and then there were ten

Margot van Reyk

The idea came to me as a result of my reminiscing at work – P.I.C.C.O.L. – with the girls – particularly Wendy Williams who unwittingly gave e the idea of writing my memoirs – tongue in cheek, of course!

And then…. I remembered what Gerry always said – about my after dinner speeches when I was only a little girl – apparently I stood on Daddy’s chair and when I noticed the bored looks drew everyone’s attention by yelling out “and then…….”

Our parents were Beda Maude van Reyk (nee Caspersz) and Aloysius Patrick van Reyk. They were married on 7th May.

There were actually twelve children
- Horace
- Malcolm
- Marie
- Algy
- Gerry
- Joanne (Baptised Joan!)
- Anton
- Desmond
- Myself
- Mignonne
- Rose Barbara (died 15 months old)
- Odille
Horace and Rose died as babies – Horace of dysentery and Rose of diphteria.

And then….there were TEN.

My memory does not go back to Colombo where I was born so here goes….Kandy
And then – there was the Bahai’s house – it was an enormous house – quite wide and we had a big garden at the back – the address was Cross Street, Kandy.
And then…. I fell and cut my chin feeding Algy’s ducks – Also Joan ‘sewed’ her finger in Mum’s machine –the needle went right through her nail, – Mum beat all of us, Joan as well!

And then….Mignonne and I had chicken pox – Mum used to spray our rooms with disinfectant – to prevent the others from getting the disease. She used a curtain sheet wet with disinfectant to separate the ‘sick room’.

And then…..we moved into the house in front – Dr Abayasekera’s.

And then…. I started going to Kindergarten in the ‘Bahai’s’ house – Ida sued to take me to school – St Scholastica’s. Later on Marie became a Kindergarten teacher and I went to school with her.

And then…..a ‘rogue’ came to our house – he did not take anything but I remember everyone looking at his footprints in the sand – Rosie was a baby just beginning to walk – she used to take little quick steps!

And then…..the boys had their bird cage in our backyard – Rosie’s play pen was near the cage – Did she get the diphteria from the birds?

And then….Rosie died and I cam back home from the Kindergarten with Marie.

And then …. I made my First Communion in Abayasekera’s house – Aunty Bertha and Aunty Dolly ( I think) made my dress – it was in georgette with rows of pin tucks and insertion lace – it was a waisted dress with a long gathered skirt – beautiful.

And then….there was a Fancy Dress Competition and I was dressed in a Kandyan Dancer’s outfit – I won a prize (First Prize?).

And then…..Ida joined the Convent – Mignonne and I had peachy coloured dressed with ‘capes’ over our shoulders – just to cover our bare arms – we peeped from the verandah of the church – Ida wore her ‘wedding dress’ back to the front on purpose because the back was too dressy – it has small buttons right down! Also the front was too revealing!

And then….at some time May married – remember her and George dancing to the ‘Blue Danube’.

And then…..Mum and Dad used to sit in the verandah – I don’t think much was said but they used to watch the people go by.

And then…. we moved to SEFTON, Castle Hill St. IT was a two-storeyed building, just next to the landlords – I remember the front façade of the landlord’s house – a very pretty fancy wreath in plaster in the middle. We had no gardens and the houses were slap up against the road. Our home had the bedrooms upstairs – two large rooms -divided into three by arches not doors/walls-on each side of the corridor and ‘Marie’ room on the left – and opposite hers a verandah – where the boys used to have their desks and bookcases – also where they pea-shooted the vendors! I remember quite a lot about SEFTON – the rooms had no doors – only arches to separate the two large rooms –Dad and Mum and the girls (not Marie who had her own room) were on one side and the boys on the other. I remember Maries’ dressing table – it had a glass top and she had pink paper under the glass to make it look prettier. I used to love to help Mum make the beds when the dhobi arrived – used to take the ‘dhobi’ account too. This time I learnt to sew. Used to make some very pretty dresses for my dolls – embroidery and all. Also made handkerchiefs – very small – only sufficient for one blow! The girls in my ‘class’ made handkerchiefs – we did ‘drawn-thread’ work, satin stitch etc.

