Another mansion

House, 24 Domain Drive, Parnell by John Fields
Our new home

A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

 With a job under my belt, working on a liberal family- owned afternoon newspaper, The Auckland Star, I now had to find somewhere to live. I stumbled into the perfect place, in a good suburb only a few minutes drive from my office, with a good school in walking distance, and a small community of interesting neighbours.

Once again, John was behind my find. A friend of his contacted a friend of hers, and within a week I was ensconced in a beautiful second floor apartment in a huge old house on the edge of the Domain, a splendid botanical park which was a buffer between the business heart of the city and our little suburb.

The Victorian house had been built by a rich wine merchant on the lines of the American Belle Epoque mansions, only doubling its size. Architectural experts loftily said the house had no value except for the beautiful fanlight above the front door. But the ballroom on the ground floor which housed an exquisite carved marble fireplace, and sash windows with the bottom pane high enough for a Victorian crinolined lady to step out onto the wide pillared veranda was intriguing in itself; while the wide curving staircase and banister ascending to my apartment was a small boy’s dream to slide down.

My new home sported a sitting room, twenty- two feet long and eighteen feet wide, with floor length windows in the big bay at the end of the room, overlooking lawns and then the huge plane trees which edged the Domain.

It wasn’t too promising when I first saw it, a hodge-podge of elements cobbled together to make it a flat. But the landlord who lived downstairs decided to improve it for me. I chose plain blue tiles for the kitchen, bathroom and loo floors – to his amazement – wouldn’t I want different patterns in every room? The hideous – patterned coloured wallpapers in each room he promised to re-paper over time, room by room, and was astonished when I said I just wanted them painted over in white, and everything – paintwork, carved wooden fireplaces – all covered in white.

The only thing left was the dreadful green patterned carpet with sprays of red, brown and blue flowers. But I got his permission to dye it. Every night for six months I came home with small tins of blue dye from the chemist. When the children were in bed, I changed into my bikini, so as not to spoil my clothes and scrubbed boiling dye into the carpet with a stiff nail brush.

Even with rubber gloves, I could only manage three square feet of the scalding hot dye a night, and the blue splashes easily washed off my arms and legs and torso when I’d finished. I sewed blue curtains by hand, finding beautiful fabrics in sales, and made blue velvet cushions for the second- hand arm chairs discovered in junk shops. I found a big chesterfield sofa with brown Sanderson flowered linen loose covers and dyed them blue in the washing machine. By the time I’d finished I had a beautiful blue and white room adorned with the treasures I’d brought from Hong Kong- a pair of Bokhara rugs, lamps, blue and white china, pictures, and books.

The house was set back from the road in a big garden and surrounded by trees. The first day we moved in, I looked out and saw the two children lying on their stomachs on the soaking wet grass. I flung open the window and called – “what are you doing?” “Looking at the grass, “ they called back, after four years of living in a concrete jungle. We bought precious nasturtium seeds and planted them, and then, astounded, ripped them out again when the gardener confronted us to ask why we were planting ‘weeds’ in ’his’ garden. They spread everywhere, he grumbled. Now I grow them everywhere!

Our first weekend in our new home, when we still just had new beds, and a tiny eighteen- inch square side table that had been left in the flat by a previous occupant, we knelt around it having our porridge for breakfast, and then put on coats and jackets and walked around the corner to the beautiful Anglican cathedral, the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere.

I didn’t realise then, but we were a striking threesome – a tall  woman in black, holding the hands of two children immaculately dressed in red quilted coats and red trousers. I had bought three polo necked ribbed jumpers each for them in black, white and red, so they could get dressed quickly and always look neat. I had my own formula for speedy mindless dressing too, – black trousers and jackets and red, black and white jumpers.

When we arrived, the dean of the cathedral came across to greet us, and showed us to a pew, and after matins ushered us into the adjoining parish hall for morning tea, where he introduced us to his other parishioners. One of them was a kind practical woman with children the same age as mine, who offered to have the children for three weeks on their way home after school, until they got used to walking home alone.

So began a friendship which progressed through her husband’s elevation to bishop, archbishop and then Governor General, during which time we enjoyed meals in their vicarage, then bishop’s house, archbishop’s residence, and finally governor general’s stately home. The Dean also became a good and helpful friend, calling regularly to chat in my blue and white room, enjoying a glass of sherry. I had other regular callers too, including my landlord, who came so often for a tot of sherry that I used to joke to others that what I didn’t pay in rent I paid in sherry.

