Archives for posts with tag: Parkhurst

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.

 

 

 

 

An unexpected bonus of having to manage this stage of the building process from a distance, has been the discovery  – so far – of two lovely, privately owned guest houses very close to our new home.  Feeling that I cannot always rely on the generosity of friends on my flying visits up to Johannesburg, I’ve recently stayed in both the Abbey Guest House in Craighall Park and the Windmill Guest House in Parkhurst.    I doubt I would have ever discovered them had I not found myself in the strange position of being a visitor in my hometown and they have both proved to be lovely surprises. Should I ever find myself with a very full house and unable to accommodate friends, I’d have no hesitation in booking them in to either of these two ‘home-from-homes’.

Abbey House from the Driveway.

Abbey House from the Driveway.

When the electric gate at Abbey House opened, I was quite surprised to find a very similar ‘farmhouse’ style house to the one we’re building.  This guest house was custom built and there is plenty of secure, off-street parking which is essential in Johannesburg.

Bedroom - one of 11 rooms.

Bedroom – one of 11 rooms.

Garden Path

Garden Path

Water feature in the garden not unlike the one I am planning.

Water feature in the garden not unlike the one I am planning.

Covered Veranda

Covered Veranda

Abbey House Veranda 2

Another view of the veranda.

Another view of the veranda.

If I could have simply transferred the entire veranda (with the exception of the Kudu head) to my new house, I would have been very happy.

Living room.

Living room.

I loved the overlay of rugs on both the veranda and in the living room. The floors of the entrance area, dining area and veranda at Abbey House were all done in a smooth concrete finish which we call cemcrete.  I had requested it for my veranda but somehow or other, this had been misunderstood and the contractors – in my absence – had laid tiles instead.  Becoming quite desperate to get the house finished, I had decided to simply accept them but, on seeing how beautifully the cemcrete flooring worked at Abbey House, I changed my mind, dug in my heels and insisted that the tiles be lifted.  That would have been a messy and noisy job but fortunately I didn’t have to be there.  We’re now waiting to have the originally-planned-for cemcrete surfacing poured.

Big Generator in the driveway.

Big Generator in the driveway.

Generators are becoming essential for Guesthouses and hotels in Johannesburg with power outages becoming a daily occurrence. About 10 days after my stay at Abbey House, I needed to return to Johannesburg and found it was fully booked on the days I needed to be there so I set about looking for something else in the area.  I decided to try Windmill House as I had been past it a few times on exploratory drives around Parkhurst, my new neighbourhood.

Article in a Neighbourhood Newspaper.

Article in a Neighbourhood Newspaper.

(I’m not too sure about “Posh”.  That seems to be pushing it a bit.  But it has become a very popular neighbourhood for ‘starters’ and ‘downsizers.’  A friend who lives in Victoria, Canada, one described it as being a place for ‘Newly Weds and Nearly Deads’…  This might be a good description of Parkhurst.  We have friends who have moved back there for the more compact homes and gardens, having started out there between 30 and 40 years ago.) Windmill House describes itself as a B&B and is smaller than Abbey House, having only three suites.  It is tucked away on what must be on of the last dirt roads in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and it is nestled close to the same river that runs through the park in front of our new house.  In fact the garden of Windmill House runs right down to the river. It is quirky and utterly charming. Wind 3

The Windmill Itself.

The Windmill Itself.

The bedroom had a double volume ceiling and exposed beams.

The bedroom had a double volume ceiling and exposed beams.

Driveway leading to pool and river garden.

Driveway leading to pool and river garden.

Windmill House Veranda

So although it is very frustrating to be trying to manage this building process from afar, there have been some upsides to going home as a visitor.  Johannesburg is nothing if not full of surprises.

Arriving back in Johannesburg after a full month away in Cape Town is always something of a shock.  We drove back, covering the 1200 kilometres two days and breaking the journey at one of our favourite Karoo farm stops.  One of the benefits of the long road trip is the opportunity to change up a gear from the more laid-back (and much better organised) Cape, to the frenetic, unpredictable energy of Gauteng.  But despite all those hours on the road, exiting the motorway and finding oneself back on Oxford Road in Forest Town still pulls one up short.  The traffic lights are malfunctioning and the challenge of trying to avoid all the potholes brings one back quickly to the reality of Johannesburg.  This time we drove in under looming, threatening thunder clouds which lent a disconcerting sense of impending doom to the afternoon and one of my first thoughts was ‘Why on earth are we building another house here?’

