Over the three years we have been sharing the workspace known as the 0-shotei , meaning in Japanese, the bush warbler’s hut, it has become increasingly clear that for one of us at least, it has not been working.
The space was not working. Neither was I. Well I was, but with difficulty, unhappily…
Much as I love my partner, he works in a far more active and vocal way than I do. Trying to concentrate was not easy with music playing, often with karaoke-style accompaniment, and a non-stop cacophony of samurai-style Japanese grunts and self-directed comments and discussion.
Our first idea – rather my first idea, let’s be honest here – was to develop the site where the garage stands. This wooden structure dates back to the late 1960s when my widowed mother moved from Coventry to live near her sister. Needless to say after 40 years plus it’s not in the best of shape, but with the concrete foundation remaining a sound footprint it made sense.
Summoning Gillies and Mackay, the Errol-based company that designed and contructed the o-shotei ready for our arrival in late 2012, we came up with a design: a new garage with an office on top, accessed by a flight of outside stairs and a balcony. Price agreed, a planning application was submitted to Perth and Kinross Council.
One day many months later a man in a suit turned up, walking in and around with great authority and a handful of proposed plans fluttering in the breeze.
“It’s a bit tall,” he stated.
“Really?” I replied. “With the log house on one side, and the stairs and balcony on the other providing width and balance, I think it will look lovely.”
Seeing his face darken at my audacity to disagree, I knew we were doomed.
And so we were. Plan denied: Unsuitable to location.
We took advice from our local community council (for not a single neighbour had protested) and considered re-applying: an appeal. But having already spent a lot of money, we were unsure.
Onto the scene strides our saviour, David of Kellstone Developments in Pitlochry.
I had met David at a farmer’s market in 2013, where he had a stall promoting his work as an eco-friendly mechanical engineer. We had been thinking to extend the cottage, and he came along and drew up some provisional plans.
Three years on we are still unsure about the extension. We want one, but not until we are sure we will be staying here. This depends on Akii getting permanent residency in 2018, and right now he’s on a renewed spouse visa. With immigration a hot topic, none of us know what the future will hold…
In a pathetic attempt to balance the books against the demand for entry from the EU, a certain Ms May is trying to throw out non-British spouses of British nationals. We know of several Japanese women married to British men who have been forced to leave, leaving families behind. There are Americans, Canadians, all with the same problem. So basically, we take nothing for granted…
And there is no point spending a small fortune on making the cottage larger and more sociable (we don’t even have a decent-sized table for eating with friends) if we’re not going to stay. As an estate agent said years ago, spend the money if you’re going to stay. Don’t if you are thinking to leave, because whatever you do it will always be a two-bedroom, one bathroom property, worth only so much.
This is what we were explaining to David November last, asking if he had any bright ideas for giving us more space.
“Have you thought about a container?” he asked. “You could sit it along the far side of the garage, so out of sight from the road. It won’t need planning permission and will cost less than half of what you were originally going to spend.”
Looking back, it was not exactly the right time of year for such a project. But David was excited, and so were we. So hands were shaken; agreements made.
First the base had to be excavated and laid and a lovely old redcurrant bush planted by my mother, relocated. The digger turned up late, but then it was December! As for David, when there was work to do, he was there in wind, rain and snow 100 per cent hands on and always cheerful and enthused.
January 8 the container arrived from Glasgow on the back of a truck. GOLD it read down the sides, and for sure we felt we had struck that very seam of precious metal. First it was unloaded into the field next door, then swung over the fence and manipulated into place. Neighbour Michael did a sterling job on the crane, and David manouvred it – to the centimetre – into place. Tall and slender, his strength and stamina was phenomenal. We could only stand in awe.
It was David who then cut out the widow space and doorway, fitted them out and built a doorstep, thus displaying an increasing range of talents. (I doubt most architects would know how to use a welding torch, let alone be ready and willing to heave flagstones and mix concrete.)
Assisted by two young Polish men, he insulated the container throughout, and then supervised the fitting of all electrics, all connected to the existing cable and box in the garage. By this time we were in late February and it was cold. Very cold. But the interior of the container was warm, and fake-oak flooring and several coats of paint made it even lighter. It was ready to move into.
So Akii did. In the first week of March he finally, after three years, unpacked his beloved music system, and carried his desk, filing cabinet and chair over to the KON-TE-NA (in katakana) and (provisionally) Music Box in English. He found he could not hang the divided curtain, ordered and delivered as a Christmas present from Japan, because the doors opened inwards. So for now it’s pinned up at the far end of the room – the music end of the room: a small rabbit sits gazing at the moon, listening, listening… (Akii is a rabbit according to the Chinese calendar.)
Now he can play his 70s music – Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Keith Jarrett – full volume and you can’t hear a thing outside. An amazing piece of insulation!
Last week we found amazingly ugly piece of furniture at Allsorts in Blairgowrie. Now it’s across the road with Jennifer Devaney (www.realcycleuk.com) who is upcycling it in blue and white with a musical theme for a music centre.
And when the weather improves, David will be back to paint the exterior indigo blue, clad it in part with wood, and lay gravel. We are all looking forward to the day we can officially cut the tape and declare it open. There may even be a party…
As for me, it felt quite weird when Akii moved out of where I’m sitting now in solitary splendour. I even felt bereft. But not for long. I have turned my desk around that it now sits on a slant facing the door, with windows to right and left, just as my old desk did in Japan. And have been writing in silence since 9am. Bliss.
As Virginia Woolfe is quoted as saying: ” Every woman needs a room of her own to write in.”
At last, once again, I have one.