Archives for category: Building

Wow.  It’s been absolutely ages since I updated this blog.  Home-in-the-Making is ‘made’ but, as any homeowner knows, homes are never ‘finished.’  There’s still quite a lot going on here and a few things still have to happen.

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I asked my local street corner ‘Beader’ to make little yellow chickens.  I think I got ducklings instead.

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So this is a quick update.  As usual in Johannesburg at this time of year, there is a distinctly autumnal feel in the air.  As recently as last week though, we were still having thunderstorms and heavy rain and the drought in this part of the country has been well and truly broken.  After just one storm on Friday, I measured 20ml of rain.

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It’s fairly late in the year for this sort of rainfall and our water storage tanks are brimful.  This is reassuring for the dry winter months ahead.  Should we have any inexplicable water cuts, we’ll be covered.

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Our house seems to have settled into its surroundings now.

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Autumn is creeping into our park.

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Guest Suite Over the Garage

My next project is to finish decorating and furnishing the guest suite over the garage.  These rooms have a separate entrance and would only be used to accommodate visiting friends if the main house were full.  Despite the mixed reactions I have had from friends on the subject, I’m thinking of trying this out on Airbnb when it’s complete.

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Galley Kitchen in Open Plan Living Area.

This is how the guest suite looks today.  You can see two perspectives of the living room and three of the bedroom, one showing the sliding door into the bathroom.

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Barn slider in guest suite.

Quite a lot needs to happen in this space before I can consider renting it out.  Let’s see how it will turn out. And in the meantime, Daisy wishes you all a Very Happy Easter.

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Spring has a way of approaching Johannesburg tentatively.  Much like many first-time visitors to this city.  It is usually a case of two steps forward and then a big step back which is why I only took the cover off my little camellHia bush two days ago, although the temperatures haven’t been much below 25 during the day for the past two weeks.

The first official day of spring in the southern hemisphere being today, it feels like a good time to introduce you to something special in my garden:  See if you can spot the difference between the two photos below:  This one…

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I’ve always had a thing for swings.  Old school friends tell me that when I was a little girl I was a hopeless party guest if there was a swing anywhere in sight.  I would plant myself on it and refuse to participate in any party games.  Not much has changed.  If I see a swing that’s fit for grown-ups, I’m on it.

So I was absolutely delighted to receive a very heavy Xmas present from my sister in England last December and to find inside it, a very special swing.  It came complete with ropes and has a solid oak, inscribed seat.

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Needless to say, it was quite a substantial addition to my luggage on the flight home but it was well worth the extra bag required.

There was much debate about where to position it in such a small garden and in the end I decided it should line up with the bay window.  It works this way from both inside and out:

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I swing on it almost every day and when my sister came to visit in March, she swung on it too…

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I plan to grow a climber over the frame but am still trying to decide what will do best.  It is a very sunny, hot position for most of the day.

Friends and family who know about this particular penchant of mine, have taken to sending me photos of beautiful swings in other parts of the world.  My daughter took the photo below at a villa in Tuscany where she did a cooking course at Tuscookany in June.

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Now I’d like to go there too…

Other variations of  swings that have found their way into this house are this basket one which lives on the upstairs veranda.  With its lovely views over the park, it is my favourite afternoon tea spot….

And this painting by Abe Opperman who features swings in much of his work…

 

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And finally, being Spring Day, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on what the garden looked like a year ago on the 28th of August, 2015.

 

And today, it looks like this:

A year ago the driveway looked like this:

And today it looks like this:

So it does seem as though some progress has been made.

The animals all seem happy too…

I had planned to write a garden update this morning but will postpone that until today’s dust has settled.  This post is coming to you live from my sofa and I am writing it with the sound of a burglar alarm ringing in my ears – and no doubt in the ears of most of my neighbours.

Parkhurst properties tend to be narrow with not much space between homes.  This means that trees planted on the boundary lines often encroach into neighbouring properties.  In this country, we are allowed to trim branches that overhang our fences and interfere with our roofs or gardens.

So on Friday morning I sent text messages to both my left and right neighbours, letting them know that we were expecting tree fellers here today to cut back branches on our boundary.

This is what I said:

“Hi there.  Just want to let you both know that we’re expecting tree people on Monday, hopefully in the morning.  They will be cutting back branches that are over our walls/touching our roof.  I’d very  much appreciate it if you’d switch off your electric fences while they’re working. Thanks. Jacqui”

I had a perfectly polite and co-operative response from my neighbour on the right while neighbour on the left took a different approach.  While I’m sorely tempted to include her message here, I’m not in the habit of peppering either my speech or writing with four letter words, and I won’t start now.  Needless to say, I did not take the trouble to reply and the tree men arrived, as arranged, about half an hour ago.

