A new book burst on to the scene this week, a best seller on Amazon before the shops opened on Thursday. And no, I’m not talking about Ray’s book this time, I’m just grabbing a sneaky chance to revisit the mystery of the Hogwarts Treehouse.
To be honest I know nothing about hogwarts or where they live. I have never read Harry Potter but last month my eye was caught by the news that his creator had planning permission to build an adventure treehouse in her Crammond back garden. Apart from some neighbours grumbling that it will spoil their view, no-one is complaining. But that’s not the mystery. After all the week leading up to launch of The Casual Vacancy produced a crop of sympathetic stories including Decca Aitkenhead’s profile of JK Rowling in the Guardian and the revelation that the multi-millionaire believes in paying her tax – although that should not have come as a surprise to anyone who had read her Single Mother’s Manifesto published before the last general election.
Altogether, JKR sounds a thoroughly decent sort. So the mystery (to me) is why she should bring builders all the way from Kent to make a playhouse for her kids? Why not choose local builders to do the job? In one fell swoop the philanthropic Rowling could have done her bit to support Scottish innovation, increase local employment and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.
Blue Forest, based in Kent, may be an excellent company but three years ago Ray and I spent a very interesting few months meeting some of the most talented, progressive and idealistic architects and builders in Scotland. We were collecting case studies for a chapter on timber building for a wonderfully wide-ranging book called The Woodlanders. (the subtitle was New Life in British Forests but much of the material was gathered in Scotland).
Over moors and mountains we went – sometimes by phone or email but often by road in real life – to remote and romantic places where the living can be far from easy. We met a great bunch of creative people using a mix of ancient methods and advanced technology to create beautiful, environmentally sustainable and highly desirable homes, schools, offices and community meeting places (plus some very interesting composting loos). We found the promise of a Scottish timber-building renaissance which could bring social, environmental and economic benefits to both town and countryside but it needs government investment – in tree planting and tax incentive schemes – to reach fulfilment. And a little celebrity endorsement would do no harm.
So, as an interesting counterpoint to the breathless publicity about JK Rowling’s new ‘adult’ book, there was another news story on Friday – design awards for a house built from Scottish timber demonstrating the potential for sustainable, affordable homes in rural communities.
I can thoroughly recommend a browse through the illustrated pages of Woodlanders – or take a look at the websites of Scottish pioneers like Neil Sutherland, Robin Baker, Gaia Group, North Woods, Heartwood Frames, Sylvan Stuart … to name just a few. If JKR, or any other imaginative philanthropists fancy making more dream buildings come to life they are truly spoilt for choice in Scotland.