And then….the people who used to come to see the perahera in August. Herbert, Ebert, the Greniers, Mum’s sisters etc. etc. We used to sit in front of our house waiting for the perahera to pass – sometimes there would be as many as 100 elephants. If the Ratamahatmaya knew us he would stop and have the dancers perform for us. Thes peraheras were most spectacular. After the perahera passed through we would go to the Carnival. Uncle Bob – some distant realative of Dad’s – fell form the Big Wheel and jurt his spien. I don’t think he died of the fall. Used to like the Merry-Go-Round and the “Bombay Dancers”!!

And then…..We used to eat very well – we had a superb cook who used to serve at the “big Table’. Mum was such a good cook, she thought she had to help the cook too. He used to be called ‘Cookie’. They had ‘quarters’ at the back of the house. ‘They’ means the cook and the boy who cleaned and swept the house also a servant woman to look after the clothes for all of us – also to help the cook in the kitchen. We had no washing machines then so the woman washed our clothes and looked after the youngest child – Odille in this case.

And then….. we had two tables – the young ones ate in the alcove under the stairs – we had a maroon oil cloth on our table – and there were two long benches on either side. The older ones – Joan upwards – ate in the ‘Big Table’ with Mum and Dad – and the cook waited on them.

And then…..I wrote about the ‘upstair’ – I don’t know what I meant to write about here – anyhow – Anton was a bit of a coward (after he saw someone being murdered on the street) so he used to go pup the stairs and yell ‘Desmond come’ when it was time for bed. Desmond would tease him and pretend that he wasn’t ready for bed! Gerry used to go up the stairs making quite a lot of noise – hitting the railings with whatever he had in his hands, scraping his feet on each step. If we needed to be unished Mum would stand at the bottom of the stair and give each one a ‘whack’ as they passed through! Sometimes she used a rule but at other times she would use an ekel – the garden brooms were made of them – the ‘sternum’ of the palm leaf.

And then….Peter, our cousin, Uncle Ben’s some – He was the ‘midnight man’ as Mum called him. He stayed till quite late when he came to ‘play’. Mum reckoned that he was responsible for all the mischief the boys got into – Desmond and Anton. Peter’s Mum had separated from U Ben so he was very lonely.

And then….I remember the lunge. Mum did the soft furnishings blue pelmet with blue black and cream striped full length curtains – we had a huge “chesterfield’ set in the lounge – very handy for hiding behind – Mignonne and I used to hide from Mum and eat chocolates which we brought from Gonsal’s – Milk Nestles chocolates – and to make them last longer we softened them on our palms and took a lick at intervals! We would sometimes go on a treasure hunt and find quite a lot of ‘goodies’ in the back and sides of the chairs – coins, pens, pencils, beads etc. – although the chairs were “dusted’ daily these ‘goodies’ used to slip down unnoticed.

And then……The ‘boy’ had to sweep the floors every day – the furniture was dusted every day too – we didn’t have carpets – we didn’t need them – and the floors were always polished.

And then…..about six o’clock each evening Mum (and her sisters if they were visiting) would have a bowl of soup (home made) – it was almost a ritual – the main dinner was at 8pm.

And then….Dad used to play bridge with his friends in his ‘office’ room and they would have some drinks too – arrack? Mum would have a glass of Breakfast Wine. – I used to take a sip off her glass!

And then….Mum would have her bath each evening and get dressed up – not in her night clothes. She always came downstairs and would move a chair or a table – she was supposed to be correcting the arrangement but I am sure it was just a habit – the chair or table eventually landed in the same spot!

And then…..The whole block of our houses belonged to the one owner – the Raymonds lived on one side of the square. A Nora and the Ludowykes (Aunty Stella) on the other and the ‘Lemonade’ factory on the other – there were other homes in the block but I can remember only these people. Also the Boltons. Mrs Bolton was a Tamil lady and she always knelt in the church on her haunches – near the communion rails – she never sat in a pew. She didn’t wear shoes either – she just wore a plain cotton saree, but she was certainly noticed in church! She belted out the prayers and responses in her peculiar accent! She looked like one of Mother Teresa’s nuns, she wasn’t of course).

And then…..We would go to the Raymond’s through the back garden. This was when Algy was ‘chasing’ Joyce Raymond.

And then….We had a Chevrolet and a Ford and all the kids in the areas used to be driven by our driver (chaffeur) Mendis to school – Dad used the silvery blue Chevrolet Z 1936 (?) and we had the old Ford V 1221. There was space between the driver’s seat and the back seat for a bench. So we had an extra seat! The old Ford had a ‘horn’ outside the door! Mendis was a very tall man, quite good looking – and was so shy. He had some artistic talent too. He used to enlarge pictures – I learnt the art by watching him.

