A Young Man of Means - 1944
The bane of all boys and girls in their early days was money, or to be more precise, lack of it. I most certainly was no different to everyone else. The two main sources of money was mom, and underneath the Upwey Railway Station. Whoever designed the station and put in open slat floorboards was a genius I found quite a bit of money under the station in the dust. But the most consistent source was mom. It took time, but if I kept up grizzling and moaning, and keeping out of reach was important, eventually she would snap.
'For gods sake, here's sixpence, get out of here.'
One day my brothers came home and were telling mom they each had a morning paper round. Reg was being payed five shillings, and Tony four and six. The amount payed depended on how many papers delivered, and distance covered. I found this all very interesting and determined to check it out. So Monday morning, early, I left with my brothers to go to the newsagency. Both told me I had no hope of getting a job, I was too young and too small. But I could ask Mr. Howden, that wouldn't hurt.
The front of the newsagency was bustling at that time of the morning. Under the veranda of the shop were layed rows of Hessian bags, each with a strap attached to make it into a shoulder bag. Each bag had a name printed on it, and three piles of papers beside each. Sun, Age, Argus. Mr. Howden ran around telling each boy to count his papers before they were put into the bags. It was chaotic, but soon the boys drifted off with their papers, most walking, but a few lucky boys had pushbikes. I was left with Mr. Howden; I sidled over and asked if I could have a job. Mr. Howden was surprised by this, and raised his eye-brows.
'You young Oliver, how old are you?'
'Seven sir, nearly.' I said.
Mr. Howden smiled at this and said.
'I'm sorry Robert, but it is against the law to employ boys under ten years old. But come back when you are ten.'
I walked away very disappointed, ten, ten. I will be really old by the time I'm ten. Well I might turn up tomorrow just to see if he has changed his mind. So Tuesday I fronted and hung around, smiling at Mr. Howden, who completely ignored me. Wednesday was the same. Thursday and Friday too. I was just dawdling away on Friday morning when Mr. Howden said in a loud gruff voice.
'Robert I want to see you in my office.'
I reckoned I was in for a good clip in the ear and a lecture. Mr. Howden sat at his desk, then said.
'I have been looking at a some of the rounds and two of them are too long. I have cut a bit off each and made up a small round, would you like it?'
Then he followed up with.
'It's a small round and will only pay one and six a week.'
My head was in a whirl and I couldn't think for a minute.
'Yes please, Mr. Howden.' I said.
I could have leapt the desk and kissed him. He could see how pleased I was and laughed, then said.
'Monday morning at six- thirty AM I will take you in my car for the first two days to show you the round. Do not tell anyone but your mother, or I will be in trouble, and you won't have a job.'
'Yes sir.' I said.
I walked home on a cloud. One and six, that was a fortune. I woke mom to tell her. I couldn't wait, and even she looked reasonably pleased for that time of the morning. I arrived early on Monday morning and looked through all the bags layed out on the floor, checking the names. Then at the end of one row there it was, a bag with Robert printed on it. It was a big thrill for me to have my own bag, and my name on it. Wow, I was so proud to be trusted with my own round. Mr. Howden bustled over and said.
'The list on your bag is how many papers you should have. Count them Robert.'
Well that was the start of a very affluent time in my life. In the mornings, I would watch the boys on their bikes ride in, get their papers and race out. That was the way to go, I thought. But even my brothers couldn't afford a pushbike and they were on big money. So I had to look for something else a bit cheaper.
I was mulling this over one day when a boy rode past me on a scooter. The scooter was beautiful, with pump up tyres. I knew I could not afford one like that but there must be an older scooter lying around somewhere. I went home and hung around the kitchen. If anyone would know, it would be my mom. So I asked.
'How much would an old scooter be?'
My mom looked at me.
'How the hell would I know?' She said. Then she thought for a moment.
'Why don't you go and ask Mr. Smith at the second hand shop.'
That's it, I thought. So up the street again to the second hand shop. About ten feet inside the shop, there it was, a scooter. The paint was faded, and the hard rubber tyres had a fair bit of wear but it was beautiful. That was my scooter. I asked Mr. Smith the price.
I ran home and asked mom if I could get it.
'How much have you got.' She said.
'Two shillings.' I said.
'Well you must not put all your money away. Keep sixpence out to spend and save one shilling a week, that will take you eight weeks to save it, won't it?'