The children settled into their new school, and I trained them to come back to the unlocked home, eat a snack and a drink waiting for them, and then have a nap. As they got older and I acquired a television, they watched until I got home, until my daughter, always gregarious, began to explore our neighbourhood.

She was going on seven now, and before long, she was the trusted friend and helper to our landlady downstairs who had an ulcerous leg, making tea for her, chatting and keeping her company. She watched TV with Peggy the childless taxi-driver’s wife across the road, and frequently kept Mrs Andre – the doctor’s wife round the corner – company while she had her early pre-dinner sherry and gave my daughter lemonade.

She played patience with crusty, chain-smoking Lady Barker, a recluse of seventy- plus, who lived behind locked and barred doors. I never discovered how she and my daughter got to know each other. She helped Mr Buchanan, our grocer who delivered every Friday, to unpack his butter and bread, and fetch and carry stuff in his shop. Melanie, the drug-addict’s wife on the corner with three small boys, relied on her for company, help in amusing her boys, and even helping to paint her kitchen.

While I found myself battling social welfare for Melanie’s payments to arrive on time for her, and creating mayhem with surgeons on her behalf when the hospital kept cancelling her appointment for an operation, my daughter was her daily prop and stay. I tried to avoid this sad depressing woman, who used to call on me to come and sort out the dramas when her violent husband turned up to make trouble, but my daughter was able to lift her spirits most days.

I also came home from work a few times, to find this enterprising child had co-opted her brother into picking the garden flowers, setting up a stall on the pavement and selling the flowers to passers-by. And she would ring me at the office to tell me she’d been reading the newspaper, and found an ad which said if I got to a certain shop in Karangahape Road by such and such a time, I could buy toilet rolls with ten cents off. They were funny, happy days…

When Princess Alexandra came to Auckland, and was dining at the Auckland Memorial Museum, a few hundred yards from our home, my daughter insisted on my taking her to watch the Princess arrive. In the darkness of the winter night, she scoured the garden for some dahlias, wrapped them in a creased brown paper bag from the kitchen drawer, and when the Princess in shimmering evening dress arrived at the Museum, stepped up to her and smilingly presented the little bouquet. I still have the press photos of the moment and was told that Alexandra had carried the unlikely bouquet all night.

Her brother, meanwhile, was engaged in small boy activities which included helping the taxi-driver to wash his treasured limousine, exploring with his mates what was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail back then- a wild path down by the railway- and to my horror when I discovered, scrambling across a huge drainage pipe which stretched for over a mile across a deep muddy tidal creek down by the harbour. He also haunted demolition sites on his way home from school, filling his trouser legs and arms with pieces of wood when he could carry no more.

It took him hours to make his way home thus burdened and stiff-legged, unable to bend his knees for the splints of wood in his trousers, and as I said to a friend, if I’d asked him to carry these huge unwieldy loads, he wouldn’t have done it. They were of course destined for a ‘hut’ hidden in the garden.

When our landlady banned him from sliding down the banister on the grounds that he’d fall and break his leg, he would slowly walk down the stairs instead, mimicking the sound of his sliding, and poor Pat would rush out to catch him, and be met by a gap-toothed small boy smiling blandly at her. These times were some of my favourite memories … gentle and happy …

And I was carving out a career on The Auckland Star. I knew nothing about journalism when I had bluffed my way into a job, having only learned to write stories after a fashion. But the nuts and bolts of the profession, the art of finding facts, knowing who to go to and how to find information, were a closed book to me. So I felt I was walking a tight-rope of ignorance for the first few months until I found my feet. And as time went by, things changed.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 We had half a bought cooked chicken left over after an emergency meal, and the weather was far too wintery for cold chicken salad to be appealing.So I made a thickish white sauce, using chicken stock, chopped the chicken into it, and lightly flavoured it with cheese.While this was cooking, pasta of the sort used for macaroni cheese was cooking. Tipping the drained pasta into a casserole, I added the chicken mixture, and stirred in enough grated cheese to lightly flavour the already flavoured sauce. Covering the top with grated parmesan, it went under the grill for a crisp brown topping, and turned out to be a delicious lunch, with a salad.