But you’ve got to live in Johannesburg to love it.  It has its own unique and stealthy charm and within a day of getting back, I’m happy once again to be here and this year is no different.  By Tuesday morning we were ready to inspect our building site and to check on any progress that may have been made in the builders’ first week back at work.

This is a quick photograph update for interested faraway family and friends:

Surveying the Situation...  After a month away.

Surveying the Situation… After a month away.

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Standing on the downstairs patio, looking west.

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Taken from the laundry, looking through the scullery into the kitchen.

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Taken through the ‘front door’ looking north over the Treetops – which is a word that comes to mind whenever I think about the new house and which might become its name.

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Seven of the nine builders who were on site yesterday.

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Taken from the kitchen looking out through what will be an informal seating area and a bay window.

The walls are now just higher than ground-floor ceiling height and overhanging branches from the neighbours’ properties will have to be drastically cut back soon.  Watch this space…

Now that the foundations are in place, it seems like a good time to post a copy of the ground floor layout:Phurst Ground FloorplanThis is a simplified plan but for anyone who might be confused here are some pointers:

The cottage is at the bottom of the plan.  It is positioned south of the house, on the street and has the driveway on the left.

The driveway slopes downwards and turns right into the garage which is linked to the house through a door into the laundry/mudroom.

And then there is The House.

One or two people have asked ‘what sort of house’ we’re building and also, what I meant in an earlier post when I said I wanted a ‘South African house.’  To the first question I answer that we’re building a double-storey house with an iron (tin) roof, sash windows and wooden floors.  These are the criteria I gave Bernard in a nutshell.  To which he responded, rather to my surprise, that I was describing a ‘contemporary Transvaal farmhouse.’

This was something of a revelation to me as I had not before given much thought to differences in house styles in various parts of the country.  With the exception, perhaps, of the beautiful Cape Dutch architecture in the Western Cape.  So I think I’ll have to devote a future blog post to the reasons behind this choice.

Other features I mentioned were the direct link from the house to the garage, a covered patio and lots of skylights and, if possible, a sunny bay window.   We wanted one open-plan living area and an open plan kitchen since at this stage of our lives we have no need of either a formal dining or sitting room.  I also asked for separate bathroom facilities with outside access for casual workers as I’ve found this to be a bit of an issue in other houses.  Looking at this plan, we seem to have covered all these points.   But what Bernard (our architect) doesn’t know yet is that somewhere or other, inside, outside or on the patio, there is going to have to be a swing….  I’ll break that news to him further down the line.

We had a site meeting today for the first time in two weeks and while there was quite a lot of progress to be seen in some areas, in others, chaos still seems to reign.

Site Meeting, Oct 10/13

Site Meeting, Oct 10/13

Architect and Contractor

Architect and Contractor

But brickwork has finally started and it is almost possible to see the layout of the ground floor taking place.

Brickwork up to floor level of patio.

Brickwork up to floor level of patio.

In a nutshell, getting the site ready for building and sorting out the different levels, has been a lot more complicated and has taken a lot more time than anyone ever seems to have anticipated and as each week passes, I am more grateful that we have not yet sold our present home and so have no real time pressure.

One problem that has recently surfaced is the depth of the sewer in relation to the position of the downstairs guest toilet.  I have never before given a moment’s thought to how plumbing works on sloping sites and now find myself learning all kinds of things of which I’ve previously been happily ignorant.  If the sewer runs off the lowest end of a property there’s no problem, but if, as in our case, it runs off the highest point towards a connection under the street, it poses all sorts of issues I’d really rather not think about.

The original house on this plot was built just a little lower than street level.  And now we understand why the guest toilet which was odd anyway, was perched up a step on a throne-like structure.  It needed to be higher than the sewer outlet.

