January 14, 2014

Cake tins and poverty

John Ray

I have always been aware that my parents were poor. My father was a hard worker so they always managed to put sufficient food on the table and kept a good roof over our heads -- but that was about their limit. They rarely saved anything and doctor's bills were stressful for them.

And one of the indexes of that is that my mother would occasionally borrow money from me even when I was a child. I got pocket-money of a florin a week (which bought about what $2 would buy today) and usually saved it in my moneybox. Even when I was a kid I was not big on spending money on myself. So sometimes I would have the equivalent of about $50 in my moneybox. And that was enough for my mother to do her essential shopping. I always got the money back so didn't mind.

Jenny remembers her father borrowing money off her too when she was a kid. So maybe it was a generational thing. But he used to pay her interest on his borrowings -- which was fun for both of them.

But I have just remembered another poverty episode that I thought strange even at the time. My mother did not have a cake-tin to keep her boiled fruitcakes in (You boil the fruit, not the cake). Boiled fruitcakes are something of a tradition in Australia, particularly around Christmas time. They are often kept for a month or more and eaten only gradually. So you needed a tin with a lid that sealed fairly well.

A popular source of caketins were tins of toffees and other candies that were often bought as gifts at Christmas times. They were tins of about 8" in diameter so were a good size for keeping fruitcakes in after all the contents had been eaten. But my mother could not afford one. So when I was about 6 or 7 she went down to our genial Chinese grocer in Innisfail ("Joe Charles") and asked if she could buy just the tin. I was with her at the time and to my amazement he agreed. He tipped the toffees into a big candy jar -- for sale as individual sweets -- and sold my mother the tin for some small sum. Amazing. Times were different then. I remember wondering what the original contents of our caketin would have been like.

She kept that tin for many years

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