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Street and World.

By George Davis in All Sorts

memories of our childhood street colour our view of the world and how we behave

A week ago, a renovator painting our bedroom commented that “we are all citizens of a street.” He went on to state that our most formative experiences are to be found in the street where we spend much childhood. In his opinion, humankind is hard-wired from infancy to understanding our place in the world based on the events which impacted
on us in our childhood street.
It reminded me of Irvine Street in Mosgiel where my parents owned number 41. Towards King Street into which Irvine Street runs, were the neighbours, the Armstrongs, particularly the “Armstrong girls” Sally and Ruby, who were like maiden aunts to me. Across Mure Street lived Mr Rogers and his housekeeper, Miss Dunbar. I cut the lawns for them and on Sundays often Mr Rogers requested that I accompany him on the violin when he played the piano. He also seemed to want me to learn the Latin names for plants. Opposite was old Mr Bates, who delighted in showing his stereoscopic cards of European scenes. Working up the street towards the centre of town were the Condons, strict Roman Catholics, Mrs Smith and the Cooper family, the Faggs –Mr Fagg had the only car in Irvine Street, Mrs Kennedy of fierce reputation and her Scotty dog, the Williamsons, the Revilles and Constable Brown and his family. Up in the next block were the Prestons (we only found out years later that old Mrs Preston and my mother shared the same great- grandmother, Elizabeth Palmer of Brightwater, Nelson). Opposite them were the Dowells, returning on our side, Danny Pearce and his wife, the Smiths (Isabel was a Sunday School teacher at the Methodist Church), the Baptist manse and paddock where Old Man Green, a ribbon and scissors traveller parked his horse and wagon, the Harveys who were friends of my parents from Outram railway days, Mrs Woods, and next door in the old bungalow a succession of renters until it was demolished and replaced by a modern 1960s brick house built by Mr McLeod.
The street was gravel in my youth, with grass verges and a continuous ditch which was a problem to mow. It was a great street for a growing lad who was mad keen on rugby. You could boot a ball up and down till dark with assurance that no car was likely to come along. The only hindrance was Mum calling out when tea was on the table. In winter the rough paths froze over providing slippery ice patches to skate on to school. The Maungatuas snowed over and the icy southerly could cut through you. There were no carpets on the floor until about 1952 when I was 10 years old. Sometimes my shirt froze solid in the bedroom!
Life was simple. Get dressed ready for school, wash, have breakfast. Brush teeth with pink goo in a tin shared by all, sit down with Mum and go through the Schonell spelling list for the day. Make sure shoes were clean, pack the satchel, pick up sports gear and walk or run to school. Only when I was 11 was I allowed to ride a bike to school. The bike was inspected for road worthiness by school traffic officers assigned to check lights, brakes, steering, the bell(!), tight chain etc. You got a sticker on the mudguard if the bike passed the test.
Life in the late 40s and early 50s was tightly regulated. Everyone in the town seemed to know each other. On Friday night the whole town it seemed gathered in the main street, Gordon Road, mostly to talk, or yarn, as my Dad said. Crime rates were very low; the only trouble came when men poured out of the two hotels at 6pm.
Church around two corners was twice on Sunday – a procession of ministers tending to the post-war flock – Mr Carter, Mr Henderson, Rev Mr Tardif who came from the Jersey Isles and had been interned by the Germans, Mr Stan Gouge and his wife Marie. Our lives growing up were busy with events, and became busier as the world opened up into secondary school at The Taieri High School in its foundation year of 1956.
A view of life from the street to the town and the world quickly became more complex. It was the Cold War period and soon the Cuban Crisis was upon us. School cadets seemed adopt a more serious function. As I got older with my mates on the street, new knowledge and new friendships arrived, some from overseas, like Pak Leng Young from Canton and Nel van’t Wout from Holland. Each built on the foundation that had been given in the street of my youth.
It is hard to assess exactly how the Irvine Street environment impacted on me. Suffice it to say just that I know it did and that I was lucky to have the experiences which formed a base for many of my attitudes today.
George Davis