We are now going back to a period when our children numbered just two. It was a long time ago. We were living in our second house on Sydney’s Balmain harbour peninsula after having lived in a 1 bedroom apartment in a somewhat bohemian area called Pott’s Point which is next or part of Kings Cross, Sydney. It was an area of artists, crooks, prostitutes with sandaled souteneurs, and priests. There were also many delicatessen where one could buy real coffee , prosciutto, cheeses not named ‘tasty’ and books. If I remember correctly there was also special dispensation given to some Euro-continental shops allowing to stay open after 6pm. It was still frowned upon as decadent by some who tried desperate to uphold decent ‘peace and quiet’ Anglo closed up traditions. This all during the sixties when our marriage was so young, sprightly and sprouting first babies.
The one bedroom apartment was soon crowded out with birth of our second daughter. We bought a very old and rickety weather board cottage that just had one large sitting-kitchen-dining-bathroom downstairs and two small bedrooms upstairs. The downstairs would originally have had rooms but the previous architect owner had taken all walls out leaving just one spacious room that looked out over a glorious and vibrant harbour. In those day it was always sunny.
That the bathroom was part of our sitting area could not have worried architect nor did it us. In the middle of this room was a round wood burning cast- iron heater with the name ‘Broadway’ on it. It was lined with stone on the inside and as chimney had a large galvanised pipe going through the ceiling and upstairs bedrooms ending finally through both levels on top of the roof. It was capped by a china- man’s hat to keep out rain. It heated the whole house during winter with cut up old wooden rail sleepers.The cottage had a waxed wooden floor downstairs and upstairs I painted the floors white. This was a typical workman’s cottage that might have housed some years back, a family with three or four children with a husband who could well have been employed in the stevedoring industry. He might have smelled of tar, salt and rope each time he arrived home with his wife making tea and his children playing outside.
The harbour in front of this cottage was less than 100 metres away and always busy with towing of large boats of which the house would vibrate each time the propellers reversed. We made own furniture and made do with little. Milk came in glass bottles and bread by baker doing the rounds announced by barking dogs. Even roosters were still around. We could afford the luxury of a nappy service and had a second hand washing machine of which the only drawback was that the pump had packed it up. No worries, we sucked on the hose to get the gravity of flow going and let it run into our court yard. That is how it was. Not anymore now.
And at Christmas we had parties and fondues with friends and family sitting on planks suspended between paint drums while listening to the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper or Peter, Paul & Mary thumping out from home made giant speaker boxes with 12 inch woofers, tweeters and cross-overs. Did we not also drink cheap headache wine squeezed out of bladders but yet into nice fluted glasses?. We would meet and compare the tie dyes. Wives sometimes dressed in pantsuits, men with hair the longer the better, jeans dangerously flared. The enormous shoulder pads were yet to come, waiting in the wings. They were the best years but aren’t all years of past the best?
During that time when things had settled and some money coming in Helvi decided to visit her family in Finland taking our two young children with her. Our youngest daughter would be carried in a papoose while her sister was old enough to walk at airports during change- overs while helpful in carrying her own little bag. It was quite a trip from Sydney with another plane to catch in Finland to the closest airport where her family lived. Finland is a huge country, greater than the UK.
It was going to be a six weeks holiday and I would be on my own. I could hardly wait for their return but had to do with receiving letters for the time being and the rare phone call. It was a lonely time and I missed my family.
It is then I made a choice that till this day I am still haunted, remembered and reminded of. I bought a wine-red knitted Safari suit. It had flared pants and a double breasted jacket held together with brass gold buttons and a belt of same material above my hips but below armpits with large gold coloured ostentatious looking buckle. The pants were held up with its own wine red belt made of same knitted material.I also bought something resembling shoes that were from Egypt and made of rope that was coiled around the toe and heel part above the sole with in between the rope arrangement a cream leather-like material and a buckle on top. I completed the whole outfit with a modest gold chain worn unobtrusively but magnificently opulent, around my neck. My idea was to look a new man or at least a reborn man. A proud prince of unsurpassed passion and vibrant vitality. I wanted to impress my Helvi. I looked of course a one hit pop star failure, but at the time wasn’t aware of this, blinded as usual by foolish folly.
I went to the airport on the day of my family’s return to Sydney. All good things come to an end. As my little family passed through customs and into the arrival hall I spotted them first. The look on my wife’s face was of utter disbelief soon followed by a scowling disapproval. ‘What are you wearing now?’ she said. My daughters too looked frightened. Of course we drove home all excited to be together again but Helvi kept on looking at my suit and shaking her head. I never wore the suit again nor ever shopped for clothes without Helvi having an input. I am fashion blind.
The shoes went into the slow combustion Broadway.