Food for thought

“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who are alive and those who are afraid.”     Rachel Naomi Remen,  inspirational writer and therapist







Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, family, gardens, happiness, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

38 responses to “Another mansion

  1. I am in awe of your dedication to changing the colour of the carpet. And I had no idea that was how it was done! Do you know if the house is still there?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a delight to read about your resourcefulness,both you and the children. The blue and white room sounds beautiful. I find myself cheering you on as I read. You are a woman who deserves the best of mansions,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Juliet, what a lovely comment … I think we all deserve a mansion if we love beauty and our surroundings… I’ve been savouring your blog, and the exquisite photography… especially the glorious persimmons… my favourite winter fruit… I always have three or four arranged on a deep green antique plate, or a blue and white one…and I can never decide which way I love them best – with their beautiful little green stalklets showing, or their glowing roundness… and I loved your basket of pine cones… you have a wonderful eye… but of course – you are a painter !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I thought too! 🙂 It’s wonderful read, Valerie. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dearest Valerie,

    Needless to say, I enjoyed this uplifting installment this week. 😀 You children sound delightful. I could just imagine your daughter boldly walking up to the princess with a bouquet. She must’ve been quite the little charmer. Your children’s escapades remind of mine when they were little.
    I think my middle son was 8 or 9 when he and a friend drew some pictures and took them door to door to sell them to our neighbors. As I recall he made a few pennies doing that.
    As always, I admire your resourcefulness as a young mother. I laughed aloud at the vision of young bikini-clad Valerie dying her rug blue, bit by bit.
    Wonderful as always and, as always, love to you and himself.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Rochelle,
      Loved the idea of your son hawking his pictures – they must have been very good to have earned him some money !
      So glad you enjoyed the story, and the carpet dying – I’ve painted a few floors in my time too !
      I discovered that for some arcane computer reason, your blogs have been going into my Spam, which I never check, but will get back to you !!!
      Himself says hi, and expect a letter shortly….(He’s dong great things, and never stops)


      • Hi Valerie,

        I think my son’s art sales were based more on his cherubic face and charm. He had such a baby face, and with his diminutive height, looked younger than he was.
        I’m a bear about checking my spam folder on a daily basis because I’ve found quite a few valid communications there. 😉 Not to mention the spammers are prolific.
        Tell himself, I look forward to his letter and pictures of the fruits of his labors.




  4. What a lovely change from all the drama and misery of earlier years! I am again amazed at your penchant for finding imposing dwellings.
    Your redecoration is totally in line with what we did to our houses, to the horror and bewilderment of a generation that believed garish colour was the way to go. Staining an entire carpet — well, THAT called for dedication!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah Leslie, I was thinking of you and your previous comment when I called this blog another mansion !!!
      As for the carpet… since our tastes are obviously similar, I think you’d have been driven to take desperate action too, when faced with the green and the red, brown and blue sprays of flowers !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely love these Victorian homes and even with lots of work I’m sure you made yours really special. The quote is darn good too. So true that fear is the worst enemy of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Evelyne…the big rooms , high ceiling and generous windows of Victorian houses make them such lovely environments don’t they…
      Glad you like the quote… I said YES to it when I found it !!!


  6. I understand that Stephen Hawking’s last paper was entitled: “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation?” It tackles the idea of a different dimensions, or as it is called in science lingo, “multiverse.” The idea is that there is a vast collection of universes that exist simultaneously, though they are spread out almost unimaginably far from each other. As I read your thoughts, there is a sense of roads taken and not taken. When we go on one pathway, we cannot taken another based on the laws of physics in our existence. But then, there comes a thought – maybe in another universe, another dimension, we have taken the other. It is such a delicious thought to consider. We live finite lives, but our memories have the possibility of moving forward from generation to generation, in the stories we tell to each other. I am so glad that you are sharing your life. In so doing you validate mine and all the readers of your blog.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I loved your comment here, Clanmother! How very thoughtful and wise you are! You are so right…Valerie is validating all our lives.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Amazing thoughts, Rebecca… is this the same theory as black holes that take us into parallel universes, I wonder… yes, I love the idea of living parallel lives with another possibilities and choices…
      I am so grateful that you are inhabiting my particular universe at the moment, and am also so grateful for your warm encouragement always…
      Thank you for your words, and for assuring me that writing my story is not self-indulgent, even though for me, it has been such a fascinating exercise and exploration of the past…

      Liked by 2 people

    • What a lovely comment, dear Rebecca. So good to talk to you again. 🙂
      Have you read 4321 by Paul Auster? A fascinating read about four different roads taken. The spur of a second, one decision small or great has an immense effect on your life and take you in another direction. Sending you hugs! Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have placed a hold on Paul Auster’s 4321 at the Vancouver Public Library. I love the title and look forward to the read ahead. Thank you, my dear friend. You also give me something wonderful to think about. Hugs!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What an amazing joy time you had at this juncture in your life. One you needed most desperately —-I viewed the dying of the carpet as a metaphor for the changing of your life…rather messy but so necessary to gain something much better and more wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I shared an apartment once with a young woman who got mixed up with some bad characters. I had to make a hasty departure so as not to get dragged into that terrible world. I remember the incredibly good feeling of redecorating an upstairs house/apartment with practically no money. It is one of life’s gratifying achievements to really contribute to your own environment. I continue to marvel at your resourcefulness and creativity, Valerie. I hope you are feeling better. x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Ardys… getting treatment , which is the main thing !!!

