Farm Life

By Barbara

As a child I lived on a farm in the Melsetter district. We had a thatched roof and, in the early days, no ceiling. Many of my memories are tied up with that thatch! Lying in bed at night and hearing scuffling, rustling and scratching, wondering apprehensively whether it was mice or bats.....or something worse. Certainly lots of "wildlife" did come into the house at different times. I remember plagues of ants, chongololos, spiders, the odd scorpion or lizard and even a snake or two! But the bats I found terrifying; the girls at school used to tell dreadful tales of what would happen if a bat got in your hair, and I would cover my head with the sheet.

There were other hazards connected with the thatched roof; always the dread of fire. Living in the cool Eastern Highlands, we very often had a roaring fire in the fireplace, and on many occasions I remember going outside to check if the chimney was on fire. Sometimes it was! And on one memorable occasion a burning brick fell from the chimney onto the thatch, and there was a flurry of drama as we pushed Panganai up onto the roof and passed him the wet washing off the line for him to extinguish the fire with!

Of course we had no electricity, so our lighting was Tilley lamps and candles. The lighting of the lamps was a nightly ritual, with my father setting a match to the mantles, delicately seeing they did not disintegrate, and pumping like mad. We took candles to bed with us. One evening a candle was left in my baby brother's bedroom and the curtain caught fire. We were playing cards in the sitting room but luckily Panganai saw the flames and he and Dad got there in time to rescue Gavin.

The cooking was done on a wood stove - a Welcome Dover. There was a big box of dried mealie cobs next to the stove, for fuel - and there was more wild life there! Weavilly things in the mealie cobs. In fact there were goggas of one kind or another in every part of the house! One wonders how we grew up to be so healthy.

Samson used to come every Monday to do the washing. This was done outside at "the furrow", where he had a 44 gallon drum set over fire to heat water, and the washing was done in a large tin bath. I can still see the bath full of sheets in bright blue water - of course those were the days when you blued the whites and starched everything within an inch of its life. Tuesday was ironing day. The irons were heated on the stove, and as each one was readied for use, it was rubbed on a cloth to get rid of soot. As well as the usual flat irons, we had one fancy iron which had a hollow middle for hot coals. This one did not get cold so quickly but..... sometimes the clothes had little burn holes where a piece fell out of the iron!!

Another vivid memory is of the outside PK. This was built quite a long way from the house - or so it seemed to a child! Paper was pages of the Farmers' Weekly cut into squares and hung on a nail, in a bundle with a loop of string through the corner. More goggas there! As I sat over the "long drop" I was always terrified of bees or snakes or whatever attacking me from below...