
Polling Day.  The National Party has been re-elected, thank goodness.’

Melbourne, 1st September, 2012

I thank goodness for:

My dad Stan

My dad Stan

  1. Dad.  It’s Father’s Day today.
  2. Spring.  The novelty of Winter has well and truly worn off.
  3. Only six more days until Polling Day.  It’s been a very dispiriting campaign.

My parents are holidaying in Queensland  (home of the very entertaining Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party), so I didn’t see Dad today.  He’ll be having a ball up there, following all the goings on.

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge

We celebrated Father’s Day today with Oasis Bakery’s Big Lebanese Breakfast (yum) and tonight I made a coffee sponge from Ngaire’s recipe book.  Mum often made this for special Sunday night teas when we were growing up.  She made a wicked whipped butter and sugar filling with glace cherries and walnuts, but tonight we had it with sort-of-fresh raspberries (from the freezer) and cream.

My cake was a bit gooey in the centre.  Because I didn’t have any coffee essence, I tried to cheat by adding a (very) short black coffee to the mixture and a little extra flour.  Truth being the first casualty of any campaign,  I told the family it was a coffee fudge cake and was meant to be that way.

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge (3 Minute Butter Sponge)

Grease and line an 8″ round cake tin and preheat the oven (180 degrees).
Sift 7 oz flour into a basin then stir in 6 oz of sugar.
Lightly beat 3 eggs with 2 tablespoons of milk.
Stir in the eggs then add 3 oz of melted butter. Beat vigorously for 1 or 2 minutes until it forms a nice smooth batter.
Add 1 dessertspoon of coffee essence and 2 tsp baking powder.  Beat gently for just  long enough to combine the ingredients well.  Bake for approx 40 minutes.

Outbreak of War

From Ngaire’s journal, 4th August, 1955

The anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
I well remember as a child of 7 years, 11 months, standing behind my father at the breakfast table and reading the ominous headlines in the newspaper, “War in Europe”.  Everyone seemed quiet and scared, though they tried to hide it from us children, and I had nightmares for many nights about Dad fighting Grandad with a shovel, a most improbable thing.”

Simpson family - 1915 Ngaire's Grandad George, back left, Ngaire, 3rd from left (with doll), Ngaire's father William, 3rd from right.

Simpson family – 1915
Ngaire’s Grandad George, back left, Ngaire 3rd from left (with doll), Ngaire’s father William, 3rd from right.

It does seem unlikely that Ngaire’s father William, a choirmaster, would ever have fought his rather dapper father, with or without a shovel.

This photograph of the family was taken on Christmas Day, 1915.  A few months earlier, William’s wife Emily had died in tragic circumstances, leaving him to raise Ngaire, Phyllis and Keith.

The headlines Ngaire remembered so well were probably from the Christchurch Press. This copy of the paper is from Papers Past.

Sure to be Better

From Ngaire’s journal, 23rd June 1960
Went to town and shopped. Bought ‘Mysterie’ stockings for Carol as they wear better than the Australian ones.”

Edmonds Factory, Christchurch

Edmonds Factory, Christchurch

I grew up certain in the knowledge that, while Australia was a very nice place with excellent shops, New Zealand-made products were vastly superior. This applied particularly to baking powder. No visiting relative every crossed the Tasman without several boxes of New Zealand-made white powder stashed in their suitcase. They were innocent times.

Edmonds Book

I still use Edmond’s Baking Powder (couriered by friends and relatives) and am as biased as my grandmother and mother. It always works, comes in great packaging and has no metallic after-taste.

Like Ngaire, I don’t use self-raising flour either — instead I add a teaspoon of baking powder to every cup of plain flour.

Ngaire's recipe book - Lemon Honey and Baking Powder

Ngaire’s Baking Powder Recipe

Edmonds baking powder is available in Australia from various online stores, including the Kiwi Shop.  Alternatively, if you’re really keen, you can make your own (but you really should use Edmonds ingredients).

Baking Powder

1 lb (450 gms) Cream of Tartar
1/2 lb (225 gms) Baking Soda
2 tbsp flour

Sift 5 times and store in an airtight container.

Meat and Three Veg

From Ngaire’s journal, 16th May 1951
Mr Bradley and his assistant came and installed a point in the pantry for the refrigerator which up to the present has been plugged into the cooker. I went to Choir Practice this evening.”

This is a bit odd, because in 1955 (four years later to the day which surely can’t be a coincidence), Ngaire wrote that it was ‘lovely to have the refrigerator’.  I assumed she was celebrating the arrival of refrigeration, but it must have been that the novelty still hadn’t worn off .

Whitegoods aside, the thing I really enjoyed about this entry was that instead of ‘the electrician’ or Reg, Jack, Tom or Bill, it was Mr Bradley and his assistant. I hope they wore grey dust coats with their names embroidered on the pocket.
By the way (and please correct me if I’m wrong), I think powerpoints on cookers was an NZ thing.Making the meatloaf

I’ve been using my cooker to turn out Ngaire’s spectacularly good  (and very thrifty) Roll-up Meat Loaf. It made meat-and-three-veg night quite exciting, and it’ll be meatloaf and tomato sauce sandwiches for the next couple of days.

Roll-up meat loaf

1 ½ lbs (700 gms)  minced beef, ½ lb (350 gms) minced pork, 1 onion and 2 stalks celery  and a small handful fresh herbs (parsley, sage, thyme) all chopped finely.
¼ tsp dry mustard, salt and pepper.
4 slices bread made into breadcrumbs, ½ cup milk, 2 eggs lightly beaten, 1 tbs Worcester Sauce.
3 or 4 large rashers of bacon

Soak the breadcrumbs in milk and mix well.  Add beaten egg and Worcester Sauce.  Combine meat, vegetables and herbs then mix through the bread mixture (I gave my 13 year old a pair of gloves and he was very happy to do this).

Turn the mixture out onto a large sheet of baking paper and shape into a rectangle (should be about 1.5  cm thick).  Spread with the stuffing and roll like a sponge roll.  Top with the bacon rashes and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 45 minutes.

For the stuffing

6 – 8 slices of stale bread (I like using a grainy or rye loaf), 1 small onion roughly chopped, 1 ½ tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs, ground pepper, about ¼ cup melted butter. I also added dried cranberries to mine because I had some in the pantry.

Put everything except the butter in the food processor and whizz until breadcrumbs are fine.  Add enough melted butter to combine the mixture (needs to hold together but not be soggy).