It would seem that we’re never going to be forgiven for building this house and changing this…

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View from the street

to this….

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I shared the message with Julian of Treeworks so he knew what to expect.  The electric fence had of course not been turned off so the alarm goes off each time the smallest branch lands on it and I suspect her armed response company must be calling her every five minutes.  This also means that the tree fellers are unable to pick up any debris that might have fallen into her garden and they have had to access all the trees from my side.  Ironically the trees are all either privets or syringa trees and if I’m not mistaken, both are regarded as ‘alien invaders’ in this country.

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Can you spot the man high up in the Syringa tree? He has carefully avoided the live electric fencing.

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Fellow workers looking on.  The white post to the right is part of the electric fence.  The man on the wall is standing on the wall we had to build a foot into our property, having been prevented by our neighbour from building on the common boundary.

This type of attitude is a mystery to me. There is no concern whatsoever shown for the men who are working around and above the live wires of the electric fence.  I have had several calls on my phone from an ‘unknown’ number (which I’ve ignored) and my husband has had one message left by our neighbour’s attorney requesting that he call back to discuss ‘damages’.  It goes beyond belief.  Fortunately Julian remains unruffled and his attitude transfers itself to his workers who appear faintly amused by the all the goings on.  If you live anywhere around here and especially if you have tricky neighbours, I can highly recommend him.

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TreeWorks

I have maintained a fairly low profile but Julian tells me he has been on the receiving end of a verbal lashing from my neighbour who came back from her office especially to deliver it. He is unfazed.

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Our right hand side neighbour has obligingly switched off her electric fence.  Here they are trimming the poplars.

And now, to add insult to injury, a massive storm has broken over Johannesburg and we have had to hastily recall all the men in trees…  This is the first rain we’ve had in many weeks and probably the last we’ll have for many months.  The weather men have been taken by surprise as we’d been told not to expect any more rain until the summer so this is some – welcome – late relief.  Just a pity for us it has chosen today to fall and it’s bucketing down.  The men have taken shelter and it seems likely that this little drama will have a second instalment.  In the meantime we wait for a lawyer’s letter from our neighbour who insists that her electric fence was damaged earlier this morning. Julian doesn’t believe it and frankly, neither do I.  And if she’d switched it off for just one hour, as requested, all would have been well.

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A late and welcome – if inconvenient – storm breaking over Johannesburg.

 

 

 

 

In September last year my daughter had an offer accepted on a  small flat in Hampstead, London.  Securing a property, no matter how small, in London, is no mean feat and although her offer was accepted in September, it was early January before the solicitors ‘exchanged’ and late January before the deal was ‘completed.’  The hiatus between having an offer accepted and completion can be a nail-biting time as any number of things can go wrong, not the least being a change of heart of either party.

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So receiving the news that the deal was sealed, so to speak, was a cause for celebration.  South Africans have to make huge mental adjustments when buying property in London and it is impossible to draw direct comparisons between the space money can buy on the tip of Africa and what it can get for you in this humming, heaving metropolis.

It seems that my interest in space and decor has been passed on to my children. Juliet looked at lots of flats last year and each one was more depressing that the one before.  Her search was not confined to Hampstead.  She looked high and low finding each flat more depressing than the one before.

So it wasn’t without some fundamental requirements that she subsequently came to see a Mansion Block flat close to Hampstead High Street.  It just so happened that not only was I visiting at the time, but my sister from Sussex had also come up to London for the day so we were able to bring our combined experience to bear on the three flats we saw in Hampstead that day.  One subterranean lair still gives me the jitters just thinking about it.

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View of Hampstead High Street

The owner of this particular flat was at home when we visited and the flat was dingy and cluttered.  But it was oblong; shoebox-shaped with no funny angles or staircases to nowhere. (And yes, we’d seen a few of those.) Best of all, it had beautiful, tall, sash windows and although ground floor, faced onto banks of hydrangeas.

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At some stage, someone had fitted built-in cupboards down the longer side of the bedroom, meaning that a queen-sized bed could only fit with its headboard against the windows.  This gave the room a ‘stretched’, elongated look.   Then it turned out that the cupboards were so shallow it was impossible to hang coat hangers any way but one behind the other and adult-sized shoes had to lie longways…  Juliet’s first thought was to get those cupboards moved.  And her second was to get the entire flat painted from top to bottom and the floors redone.

