THERE MUST BE
AN EASIER WAY
Life wasn’t meant to be easy this is a remark that often slips off the tongue.
Some people never seem to choose the easy option even when they have the chance.
Such a person is Hilary. Being a housewife most of her life, to some, a
dull-sounding occupation, she seems to have been able to include an amazing
amount of diverse activities in her long life.
Apart from having five children, she has home-schooled two generations, reared
pigs, milked cows, fed calves, painted, papered and plastered obsolete houses
that any normal person would refuse to consider living in. She has helped
pioneer a cattle station from virgin scrub, fenced, mustered, and been a
drovers cook. All these activities took place from Brazil to the U.K., to the
Australian outback. Some people just can’t resist a challenge.
Her life never brought her any financial riches, but for certain it was never
In Store Price: $30.00
Online Price: $29.00
Number of pages:
Genre: Non Fiction
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2008
About the author
Hilary Geiger, nee Colpoys, then Manners, has led her life primarily as a
housewife, but she has occupied many other positions as and when the need arose.
She is a mother of five, with 17 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Hilary is now living with her husband in Far North Queensland.
The Colpoys Family
t was my mothers
screams that woke me.
only your mother having one of her nightmares, Nannie murmured from her bed on
the other side of the room.
foot, three inches and as thin as a bean pole and very short-sighted without his
glasses once fully awake, realised that there was a shadowy form lurking at
the end of their beds. Throwing back the sheet, he leapt from the bed and
started to wrench open the bedroom door, which always stuck in the wet season.
It was with the intention of throwing the portable gramophone, which was on a
stand just outside, at the intruder. My mothers screams intensified, as she
thought he was going to leave her. At the same time, realising that she was
standing up in a very transparent nightie, and being that Mama felt the
indecency of the situation in front of a stranger, she pulled the bed sheet up
to her chin while her screams continued unabated.
The burglar, now thoroughly
demoralised by the screaming woman and the rattling door, seized the nearest
thing to hand, which happened to be my fathers suit with the bank keys in a
pocket. The burglar threw it out of the window to an accomplice below (they
evidently usually have accomplices) and slid down the drain pipe.
Mamas screams had
reached the tram depot a few hundred metres up the road. The men on night duty
thought that a murder was taking place, so grabbing iron bars that they used for
changing the points on the lines they headed towards the scene. At the same time
our neighbours, who lived in an identical house, and were members of the
government which had just been toppled in the recent revolution, thought that
some assassins had got into the wrong house and were murdering us. They also
arrived on the doorstep armed with their revolvers. So there we all were; all
talking, gesticulating, telling gory stories and thoroughly enjoying the
midnight excitement. I dont think we had met the neighbours before, so it
certainly made an unusual introduction.
My father, Francis
Arthur Colpoys, was at that time manager of a branch of the Bank of London and
South America in the town of Pernambuco, now Recife, in Brazil.
He had joined the bank
on qualifying as an accountant. He had hoped to join his father in a firm of
insurance brokers in London, but as family relations were apparently rather
strained and his two elder brothers had already been set up with farms in
Canada. He decided to head overseas as well.
He had been in Brazil
since his mid-twenties and in 1919 aged 27, he married my mother, Winifred
Morrish. She was living up-country from Recife at Tiuma with her father who was
an engineer working for a sugar-processing company. They subsequently had three
children, Ilfra born in 1921, Vernon 1923 and me 1924.
The incident with the
burglar occurred in 1933. Ilfra and Vernon were then at school in England, and I
was due to go home that year and also start my schooling. Up till then, Nannie
had been teaching me the three Rs.
Of his bachelor days as
a junior member of the staff, my father recalled one occasion when, along with
other junior members of the British colony they were endeavouring to paint the
town red. It was not long before their revelries brought them to the attention
of the local police and they ended in the lock up. Undaunted, they managed to
bribe the guard, who was quite happy to oblige them when given a suitable
remuneration, to hand over the keys of the gaol. Having let themselves out, they
proceeded to release other inmates, who had also been destined to spend a night
cooling off behind bars.
It was also at that
same branch that he spilt the ink on one page of a ledger, so he solved the
problem by sticking that page to the next one, and was amused to find the
offending ledger in the archives when he was manager there some 30 years later.
