Falling in love with Lawrence

20:43, Dec 25 2012
Lawrence in the autumn
AUTUMN COLOURS: St Patrick's Church in Lawrence.

Fifty Shades of Summer is a series of essays on the many variations of love and romance. MIKE CREAN is a writer and columnist for The Press.

Had an affair with Lawrence. It began one sultry summer in the 1970s. It lasted a bit over two years.

The end was sad, but we parted on good terms and have been in touch spasmodically ever since.

There, my secret is out. Just let me add, my beautiful Lawrence was not a male. Not even a human. Or an animal. I am not that kind of guy.

Lawrence is a small town in Otago. I lived there from 1972 to 1974, with my wife and two children. I went there on promotion as a teacher and I left there on promotion as a teacher.

That was the style in those days - young teachers using rural schools as stepping stones in their careers.


Leaving Lawrence was difficult. So difficult I contemplated giving up teaching, buying the local motels that were for sale, and staying.

My wife and I took a good look at the motels. They would have required intensive maintenance. Too much for a bloke who didn't know a chisel from a screwdriver.

We gritted our teeth, choked back the tears and drove away, up Central Otago, to our next school.

We moved away, but Lawrence went with us. I have never quite managed to get it out of my system. We have rejoiced in visits by friends from Lawrence. We have made a dozen trips back, always with excitement.

Ah, Lawrence, why do I love you? Let me count the ways.

Your physical beauty. It struck me the first time we met. I was on a road trip, 20 years old, trying out my new (old) car and seeing something of The South.

Driving from Cromwell to Dunedin, I puttered past the tall ex-BNZ building at one end of the town, between rows of grand old shop facades along Ross Place, hauled the Hillman round the 90-degree bend into Whitehaven St, and gasped like stout Cortez (if you will excuse a literary allusion) at the majesty of ancient trees lining the rows of cottages until the road entered the great curve that takes the traveller back into open countryside.

Returning four years later, driving and walking the steep streets, I realised Lawrence's beauty was more than skin deep. Stately homes clambered above one another up hillsides graced by trees of age and splendour.

Among them stood ornate, historic buildings - old courthouse, churches, council headquarters. Across the narrow valley where the Roxburgh railway once ran, a massif coated in trees of many colours reared up, like a guardian of the gully beyond, where Gabriel Read sparked Otago's gold rush in 1861.

Heritage. Lawrence, you are steeped in it. You remember ''Black'' Peter scavenging for gold in the 1850s, and making a living from it. You watched as Read stuck his shovel into dirt by a tributary of the Tuapeka River and blinked at nuggets shining like stars in a dark sky. You grew into a canvas town of prospectors.

You saw merchants, publicans, entertainers and bankers set up shanties. Panning in the creek turned to large-scale sluicing that stripped away hillsides behind the town. You believed the gold would never run out, so you replaced temporary buildings with permanent piles.

The people. From Constable Stevenson and his wife who took us under their wings when we arrived, homeless, and drove us around the town looking at houses, introducing us to people.

To the Sopers next door, who became, and remained, firm friends. Not forgetting the children I taught.

Such great kids. I can still rattle off their names. I recall the poetic perception of quiet Johnny Pearman, when my class sat beside the highway after studying Masefield's poem Cargoes and wrote their conjectures on the passing traffic.

I appreciate the consideration of robust Bernard and Michael Oliver, brothers of one All Blacks captain and uncles of another, taking our two children gently in hand at the school fair.

I smile to think of Jacqui de Vries staring closely while I read to the class, then raising her hand to inform me one of the cables in my knitted jersey is twisted the wrong way.

Teachers were accorded respect then, so getting to know people through school was a little artificial. But I was lucky enough to get to know Lawrence in more earthy ways. 

Transport boss Stuart Somerville gave me holiday work driving trucks, which brought me face to face with farmers.

These were true-blue, word-is-my-bond, no-nonsense types, like Joe Fahey, for whom I did occasional jobs. We spent much of the time discussing New Zealand's problems of the day from his perspective of a Labour Party candidate in a staunch National seat.

But this could go on and on.

When you are in love, nothing else seems to matter. Images of Lawrence keep crowding my mind. I'd better stop before I start.

The Press