Archive for category 1948

Making a phone call

In 1948, when I was six, most homes had a phone (but not all), and those that did have a phone only had a landline (no mobiles in those days).

The first phone I can remember hung on the wall, just inside the front door of our Maungaturoto house, and looked something like the one in the picture below.  To use it, you picked up the handset on the left and turned the crank on the right around a couple of times.  Doing this made a light flash at the nearest telephone exchange, and an “operator” (a human being; almost always a woman) would ask you what phone number you wanted.


The “operator” would then physically plug the wire your call had come in on into the hole representing the number you wanted and turn a little handle to make the other person’s phone ring.  The machine the “operator” used was called a “switchboard” and looked like this:


Simple, eh?  But wait, there’s more!!!

In rural areas, like Maungaturoto, most people at that time had what was called a “party line”.  That meant there might be four or five houses sharing the same phone line, and it also meant that only one family could use the phone at any one time.  So, when the “operator” rang your number, how did you know whether the call was for you or for one of your neighbours?

The answer is that everyone on a party line had a “letter” as well as a “number”.  For example, a family’s phone number might have been something like “12D”.  When the “operator” wanted “12D” to answer , they would plug the call into the hole for phone number “12” and would crank out one long ring followed by two short rings (which is Morse Code for the letter “D”).  That long-short-short code would sound on the phones of all the families on that “party line”, but, because they all knew what their code was, only one person would answer.

I told you, simple.

The English language has changed over the years to reflect our changing phone technology.  Here is an explanation of some old-fashioned phone-related phrases:

“I hung up on him”:  In the days when phones hung on the wall, you used to end a call by physically hanging the handset back on the phone.

“I rang off immediately”:  When you finished your phone call on a party line, it was polite to crank out a short little ring, which would sound on all your neighbours’ phones, to tell them that you’d finished and that the line was now available for other calls.

“I put the phone down and ran out of the house”:  Later, phones looked like the one below, so you ended a call by putting the handset back down on the phone.  (By the way, in those days all phones in New Zealand were black.)


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Racial prejudice

In 1948, when I was six years old, I remember hanging around dad’s shop in Maungaturoto, when a rich farmer came in to buy a pair of binoculars.  In those days, most chemist shops sold just medicines and products like toothpaste and shampoo, but my father (known as Grampy to his grandchildren) had quite advanced marketing ideas and sold lots of other products, including cameras and binoculars.

Dad showed the farmer two pairs of binoculars;  a very expensive German pair and a pair of Japanese ones.  I heard dad trying to convince him that he should buy the Japanese ones, which dad said were better than the German ones and only half the price.  But, no matter how dad tried, he couldn’t convince the farmer to buy the better/cheaper binoculars.  The problem was that the farmer hated the Japanese, so he ignored dad’s advice and bought the more expensive German ones.

Now, to be fair to the farmer, this was only a few years after the Second World War, and during that war the Japanese Army had done some terrible things to our captured soldiers, including horrible torture.  The Germans had been our enemies, too, but they didn’t have this reputation for cruelty.  It might even have been that one of the farmer’s own family had been tortured by Japanese soldiers, so, in some ways it was fair enough that he felt that way.  But, even as a little boy, standing there listening to the grown-ups talking, it seemed terribly unfair that all Japanese people should be discriminated against even though they, personally, hadn’t done anything wrong.

When I remember this incident, I realise that my parents must have been very unprejudiced people, which makes me proud of them.  I have no memory of them making nasty comments about other races and I have no memory of myself feeling that way either.  In fact, I think they brought me up to be “colour blind”.  What I mean by that is that I don’t even remember noticing that some people were a different colour.  Now that I look back, I realise that there was a lot of prejudice and discrimination in those days, but somehow I didn’t notice it, and for that I thank my mother and father.

I don’t particularly remember having any Maori friends when I was at Maungaturoto District  School, although I must have had some, since we went to the same school and some would have been in the same class.  But I do remember lots of Maori and Pasifika friends, later, when I went to Whangarei Boys High School.  Cyril Harding (Maori) slept in the next bed to me at boarding school.  I invited “Charlie” Tutaka (Rarotonga) home for the holidays one year.  The Brown twins (James and Henry, also from Rarotonga) were great mates.  I played in the school basketball and softball teams with my good friend Graham Erceg.  And Bill Killen (half Maori, half Pakeha) became my best friend.

The picture below shows dad’s chemist shop (on the left), which he and the farmer stood outside while I was eavesdropping (picture courtesy of the wonderful Google Maps).  The brick building to the right of dad’s pharmacy are the Plunket Rooms, which I think Grampy had built at the same time as the shop.  The idea was to have what would now be called a “health hub” with a chemist shop, doctor’s rooms and Plunket rooms all next to each other.


Finally, there’s an interesting 2014 film called “The Railway Man”, which tells the story of a British soldier who confronts his torturer many years after the war.  It’s a very quiet and very sad film, but enjoyable in its way, and in the end you feel sorry for both the British and the Japanese man.  Here is the trailer:

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Old fashioned shopping

In 1948, when I was six, there weren’t any supermarkets and most of your shopping was done at the local “store”.  The Maungaturoto Store was owned by our family friends, Wyn and Beryl Hargrave.  They lived very close to us and their son, Robin, was one of my best friends.

Probably the biggest difference between a supermarket and a store was that nothing was pre-packaged.  For example, all the sugar would be kept in a “bin” (a great big wooden container).  If a shopper asked for a pound of sugar (about 500g), the owner would ladle the sugar out of the bin into a paper bag (no plastic in those days) and weigh it on a big set of scales (a weighing machine).

This ladling out into paper bags was done for all sorts of products (flour, nails, lollies, etc).  And there were no plastic shopping bags.  Each shopper would bring their own cloth bag along to carry their purchases away in.

Stores were much smaller than supermarkets.  I’m pretty sure the Maungaturoto Store was in the same building as “Sugarbelle’s Cafe” is now, so you can see how small it was:


In those long ago days, not everyone had fridges and nobody had freezers (freezers for home use hadn’t been invented yet).  That meant there were no frozen peas in the shops.  If you wanted peas for dinner, you had to buy some real peas and remove them from their pod before cooking, like in this picture (“podding peas” was usually done by us children):


There were no pizzas or burger shops.  The only takeaways were fish and chips, which were always wrapped in newspaper.

You couldn’t buy chicken in the shops.  In those days, chickens weren’t farmed in giant barns like they are now, so there weren’t so many around.  You had to get one from a friend who kept chickens in their yard or on their farm.  Your friend would kill one of their flock of chickens for you (by chopping off its head!!!) and, once it was dead, you would have to “pluck” it (which meant pulling all the feathers out).  Only then would the chook be ready for cooking.  Because of this, many people only had chicken once a year, at Christmas, as a special treat.

And you couldn’t buy sliced bread;  you would slice it yourself, at home, as you needed it.

Life sure was tough in those days!!!