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Our neighbours


In the late 20’s and 30’s poor people like us did not have the same freedom of movement that we have today with hardly any communication with anybody else outside of your own family.  No motor car, no telephone, not even a horse and sulky.  There was of course public transport but that could be very time consuming so unless it was very important you just didn’t bother; so we made do with friendly neighbours visiting each other, even at night.  Partying at each other’s house was a popular event, playing cards especially was all the go.  Sometimes they would play poker; when they ran out of what little money they had they would then play for matches.  Games like gin rummy and 500 were also played.

I remember one incident I will tell you about but first let me start from the beginning.  Mum had a very good friend only a few doors up the street; a Mrs Terry – ‘Eva’, who she had known for a long time.  They had one thing in common; they were both separated.  Eva had an elderly mother, Mrs Wright and two sons, Reggie and Raymond, who I used to ‘knock about’ with. 

Mum and Eva were keen tennis enthusiasts and sometimes would attend séances about spirits and come home all ashen and scared.  Eva’s mother was a little on the witchy side.  She had this big crystal ball about half a house-brick wide with funny little flat sun faces on it and in the light of the kerosene lamp it would flash all these beautiful colours, like a huge diamond.

I remember seeing her stare into it with this fixed expression on her face as though she was in some sort of trance and inform everybody present what she could visualise in her ‘mind’s eye’.  She seemed to be a little incoherent in her weird statements about the ‘other side’ which terrified everybody there as if she was performing some kind of séance. She would come up with these spooky ghost stories like, if you hear a dog howling at night it was a bad omen and somebody you knew would die the next day, which so terrified me I was too scared to walk home at night without my mum. 

She also specialised in reading tea leaves.  In those days there were no teabags; if you wanted to have a ‘cuppa’ you would put a teaspoon of tea into your cup and when you had finished drinking there would of course be a lot of wet tea leaves clinging to the bottom of your cup which were all different shapes, sizes and patterns.  If you had a very vivid imagination like Mrs Wright you would then ‘read’ to the consumer about what you could see in their future, like if you could see any of the leaves formed a cross, that would mean that somebody you knew was going to die.  If they resembled a horseshoe you were going to win the lottery; and a small circle meant a wedding or an engagement and so on, depending entirely on the imagination of your fortune teller.  In the case of Mrs Wright she was really a fortune teller extraordaire.

I can remember Eva coming to a party at our place at night with mixed company; men and women but not necessarily attached couples.  I will now continue with the incident I was going to tell you about previously.  This particular night mum and Eva were sitting down in our kitchen in deep conversation just before the other guests had arrived and I nonchalantly happened to stroll into the adjoining lounge room which was in darkness.  I was accosted by a strange man who put his hand over my mouth and within seconds I recognised Mr Terry; Eva’s husband.  He whispered to me in a threatening voice that if I told anybody he was there he would kill me.  Deciding straight away that discretion was the better part of valour I said nothing.  He then released me to go about my business while he continued to eavesdrop on their conversation.  After a short time when he had heard all he wanted to hear he went into the kitchen and made his presence known.  They were probably all in their late 40’s or 50’s.


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