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The bed, off centre, against the windows. One wall covered in dark, textured wall paper.

The keys were finally handed over and Martin, the  Polish builder, started work on February 1st.

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Keys at last

Martin calls himself a ‘Handyman’ but has proved himself to be so much more than that.  We think he has an engineering background and we know that he remains stoically undaunted no matter what household building obstacle is put in front of him.  In fact, I’ve seriously considered flying him out to Johannesburg to finish of our snag list here, once and for all.

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Built in wardrobes along ‘wrong’ side of bedroom. Note the smaller, mirrored door next to the window.

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Martin moved the mirrored cupboard door and installed it on the entrance hall cupboard.

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Here it is all spruced up and with a new Mother of Pearl handle from Portobello Road.

This time, he brought along two Polish helpers and the three of them together, in just two weeks, wrought miracles.  They expected to finish on the 17th of February and were apologetic about running overtime to the 18th, when they had to work side by side with two cleaners, miracle-workers in their own right.  By the end of last Thursday afternoon, when the builders handed back their set of keys and the cleaners left, the flat looked brand new and as though there had never been any previous residents.

The two biggest changes, other than installing new bedroom cupboards, were to repaint the entire flat and to refloor it.  The bedroom was carpeted, the small entrance hall and living room had very old, dark wooden floors that could not withstand further sanding and the kitchen floor, also wooden and equally aged, was a hazardous step up from the living room.

IMG_3182 Juliet found several floor samples she liked and after poring over  photos and one visit with her to the supplier, she settled on one she liked which is quite similar to what we have had installed in Johannesburg.

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Cupboards removed, beautiful new floors laid.

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New mirrored cupboards from Ikea.

The flat doesn’t get much direct sunlight although the windows ensure that it is not dark.  Mirrors are also very effective in ‘bouncing’ light around.

 

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The bedroom on the first night.

The bathroom, other than needing a shower screen, new cabinets and a very good scrub, was salvageable.  While the entrance, living room and bedroom have all been painted in Farrow and Ball Wimborne White, the bathroom and kitchen have been redone in plain white.

When you’ve looked at enough flats in London, a bathroom with an actual window is a big win…

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Bathroom as it was.

 

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Before…

And after…

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Bathroom now.

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Below is the kitchen on the day we saw the flat:

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The kitchen as it was.  Note door on the right – entry from the living room.

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Long drawer installed under the countertop and a shelf below.

With the exception of the oven which was not salvageable,  the kitchen is remaining essentially the same for now.  The door from the living room into the kitchen has been removed to create more space in what was a very inaccessible area behind it.

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Old oven and light fitting.

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New oven and induction hob installed.

The kitchen came with a washing/drying machine on the left and on the right of the oven, behind the panelled door, is a 6 place-setting dishwasher.

The workmen and the cleaners finished off at about 4pm on Thursday the 18th and the movers were booked to bring the furniture out of storage on Friday the 19th.  In Africa I’m not used to working to such a tight schedule.  I tend to always have a few days grace in-between times to allow for the inevitable delays and no-shows.  So it was not without a degree of trepidation that we awaited the arrival of the moving men on Friday 19th but they arrived absolutely on cue.

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Van in the slip road outside the Mansion Block  There was much discussion as to where to park it so as to cause the least inconvenience, but eventually the driver manoeuvred it right outside the front door closest to the flat.

A very busy day followed.  We unpacked as much as we could as fast as we could, so as to send away as many empty cartons as possible when the truck left. By the end of the day the flat looked very habitable.

The following day we set off in search of bedside lights and ended up in Heals on Tottenham Court Road.  I love having a good excuse to visit decor shops in other countries and Heals was a very rewarding place to spend a morning.

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I just loved these balloon ceiling lights and wished I had an excuse to buy them.

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Also loved these……..

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And these ‘balancing’ table lamps…..

Heals offered all sorts of distractions:

I loved the vividly-coloured fabrics and cushion covers they sell which so beautifully off-set the neutral base items that continue to be popular.

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Gorgeous Jewel Colours

And this is how the flat looked by the time I left two weeks later:

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Seeing this sort of transformation in two weeks was hugely satisfying. In the end it  came down to new floors and new light fittings, a fresh coat of paint throughout, an incredibly good clean and, most importantly, great workmanship from three Polish guys who take enormous pride in their work and for whom nothing seemed to be too much trouble.  They even came back the day after finishing, just to hang pictures.

