Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The 'old days'

When I had just turned 16, school cert sat, studying over, summer break stretching ahead, my friend and I decided to head off down the South Island with her older sister and boyfriend in their ancient Austin A40, back to their even more ancient settler's cottage, complete with coal range and outside long drop, located in Riverton, not far from Invercargill. We had a wonderful summer but it had to end ... with no lift back on offer. So we caught the Southerner from Invercargill to Christchurch intending to the ferry the rest of the way. Unfortunately we arrived in Christchurch late in the day but the ferry didn't sail until early in the morning. No problem we thought. We will just bunk down in the Christchurch railway station waiting room. So there we were. Two young, naive teenage girls; one European and one Polynesian; one with a guitar and one without.

"Oi," came a loud voice, shattering our security. "You can't stay here. I'm locking this place up."

Uh oh. Nowhere to go, not enough cash to pay for anywhere to stay even if we had any idea how to get there. A railway guard, in cap and uniform, a diminutive, nondescript sort, witnessed our confusion and probably a bit of fear I imagine.

"You can come home with me. I'll just ring the wife."

Blessed relief. Not a negative thought or suspicion did occur.

So off we went in his humble little car, to his humble little railway home. Being very middle class I can see that his possessions and demeanour were ... very humble. The house was spartan but as clean as an operating theatre. His mousey, taciturn wife, with child on hip, showed us a bedroom with twin beds, candlewick covers, bedside drawer with lace doily between. I think we more or less collapsed with exhaustion.

In the morning she made us mince on toast to set us right for the next part of our journey. Neither of us had ever had mince on toast for breakfast before. And Mr Railway Guard drove us to Lyttleton before going on to work. I hope we adequately expressed our gratitude to these exceptional people.

It was 1976.

Why the hell did I wake up thinking about this?

I miss the past and I miss my friend (although I can e-mail her in Australia and reminisce.) No. I believe something I was reading about Victorian attitudes to the poor based around deserving and non-deserving cases triggered my memory of such obviously 'poor' people, living in almost Victorian austerity, who would have, if they needed help, been deemed eminently deserving. People who, in turn, would share what little they had.

But what I am left pondering is whether the same thing would happen today? Are there people that would care and trust enough to bring two complete strangers into their home? But more so, should two 16 year-olds get into a car with an unknown man on the promise of a bed for the night?

New Zealand is not the place it was in the sixties and seventies. I read a lot of debate about violence and whether or not it is worsening but it is usually in the context of those debater's experience - the last twenty years. Their memories do not extend to those safer times.

I am not going to finish by expressing a desire to turn back the clock. There is much that we would not want to return to. But I do fervently wish we could go forward to safer times. I see absolutely no sign that would give cause for optimism though.


Redbaiter said...

Ah Mitch, perhaps under all of that pseudo liberal gloss there lurks a true Conservative.

Smash the Progressives, wherever they may be. Its all down to them.

Rick said...

I've had experiences like that everywhere I've been. Aussie, Canada, and the USA. I'd count NZ too except that the people looking after me are people I already know.

World's not buggered yet.

Anonymous said...

Alas, poor Redbaiter still doesn't understand liberalism or he wouldn't have called what you wrote indicative of "true conservatism."

Consider how conservatives have contributed to this fear. These days any man willing to put up two teenaged girls would be called a "predator" and an "offender." He would be terrified to help out lest the massive apparatus that the law and order crowd put into place to deal with "sex crimes" came after him. Why take the risk?

The conservatives have used the fear of unlikely events to push through legislation that is now hurting innocent people. And this is one area where it happens.

Are the Progressives to blame for some things? Yes. Are conservatives blameless? No. That is why the third alternative to these two failed ideas, liberalism, is necessary.