2 April 2013

The Ngaio Marsh House, Cashmere, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Ngaio Marsh House has a web site, which states that the house suffered scarcely any damage during the earthquakes: the message is unequivocal: it is open for business. Unfortunately though, it wasn't open to us, and under the present state of administration, judging from our experience it's doubtful that it's open for business for many people at all.

The first thing we did on arriving at our hotel in Christchurch was to set about arranging a tour of the house: it's only open by private booking and states that a visit on the same day is virtually impossible, but this was early on a Monday and we had the following day, or at the latest the Wednesday morning, in which to visit the house.

We were in for a few shocks though. My partner Penny began organizing a visit, but after two attempts on the phone in our hotel room she couldn't get through, so went to reception to find out what she was doing wrong.

Shock number one was that the advertised phone number of the Ngaio Marsh House seems to be incorrect, so the receptionist provided Penny with the right number.

Back at the hotel room came shock number two: the number merely put her though to the house, where the caller has to leave a message. Penny stated our interest in viewing the house, and asked to be called back the same, or the following, evening. No one called: clearly, the answering machine is in the Ngaio Marsh House, which is empty, and the curator or similar presumably only visits on certain days – well, either that or the person simply doesn't bother replying to all enquiries.

Disappointment is obviously one of our feelings: when you travel to the furthest point of the world from yours, with one of your intentions being to visit a place which you then find yourself unable to visit due to apparent indifference or incompetence or whatever, then disappointment is inevitable.

But our disgust at the shoddy administration is much stronger: the phone number is apparently incorrect, but we received no reply to our phone message left at the right number (which Penny says revealed a frosty voice spoken from the Ngaio Marsh House). This caused us to wonder about the problems other people in a similar situation to ours must have had.

The Ngaio Marsh House web site gives its dialling code from foreign countries along with its (apparently incorrect) number: are we seriously expected to believe that someone at the house (when and if they get round to responding up the phone message) will make an international phone call to arrange a visit? I find it impossible to believe so, as it seems they can't even trouble themselves to make a local call to a hotel less than ten miles from the house itself.

But then, to repeat, the Ngaio Marsh House has its own web site, so in spirit the organization seems to belong to this century – so why, instead of all the phone call nonsense, doesn't it leave an email address? That's the way things have been done since the later years of the last century.

We had no problems visiting three other authors' houses: The Janet Frame House in Oamaru is open every day from November to April from 14:00 to 16:00; the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace in Wellington is open every day apart from Monday from 10:00 to 16:00; and the day we arrived in Takapuna from Hamilton, we arranged to visit the Frank Sargeson House the following day at 10:00 with the extremely obliging Vanessa from Takapuna Library.

Let the message be clear: The Ngaio Marsh House has serious problems when it comes to anyone arranging a visit, although a simple email address (as long as it is read on a regular daily basis) is all that is needed to correct things, all that is needed to avoid angering potential visitors. Such as us.

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