Up until now, we’ve been aiming to position our house as close to the level of the park as possible.  We were hoping to have only one shallow step from the patio down onto the lawn, and from the driveway and front porch, only a very shallow step up into the entrance hall. Tracing the sewer proved problematic.  The council couldn’t help.  Days and days of digging by the builders, however, have eventually revealed the sewer to be – although buried far down – at a higher point than our downstairs toilet was going to be.  So, at this morning’s site meeting we had to take a decision to raise the entire ground floor level of the house by two brick courses and that may still change to three.  Of everyone involved in the planning, I seem to be the one least troubled by this:  Knowing how the rain thunders down in Johannesburg, I was always a little concerned that we might have flooding under the front door occasionally unless the driveway drainage is absolutely and completely faultless.  Also, in our present home, our patio is completely level with the lawn and many storms have left the tiles awash with water, despite our having built a special drain to avoid this.  So a few steps here and there, provided they’re wide, shallow and outside, are fine with me.

I'd like a miniature version of these steps.

I’d like a miniature version of these steps.

What isn’t fine with me is the chaotic look and feel of the site.  I can’t help feeling that by now, with a little imagination, it could be better managed and today I requested that something be done about it.

Still all a bit chaotic.

Still all a bit chaotic.

While I appreciate that there is very little ‘spare’ space to play with in terms of stacking building materials etc, having everything piled on the pavement and sliding down into the road is not an option.

These need to be stacked on site.

These need to be stacked on site.

Today I asked for the entire street frontage to be fenced off with temporary corrugated iron fencing, with a solid gate to replace the untidy blue plastic which is currently operating as an access point. Each time I visit, it has bigger and bigger holes torn in it, made, presumably by curious passers-by.  And I’ve also asked for a proper board to be erected on the pavement giving the details of the contractor, engineer and architect.  I’m curious to know how long this will take.

This blue plastic needs to go.

This blue plastic needs to go.

The foundations are dug but following a delay in the delivery of the reinforcing steel that needs to be put into the trenches before the concrete is poured, no wet work has happened as yet.   This delay seems to me to have been unnecessary and we are still waiting for the Quantity Surveyor to give us a Work Schedule; something I plan to follow up on tomorrow.  In the meantime, two hard hats have been purchased and have been travelling optimistically on the backseat of my car for the past two weeks.  Looking at the site, I suspect it will be months before we really need to wear them.

Ready and Waiting

Ready and Waiting

Bit by bit though, we’re getting more organised.  After taking delivery of a few pieces of mail that had been delivered straight into a muddy puddle before being rescued, fortunately, by Thabo I bought a very basic letterbox which has been fixed to the old front gate.  This is working quite well and when I visited on Friday, Thabo proudly presented me with a whole pile of dry, clean envelopes.  Most of them are for the previous owners but at least when the council bills us for services, we’ll know about it.

This is what things looked like on Friday.

Reinforcing Steel for Foundations

Reinforcing Steel for Foundations

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In the meantime the neighbours continue to surprise.  Neighbour on the left is agitating about the boundary wall between our two properties.  Our structural engineer has declared that part of the wall needs to be lowered as soon as possible:  Excavations have shown that its foundations are completely inadequate and at its present height, it poses a danger to both her side and ours.  We are meeting with fierce resistance but will need to act on this as soon as possible.

And a week ago we heard through Bernard that our neighbour on the right had quietly and unexpectedly sold his house.  I am disappointed as he has been charming and we were looking forward to living next door to him.  When I visited our site on Friday, I saw him talking to someone on the pavement and decided it would be a good idea to introduce myself.  I had only ever spoken to him on the phone up to then.  Turned out he was talking to the new owner who hopes to move in before December.  She was friendly and very happy to be able to put a ‘face’ to the building site she is going to have to live next door to for several months.  I’m really surprised that anyone wanted to buy a house next to a building site still at such an early stage, but hopefully it says something about the desirability of that particular row of properties bordering on the park.  We have exchanged numbers and I have said she is welcome to attend the next site meeting in case she has any particular concerns. We’ve started out well and hopefully we’ll be able to go forward in the same way.

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.

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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.