Back in Johannesburg after five weeks away, it’s taking some time to settle into old rhythms and to get back into the building mindset.

We arrived unannounced at a site meeting on Thursday and my initial reaction was one of mild disappointment that there was not more progress to be seen.  We’d been on site three minutes when we were joined abruptly by an employee of our contracting company, who, without introducing himself, reprimanded us for not wearing hard hats and suggested that we remove ourselves from the site. We were too taken aback to respond for a minute and then introduced ourselves as the owners.  We pointed out that we had not been offered hard hats, that there did not appear to be any available for our use and furthermore that we were perched on the very edge of the site since there was nowhere to go without mountaineering equipment to navigate the high piles of red earth.  We were hardly in a danger zone.

Mountaineering equipment needed.

Mountaineering equipment needed.

The atmosphere shifted a little and hopefully we will be provided with the necessary hard hats shortly.  Far from resisting wearing one, I’m delighted by the prospect.  I’ve always wanted my own hard hat….  Watch this space.

The red earth mountains were what contributed to my slight sense of disappointment as they both prevented us from exploring the site and obliterated the view of much of the progress.  The foundations had been dug and many tons of earth removed from the site during our absence.


Foundation trenches .

Foundation trenches .

Fortunately, on arriving at the site, I had experienced the same sense of ‘rightness’ about it.  The outlook across the park is lovely, particularly with the trees taking on their fresh spring colours.

At the meeting we were reminded that until we had signed the JBCC documents, the contractor was unable to pour foundation concrete.  JBCC -Joint Builders Contracts Committee – have a website explaining their role in the control and supervision of building projects and it is important to have a contract signed at the start of the building process.  The documents had not been ready for signature when we left for Europe at the end of July but they were signed this afternoon and hopefully the concrete-pouring will begin soon.

In a nutshell, were anyone to ask me how things have gone so far, my response would that everything has taken at least twice as long as we initially expected.  Starting with PHRAG and getting permission to demolish the original house, to getting the plans passed, progress has been laborious.

In the heart of Tuscany two weeks ago, we heard that our plans had finally been approved, stamped and released.  We had expected to have them back in the first or second week of May.  Despite using two “Plan Runners” who – for a fee – undertake to facilitate and hasten the progress of the plans through various divisions of the planning department, it was almost 4 months before we had them back.  Other than adjusting the ceiling height of one room by a mere 200mm, there were no other design issues that needed to be addressed so the process does seem to have been surprisingly sluggish.

However, hearing that they had been approved and passed was good news and went some way to offset the only other communication we received in Italy which was an email from our ‘neighbour on the left’, informing us that ‘the philistines had wrecked her pavement garden’ and that she was informing her lawyer of that fact.  I continue to be intrigued that this person has apparently managed to renovate no fewer than twelve properties without causing even a minor inconvenience to anyone, ever.

At Thursday’s site meeting there was no sign of any damage to the pavement garden which is looking remarkably pretty considering we have not yet come to the end of our winter.

Moving on.  We were told right at the beginning that the building process would take about a year and at this stage we feel we should only start counting from next week.  That takes us to next September, about 9 months later than we thought when we originally bought the property.  This also affects when we can confidently put our existing home on the market.  We are bombarded by conflicting opinions by estate agents and even by friends as to what would be best.  Above all, we want to avoid moving twice and having to spend time in rented accommodation.  So right now, we feel we can only realistically market it early next year.  I am bracing myself for the calls from agents who were told we’d be ready to sell from this month or next and I admit to finding this aspect of things quite unsettling.

In the meantime, a drive around Parkhurst reveals other building projects apparently forging ahead at great speed and I am a little envious.  One small stand that sold at about the same time we bought ours, now has a house built on it up to roof height.  Needless to say, it was a level site with no previous building on it.

Our contractor told us today that he hopes to get to roof height before the Xmas break this year.  Originally we’d hoped to have the roof on before the rainy season starts, but at at this stage that might be asking too much.

While away we did take the opportunity to visit a few building exhibitions in London although it was difficult to relate what we saw to our own project which still seemed to mired in bureaucracy.   Some things bemused…..

London's answer to PHRAG.  I somehow don't think 60 years would count for much.

London’s answer to PHRAG. I somehow don’t think 60 years would count for much.

while overall the sheer choice of products is quite overwhelming.  In the end, with the exception of one or two unusual features we might find abroad, we are likely to be perfectly content with the decor options we have available right here in South Africa.  Our aim is to have a South African home in a South African environment and hopefully, when finally completed, it will both look and feel like one.