A highlight for us was when our Uncle Merv would come and stay. Merv was an aircrew Flight Sergeant in the RNZAF. Merv was young, single, well paid and had stuff as well as really good stories to share. Much of his stuff was acquired duty free on his various assignments to Australia or to Fiji.
Merv had a transistor radio. It had a short-wave band. And an earplug for private listening. But best of all, it had one of those extendible aerials that disappeared into the body of the radio itself. Small boys could amuse themselves for hours extending it and then putting it away again. Apparently. The transistor ran on batteries. It was awesome.
Merv also drove a Humber Super Snipe. It was vast. There was room in the back to play tennis, at least that's what it felt like. The seats were clad in leather. It had a push-button radio. Merv was a smoker, so the inside smelt like a gentlemen's club.
On one visit, Merv carefully unpacked and set up on our dining room floor a Hornby electric train set. It was amazing. The tracks went on forever and intersected through working points, just like real railways did, well overseas railways. Merv's set had more sidings and points than could be found in Eltham and probably Hawera combined. There were tunnels, bridges and scale model station buildings.
It was so large that electricity to power it was a limiting factor. Our farm was on the very end of the electricity supply line. This was only ever an issue during the time when all the farmers up our road were doing their evening milking. Electric current at those times was so scarce, a television's cathode ray tube wouldn't fire up. We didn't have TV but our neighbours over the road did. Mums cooking dinner would have to wait an age for potatoes to boil. Electric locomotives would just sit and hum without going anywhere.
There were electric locomotives, passenger carriages, freight wagons, coal cars and guard's wagons. Best of all was a carriage with a rocket launcher. No shit. It was powered by a spring, swivel-mounted and capable of firing in any direction above a horizontal plane. The metal rocket was capable of travelling some distance at a brisk pace. Use of it was banned when Mum was around, in case somebody lost an eye. Mum's are good like that.
Merv had a train driver's hat. This was required attire for whoever sat in the corner and got to command the switches and knobs that controlled this empire, when there was enough electricity to make things happen.
Meal times were a challenge, because this expanse of rail tycoonery ran in and around the legs of the dining room table and its chairs, as well as amongst the various other furniture in that room. Carrying food to the table and clearing up after each meal required precision and careful coordination.
Another variable that came into play was cats. We had three. Sam & Joe were half Siamese. They weren't that interested in this intrusion into what had once been their living space. They preferred to be outdoors exterminating rodents and mustelids. Our third cat was a part Persian called Smokey. He was called that before we learned that he liked curling up really close to electric heaters or close enough to sparks from an open fire that he would catch alight. During winter he always had scorch marks on his fur.
Smokey ruled the dining room. His general strategy was to treat with total contempt and ignore any intrusions into his space. So when a bunch of kids and their favourite Uncle set up an electric train set, they set it up around Smokey. They had to.
Smokey rarely showed emotion or interest in the world around him. An exception was party balloons. If one ever landed near Smokey, he would immediately pounce on it, teeth bared and claws extended. This would generally result in an explosive bang and a terrified singed Persian cat exiting the house at some pace. He never seemed to learn. Dozens of balloons over the years perished by his claws.
Trains whirred and hummed around him. Points switched in various directions. Shunting was done. Smokey cared not a jot. Until this one day...
The morning's shunting had just been completed and a fully-laden 9:30am express was rolling through the station on its way to the port. Most of the express had passed by Mt Smokey when, in balloon mode, he decided to take a swat at it. He hit the trigger on the rocket car. A projectile was launched. It hit a passing mother on the head.
Guess what we did for the rest of the day? We started by sitting outside and watching Merv smoke.