Saturday, March 17, 2007

Open day

Today Selco Home held an open day at our house the weekend before we move in next week, to show the public the finished item. But it's not really finished. The kitchen lacks a cooker, the solar hasn't been connected, and the balcony is still just a steel frame.

The wooden parts around the ground floor roof are being stained white to match the top roof.

The cardboard is finally off the front door. It's a Tostem aluminium door made to look like wood. And indeed, it looks like wood.

The protective boards have been taken off the floor, and the pine wood flooring has been waxed. We were surprised at the brightness of the interior, with the light reflecting off the floor and walls. The colours are very easy on the eyes.

The lights have also been installed. We choose lights with an antique, Taisho-ero look. The light manufacturers have only a limited selection of types that accept fluorescent bulbs, so our choices involved some compromise. I'm satisfied with them. The missus says they look cheap. I reckon that when they get some dust sitting on them, they'll look just dandy.

One of the problems with building and furnishing a house in the Provinces is that the makers don't really care about the requirements of yokels for style. If you want something, you have to pick it out of a catalogue, and you have to judge by just one small photograph. The lights on the stairs looked odd to me in the picture, and in fact, they are a bit odd. Myself, the missus, the young master, and Kawabe-san the builder spent many minutes figuring out whether they looked best facing up or facing down. The jury is still out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


We've been looking for nice furniture to replace some of our heavily worn and frankly broken sticks. We put up with our kitchen chairs while they were still spattered with breast milk, but when the backs broke and I glued them together as best I could ... we still put up with them, although we took care not to lean back too hard and get impaled on the broken stumps. But up with that we will no longer put.

There is a nice antique shop at the bottom of the hill that specializes in English 'antiques'. Most of it is stuff from the 60s of the kind that I was brought up with, although they do have some older things. The owners are very engaging and talkative folks and the master of the shop frankly told me, "We make our living from other people's rubbish". I was quite taken with some of their rubbish and purchased a piece.

I don't think they are quite as familiar with English furniture as me, nor as aware of the history of materials. This item they reckoned was '1930s'. But it cries out '1970s!' (or thereabouts). The wooden frame is held together with hex head nuts which weren't used in furniture until fairly recently. And that 'leather' has a distinctly composite look. Indeed, where its slightly ripped, it has a fabric backing that says 'leatherette' to me. Also, to clean it up, I used some Redwing boot fluid on it, and it didn't drink it up like real leather does. Oh, and the leatherette cushion is attached with Velcro, invented in 1941.

Still, it's an exceedingly comfy slouch chair, especially with a slouchy off-center posture, with one leg cast over the side. I'm not sure that 1930s furniture was built to allow slouching quite like that.

We were also looking to replace our battered kitchen chairs, and looked at some real antiques. But most of them were ricketty, especially when they were in sets. Today we bought a fake antique oak chair at a big discount in a sale, and we're hoping to round out the set with three more (a bargain, even at the full price).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Moving the compost

By the simple expedient of throwing all our kitchen waste into a palisade of bamboo and waste fencewood, we reduced our weekly rubbish output by more than half. I believe the Medievals called these 'middens', but nowadays we call it 'the compost'. I built the enclosure one afternoon to the undemanding ISO Good Enough gardening standard, and it served very well for several years.

Over more than two years, it never actually produced any compost that I could use regularly, even though I chucked in huge quantities of food waste, autumn tomato vines, fallen leaves, and Special Lignin Breakdown Fluid. However, when it came time to dismantle the midden, the bottom half was nearly-black organic matter with worms holding little orgies in pockets here and there. They all went into my plastic bags for transfer to Hojo. Besides worms, there were fruit flies, and soldier flies, earwigs, and woodlice were well represented. I regret to say that in the summer, there were also mosquitoes. There were also a number of spiders, slugs, milipedes, and great big white beetle lavae.

The dark composty bits at the bottom of the heap are now gracing the tops of my beds in Hojo. Carrying really big bags of compost up and down steps is a little bit knackering.

Sweet liberation

Ever since I came to Japan, we have had to rely on kerosene for heating and sometimes for hot water. You either have to go and get it, or wait around for somebody to bring it to you. And it stinks, as liquid and as exhaust. It is a very un-ideal heat source. And we're going to be free of it in two weeks' time.

In our current house, we have two jerry cans for decanting into kerosene fan heaters, and a tank round the back of the house for hot water. The tank has to be kept filled, which means going behind the house and checking the kero level gauge. Forget about it and your water will suddenly go cold on you (we never let this happen, primarily because the compost heap which I visit daily is located next to the tank, so it was easy to check it). When somebody is using hot water, the metal boiler emits a stinky exhaust which blows in through any open window. Nice!

Every Saturday, a smelly kerosene truck comes round playing a loud, obnoxious jingle with a child singing about huddling around the bonfire. A very obsequious young man pumps out the Devil's Tea into your jerry cans and boiler tank while you stand around shivering. If you happen to want to be somewhere else between 10 and 11 am on Saturday morning, well, too bad.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The first of several bird boxes

Today we made our first bird box out of wood scraps from the house. The young master cut the wood in a somewhat unmasterly fashion, and I hammered the bits together. The result is reminiscent of a Normandy pillbox, but I hope the little birds won't be bothered by its stark lines.

We stuffed some straw inside in the confident expectation that birds who are happy with a jerry-built home also have no objection to pre-installed straw.

We'll have to find somewhere a bit higher than this stump to install it.

It occurred to me that a free bird-box with every home purchased would be a surefire, environmentally-sensitive marketing tool for any builder, so I took the liberty of branding our box.

Something with a nice sloped roof and a cute little round hole would obviously be better suited as a sales draw. And it would probably appeal to more customers if it didn't have the root of a thornbush nailed crudely to the side of it as a perch.

Inside the house, the carpenters have done an excellent job with the built-in fixtures. (Although I'm sure I heard one of them snort when they saw our bird-box...)

My office. A huge slab of wood for a desk, with holes for cables, a slot for two computers, and a raised dais for my monitor. The architect seems to believe that I consult a lot of books in my daily work, so generous provision has been made for a library.

The young master's room. This one isn't half bad either. It faces south and seems to be the sunniest room on the ground floor.

I keep showing pictures of this. I guess I'm just really pleased to have a chin-up bar in my house - I can't fathom why every house doesn't have such an obviously essential feature. Now I'm especially tickled by the fact that my head-slot has elegant casing running round it. This is the view from the little shoes 'n coat room next to the entrance. I'm sure it'll become a habit just to bang off a few chin-ups when entering and leaving the house.