And then…..Mignonne fell over the ‘bridge’ separating the 3rd class boarding from the main school – This happened during the lunch interval – I think she only cut her head – nothing serious – She had an ‘Eton’ crop then.

And then…..Dad bought us new raincoats – our first – I took mine to school the first time and never wore it again! Some girl pinched mine – and on its first outing, too!
And then….Dad used to go to the other towns to appear at ‘cases’ – he always took some of us for company – the older ones and the younger ones – he would even come to school and get us.

And then….I remember going ‘upcountry’ with Dad on one of these occasions – Mignonne and I, Desmond and Anton – and whilst Dad was in the Court House Mendis had to look after us – the boys started a pillow-fight – I was scared they’d fall because the beds were quite high off the ground.

And then….Dad always told me stories he made up about the hills as we passed them. He tried desperately hard to keep me awake. He’d point out the Sleeping Warrior, Pudding Hill etc. I hated the mist because I thought that Mendis would not be able to see the road and the deep drop on the right of him.

And then….Phyllis and her sister Eileen boarded with us – they taught us to do the Hula and ballroom dancing. We played ‘wedding’ one day and Anton was to be the bridegroom but he declined and Eileen dressed like a boy and deputised for him! (I think Phyllis was the bride)

And then….Dad bought a piano and the case was left in the compound – we made it into a cubby house – we gave it a nice name, but I can’t remember what it was – we draped a curtain over the front in place of a door. We didn’t play in it for long – something must have happened and Mum had it taken away.

And then….The boys used to kill sparrows with a small air gun and we cooked Chinchora (rice cooked in small toy containers) and I wonder whether we actually ate the poor sparrows ?!

And then… Dad bought an Arab horse from his friend Lou Peiris. Algy was the best rider. I never tired. Dad’s friend was a very fat friend with a very round tummy – Dad used to tell me (another story perhaps!) that this man had his dining table cut away to accommodate his tummy!

And then….The gram woman/man would be called and the boys stood on either side of the gate on the wall and grabbed a handful as she passed.

And then….The older one splayed Hospital in Dad’s Office Room – I wasn’t with them – but I know that they ran a clinic and gave injections etc.

And then….Anton got ill while Mum was in Hospital for Odille’s birth and Mary Pattanott came looking after us – She made Anton some malted milk and put salt instead of sugar! She insisted that he drink the milk although he told her that it tasted funny! – I wonder who swapped the salt for the sugar- was it a prank?

And then…..Mum and Dad celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary. We had a morning mass. We had two sets of clothing – one for the Mass and another for the evening party. It was at the Town Hall – a lovely party – even had a dance – one with Mr Bazley who pushed me around on his tummy! I was about 12 years old.

And then….the band played on – but the night came to an untimely end when one of the ladies had her handbag stolen – Gerry and Algy got into quite a lot of trouble – Gerry was drunk – Algy drove him home and he got the blame.

And then….Most came back to Sefton and the dancing continued. Hebert Ebert, Sonna Garnier are the only two I can remember.

And then….Mignonne and I went to U Maurice’s for a holiday – it was on a tea estate – not Hanguranketa – and they lived very well. I remember the dining table was beautifully set and the things on the table had a beautiful scent – I think Connie and Nita put a drop of eau-de cologne in the water! We felt really posh! Servants waited on us at table etc etc. We played cards and Tyamchona with Connie.

And then…. We also went to U Horace’s – Aunty Georgie made us some nice dresses with boleros – but I got homesick and wanted to come home (this was just after Dad died)

And then….Algy’s girlfriend was Joyce Raymond – they were our neighbours – Algy used to get malaria and Joyce used to come to see him.

And then….Desmond used to do ‘circus’ tricks on the roof beams – just like a monkey! He fell once and as he didn’t want Mum to know he tried to render first aid himself – he used a sort of ‘deep heat’ to put on his wounds – he was wincing in pain but still being very brave.

And then….The Potgers used to come to visit – was it Marie? – Think the older fellow – Hector? – had a crush on Marie.

And then….Sylvia David boarded with us – she worked at Cargills or Whiteaways – Birtish shops – her boyfriend George de Jong used to send her gladioli and she put lemonade in the vase to make them last longer!