And now I’m looking forward to having the time to get to know Hampstead much better.  It’s a beautiful part of London.

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Hello Hampstead! These crepes are worth the queue.

 

 

We have builders back on site.  Not the original ones, mind you.  We don’t want to see them again any time soon.  If ever.  Bernard has found us someone new and we’re doing a small alteration.

When we decided to downsize to a house with a small manageable garden, I believed I’d get by with only a garden service company every fortnight.  The small toilet and handbasin next to the garage would then have been more than adequate.  But during the moving process we ‘borrowed’ William, a young, enthusiastic Malawian man who works for friends of ours once a week.

William helped us in all sorts of ways both when we packed up the old house and put things into storage.  When we eventually moved into this house  and needed to collect  various potted plants and other garden paraphernalia which had been in the care of  long-suffering friends, we borrowed him again.

William showed himself to have great initiative and to cut a long story short, he is now our once-a-week gardener.  As our exceptionally hot summer dragged on and on, I started to feel the need of providing him with a shower rather than just a basin and I spent some time thinking about ways we could extend the little bathroom to accommodate one.

I asked Bernard about it and he came up with an excellent idea.  Our garage is extra- big and he suggested knocking an opening through the garage/bathroom wall and building the the shower cubicle out into the extra garage space.  It meant that neither the basin nor toilet needed to move and was quite the simplest and best option.

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So that is what it taking place right now.  This little job has had little impact on us and the workmen tidy up so thoroughly each night, you’d hardly know they had been here at all.  And I think it will make a big difference to William when it’s finished.

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The garden is growing beautifully despite the heat and water restrictions.  Desperately hot days have been interspersed with some spectacular and violent Highveld summer storms bringing drenching rains of several millimetres at a time.

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Summer Storm building up

This is what the garden looks like now:

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Fortunately the carefully thought out drainage on the south side of the house has worked well.  Unfortunately we have sprung a leak over the bay window on the north side and now need to get that roof more or less redone.

Inside, we’re making progress on a weekly basis.  Pictures have been hung and small changes made to the arrangement of furniture.  I decided to offset the yellow wood dining room table by using ghost chairs rather than more conventional wooden ones.  They look good and pick up on the glass of the staircase balustrades:

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I like the way the Ghost chairs leave the view almost unimpeded.

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After a Storm: The view from our balcony.

 

With the focus of my attention having been so fully on moving house for the past several weeks, I haven’t been keeping up very well with progress on the building.  It is a relief to be able to concentrate on the new house again.  Below is a collection of photographs showing more of less how things looked when we left Johannesburg last Saturday:

Electric Sliding Cottage Gate Installed.  To be painted white.

Electric Sliding Cottage Gate Installed. To be painted white.

The emphasis for the past two months has been on getting the cottage completed so that the office can function again from a fixed base.  The ‘box’ fitted into the wall to the right of the gate (for those of you overseas), is the electricity meter board for the entire property.  Meter Readers, who carry keys to these boxes, are supposed to do regular readings.

Cottage Flooring going in.

Cottage Flooring going in.

When it came to the wooden flooring, I have to admit to having been an absolute sucker for marketing.  I have loved all the Oggie flooring print advertisements since I first became aware of them.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a room photographed for one of their adverts that I haven’t wanted to move into.

Oggie Ads

Oggie Ads

A visit to their showroom, right back in the beginning when we first started this project, confirmed for me that Oggie floors were the way to go.  And so far, I’ve not been disappointed.  The installers worked beautifully and the floors look great. We chose oak planks in grey mist finish.

Flooring looking good.

Flooring looking good.

Cottage Second Bedroom, South Facing Window.

Cottage Second Bedroom, South Facing Window.

Above is an inside view of the re-positioned window in the second bedroom of the cottage. The carpeting has also been laid in the two bedrooms and since this photo was taken, the skirting boards have been installed.

2nd skylight on the left installed and small west facing window.

2nd skylight on the left installed and small west facing window.

The west facing wall of the cottage looked a little ‘blank’ to begin with, especially from the outside, so we decided, quite late, to add a small west-facing window which you can see in the photo above.  You can also see the two skylights; one west facing and one north facing.  We have used Velux skylights throughout the cottage, guest suite and house.  We had one in our previous home which we loved and we’re very familiar with them in England.  They all open and they don’t leak.  All the skylights have blinds.  We’ve gone with manually operated blinds as they’re simpler and perhaps there is less to go wrong….  We’ve had expert service from Wolfgang Hinze who has the sole agency for Velux in Johannesburg.

