04 August 2017

Frugality - and other stories.

Some of us are of an age where we can quote from the days soon after the 'great depression' and the effects hard living had on the attitudes of our parents  and onwards to ourselves.

From my own perspective I recall my mother when she went shopping inserting  cardboard cutouts into the bottom of her shoes to cover the holes in her soles. After WW2 I remember my father salvaging wood from old farm houses to build extra rooms onto a two roomed "whare" on the outskirts of Hastings, so that we would not have to spend another winter in a couple of army huts. My job was to extract and straighten nails from his boards. That was in 1947 and the house improvements are still standing. I still keep old nails and screws and it is amazing how often they rescue some repair.

And my sister, Katie, recently reminded me of the new 'carpets' our parents laid in our house in Hornby, Christchurch. There was a proper carpet in the lounge for visitors but for the rest of the house another carpet was manufactured. My father obtained a supply of empty hessian sugar bags. These were carefully unpicked and resewed into a floor covering and then dyed a burgundy colour. After drying they were tacked down onto either underfelt or layered paper.  The 'carpet' didn't last too long and Katie remembers my mother trying to darn the carpet tears like socks!

This all sounds a bit rugged so long into my past but not so long ago I remember coming across a woman in Northern Australia living in a 'daub and wattle' (wattle sticks and clay daubed hessian walls) shack with a clay floor. No, she wasn't Aboriginal or from English stock but, from her accent, of German origin.

In those immediate post-WW2 times there were few refrigerators and my father, who was an electrician, constructed a food preserving cupboard with an ozone generator (I can still remember the seaside smell of it) - I think he obtained the plan from and American magazine popular at the time - "Popular Mechanics'. I see that they are still to be purchased today.

I remember him also making a crystal set and eventually a one valve radio - before the days of transistors! And then there was a battery operated 'shocking machine' he made with a couple of coils and an iron core and vibrator. You held onto metal rods and tried to see how much shocking you could stand (the trick was to turn it up so high with the core insertion that you couldn't let go) - how we didn't turn into little sadists escapes me but maybe we did!

Someone I am very fond of often quotes her childhood experiences of being taught how to refurbish worn sheets by cutting them longitudinally down the middle and re-sewing the edges together with a  French seam to reverse the wear. She does not relate later bisecting the sheets midway down and reversing them, top and tail! She still turns my shirt collars when they become worn.

At her home there was a debate about the lighting. Her father, an electrical engineer, insisted on all unused lights being turned off all the time to save power - whereas in the home of their friends, whose father was a mechanical engineer, the lights were left on to conserve the mechanics of the switching mechanism. She keeps up the family battle cry about controlling lighting in our house to this day; good conservationist that she is.

She also recalls, that along with her siblings, having to repaint old second hand netting that was used to surround the tennis court her father had made out of crushed ant bed which was commonly used in Brisbane at the time.

It is all very much in the past. It had its influence on our lives and attitudes. More often for the better, I think.