Travelling to Whitecliffs

I am sitting on the bench seat of the car travelling west.
I am 7 years old, sitting next to my dad driving, and my mum who daydreams out the window. In the back are my older brother and sister;-busy fighting. This is exciting, we are not in my dad’s old Austin 12 with the cracked leather seats, wind-out windscreen and wind-up square roof porthole and running boards; we are in my dad’s boss’s car; a brand-new 1959 Vauxhall Velox.

But what is most exciting; and my eye keeps gravitating towards;-is that strip speedometer. Its not one of those common and garden variety speedometers with a round dial and needle. No, this is a long strip of colour which slides backwards and forwards as dad accelerates and decelerates round the corners on the winding road into the hills. If he’d just press his foot down a little harder on that pedal I’d be able to see us creep into the orange bit of the speedometer…but, no, mum gets nervous…

Sadly, we eventually arrive. Dad’s boss’ bach at Whitecliffs. A holiday home with all the mod cons; for 1959. Whitecliffs is a holiday fishing township . There’s the river, and that’s about all.. We don’t fish; but there is the swimming hole a half mile up the road and down the grassy banks between the willows. There I almost drown one very hot day in January while my brother looks on with interest; somehow my toes touch sandy bottom and I struggle gasping ashore. Time literally stood still for an eternity as the water closed in through my mouth and nose. But, after coughing up the river; I’m back the next day-with big sister for insurance. After the cool of the green clear water, it is magical to lie in the long dry grass, feeling the drops of river slowly ebb from my steadily warming skin, smell the dust and the aniseedy aroma of the tall wild fennel, watch the multitude of tiny insects that congregate in swirling patterns in the sun above the water. I know, without knowing, the magic of all those tiny lives; the universes held in every blade of grass that arcs towards the blues of skies, as I lie there.-till I’m too hot to lie still a moment longer and “dive” back into that scary green pool.
“There’s eels in there you know”, my brother says,”they can bite your toes off “ But they never do…
In the mornings, I go with my sister in search of the milkman. She lets me carry the milk billy; a big steel tin with a lid .The milkman has a flat deck truck with five or six big milk churns on the back. He eyes my sister speculatively while he pours the milk from one of the churns into our billy. But I’m not noticing; I’m watching how the milk froths and swirls into the billy-its heavy and creamy-not like at home in the bottles at the gate. The wire handle cuts into my hand as I carry the heavy billy back to the bach; while my sister dreams of who knows who-dragging a stick dreamily behind her.

But the most exciting thing of all in those few days at Whitecliffs, is the train. I awake one morning to its sound. And the vibration. The slow and deliberate ‘’chuff-chuff” of a big steam locomotive-and close! I’m out the back door in my pajamas in a flash; and there in the distance I can see a cloud of steam and black coal smoke in the morning air coming closer! In a moment its there; sliding deliberately past the back fence on the rusty rails. Its huge and black-it almost covers the entire length of the back fence, and the black coal smoke billows everywhere and the white steam from between the driving wheels makes that beautiful whooshing sound. There’s a fireman and a driver-they’re both in blue overalls; but the driver has a peaked hat-I can see the New Zealand Railways insignia shining in the morning sun on his cap from the back door step. The driver waves and I grin and wave back; the fireman’s far too busy shovelling some coal into the furnace.
And the coal tender slides past and they’re gone..

I wait each morning at the same time each morning by the back fence till the end of our stay there, to see that locomotive again. But no…she doesn’t come again.

And then, all too soon, its time to pack all our stuff into the Vauxhall Velox and home; boring old home…

Travelling to Whitecliffs

Paul Martin

DUNEDIN, New Zealand

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