Tiling underway in the upstairs cottage bathroom.

Tiling underway in the upstairs cottage bathroom.

The cottage has a very compact downstairs guest bathroom (a toilet and basin – sink for the Americans…) and a small bathroom upstairs comprising a basin, toilet and a shower over a bathtub.  We’re using the same white subway tiles in all the bathrooms on the property.  This little bathroom needs a sliding door and we’re having a some trouble extracting this from the door company.  They have supplied the door but seem to have stalled over the sliding mechanism.

The start of the kitchenette cupboards in the guest suite.

The start of the kitchenette cupboards in the guest suite.

As soon as the cottage is finished and ready for occupation, we’re moving the pressure onto to the guest suite.  Once that is complete, we might have a place to stay when travelling back to Johannesburg for site meetings etc.  The photographs do not show the sloping ceilings very clearly but you  can work out where the slope begins from where the white paint starts.

The small windows above the counter echo those in the main house kitchen. The boundary wall down the east side is very close to the windows.  Close enough to have wall-mounted pots for herbs growing just outside.  At the very least, I will have some sort of garden decoration mounted on the wall beyond the windows.

Taken from living room, looking south through the library.

Taken from living room, looking south through the library.

It was good to be able, finally, to get a sense of this space, looking from the living room, south through the library.  For over a year, this double door space has been boarded up and the library space has been used as a site office. Eventually there will be sliding doors in this space.  Again, while all the doors in the main house have been delivered and installed, we are still waiting for these.  Sliding doors seem to equal delays for some unknown reason.

Taken from library sliding door opening, looking north, through living area and patio to garden.

Taken from library sliding door opening, looking north, through living area and patio to garden.

Now this opening has been boarded up again as we’re using the space as storage for the office furniture that we hope to get moved into the cottage this coming week.  So below is what the library looked like on Friday…

Library used for storage.

Library used for storage.

Below is a reminder of what the north library wall should one day look like:

Shelves (white) will surround the sliding doors between the library and living room areas.

Shelves (white) will surround the sliding doors between the library and living room areas.

The sliding doors (when they arrive) will slide behind the shelving; ie between the back of the shelving and the wall.

Compacting the front (north) garden.

Compacting the front (north) garden.

The level of the front garden has been raised considerably but there is still quite a way to go.  I am reasonably satisfied that I will not hit broken bricks and other rubble each  time I try to plant something, having been very specific about this from the start.  I’ve watched this process carefully over the past few weeks and they seem to be doing a very thorough job.

The pool company is supposed to move on site in about a week, so finishing this is important.

 

Recent Site Meeting.

Recent Site Meeting.

 

The Patio Stacking Doors in place.

The Patio Stacking Doors in place.

Most of the time, I expect these doors to be open and because veranda space is important to me, I thought carefully about having them at all.  But with downsizing to a house with effectively one open-plan living room, being able to use the outside veranda space in all weather is very useful.  There will be fixed glass panes in the curved spaces above the doors.

Barrow Art

7 Wheelbarrows Hanging on the Wall…

And someone, somewhere in the chaos of this building site seems to have a sense of style!

Eddie's Removal Truck outside on Feb 23rd.

Eddie’s Removal Truck outside on Feb 23rd.

It’s funny, the places that writing will take you.  Having never given it much of a thought in the past half a century, the nursery rhyme ‘I wish I lived in a caravan’ spooled through my head on repeat for the whole of last week and much of the week before that.  So last night I googled it and found it was actually regarded as a poem and was written by someone called W. B Rands.  I remember the illustration vividly and my ‘Hilda Boswell Treasury of Nursery Rhymes’, dog-eared and somewhat worse for wear, is one book that has survived many culls and charity book sale appeals but is right now inaccessible to me. It is packed away in one of the approximately 100 boxes that have gone into storage so I’m unable to reproduce the picture here.  But it’s not the picture that kept running through my head, it’s the sentiment: “I wish I lived in a caravan With a horse to drive, like the pedlar-man! Where he comes from nobody knows Or where he goes to, but on he goes.” That was the first verse.  On Google I discovered several more verses and found the last one oddly relevant to me: “With the pedlar-man I’d like to roam, And write a book when I come home, All the people would read my book, Just like the Travels of Captain Hook.” By the end of last week I felt I could just about write a book, or at the very least, an article, about what to expect when you pack up a fairly big house after 20+ years of living in it.

