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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

“The House of Templemore” — Wellington Of 40 Years Ago

page 76

The House of Templemore
Wellington Of 40 Years Ago

In “The House of Templemore” (A. H. and A. W. Reed, Dunedin and Wellington). Mr. Pat Lawlor cleverly puts the clock back forty years to the birth of Terry Mahoney in the home of his father Daniel, a lowly habitation of Upper Cuba Street Wellington. The book gives vivid views of Terry's early childhood and boyhood to the age of sixteen years, when death by drowning is reported after a stowaway voyage to Sydney. Yet the reader feels that a mistake in the identification of the body will be revealed in a later book, and that Terry's big head will bob about in many more adventures. The whole swing of the story is against any intention of the author to have a Little Nell or Paul Dombey ending.

Friends of Mr. Lawlor will readily recognise that the book is largely autobiographical. A long memory, with the delightful help of colourful dramatisation of incidents, serves close-up impressions of an Irish home, in which dire need compels the father to make hard bargains and resort to various arts and crafts to stretch the purchasing power of money. Here is a passage which shows Daniel at grips with a keen pork-butcher, who priced a hambone at 10d.:—

“‘Well, ye old skinflint,’ cried papa, for he was not given to mincing his words, ‘it's eaghtpince or nothing.'”

“‘But, Mr. Mahoney,’ Purdy would cry in nasal protest, ‘look at the meat on it—why, there's a pound of ham on it at least.'”

“‘Well, put it on the scales and see for yeresilf.'”

“The twirling bone would be juggled on the scales and two heads almost bump together in mental calculation over the weights placed on the other side—there were none of your accommodating self-registering dials in those days—at least not in Wellington. Sometimes they would split the difference—even to a half-penny—more often papa would win. Proudly would papa return across the road, hambone in hand, for papa was consistent in his economy. Having struck a bargain with Purdy, why should he put him to the added cost of paper?

“That hambone would be made to work to the uttermost farthing. First it would be bereft of its meat by the carving knife, always keenly sharpened, but resharpened for its sacramental contact with cooked ham. Then the stripped bone would be placed in the soup pot, and, after many hours of boiling, would be rescued, examined and relieved of any possible marrow, to be placed on the fire as fuel. Even then its destiny was not ended. Its burnt remains would be pulverised into fertiliser for the garden.”

The book is packed with movement, in and out of home, and in and out of school. There is plenty of humour and enough of pathos. The chronicle does not drag; indeed it speeds to the unexpected exit of the young hero. It brings up the romantic atmosphere of the past to contrast with the restless present. Altogether it is a good type of book for a school-prize.