Piano Rock: A 1950s Childhood
By Gavin Bishop · Reviewed by Anne Mortimer
With a “to be read” queue that will take me easily into retirement, Piano Rock immediately drew me in thanks to the beautiful silhouettes, line drawings and watercolour illustrations that pepper the bite-sized chapters. However more importantly, this was 1950s spelt correctly, with no superfluous apostrophes thank you very much.
Piano Rock tells the story of Gavin Bishop’s 1950s childhood, growing up in Kingston beside Lake Wakatipu. Each chapter offers a snapshot of life and the variety of memorable happenings that shaped Gavin’s childhood between the ages of four and eight, beginning with the Bishop family’s journey via goods train from Invercargill to Kingston sitting on their couch in the guard’s van with the doors open taking in all of the scenery. Despite the different time period, the themes covered are ones that younger readers can associate with, or imagine: looking forward to visits from Grandma; learning to swim; an out of the ordinary school outing in the back of a farm truck to the Nevis Valley; the arrival of a new baby brother and the impact that has on an older child.
I particularly enjoyed the description of the food, which is all very “matter of fact”. The baking of girdle scones was a Sunday ritual and a recipe is included for readers to try. Mrs Bishop’s traditional fare was influenced by the neighbouring Greek and Romanian families. This really struck me as my mother’s cooking didn’t take on any cosmopolitan influence until the late 1970s. I remember thinking how experimental my friend’s mam was because she cooked spaghetti bolognaise and such like when we were faced with leek pudding and neck chops with barley! Piano Rock draws to a close with the dramatic recollection of a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night through the eyes of a small boy. The tale is neatly brought to a close, with Gavin reflecting upon a family photo, which mirrors the start of the book as the Bishop family prepare to leave Kingston for Invercargill in 1954.
I have re-read the book with Miss X who often asks me tell her about “the olden days” or, a story from when I was little. Piano Rock offers younger readers an affectionate reminiscence of a 1950s childhood, ably assisted with delightful illustrations and a handy-dandy glossary in the back.
Anne Mortimer is a sometime mum and sometime administrator. She also makes handcrafted felt items and will occasionally sell these. Anne has worked for museums, galleries and libraries in the UK and settled in New Zealand four years ago.