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New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998

inside out — Home for writer Fiona Kidman is the place where she just is

page 177

inside out
Home for writer Fiona Kidman is the place where she just is.

Photography: Helena Hughes.

Photography: Helena Hughes.

A modest Hataitai bungalow, one journalist described it. I smarted a bit. Nevertheless, a fair description of my home. It's just that it seems so much more than that to me.

Our house, c.1928, faces the ocean, the vast panorama of Cook Strait in one direction, and in the other, the ever changing light and shade that lies over the Orongorongo hills. Beneath me lie scores of rooftops, as colourful and varied as the people who live beneath them. My house is full of white light, a light which bleaches colour to nothing in next to no time. Because I love light I do not draw curtains except when I must. Several windows have no window coverings at all. At night I like to watch large panels of sky turning from inky blue to star black, without distraction.

You have to climb 49 steps to reach the front door, although in recent years there is an alternative, via cable car up the steep side of a cliff. The house clings, precariously, some might say, to a shoulder of Mount Victoria, in the face of snorting southerly gales. Sometimes guests are so alarmed by the rampaging winds that I realise I take the hazards of living in this house for granted. House and us, against the elements, against the world.

So yes, it requires some dedication to live here. Our commitment began 23 years ago on a night of full moon. We lived two doors along in a house I was never able to call home. We did like the views, and the quiet neighbourhood, but there was little sun and no flat area for the children to play. This place came on the market without us knowing until the night before another offer was about to be confirmed. Ian and I walked over to have a look round.

We stood on the back lawn of the vacant silent house and the silver moon sailed above us, trawling light across the waters of beautiful Whanganui a Tara.

Is it safe to admit a felony after all these years?

Well, we broke into the house. The electricity was turned off, but the gas was still connected. We lit the heater and warmed ourselves. The house warmed us. We both knew we would live here.

We moved in a month later. In an odd twist, the other would-be buyers bought our previous house which they claimed to like better. My husband planted young kowhai saplings on the bank below our bedroom. "I want to live here long enough to lie in bed and watch the birds amongst the flowers," he said. He has succeeded.

Bit by bit we have added to the house. The basement area was hollowed out to become first our son's bedroom, later, my study. I wrote about this room in an essay called "Whole Sentences", from Palm Prints:

"The room … is painted a mellow shade of ageing apricot and it is full of books and pictures of my choosing and a giant notice board on which are pinned postcards from abroad, pictures of friends, living and dead, poems, and jokes from my daughter. There is a big armchair by the window where I sit, read, and consider the view, and a divan where I can rest. There is also my

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computer, fax machine, photocopier and filing cabinets … It is, in short, a room peaceful and private enough to think and write undisturbed, and equipped for the busy industry of producing books, scripts and articles."

Later, we built another room that sprawls back towards the hill, jutting into the garden. Here, my mother lived for several years. We leave it much as it was while she lived with us, so that she can return to it from time to time. Since this room was built, the house has acquired something of a C-shape, a long curved structure through which you can see all the way to the blue sea at the front.

My favourite room, perhaps, is the dining room. I read somewhere that it is not the done thing to put books in the room where you eat, but that's the way it happened; the best wall for floor to ceiling book cases is in this room. The room also holds old blue and white china, a painting I particularly love called 'The Piano Player' by Northland artist Wendy Laurenson, and of course, a big table that unfolds to (just) seat all 12 of us who now make up our extended family.

I am no great interior decorator. I wish I was. But finances have been slim, and there have been so many other things to do that the emphasis has always been on cleanliness, comfort and usefulness, the freshness of flowers inside and out, rather than on renovation.

Sometimes I think about another of the several houses I have lived in, a tiny cottage in the north, converted from a medical army hut. This was the house I shared with my parents as a child. It's saving grace was the light that fell outside, the landscape of trees and hills, and of water not far away. I can see now that wherever I live there will be this compulsion to look from the inside out, to see light and vivid colour all around me, even if I don't place huge value on internal decoration. Home for me is not for show, it's just the place where I am who I am.

If my house and I could talk to each other, at the moment it would be saying to me, 'I need some looking after. I protect you well, now get the painters in, and have some eaves fixed. Tidy up your act.' I have vowed to listen this year. I am reminded of Rachel McAlpine's lovely series of "House Poems":

tu, du, thou
I say to the house
Thou House.

Indeed. Thou house, I say, thou encompassing and encouraging house where I have had some of the best times of my life. HB

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