Once upon a time I was a child living in New Zealand and the world was a long long way away.
Before globalization, before we could look back at ourselves from space, before the rainbow warrior was blown up in Auckland harbor by the French government, before all this I lived in a suburb in a town on an Island and this was the container of my world.
There was black and white lino on the kitchen floor, a radiogram in the sitting room and we burned coal for our heating.
In fact we had a coal bin in our back yard that was filled by a truck that turned up in the street and a burly guy would heft a bag or two around the house and turf it into the bin. Us kids used to pick out lumps of it and gnaw on it. When I tell my kids that, they, in their environmentalist way say ooooh yuk mum how could you?
Easy, it was lovely that bin of broken shapes and angles going from dull to shiny when we licked it, which we did.
Someone had told us it was good for our teeth. Not that we actually chewed it, just sort of grazed on it. Ok we tried to chew it.
It didn’t taste like anything much that I can recall.
I do remember that the coal dust was as fine as the talcum powder Mum used to dowse me with after a bath only black and we didn’t like the taste of that.
So I guess in defence I can say we kids of Taita had our standards.
The bin was in the far corner of our back yard behind dads shed which was a small square concrete blockhouse with a door and a poky window,one in every back yard of every state house in N.Z.
come to think of it now it did resemble a bunker. Dad had a selection of tools with which he could fix mend and make whatever. that was the days when things were repaired. He also had a short wave radio and an oxy welder.
Go and tell dad tea is ready. Not dinner not in those days it was tea.
Often his hands were covered in grease and oil and I would follow him in to the washhouse not yet called laundry where he would briskly rub the solvol over his hands and wash them in the big concrete tubs.
Sometimes I was bathed in one of those tubs especially if I was considered too messy for the bathroom which was often if I had had my right to play.
Solvol is a dark grey harsh soap that catches your skin and abrades it, I know this because I liked to help by sticking my fingers into the oily nuts and cogs and my mum despaired of ever making me a lady.
The shed had a flat roof, which my friends and I would climb, up onto the coal bin and hoist our selves onto the roof. Here we could see a little over into the back neighbours yard and feel tall and invincible.
We spent many a time daring ourselves to jump off it, until one day when no one was looking and I was all alone and I was nearly grown up or at least ready for high school I jumped landing on the clover lawn and guess what.. didn’t break anything.
It was better round at Susan’s house cause they had a pool in their back yard and we could jump from the roof of the same style shed that was our changing room into the pool.
Hidden from the house by the monkey-puzzle tree there was never any interference in the games we played with that swimming pool. running yes! jumping how high? dive bombs absolutely !
I don’t know how I got away with being up on our shed, mum must have been busy sewing somewhere though a few years ago when I packed up their house I found cute valium bottles, circa 1960’s so …was she even there?
Another era was the washhouse which was outside the back door. Once it would have had a copper in it but we were modern and had a washing machine with a wringer that you turned by hand. I loved to watch mum push the clothes to the edge of the rollers until it was grabbed and then fingers out of the way I was always told the handle was turned and turned until I could grab the flattened compressed piece and deliver it to the cane basket.
I was still in primary school when black and white television arrived in our street. I told Mum that the teacher said we had to watch a nature show for school so I got to go to Sally’s place each week and watch something.
It was probably around 1969 when it arrived in our sitting room not a lounge room then.
We had so much fun watching snowy pictures and rolling scenes. Dad as with any machinery loved to tinker so he was forever adjusting the darn thing twisting some knob round the back or up on the roof fiddling with the aerial.
We were often commissioned to stand there observing the test pattern supplying feed back, until we proved to be totally useless at which point he employed a mirror held in front of the screen while he fielded a screwdriver around the back.
The same year the tele arrived in our house was the year a man walked on the moon. We watched breathless at the grainy pictures of a man bouncing around on the pocked surface.
And that night when I should have sleeping I looked up at the moon searching for evidence that he was there.
The spaceships kept venturing and the quality of pictures improved, black and white turned to colour.
We saw the deserts of Mars, the moons of Jupiter, the volcanoes of Venus and the rings of Saturn.
We learnt facts measurements distances and orbits but not life that we could recognize.
I had grown up with the notion that humans were alone in our solar system and while we had the increasing capacity to look into black holes we could not find our selves.
It wasn’t just space that came into our lounge rooms with the advent of television it brought us the rest of the world.
Suddenly I was able to observe the migratory path of the caribou, the underwater world of the whales, the hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari, the festivals of the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
The world got smaller; the waste dumps of India came into view, the plastic bag islands in the Pacific, sad bears in cages and clear-felled forests of the amazon.
The beauty and the misery came clear on the screen every night.
And then I left that island for this island continent and came to live in a forest where there is no tele but the images remain.
We are planetary citizens afterall. members of a universe, of an expanding collapsing creative dynamic play of energy and forces all of which despite all we think we know is still a mystery.
Oh hallelujah to that.