Recollection 3: A Yellow German Bug
I was not in Dunedin very long. After five years, a yellow German VW beetle clattered me from there and transported me north. Twenty years after we beat them in a global stoush I was being given a lift in one of their cars. We were buying Japanese cars too but in an altogether different configuration. One of my earliest memories was of toy cars made from recycled tin. Thin plastic wheels. Painted passengers. But when you flipped the car over the undercarriage was revealed to be absent except for the thin wire axles. However the original advertising or branding on the reverse of the tin was visible. I recall blue images of fish, no doubt a recycled tin of tuna. And characters ascribed to the Japanese though how we knew that at such a young age I have no idea. But years before Toyota and their TQM and precision engineering we had a derogatory view of their quality. If it was of dodgy manufacture it was “Made in Japan” in the same way a more recent generation has grown up ascribing rubbish to the Chinese.
In those early years however the family didn’t have a car so we walked everywhere, were given lifts, or caught the bus. We lived on Carrington Road in a house Dad renovated. If I have my facts correct (always doubtful) his father had loaned my parents enough money to buy the house. Renovated and sold, Dad repaid the loan and used some of the profit to purchase their first car. A Holden. HD or HR? But I get ahead of myself again.
The house, which we visited after our recent Stewart Island trek, sat above the Bullock Track which wound down to the parkland below. Banana passionfruit, warm in the sun, sweet and pulpy on the tongue grew down there. Ducks, to which we threw bread, were resident on water at the end of the track. That Bullock Track was a favourite route, especially the ducks on the ponds below. Mother recounts a frantic search for me. My jacket hanging on a bush om the side of the track was clue. She feared the worst. I had gone to feed the ducks.
Above the house and through a neighbours yard and up under a hedge a route took us to a 4 Square corner store. We got up under the hedge on our own on occasions but I don’t think we were ever in that shop without an adult. If I smell old timber floors I’m taken back to this shop. On the down side and though a wooden paling fence lived Teresa . And her Mum. I remember them both but don’t know if anyone else lived in that house. Teresa was a young adult who spent time playing with or minding us, or both. I’m told they would leave their lounge-room curtains open at night. From my bedroom window I could see their television. What flickering black and white I watched I have no idea. Dr Who?
Siblings Rob, Sandy (Sandra) and Frank arrived in our time in that house. Siblings with which to get into strife. That renovation, which was my first introduction to hardboard panels is still clear in my mind. The smell of hardboard still takes me back there. Out the back of the house was a separate laundry and shed. While Dad was in class Rob and I, no doubt inspired by the renovation going on, mixed up a batch of concrete and filled every pot we could get our hands on and placed them in a tidy row behind the laundry. I’m sure there was an ‘untidy row’ when our renovating efforts were uncovered. we also tried our hand at painting and applied an oil based green paint to the front fence and wall. That created a terrific mess from which I have vague recollections of a reaction.
I think of him often. Truly. In fact the last time I had a haircut he crossed my mind. That barber in North East Valley who clipped my head to have it along correctly. Fortunately we didn’t visit him often but just up from where we live is one of those barber shops decorated in grey spartan and whose operator takes cash only. You know the sort. Cheap. And sometimes grumpy. This chap certainly seemed to be. Fortunately we didn’t go there often. Dad did that job for us and in the early days we didn’t mind that at all.
Perhaps the enduring memory of my time in Dunedin was a classic small boy dream – starting the bus. We must have been going shopping somewhere and were catching the bus from near the playground park just down from the house (it’s still there). Prams we hooked onto the front of the bus and we were climbing aboard. The driver dragged me across his lap and allowed me to push the start button. In my child’s minds eye I think he had stopped the bus so I could start it. Whatever he did he left a strong happy memory. Simple things. Vehicles leave such an impression on kids. I received a plastic wind up car for my fourth birthday. Yellow. Not tuna tin.
I was still four, or had just turned five when Len took us up the road in his yellow bug to Palmerston. Just the kids. He was a kindly chap and we stopped somewhere on that 36 mile stretch to ‘run around’. In the meantime he chatted away filling our heads with stories and singing songs. In Palmerston we wandered around an empty house which bedroom echoed to our footsteps, stamped for extra effect. We moved there shortly thereafter and Len once again was our courier. The net ten years in that place was formative in every way.
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