Papa had a marvellous
sense of humour and a dry wit to go with it. At the same time he was very strict
and conventional, but to go out with him there was always the chance of having a
good laugh. Once when Mama and Nannie must have been busy preparatory to our
going out, he was told to take us out into the garden till they were ready. So
we all trooped out into the garden behind Pop. He was no gardener; I remember
hearing him tell Mama that when they retired in England his idea of a garden was
a lawn with a rhododendron bush stuck in the middle of it. Anyway, this day he
chose to focus on some banana trees growing in a corner of the garden. He
decided to show us how to pick a bunch of bananas. His efforts met with disaster
which we all found exceedingly funny and when told to, Stop giggling and give a
hand, we managed to get our neat and tidy clothes thoroughly stained with
banana juice. He then had to face up to Nannies wrath. Pretending to look meek,
six-foot-three Papa bowed his head in front of five-foot-two Nannie while we
three hid behind Papa. Nannie folded her arms, took a deep breath and said, Really
He was a very
impractical man; sitting in an armchair and studying the stock market in the
newspaper is how I think of him. But he did claim to having the ability to draw
an elephant sitting down (which he did occasionally to amuse us), also to cook
scrambled eggs though when or why he ever learnt to do that considering we
always had a cook and his parents had always had staff, I dont know. But again,
he could always turn that into a comic act.
It is hard to know from
whom he got his sense of fun. His father William Colpoys, who had died in 1916,
sounded like any strict authoritarian Victorian father.
He had left his wife,
Josephine Colpoys comfortably off. She was a petite, composed, dignified little
person. She would have been in her sixties at the time I remember her best. I
regarded her with awe and respect, she was not the sort of grandmother one would
hug or treat in a familiar manner, just a peck on the cheek was greeting enough.
She lived in a lovely
three-storied house, Riverbank, Hampton Wick, set in fairly extensive
grounds which ran down to a frontage on the Thames. Her unmarried daughter
Dorothy, whom we referred to among ourselves as the Aunt, lived with her. The
rest of the household comprised three indoor staff, three gardeners and prior to
the days of the motorcar, a coachman.
Granny seemed to me to
spend most of her time sitting in a wing-backed armchair with a stool for her
feet, an easel across her lap, doing large, complex jigsaw puzzles. She would
offer me a Glacier mint, the large tin containing them with its embossed polar
bear on the lid, was kept in a sideboard which was made of inlaid wood an
imposing piece of furniture. By her armchair was a standard lamp with a shade,
from which hung blue, silky tassels. I just loved the feel of those tassels and
I would stroke and twist them around my fingers. One day to my horror one came
away in my hand! Fearfully I admitted my crime to Granny. She cant have reacted
very much as I have no further recollection of that episode.
When I came home to
England in 1934, Granny and the Aunt were living in a large flat in London at De
Vere Gardens, Kensington. We children would often stay for a couple of days with
them as we had to pass through London on our way from school. School was near
Hastings in Sussex. Where we spent our holidays was in the New Forest,
Hampshire, so it necessitated changing trains in London. Granny and the Aunts
home was run on formal decorous lines. Each morning Granny and the Aunt had
breakfast in bed in their respective rooms along with The Times
newspaper. The Aunt said that she always read the hatched, matched and
despatched columns first. Granny had the reputation of being able to complete
The Times cryptic crossword by 9.00 a.m. When the gong rang for meals,
Granny would enter the dining room taking her seat at the head of the table with
the Aunt at the other end. There was a button placed discreetly just under the
table near Grannys hand, and when ready to be served or when requiring the next
course to be brought in, she would press the button and the maid would appear.
It used to puzzle me by what magic the maid knew when to materialise, till one
day watching Granny closely, I saw what she was up to. The formality of the
meals and the highly-polished table heaven forbid you spilt anything on it
used to fill me with so much apprehension that my usual hearty appetite would
vanish. Once, at the biscuit and cheese stage of the meal, the Aunt asked me if
I would like one of the Ryvita biscuits, one of which she was having. I replied,
No thank you, but I love the sound you make when you are eating them. This
caused much amusement.
The Aunt was tall and
thin, so much so that a doctor once asked her how she got past the dogs in the
street as she was just a bag of bones. She was a natural blonde, with sharp
features and a very electric personality. She supervised the staff, cook and
maid, and the general running of the flat. Each morning she would interview the
cook to discuss the days menu. The kitchen was strictly out of bounds to the
children. Having decided the requirements for the day we would all head off to
the shops. The Aunt drove a Vauxhall car, in it we would be whisked from one
part of London to another. Off to Barkers, with us pattering behind her, as she
seemed to sweep through the grocery section ordering this and that to be
delivered, then to other departments of the shop, making witty comments as she
She had been a good
tennis, badminton and squash player when younger. She was a member of the
Wimbledon Tennis and Croquet Club and had played badminton for Ireland, the
homeland of our earlier forebears. She had also been umpire and linesman for
some of the matches.
Once when my father and
mother were on home leave and visiting them, they went to her squash club. My
father decided to try his luck with the one-armed bandit, he put in sixpence,
hit the jackpot and the coins came cascading onto the floor. Laughing, he
decided to try the shilling machine, with the same happy result. It had to be
drinks all round after that.