    Yes, isn’t it satisfying to transform one’s own environment and create one’s own energy in it… I don’t think I could share a flat anymore, it feels so necessary to create my own vibrations in my own space !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello again Violet 🙂
    I really have no idea how I unfollowed your blog for so long. I have no idea what happened. What did I miss ? Your awesome life story of course and what a story, what a life of variety as yours, which still is, Voluptua. You have bought back many memories for me such as Catterick, Hong Kong and Officer Training. A week spent in puddles and up to my neck in ice cold water. The powers to be decided that I was too young and innocent to become a Rodney, 17 1/2, and was returned to the Royal Signals.
    I am absolutely amazed at well written your posts are. I really was sucked into your life and adventures and enjoyed every word my friend.
    Love and hugs. Ralph xx


    • Hello Ralph – long time no see… you dropped off my radar when my computer packed up and I lost everything…some time ago..
      I also stopped blogging for a while while I recovered from months in hospital with a shattered leg, now pieced together with lots of bits of tin or aluminium foil or something……
      I trust you are well and the kitty’s too… still soaking up sunshine in Spain?
      Thank you for all the kind words you give me…very much appreciated.. Warm greetings from one old soldier to another…V

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello again dear Valerie 🙂
        I know how you feel when you lost your computer files. I hope you have an all singing and dancing laptop now. I love mine.
        Oh no ! I am so sorry that you had to go through all that time in hospital. I hope you are able to walk again and it sounds like your leg is well protected from alien abduction with all that tin foil.
        Soaking up sunshine in Spain ? Nope ! We have been out of touch for a really long time, haven’t we ? So much as happened to me over the last 10 months. I left Spain with my two cats and all my possessions, moved to Graz in Austria, got married to a lovely Austrian half my age, Natascha, and we have settled in an apartment in a quiet part of the city. You can pick yourself off the floor now, mind your leg !
        The posts about your life should be put on file in a museum somewhere, as it is a great record of the life of a wonderful and interesting woman.
        So from myself, Natascha and our three cats, a big hug. Love Ralph xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Delighted to think that you are having another adventure and that life is so good … the same has happened this end… I left the sea-side and now live in a forest with a lovely man also much younger than me…new life, new friends, new bliss..what more can one say ….


  11. You’ve lived in some fascinating houses Valerie, and been so enterprising with them – I never would have thought you could have dyed carpet – I can just see you there in your bikini! And it sounds like your children turned out to be as adaptable and enterprising as you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Andrea… yes, I love houses and all their different possibilities … thank you – I like the word enterprising !!!
      The children… well, my daughter once said when she was ten, ‘you know, Mummy, other mothers think their ugly ducklings will turn into swans when they grow up, but you think we’re swans already !!!’
      I was nuts about them !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Anonymous

    I think we have all lived several lives, as you illustrate, Valerie. I think of my own life and of at least 5 lives I have led during my time on earth.

    Who knows how many more lives are in store for each of us?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating comment, thank you, friend….
    Since nothing ever seems to have an end in this amazing universe, I’m sure we will have an un-ending series of existences in some form or another… as well as parallel lives, and as you suggest – re-incarnating again and again, in the many many times we have lived previous lives here on earth….and maybe re-incarnating in this life-time too, without leaving for other planes…
    Warm best wishes,Valerie


  14. Jane Sturgeon

    Ohh Valerie, I was right there with you and I love how your children (and you) had the freedom to just be yourselves. Many a profession is tied up in mystique and technical speak and a simple and creative mind can cut through all the jargon and thrive within it. I love, just love, your creativity and how you made too…way before it become fashionable. You were living authentically and I have no doubt the new friendships you created, felt your wholeheartedness. Huge hugs for you my lovely, with much ❤ xXxx


  15. Jane, your comments always make me feel so good… thank you for all your support and appreciation. I love the way you pick up the nuances in my stories – wonderful to have sch a perceptive friend as well as reader !
    Thank you, thank you, and love to you XXX

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Sturgeon

      WP has not been sending your replies through, which is very rude of them. I will have a word!! I have just finished reading Kitchen Table Wisdom and it’s like putting a friend down. I think I will keep it by my bedside. So much love flowing to you xX ❤


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