A YEAR THAT WAS: Building a house, a home and a family

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A YEAR THAT WAS: Building a house, a home and a family

It is only now as I remember and write that I've realised the events here occurred half a century ago. It was a busy and strange year 1973, but it was also about endings and beginnings.

I was in my final year at North Shore Teachers College but only there for a few hours a day because I was knocking off another English paper at university.

Paula and I with Julian, born in May the previous year, were living most of the time rent-free at Stanmore Bay in my parents' bach. It was modest with a tiny sink in the small kitchen and an outside long-drop toilet.

We had Paula's Suzuki 50cc motorcycle which I would ride down to college and uni, but most days Paula would be left in that remote place. Winter was miserable: grey sky, grey sea and rain. 

It was so remote I only recall one visit from friends during the year or so we lived there. Today there's a motorway and wide roads which run almost to the door.

We originally had an Austin A30 which was pretty hopeless going up the Albany Hill: the bike was worse, on wet nights it would splutter to a halt and I'd have to push it all the way up. I remember a lot of wet and cold nights coming home in the winter dark after a uni lecture.

IMG00027And so, somehow, we bought a Leyland 20 van which was large enough to hold a high-sided cot and a double bed mattress in the back. It also had a small bookcase.

We loved the great hulking thing because it meant we could get around, visit friends and lift the cot in and out if Julian was asleep in it.

But that year we were also having a house built in Birkdale.

My parents had bought a piece of land for us ($2900) which was sloping and no one thought could be built on. But once a platform was dug out of the clay a home could sit there. Eventually.

The building company (W.G. Archer, if I recall) showed us plans for tidy three-bedroom house we could afford and we signed up: a 20 year mortgage with State Advances and we could pay it off with the trickle on money from my student salary.

Yes, they paid us to go to teacher's college, much to my surprise.

But the house was a tale in the telling. On fine days I'd shoot over on the motorbike from college or drop in after uni to check on progress. Day after day I came back disappointed. Nothing was happening.

Slowly but very very slowly walls went up.

When it was finally finished at the end of 1973 (it cost $12,670) they had worked on the site only 23 days in 13 months.

We were ropable but there seemed nothing you could do. It was all made worse by the neighbours' kids sometimes playing on the structure and doing damage, and pinching tools.

One day when the place was actually looking complete Paula and I happened to go there and the sliding door was open. No builders in sight.

Fuck it. We moved in.

The headman from the company was furious and said we were taking the place illegally and there was a further payment to be made.

DSC03434True. But I can read a contract and it allowed occupancy on completion and payment of the agreed amount.

We'd paid that agreed amount so occupied and told our bloody hopeless lawyer that we would deal with the small outstanding amount once we had seen an itemised account.

Our lawyer was a wimp and pleaded with us to move out again (what?). He was not averse to charging for every piece of photocopy paper, I've tried to avoid lawyers ever since.

But we were in and things changed for the better, for a while.

One day I was talking with a friend of mine who'd just started in the law game and he'd attended some conference up north. He said it seemed we were having some trouble with our builders. I asked how he knew, our lawyer had been blabbing about it.

When we got the final account from the builders we paid and the headman came around, gave us the obligatory bottle of champagne and through gritted teeth wished us luck.

When the lawyer sent his final bill I said we wouldn't pay. When he asked why not I told him he'd betrayed confidentiality and I'd be happy to talk with one of the senior partners about this.

His bill went away.

It had been quite a year of disappointments but a few highs. I'd been given a hardship scholarship to attend uni and the nice people came back later and asked if I needed more assistance. It wasn't much but every dollar really counted.

The year ended on a strange note.

I'd qualified as a teacher and they asked all third year students to identify what areas of the country they'd be prepared to teach in.

Having just moved into a home with a young baby, I put down Auckland as my first choice and then -- because you had to give other options – half-heartedly added Wellington and somewhere else that had a large number of people.

I was allocated a school in Wellington.

I went to the principal of the college – they hadn't much liked me and I think were glad to see me spending more time at uni – and said not only would we not be going to Wellington after having just moved into a home but I would be talking with our local MP Norman King (I might have suggested I knew hm) and also to the New Zealand Herald.

Oddly enough a swap was made possible and – if what I was told is true -- the guy who got shunted off to Wellington was the fellow I'd run against in the election for student president.

I'd promised change – like allowing first year students to go flatting, which wasn't the case at the time – and he'd promised more of the same.

I was the guy who'd invited the Polynesian Panthers to speak and started up an alternative college paper, he was the guy in the Christian group.

He won.

But we won the allocation for a teaching position and got to stay in our new home. The school I was given, Birkdale Intermediate, was a five minute walk away.

Oh, I passed my uni paper (might have been two actually) but my arrival at Birkdale Intermediate was . . . well, that's an odd story for another day.


These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

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