Summer Reading: Good Books by Old Blokes

BoundariesBoundaries: People and Places of Central Otago

Septuagenarian Brian Turner is a man of many parts: a keen cyclist, conservationist, journalist, beloved poet and ardent Southerner.

He lives in a little house in a small place called Oturehua in Central Otago. In Boundaries he pays homage to this part of the world and to some of the locals who have lived in the area for most of their lives. There is still a sense of community here. People help and support each other. Although as newcomers arrive and the way the land is used is changing will this still last?

Sport has always been an important part of his life. He gives a hilarious account of being a spectator at the annual Wooden Cup rugby match played on a paddock liberally dotted and peppercorned with sheep droppings. St Bathan’s wins for the first time since 2000.

“The team were a-not-quite motley collection of young bucks and oldish codgers, and their jerseys were varied, tired and multi-coloured. Amazingly no one tore a muscle, or ruptured ligaments, no one broke a leg, no one died.”

Cycling remains his passion. Should you be riding along the Central Otago rail trail enjoying the magnificent landscape spare a thought for Brian in winter when the climate can make it a challenging place.

‘When I go for a ride on my bike I often wear a balaclava under my helmet, woollen mittens, tights, a polypropylene singlet, T-shirt, cycling jersey and close-fitting windbreaker. And I shove two sheets of newspaper up the front between my singlet and the jersey.”

As an ardent conservationist he continues to speak his mind about the way things are going. “For how much longer are we going to elect and appoint people who ignore the evidence and warnings of scientists and others about continuing environmental degradation and species loss? Thus far the majority of those who govern and manage us won’t accept there are limits to growth, don’t seem too bothered about the increasing amounts of inequality, and who refuse, or fail to accept, the “change” and “progress” are not synonyms.”

Brian feels that as we grow older we realise just how important love and companionship are. “But I don’t just want to continue to do and discuss the things I love for as long as I can, I yearn to share them with those I love,” he writes.

His short poem on love touched my heart:
Love is being with someone precious in a place
where you feel uplifted, warm, grateful,
complete. Is seeing someone on the skyline
waving who you start running towards

He writes well and it his ability to evoke a sense of a small New Zealand place and the people who live in it which make this book special. The many photographs of the dramatic Otago landscape, taken by local GP who built a house just up the road from Brian, add considerably to the pleasure of this book.

Boundaries. Author Brian Turner. RRP $45. Imprint Random House NZ (Godwit)

Bill BrysonThe Road to Little Dribbling

Bill Bryson’s first book about travelling around in Great Britain Notes from a Small Island, was a runaway success and became the bestselling travel book ever.

Twenty years on his publisher persuaded him to do it again. So Bryson devised another journey along the ‘Bryson Line’ from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath. And recorded his travels in The Road to Little Dribbling.

How time flies! Bill Bryson, in his sixties now, has become a bit of a grumpy old man who regrets how the small towns he visits are, to his mind, mostly changing for the worse as is some of the surrounding countryside.  And he can be atrociously rude to people who serve him at McDonald’s, cafes, hotels and shops.

He’s still very fond a having a few beers in a pub but is less impressed with the proliferation of cafes.

But he can still make you laugh out loud with his hilarious anecdotes, historical tales and quirky trivia He still finds much to love about his adopted country and writes: “Nothing –and I mean really absolutely nothing –is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside etc.”

What he enjoys most is the pleasure of being on foot and at large in the open air.  And as he sees it London is the best city in the world with its 142 parks and 40% green space. “You can have all the noise and bustle of a metropolis, then turn a corner and hear birdsong-perfect.”

We enjoyed this book. My partner commented that he thought it was not quite up to the standard of Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island and that he had repeated the same old formulae but it still made him laugh and it was a good read.

I agree. Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island was always going to be a hard act to follow and some of his rather nasty comments in The Road to Little Dribbling made me cringe. But I love his irreverent wit and the way he pokes fun at himself as well as others.

The Road to Little Dribbling. Author: Bill Bryson RRP $50.00 Imprint: Doubleday

By Lyn Potter. Read more here.