Moving Out.

Moving Out.

As it was.

As it was.

As it became...  Special packaging was constructed around the piano to move and store it.

As it became… Special packaging was constructed around the piano to move and store it.

The Doll's House, still incomplete, also required special packaging and was the source of intense interest.

The Doll’s House, still incomplete, also required special packaging and was the source of intense interest.

It was very hard work.  It wasn’t particularly emotional or sad – in the end there really wasn’t much time left over for sentiment – it was simply exhausting and all-consuming.  On just one day last week my Fitbit informed me that I had done over 13000 steps – 3000 more than my daily goal – and I had not even left the house.  The packing just seemed to go on and on despite the loads that left with Joseph, with  Caroline – 2 full trucks – with Hospice and with another wonderful charity called Cordis Brothers and the deliveries we made to Meals on Wheels and an Aids Orphanage.

Caroline on her way to retirement.  With two grandsons and a friend.

Caroline on her way to retirement. With two grandsons and a friend.

And  I know that when the time eventually comes to unpack in the new house, there will still be more to give away.

Too much stuff. But the little chair, made for an ancestor in Oxford 150 years ago, has to come along.

Too much stuff. But the little chair, made for an ancestor in Oxford 150 years ago, has to come along.

I never want to own so much stuff again. For now, the furniture destined for the new house is in storage with the removal company as are rather a lot of boxes.  And still more boxes – because we were not ready in time – are stored in the homes of several long-suffering friends.  The three unsuspecting cats are all boarding in a cattery and this has left me more aggrieved than any other aspect of the building delays. Finally, last Saturday, a day later than planned, we were ready to hand over the house keys and – with  Daisy squashed into a corner of the back seat – we set off on the long journey to Cape Town.  Ironically, it was the thought of the open road that kept me going over the last few days of packing.  I found myself longing for the wide open spaces of the Free State and the Karoo and although it has been inconvenient not being able to move from one house directly into another, in the end I think this hiatus period will be a good thing.

Karoo Skies

Karoo Skies

My love of long road trips and of driving often draws sceptical looks but recently I discovered in the writing of Antony Osler, an echo of myself: “I love the empty road.  My eyes attend to everything but don’t get caught anywhere.  They see without trying.  I welcome whatever comes into my field of vision, I let it all pass behind me without regret.”………………..”Just driving. Just driving and seeing.  Just driving and seeing and thinking.  Letting the landscape flower through me as I flow through it.” (Zen Dust, Antony Osler, Jacana Media, 2012). So it’s not only me!  I feel vindicated.

Storm over the Free State.

Storm over the Free State.

Boxes Everywhere

Boxes Everywhere

Home is chaotic.  Boxes are piling up in every room.  Some are marked for storage, some for charity, some for Cape Town and some even for England.  Caroline casts repeated, acquisitive glances over the various piles of  belongings and she is not interested in charities.  I feel like a smuggler in my own home as I hurry a few possessions into my car in an effort to reach far needier communities.

Our buyers are very enthusiastic and have now visited on three different occasions with an entourage of relatives, painters, decorators and builders and spent up to two hours in the house at a time, measuring, discussing and debating.  Daisy, the nervous spaniel,  becomes quite desperate with anxiety.  I have put her on tranquilisers but they seem to be having little effect.  She behaves as though the new family are dangerous intruders, which – to her – they probably are.

Daisy can actually mimic a Rottweiler.

Daisy can actually mimic a Rottweiler.

The London kitties hide upstairs while Monty lurks in the shrubbery and shows up at mealtimes only.

Monty on his favourite chair.

Monty on his favourite chair.

He sauntered across the lawn on Wednesday evening only to stop dead when he reached the patio and discovered that his favourite chair was no longer in place.  It had been carted off in the morning along with some other bigger pieces of furniture, never to be seen again.  He is getting more and more suspicious and I’m afraid he will disappear into a neighbour’s roof as he has done on one or two other occasions.

The start of serious downsizing.  This truck carried off lots of things and I haven't given them a thought since.

The start of serious downsizing. This truck carried off lots of things and I haven’t given them a thought since.

It is not peaceful.  In between packing boxes we’re trying to speed up our building process and quite a lot is happening there now.  It seems as though the cottage/office will be ready for occupation by the 24th of February.

Cottage Upstairs.  We've added a window and extra skylight since this picture was taken.

Cottage Upstairs. We’ve added a window and extra skylight since this picture was taken.