And then…..Violet Jenkins and Bertha Woolf were often at home – Marie’s friends – did they come because of the boys?

And then – Phyllis Lawrence and Olga Gray came too – Malcolm was the draw! Odille was a baby so they made her birthday cakes and put candles on them and told Odille to ‘do foo’ to put out the candles!

And then…. Weerasinghe boarded with us too – He once got very ill and on his way to the toilet he fell and grabbed the whatnot and fell with it – breaking all the crockery – He replaced all the crockery. Eventually he married Julie Barrie, a convent teacher.

And then – de Jong spent a few months at home – his mother treated him like a child and even called him ‘Sonny Boy’ although he was a grown man.

And then…..Dr Elmo D’abrera stayed with us at about the same time – till his marriage. He did not use his medical skills on us because our Doctors were Dr Anthonisz and Dr Winn. Mrs McGill was the nurse in the surgery.

And then….Even to be sick with the ‘flu’ was a big thing – we had to be on liquids till the fever left and then we were gradually introduced to solids – first ‘smashed’ rusks with sugar – no never ‘dunked’ in tea! I used to like the seedless grapes Dad bought me when I was sick.

And then….Aunty Rachel used to spend some time with us. She was my Godmother – and after her bath she and all mum’s sisters never used towels they used bath sheets and draped themselves in them and came out from the bathroom – looking sort of like a female version of Mahatma Gandhi!

And then….. Stacey and the boys used to have a lot of fun – once they put Nita in Odilles’ pram and pushed her all the way to Ferndale – she was protesting like mad but none of them took any notice of her – except the people on the road!

And then….Raymond’s the Undertakers used to be at the corner of the street on the opposite. We used to play hide and seek in and out of the coffins – thank goodness the boys did not nail down the coffins and leave as a prank – they were naughty but good in those days – no children harmed anyone – just gave each other a good teasing.

And then….The Jamaliya Hotel was at the corner of our street – later it became the Polytechnic. We used to get treats of muslim sweetmeats from the manager of the Jamaliya Hotel – Turkish heart (layers of a sort of puff pastry with a sweet smelling sugary honey oozing out of the pastry) Also muskat etc. and all for free. People were good to kids in those days and it was safe too!!

And then…..The Senanayakes who owned our house and lived next door to us used to invite us for afternoon tea – there were two unmarried women there – and Mignonne and I used to go there to be pampered.

And then….The La Brooys lived in the Scotskirk Presbytery. They were very handsome boys. They had one sister – they looked very English. I think their father was the pastor. I can’t remember all the names but I can remember two – Bertram and Trevor – There was one in-between who would probably look like Prince Philip as I remember.

And then….Mrs Sproules Tea Room was close to us – Bernie Rosario who ‘boarded’ with us was when Judge Moseley had to come up from Colombo for the sessions – Bernie was his Secretary – now what was I going to say – oh yes – he used to take us for ‘TREATS’ to the Tea Rooms. Again we felt quite grand being waited on by the waiters and having the tea made for us – not like we used to have at home – all made together, milk and sugar, in a large white jug – We never knew how much sugar was in it – we just drank TEA!

And then….About Bernie – he was quite a good dresser – very dapper – He wore white satin drill suits – or were they made of sharkskin (only a pseudo sharkskin not the real thing!). He rode a motor bike and carried his papers in a ‘suitcase’ covered over as a protection with khaki drill – They did that in those days to preserve the leather cases.

And then….There were others who came for holidays – Douglas Cramer, Rennie Joachim – didn’t they have any jobs? Also Aunty Clare, Mary Pattanott etc.

And then….We used to have chicken every Sunday – it was a treat in those days. Sometimes the curries used to be too hot for me and I would take some sugar, after I finished my lunch or dinner, to sooth my burning lips!

And then….Daddy got ill – his heart probably cause this. His legs swelled up and he used to be in bed all the time. There was an attendant to look after him. They put leeches on his forehead to such out the excess blood – I now suspect he must have had high blood pressure.

And then….Daddy and all of us moved out of Sefton. Mum and Odille and Maries stayed at Ferndale. Joan. Mignonne and I at Aunty Dora’s – the boys to Uncle Ben – Gerry was at University and came to A Dora on his holiday’s (?) Algy was working on a tea estate – Malcolm, was at Blutzell studying law (?)

And then…. Daddy died on 19.11.39 after a long illness (about 9 months)

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© Paul van Reyk 2019.