There are some who maintain that life has a habit of repeating itself, and I’m inclined to agree with this sentiment to some extent.
It definitely rings true in the case of the somewhat nomadic existence Nina and I have found ourselves living since early 2015. I’d spent the earliest part of my life, from birth until about I was about 24 moving around the country a lot, initially due to my Dad’s job, then various job changes, culminating in a stint of further education.
After twenty odd years at our previous address on the lower slopes of Harrow Hill, North West London, we moved away, mainly to escape the seriously bad karma that was emanating from our new upstairs neighbour who rather unfortunately also happened to be the freeholder on our beautiful maisonette flat. Due to the length of our leasehold becoming an issue, we decided to attempt to extend it. However, due to the rather draconian, antiquated UK laws surrounding a procedure which should be, strictly speaking, relatively straightforward, it’s taken us nigh on four long years to get the whole sorry process sewn up and sorted out.
So, it was after a somewhat terse confrontation on our front drive one January afternoon with our neighbour which left me shocked and angry, I announced to Nina that I’d had enough – life was short, living there was now stressing me out… we had to make a move. I guess I’m a lucky man, but up until that point, I’d never had to deal with characters remotely like our neighbour, who seemed to bear a serious grudge, for reasons only known to himself.
I won’t go into unnecessary detail, as I’ve written about the first move already, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we lasted at our first rental – the Bungalow, for just 10 short months, then undertook another move literally just up the road to another beautiful spot. OK, it was situated rather remotely and was quite removed from any other neighbours, but at the time, that was just what the doctor had ordered.
We lasted here for about 16 contented months, on the whole. I guess throughout this period, it was always in the back of my mind that ultimately, the whole renting thing was prohibitively expensive and totally transitory. Once the leasehold issues on our Harrow place were sorted out, the plan was to look to buy another place.
Around January of 2017, we started vaguely browsing on RightMove and Zoopla. Nina has a very definite idea of the type of property she likes to live in, and to a certain extent, I suppose I do also, but at the end of the day, I trust her tastes implicitly. The main problem was that we didn’t really know where we wanted to live! After spending a large proportion of my teenage years growing up in the heart of the Chiltern Hills, I knew that in an ideal world, I’d like to go back there.
However, this didn’t stop us from looking at places as far afield as Milton Keynes. We found a beautiful place in Sibson – one of the older surrounding villages, which apparently is so steeped in history, it appears in the Doomsday Book. Of course, the greater the distance from London, the more one gets for one’s money, and this place was a classic example. Roomy, characterful, plenty of garden and parking – even a separate barn which had been converted to a dedicated office space, replete with wood burning stove. It would have been perfect for my studio. We went so far as to go and view the place, or rather the exterior, but when we discovered that it was a Grade II listed property, we came to our senses and carried on looking around.
One of our original remits was that we should be close to a tube station for the ease of commuting into London, but places such as Chorleywood and Amersham at the tail end of the Metropolitan line tend to command vastly over-inflated prices, way above what we were prepared to spend. Another dream of ours was to find somewhere with a ready-built outbuilding, which would act as my home recording studio.
In the event, it was whilst absently browsing RightMove one afternoon that I stumbled across a place in a little village perched above High Wycombe in the heart of the Chilterns. I couldn’t believe that I’d not thought of looking around Downley before. Excitedly, I sent a link to Nina, and we both agreed that this place fitted us like the proverbial glove. OK, so it wasn’t close to a tube station, but transport links into London were very good from Wycombe’s mainline station, albeit rather on the pricey side.
But it’s true what they say. 10 seconds is usually the timeframe in which one decides on purchasing a property. It’s a gut instinct, and within minutes of arriving at the property to have a look at the surrounding area, both of us had decided that this was the place we wanted to live. I suppose the fact that it was situated a stones throw away from Hughenden Valley, the Chiltern village I’d lived in as a kid, had some bearing on my own decisions, but we arranged a viewing as soon as we could, as interest in the property was significant. It transpired that the couple who owned the place were of a similar age to us, and they were only the second owners of a place that had been built around 1905. As recently as 2000, it had undergone complete renovation; they’d taken it back to a shell and rewired, re-plumbed, you name it – it was in immaculate condition. Having spent the last 20-odd years doing our Harrow place up on and off, Nina and I were keen not to have to spend any significant amount of time renovating a new place. Another reason to put an offer in.
My sister Claire visited two days before my 49th birthday and we took the opportunity to take a drive up to Downley to show her the area, which of course, having grown up in the adjacent valley, she was already vaguely familiar with. I think she ended up being an essential conduit in this case, as after a look around, and general encouragement in Claire’s positivity, I rang the agents and made a silly offer, which I knew would be rejected. But hey; if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And, on this occasion, we didn’t. In fact, when the estate agency rang back, they told me that the vendors were ‘rather upset’ at the offer! I knew that there was another viewing at 5pm that same day, so, keen not to lose the place that we’d already decided we wanted to buy, I got real and made a sensible offer, which, after about an hour’s wait, was accepted! Subject to survey, we’d bought a new house.
Then came the logistics and hard work.