Eight weeks was a lifetime, so I asked mom for the money, and I would pay her back.
'No I have not got that sort of money but go and ask Mr. Smith, maybe he will put it away for you.'
Up the street again.
'No, if anybody comes in with the money it's gone.'
Well if I couldn't buy it now I would have to keep an eye on it. So every afternoon after school I went home via the shops. I would walk past the second-hand shop, nonchalantly and sort of just glance in. That worked for about two weeks. One day I walked past and glanced in. It was gone. In a mad panic, I burst into the shop and there it was behind some furniture. I was very relieved and was calming myself down when I heard the noise. I looked around. Mr. Smith was killing himself with laughter, at my expense. Red-faced with embarrassment, I walked out. I decided then that I did not like Mr. Smith. He wouldn't trick me again. So I conned one of my classmates who walked past the shop every day to glance in, while I waited out of sight.
Every night I counted my
money. Then one day I had the ten shillings. Eight weeks are an eternity. That
afternoon as soon as school was out, I ran home, got my money, stowed in a paper
bag, made up of pennies, threepences and sixpences. Then very excited I ran up
the street, with the bag tightly clutched in one hand.
'I have the ten shillings, Mr. Smith.' I said, putting the bag on the counter.
'Changed me mind, itís ten and six now.' Mr. Smith leered at me over the counter.
I took my money and ran home, nearly crying. I found mom in the kitchen. She looked at me and stopped what she was doing.
'What on earth is wrong with you?' she said.
Well I spluttered out what had happened. I guess I had tears in my eyes, but I wasn't crying.
'Are you sure Mr. Smith said it was ten shillings?'
'Yes of course.' I said.
'Give me your money.' Mom said.
She tipped it out on the table and counted it exactly ten shillings. With the paper bag of money in one hand and dragging me along with the other she stormed up the street.
'Here, count this money.' Mom said, glaring at Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, who was leaning his chair against the wall, took one look at moms face and jumped up. He counted the money.
'Ten shillings.' he said.
'Right, I'm taking that scooter over there.' she said.
'Right.' Was all Mr. Smith said.
Riding my scooter home, I looked back at mom. She had a big smile on her face. Mrs. Manton was a big lady probably three times the size of my mom. But pound for pound, I reckon my mom was the best. My scooter was just great. I hooked the bag strap on the handles so I had no heavy bag to lug around. All boys and girls in those days had rain capes. They were like a big waterproof dress that hung to the ankles, with two slots in front to put your hands out. I had one too and if I put it over me and the handles of the scooter, it would keep both me and the papers dry.
My hat was called a sou-wester. It looked similar to the fisherman's hats in the movies. I did not like it. I had to find something else to go with my paper round gear. My brother Tony came home with the solution to my problem. A motorcycle helmet. Tony had swapped one of his treasures for it. Swapping was a very popular pastime because times were tough. Everyone indulged in swapping. I had swapped three of my best lead soldiers recently for a cricket bat with a quarter of the blade broken off. Tony was very interested in the bat, mainly because very few fair dinkum bats were around; most were just pieces of wood whittled down to shape. Broken or not, it was a beauty. Tony could see I was interested in the helmet and went to great lengths to show me its attributes. Adjustable webbing inside so it would fit any head, bakelite dome, with leather flaps on the sides and back to keep the weather out and chin strap. It was lovely, exactly what I had pictured in my mind. So negotiations started.
'The bat wasn't worth much because it was broken.' Tony said.
'But it was the only fair dinkum bat in the street.' I countered.
Well we couldn't come to an agreement. Tony wanted the bat plus seven and six, for the helmet. That was far too much, so it was up to mom to decide. She looked at our treasures. Tony got the bat and two shillings. That was more like it. And I got the helmet. Tony moaned a bit but I could see he was pleased. I would put the helmet my bed and just admire it from different angles. The only thing that I was uneasy about now was how the other boys might rib me when they saw this big helmet riding a scooter with little me underneath. It was big. Much to my relief no one took any notice. Though Mr. Howden had a little smile and a slight shake of his head. I checked all the other boys, and none, not even the bike riders had gear as good as mine. One extra bonus with the helmet was the sound of the rain on the roof, it was magic. A great scooter, rain cape and wonderful helmet, all that plus one and six a week. No one could dispute that I was indeed a young man of means.