Travels through Central Finest of Memories

 The Otago Daily Times. Islay McLeod. 02 December 2011.

Some of my fondest memories of Dad are sitting beside him driving like a bat out of hell along Central’s long shingle roads, both of us singing our hearts out.

This time a year ago, I could have popped across the road to Whitcoulls in the Eastgate Mall but on February 22, the earthquake reduced that complex to its knees and Whitcoulls won’t come back. The nearest book shop now is waaaaaay across town in Riccarton and I’ll ring because driving there will still be an expedition of extraordinary suspension and nerve-jarring proportions. A trip not taken lightly in all senses of that expression.

The purpose?

To buy Grahame Sydney’s latest book … Central Otago.

To be honest, I can’t really afford it.

That is, in the financial sense but, as reviewer Christopher Moore put it, to hold that testament to “the still potent power of that old force Genius Loci – the spirit of place”, I can’t afford not to. In my experience only Sydney can capture that “spirit of place” in any medium he chooses and thereby hold it forever, that moment frozen but the scene so live you could smell it.

I obviously share Grahame Sydney’s profound love of Central Otago but I can’t translate that into pictures as Sydney does nor words as his neighbour Brian Turner can.

Nevertheless, I still feel it and envy both their abilities but appreciate they choose to share them. I also envy that it is their talent that affords their ability to live in the Maniototo which, for me, will remain only a tantalising dream.

My love of Central is a legacy imparted to me by my father. Dad was a commercial traveller through Central. His territory was Dunedin, to Alex’, to Queenstown, Wanaka, Haast, Ranfurly, Kurow, Palmerston … all over. And my first memory of his “company car” was a Ford Prefect, then a Morris Oxford. No heater, no radio. Through the heat blasts of summer, through the blizzards and black ice of winter, my father drove on. Five weeks out of six he was Up Central. Sometimes, on day trips up there, he took me with him.

Dad was a wiry man who had undergone a medical experiment for treatment of stomach ulcers.  With two others, he had a stick of radium inserted into his stomach.  He had the burnt half of his stomach removed. The others didn’t survive. You’ve got to wonder at a man’s ability to rise above that incapacity and take on the toughest territory for any traveller in those days. I think he must have got it from his mother. I remember watching Bonanza on television with Nanna and her laughing at ladies stepping fresh as a daisy out of a stagecoach. It took her 21 hairpins to hold her hair up in those days, she told me, and travelling over the Crown Range by stagecoach dislodged every one of them.

Some of my fondest memories of Dad are sitting beside him driving like a bat out of hell along Central’s long shingle roads, both of us singing our hearts out. And there were times when I worked in Dunedin when my soul got so sore and bruised, I ran away to Central as a salve and restored the spirit along those same roads … and at the same speed!So, in a minute, I’ll ring Whitcoulls Riccarton then check the car for the postquake rock’n’roll road trip across town, as Dad would have for a trip to Central. (In another life, I’d take him with me but I don’t think he’d survive the trip.)And this afternoon, I’ll rest out in the sun on my veranda, turning the pages of Grahame Sydney’s book and turning the pages of the best memories of my life.