Obviously, yet again, we had a whole houseful of stuff to move, which, for some reason only known to myself, I decided to undertake pretty much single-handedly. After all, we had our trusty old VW camper to hand, so rather than spending vast amounts of dough paying someone else to move everything, why not use what resource we had at our disposal and do the job ourselves?
As is always the case, the hardest part is actually commencement. I pontificated for as long as I could, even going away with my old mate Marcus for a few days of serious jollification on Dartmoor in the campervans, but once I got back from the trip, I started pulling the house apart, with [occasional] help from Nina. I decided to stick all the studio and related gubbins into storage again, just so it was compartmentalised and out of the way, whilst we dealt with all the other detritus.
Whilst I undertook the dismantling of the studio – the third time in under three years – I gazed at the mountain of cabling and miscellaneous wiring and wondered, not for the first time, how on earth I’d get my head around how to reassemble it all again.
Our time at Underidge had highlighted that in an ideal world, it wouldn’t make sense to have a studio within the confines of the main house. Thing is, I’m a night owl at heart. I tend to work during the small hours, and consequently, any noise I made would invariably keep Nina awake, which in turn would stifle me creatively. So, after a bit of umming and arring, I decided to invest in a professionally built, soundproofed garden room. After shopping around extensively online, I decided on a company called Green Retreats, based in Westcott, North Buckinghamshire. What with the government’s decision to relax certain planning laws, under the guise of permitted development, Green Retreats are now a very busy outfit. Why bother with planning consent to build an extension onto your home using bricks and mortar, when, providing you adhere to permitted development regulations, you can build a separate dwelling at the bottom of your garden for a fraction of the price?
Nina and I visited their showrooms and, after looking around, decided on the ideal size and model to order. Of course, nothing’s ever straightforward – the new place is situated in a conservation area, so I thought it wise to double check with the council planning department that it was cool to build – after all, I didn’t want to blow all my savings on something that I could potentially be asked to knock down, due to contravention of planning laws…
But, as is my wont, I’d already put the order in and paid a small deposit on the soundproofed room, so I contacted Andy, one of my Yorkshire mates who knows pretty much everything there is to know about all things construction – a proper craftsman, with a serious work ethic and genuine pride in his work. The space in the garden where we’d decided to plant the new build needed levelling as it was on a vague slope, and, whilst I like a challenge, there was no way that I could undertake this kind of thing on my own. In fact, I completely underestimated the scale of the task when the time came to get the base sorted.
We’d moved across from Underidge by the 15th July, and I’d booked Andy to come down to commence work on the 17th. Fortunately for me, I finally received a letter from Wycombe planning department the week before we completed on the property, granting permission for the garden room. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. If they’d have said ‘no’, I don’t know what I’d have done. Nina had been castigating me for jumping the gun, but I was insistent that I had the timings right. Firstly, we had to dismantle the existing 10’x10′ garden shed that was on the plot, which didn’t take long at all, then start on the levelling process. Thing is, the work coincided with some of the hottest weather of 2017, so we were sweating our bollocks off for the first two days. I’d taken the week off work, lending my labouring ‘skills’ to Andy and generally doing whatever he told me to do!
As I’ve already said, it was only once we’d started on the base build that I realised the magnitude of the task, and we ended up spending pretty much every daylight hour digging out foundations, cementing in new blockwork and making sure the new pitch was as level as could be, prior to the Green Retreats build team coming in on the following Monday 24th to drill the piles for the foundations. It’s always good to have a deadline, don’t you think?!
Andy and I worked really hard to make sure that we’d finished up by the Friday, and I have to say that it looked great. We also installed a new fence, new posts, fresh gravel boards and drainage around the site – a really professional job. We were pretty broken by the end of it though – both of us were physically fucked, to be frank.
The Green Retreats build team came in and put the base down, which took about a half day, then the main team came in the week after, erecting the body of the building and applying additional soundproofing. The week after saw the plastering team come in and add further baffling, then plasterwork, then it was a case of letting the plaster dry off, which, due to the inclement [wet] nature of the British summer, took rather longer than we’d have liked.
About 10 days later, the electrics were plumbed in, leaving the final fix team to come in and put the ‘finishing touches’ to the build – wood flooring, skirting and suchlike. It was then a case of painting the new room and making it ready for actually moving all of my CDs, vinyl and most importantly, studio equipment, out of the storage facility where it had been housed for nigh on 8 weeks and get it all housed in its new home.
I suppose this is where the business of moving house / studio 3 times in as many years became vaguely useful, as this time around I had a very definite idea as to the ergonomics of the new studio. I’d almost got it right at our last place, but there were some tweaks needed to the way that the Mackie 32/8 was configured, which I’ve now sorted out. I also sold a couple of effects units that I wasn’t making full use of, and it was with serious relish that I plumbed in my new addition, the Roland Space Echo. After noodling around with that for an evening, I can report back that it’s a seriously nice addition to my arsenal of effects, and you’ll be hearing the results of it in the not too distant future, I’m sure.
So, there we have it. I’m hoping that we’ll be staying here at this new place for quite some time, which won’t necessitate another dismantling of all this lovely old gear. But you never know, do you.