Updated: Jul 21, 2020
The next house purchase decision was made predominantly due to the garage. The corridor of a bungalow wouldn’t win any design awards but at one end it had a single up and over door, and when it was up, I couldn’t get over what was revealed. It was not your usual single car space, so narrow that you have to do the Dukes of Hazard through the window exit technique. If this garage had been a photo on a phone, someone had parted their thumb and finger across the screen and enlarged it in all directions. The expanded space was easily 2 cars deep with a flat roof extension, and extra wide, albeit at the expense of the lounge which was the other side of the internal garage wall. The rest of the house was horrid but that didn’t really matter.
However in the 7 years I lived there, although I remodelled and modernised the house, the garage never really fulfilled its potential. It was dark and cold, the vaulted roof took all the heat out and the inadequate window didn’t let the light in. I tried my best to brighten and warm it up. When I replaced the kitchen, the old one became bench and storage cupboards, but not having the best of memories I discovered that I was more of a shelving kind of guy. I needed visuals, I could never remember what was hidden behind the doors of the relocated kitchen cabinets and consequently all cupboards were opened to find that elusive can of hammarite or bottle of fork oil.
Nothing of note ever really happened in there, no glamorous rebuilds or restorations, no parties or inspiration, it’s a place the visiting smoker would go to avoid getting soaked on the patio. I did have a bike fire in there once, it was warm in the garage that day and smokier than usual.
The new owners turned the garage into a master bedroom, increasing the square footage of the habitable living space by about 25%. I moved to Bulgaria and increased my living space too. With a new sense of permanency it was time to build the shed to end all sheds. It was already there, in a Dutch barn kind of way. Open to the elements but with a tile roof and a single stone wall holding back the terraced garden that the semi-subterranean shed was built into. It was just over 40 foot long but with so much more potential than a container.
It had a wet bottom, never a comfortable situation and it was decided the best course of action was to dig a French drain inside the retaining wall. Unfortunately before the trench was filled with stone a wet weekend had the structure collapsing into the ditch that had been dug.
Well now it had character, don’t put a spirit level anywhere near it. With fast built 18’’ thick stone walls erected at right angles the subsiding structure was saved. Then a JCB was hired to dig a proper drainage trench on the outside of the shed wall. I tried not to think about the wasted labour, time and money. This was a shed for life and just like a sickly cat or motorcycle you just have to say ‘let’s make it better.’
Once the retaining wall was waterproof, the concrete floor was laid. All this incidentally, was done with a broken back, I just didn’t know it yet, but that’s another story. To be fair I subbed out the heavy work but the next stage was within my skill level. Two thirds of the shed were to be bike storage and the other, which was now conveniently divided by a retaining wall, was to be the insulated workshop with a mountain view. It was the most pleasurable of creations, I was literally making a childhood yearning come true. At a time when the pound was strong and my books were selling well, my Bulgarian bike sanctuary fantasy was about to become a reality.
A local electrician wired me up in a responsible way. The access ramp dig unearthed a drainpipe and I ran a feed from the well parallel. The JCB had excavated a carved stone sink. I’d exchanged some long-distance haulage for log burner reimbursement, so I had fire, water, power and it was all wrapped up in thick insulation.
Next came the picture windows, it was of course for light but I wasn’t about to deny myself the view. The problem was, with a scene from the shed that good there was to be a lot of stool time with my back to the bikes.
An iPod dock ensured the workshop rocked and the Wi-Fi signal reached inside too. 40 mm thick insulation on the ground underneath laminated floor and kitchen counter benches were making it a bit decadent. Tools on the wall and shelving this time for the easily seen and instantly accessible. I bought my big vice over from England but left a few others behind.
I didn’t want another fire, but I got one anyway, when the hot water heater tap spontaneously combusted. The stone sink saved the day, the shed, the bikes, the despair. As the melting remains thankfully toppled into it and not in the direction of more flammable surroundings. I got a smoke alarm the very next day, like you do, and I’ll get a padlock after the first theft.
As time and money allowed the other two thirds also became insulated for Bulgaria has some brutal extremes when it comes to climate. Walking out of a bright day into the darkened windowless storage area, with music playing from the workshop, and the relentless summer sun radiating through the terracotta tiles, I swear it felt like walking into a rave tent. Pounding bass, humid heat, squinting darkness and glowing body. Talk about taking you back, I think I feel a groove coming on. To cut down the inherent draft and dust factor I put in a ceiling and rolled out insulation on top. The inside became light and low and the wind of change brought no debris, the suffocating heat was left in the loft but I miss those dance tent characteristics a bit.
And now it’s finished, built to my abilities inside and out, no lathes or milling machines, I'm not that good of an engineer, no dovetail joints in the construction. But it’s workable, in fact it’s liveable, ultimately, it’s wonderful, and I think there is room for one more bike.
More detailed tales on my transition from Essex to Eastern Europe, the relocation, riding, renovation and integration into a new culture are told in my new book which is a diary of how I became an immigrant. Near Varna, when you’ve found your greener grass. Available here.https://grahamfield.co.uk/shop