Not only have we added a small window and an additional skylight to this room, I also met with Bernard just last Sunday and asked him to change the position of the two windows already in place.  I felt they had been placed too low and had been worrying about them for months.  They were moved within days and I’m much happier with them now.

South facing cottage window has been repositioned.

South facing cottage window has been repositioned.

North window in new position.

North window in new position.

 

The main move is happening on the 23rd, when all the furniture and boxes that are going to the new house, will be taken away for storage.  The garden pots and outdoor things are being moved on the 20th which is also when our daughter will be moving into other temporary accommodation.  And the office movers will come on the 24th.  The logistics are quite complicated.  Especially when I always envisaged quite a leisurely move from one house directly to the other, spread over a few days.  No such luck.

But last Tuesday I had reason to be in the suburb of Fourways and while I was there I visited one of my favourite decorating shops, The Private House Company.  I had a lovely time wandering around looking at all the beautiful house and garden furniture.  I delayed going home as long as possible but eventually returned with renewed enthusiasm for ‘starting over.

Pvt House showroom

Private House Showroom

Private House Showroom

Pvt House showroom 4

I love the natural, quite tactile elements that this decorator incorporates into all her rooms. She manages to capture a sense of Africa without leaving one feeling overwhelmed by it.  I’ll be going back there.

And yesterday I escaped to Cape Town for a few days.  I had a commitment down here made many months ago when I thought we’d already be completely settled in the new house.  As the time drew nearer I started to question whether or not I should still come but I couldn’t wait to get a little bit of distance on all the disruption at home.  I got off the plane into temperatures 10 degrees cooler than Johannesburg where we’ve been enveloped in the most oppressive heat wave for the past week and was immediately relieved to be here.  But most importantly, I walked into the cool, uncluttered calm of our small Cape Town house and knew at once that we’re doing the right thing in Johannesburg.  I shall return on Monday to tackle the downsizing, throwing out and decluttering with renewed vigour as we enter the final countdown.

Sunset over Camp's Bay.

Sunset over Camp’s Bay.

In November we sold our house.  Had we known just how slowly our new house was going to progress, perhaps we’d have waited a few more months but it’s a difficult call to make and in most ways, it’s a great relief to know that the deal is done.  We’re particularly happy about the fact that a lovely young family have bought it and we’re sure they’re going to enjoy being here just as much as have.

Board outside our house.

Board outside our house.

The slightly unexpected thing is that the buyers want to move in at the beginning of February and we didn’t feel we could keep them waiting until April so a compromise was reached for the beginning of March.  And that is just around the corner.  With our Parkhurst completion date moving further and further away and no really sensible communication from the contractor on the subject, this has complicated things quite a bit.

Most of our possessions (those that survive the ‘downsizing’) will have to go into storage – as will we.  At this stage we plan to spend some time in our Cape Town holiday house, but managing what has become quite a problematic build, will be challenging from there and will require lots of trips back to Johannesburg.  And the 3 resident cats, which include two who arrived from London with our daughter in November, will have to spend at least a month in a “kitty hotel.”  None of this was anticipated.

Cape Town house.

Cape Town house.

So packing has begun in earnest.  How do animals just know that boxes mean bad news?

Daisy and Monty show their disapproval.

Daisy and Monty show their disapproval.

Izzie is determined not to be left behind.

Izzie is determined not to be left behind.

So things at home are quite upside down at the moment and the situation was not helped by an attempted break-in last Monday in the middle of the day.  There was a short period of about 20 minutes when there was nobody actually in the house and during that time, somebody managed to get through the pedestrian gate, down the driveway and onto the patio where they attempted to force a locked French door.  They must have been disturbed as they didn’t get very far and it was only because of two garden gates left open that we first suspected anything at all before finding evidence on the door in question.

There is a perception that having a ‘Sold’ sign outside one’s home is an invitation to burglars.  I have never taken this seriously but now I’m not so sure.  Maybe there’s a sense that things will be disorganised and that people will be caught unaware? So we’re being extra vigilant now.

Packing up a home where one has lived for over 20 years takes time.  All sorts of unexpected bits and pieces, long-forgotten, emerge from the back of cupboards and demand attention.  Particularly things that belonged to parents and grand-parents. Aiming, as I am, for an uncluttered home, much thought has to go into the destiny or next life-phase of some of these possessions and it is this that takes up so much time.  I’m often tempted to simply box up everything and deal with it at the other end and I suspect that as the time draws nearer, that is exactly what will happen, but right now I’m still trying to be sensible.

