|Robert in the Shed- from my sketch diary. Riffing off the titles of his plays.|
There is one last thing to do when leaving the Robert Lord Writers' Cottage in Dunedin. It's to write in 'the book'. This is something that you are presented with at the end, rather than at the beginning of your tenure and it's a glorious rabbit hole of remembrance from past writers to dive down.
I recognised nearly all of them and was glad that the cottage is now equipped with double glazing and a heat pump, when reading about the battle to keep warm in an Otago winter- mostly from far north authors! This was my entry, typed printed and pasted because nobody wants to try and decipher my handwriting, least of all me!
I had all kinds of anxiety about coming to the cottage,
leaving our house and ancient cat in Wellington (in the capable hands of
friends of friends). We live in a big old 1910 villa, with my studio, a
basement for messy work and a garage with off-street parking. The information
provided was a spreadsheet of contents. How did a moustache cup relate to where
we would live for 6 months? How big was the bedroom? Was there enough room in
the kitchen for our sacred and necessary burr coffee grinder? Did the sofa bed in the
writers’ room provide space for a friend’s bag when folded down and in use?
I searched in vain for photos on the internet and all I
could find were smiling pictures of authors outside the front door, and one of
the mantlepiece. I’m used to light and space, and knew I’d be cooped up in a
historic tiny house with my husband. Would this be the end of a beautiful 40 year relationship?
I decided that I would take a full set of photos for the Trust
to pass on to future residents.
We packed the car in Wellington with my pared down art
materials, 2 computer screens, a sewing machine, clothing for multiple seasons
and some odds and ends from the pantry. I threw in our good cotton sheets and
steam iron; I was convinced there would be neither (there are). And off we
went, waving farewell to the city of my heart and wondering what lay ahead in a
city I’d only spent 2 days in (the Octagon) before.
When we arrived in Titan Street the party flat in George
street was in full swing, and one boy in disposable overalls approached and
asked if I would touch his bum as part of a challenge. This is the moment to
laugh and rejoice the boldness of youth, so I raised my finger ceremoniously
and prodded his offered derriere to the cheers of the onlookers across the road.
Then it was up to us, to greet the cottage and make it our
own for the time being. I think everyone adds in some way to the place. Our
contribution was to replace the lightbulbs with brighter ones and the Chinese
hat lightshades with rice paper globes that let the light spread to the
Adrian, my husband
fixed the front door hinges so that it didn’t stick, and we secreted a spare
key outside after locking ourselves out one day and having to call the Cottage
Trust rescue brigade. A couple of wooden blocks under the feet of one side of
the bed sorted out the tipsy lean. We moved some furniture around just a little;
Robert smiled from his place above the desk. Then putting away some travelling
boxes, we found his, in the shed. I gather it is empty, his ashes now beneath
the kowhai tree, but it seemed wrong to have him out in the laundry. We
restored him to the coal range where we
can say good morning and he can keep an eye on us, and I can thank him.
Each day I said goodbye to my husband and walked to the University
through that stunning campus to the College of Education. I would stop for a
coffee at the student Union or the Polytech Hub, and write in longhand,
listening and watching students in the wild. Back in Titan Street, Adrian swept
up glass and picked up rubbish, to keep it tidy and full of pride and I think
his example has worked on the students. He eventually found contract work and
the writers’ room has been busy with the sound of a keyboard in full thrash as
he delivers marketing strategy for the Otago Polytechnic.
The writers’ room has also been where we sit and drink wine,
watch Netflix, entertain friends and read books. We have watched students
stroll past from Fatty Alley (Great King Street) laden with takeaways. On one
cold day a girl walked past wearing nothing but a towel, and on another a boy in a
towel knocked on our door to ask if he could use a phone, locked out as he was
from his flat.
From our cosy cottage base, we have explored Dunedin,
Central Otago and Stewart Island. I have written and illustrated 2 children’s
picture books (due for publication with Pukeko Pictures later this year) the first draft of a junior
fiction novel and more than half of a YA Graphic novel (still a
I’ve visited schools, given
lectures and been involved in the literary events of Dunedin. I buried a
sketchbook in the cottage garden for 4 months to decay as part of my YA,
unearthed it and it’s perfect for photographing. I dried it out on a plastic
bag on the floor in front of the coal range.
Whilst it isn’t mandatory for a writer here, I got a tattoo, my first. It will feature in ‘the work.'
We have been cultural; we went to the Larnach Castle Ball as
Charles Dickens and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I made a faded and tatty wedding dress
complete with bustle on a borrowed dressmaker’s mannequin in the lounge. At one
stage, wedding petticoats and a veil hung in the shed, dripping tea stain. I
think this may be the only time in Robert Lord’s history a wedding dress has
been made in the cottage.
We have been amused by the cottage, warmed by the cottage
and sheltered by the cottage. I have learned to be economical with dishes and
cooking in the tiny kitchen. I think of Robert and wonder if he was more of a wine and nibbles sort of
chef. And in our final few days here, will be saddened to leave our temporary home.
It has become quite a part of us. Or we of it.
I thought about all the photos I
took when we arrived and how useful they might be to a new writer prior to arrival
and realised that entire charm of No.3, is the unexpected. The joy of
discovery; it’s the not knowing that makes this so good, so utterly special.
Not knowing what you are coming to, the friends you’ll make and the work you
will achieve… the ink you will get. Robert knows. What a good man.
I think I'll keep the interior photos to myself :)
With so many thanks, forever
& Adrian Parkyn
|Miss Havisham's Shed|
|Fresh Ink- Ampersand Tattoo|