Funnily enough, despite many dire predictions, emotionally I feel absolutely ready for this move.  Over the Xmas holidays, with only two of us in the house, it was abundantly clear that we are taking up too much space,  much of which we hardly ever use.  I’m looking forward to having cleaner, clearer, nearer boundaries.

And although I’m told that I’ll be away from Johannesburg at the worst possible time as far as the building is concerned, at this stage I’m really looking forward to the complete change of scenery and pace that some time in the Cape will offer.

The most difficult thing for me, apart from the interminably slow progress of the new house, is going to be retiring our housemaid and gardener, both of whom have worked for us for over 30 years and both of whom are going somewhat reluctantly.  Caroline will be going home to a house we bought for her many years ago and where several of her family members live.  Just beyond Pretoria, it is not too far away and I have no doubt we’ll have many visits.  I’m not particularly concerned about her future.  Joseph, on the other hand, is not well enough to return to his home country of Zimbabwe and at the moment it seems he will have to live with two of his sons in a township east of Johannesburg.  He’s always had a rather fractious relationship with these young men and I hope all will work out and that they will take care of him and get him to his out-patient appointments when necessary.  His departure from here is not going to be easy.

For so many African people, their lives are intricately bound up with the lives of their employers, especially when they have been with one family for so long.  Now I feel as though I’m dismantling those lives day by day and more than anything else, this is what I find unsettling. I think the temporary move to Cape Town might be good for all of us.

Looking forward to Time-Out in Cape Town.

Looking forward to Time-Out in Cape Town.

 

Spires in the small town of Wellington, viewed across vineyards.

Spires in the small town of Wellington, viewed across vineyards.

Last Monday, the 27th of October, I took a break from flying around Parkhurst on my broomstick and went wandering around the vineyards of Wellington in the Western Cape instead.  Along with a group of 10 friends, we did, not for the first time, the Wellington Wine Walk (wwwwinewalk.co.za) which involves three full days of walking and three nights staying at different wine farms.

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

This time we walked 16kilometres on the first day and 12 on day two and three.  The walking is punctuated with several stops on different estates, tasting wines, having lunch and generally getting some idea of life down in that part of the world.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

It could not be more different from life in Johannesburg and it offered a complete break from all things building-related.

Far From the Madding Crowds.

Far From the Madding Crowds.

A day or two before I left for the Cape, I popped in at the house to check on progress following my previous  not-too-happy visit and found quite a lot of activity.  It seems that the occasional broomstick dive-bombing exercise can be quite effective…

Stair window and front door frames were in place.

Stair window and front door frames were in place.

Living room door frames in place.

Living room door frames in place.

 

Ceiling of cottage veranda with street boundary wall behind.

Ceiling of cottage veranda with street boundary wall behind.

Rhinoliting started in the cottage. And paint samples on the walls.

Rhinoliting started in the cottage. And paint samples on the walls.

Painting undercoat on the garage walls.

Painting undercoat on the garage walls.

The wall bordering on the park  taking shape.

The wall bordering on the park taking shape.

Production Line

Production Line

Bird's Eye View from upstairs balcony.

Bird’s Eye View from upstairs balcony.

Up to now, I haven’t really tried to explain what is supposed to happen in the front garden which is what the chaos above is eventually supposed to be.  And the main reason for that is that I’m not sure where to begin…  Firstly, there is going to be a swimming pool somewhere in this space.  It is designed to run parallel to the park wall.  A vast quantity of ‘filler’ has to be delivered to the site to bring the level of the front garden up to just two shallow steps lower than the finished house.  In effect, the pool has already been dug.  The filler will be packed in around it.

On the left of the pool, close to the gate that will open onto the park, there will be an underground room, housing – among other things – a generator and a couple of water tanks.  For those of you reading this in First World Countries, this might come as a bit of a surprise but having back-up electricity and a supply of stored water is becoming almost a necessity in Johannesburg and seeing we’re building from scratch, we decided to factor that in.  Power outages are increasingly common and every now and then we turn on a tap to nothing more than a burp of fresh air.  This usually happens without warning and with no  information forthcoming as to how long it will be before services are restored.  I never thought that having a swimming pool in one’s garden would prove to be useful in such a variety of ways…

And so it is that landscaping the front garden is not as simple as one might have thought and at this stage, quite a lot of energy and time is being expended there.  But having put up with no fewer than 3 power outages in the last 3 days, I think the effort will eventually prove to have been worth it.