Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dear Diary: March 2009 - December 2009

When we arrived at the plot on 8 March, the plants were very dry and droopy after an extremely hot week. We planted some more small Wild Camphor trees along the N boundary during this time and, on our return in April, most of them had not survived. With hindsight, it would have been better to  plant  them out later in the year when it was cooler. We set out a floor plan for our first permanent building on the plot. We noticed that our water tank behind the bungalow was quite full and so, to tempt Modjaji, we depleted it by a good measure by watering our trees directly from the tank. 

We returned on 9th April, directly after dropping off my Joburg cousin at Cape Town International after her two week holiday with us. It felt like a really long stay at the plot until the 16th, mainly just relaxing and tending to the trees and rockeries.

Roy drove up again on 22 May with two juvenile peahens and one peacock for Ed's collection. Willem was available and he started the task of hand-digging foundations for our building. Many people in the area choose to hire a front end loader to dig the foundations but we felt that the digger could never be as accurate and much concrete would be wasted in the extra wide trenches. While Willem did this, Roy started nailing some old second hand roofing material on Khaki's garage roof and then installed two 1000 litre water tanks alongside,  which had been discarded by our one neighbour in Cape Town. This roofing material has proved to be a little too "knackered" and only collects about 50% of the rain and the remaining seeps through. We should truly refurbish it one of these days. On the 29th, Roy drove back to Cape Town. Willem was paid to finish the foundations on his own.

On returning to the plot on 16th June, Roy found that Willem had dug the foundations too deeply along one stretch. We hoped it would not impact  much on the amount of concrete we would need. Roy transported a second-hand cement mixer from Cape Town which we had bought for a really good price. He had had to service and clean it up over a period of time and the machine was looking very good. As on many previous occasions, some  trusting friends had lent us their long-wheel base Toyota pickup for carrying the big load and were so kind to let Roy keep it up there for the duration of the session. 
Just after his arrival there, our friend, who was due to retire soon, drove up again to view plots for sale and this time he brought along his wife. (They now live happily in Pringle Bay). After they had left, Roy drove through to Swellendam to meet the building inspector and to arrange for him to inspect the foundations. It transpired that the inspector only made his rounds on Thursdays. He then went to a local Swellendam company to organise and pay for ready-mixed cement to be delivered on the Friday, a day after the inspection.  The company supplied him with two assistants which Roy would have to pay for and advised him to hire a concrete vibrating tool from a local hire depot. The day before the delivery, after the building inspector had pronounced the foundations as being the neatest he had ever seen,  the agent and his wife helped with the final setting out of the foundations levels ("steps" would be needed in the concrete to compensate for the gradient).  On Friday, the first ready-mixed concrete truck arrived at 10:30. Everyone set about spreading the wet mixture after it had been poured and they still had time to drink a cup of coffee before the second  load of concrete was delivered and poured. Great excitement. 

Roy was set to stay on for a week in order to water the foundations every day. In between the foundation watering sessions, he drove through to a brick-field in Riversdale to collect brick samples and prices for us to choose from.  He started digging holes for another table at the other end of our property, set between three young yellow-wood trees we had bought at the famous nursery sale the previous year. He applied linseed oil on the two tables and the bungalow. Heavy rains on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Wednesday night meant that he could return home to Cape Town a day earlier.

We both arrived on the 10th July, after first calling in at Swellendam to pay for bags of cement to be delivered. Shortly after our arrival,  6 cubes of building sand were delivered by a Suurbraak farmer who makes extra income with such deliveries. On Sunday, the agent came by to help set up the profiles for the building. He and his wife were due to fly off to Egypt  the day after next and Roy was going to move into their house once again to look after things for them. A fellow part-time resident, whose father was a past high school teacher of ours, came by to  see us with the news that her house had been broken into.  Another unexpected visit was from Trevor and his wife, the couple who had lived in the nearby caravan for a year before trading it all in to move back to Cape Town. On Monday, bricks were delivered  in the dark and drizzle. I could only take the photo after the first twenty minutes, once it became light. After the truck had left, we discovered that its weight had squelched down in the very muddy soil outside our fence and had caused damage to a water pipe leading down to other properties. Ed and Roy worked on repairing this for most of the day and in pouring rain. What a messy business.

On Tuesday we moved into the agent's house, after the cement delivery. And not a day too soon because the bungalow was the perfect dry storage and it would have proved awkward to live there too.


On the Wednesday, JJ the builder started building the foundation walls with his team.


On Friday, they finished the job at noon.  
We discovered that builders expect to work a half day on a Friday for a full days pay.

I returned to Cape Town at  9:00, leaving Snuffy, our one dog, with Roy. While he waited a few days for the cement to cure,  Roy cleaned up the building area. On the Friday he fetched Willem from Swellendam and, with the help of his nephew, Brendan, Willem started to fill the foundation walls. They first removed the grass and topsoil. After spreading and compacting the soil, a delivery of 11 cubes of sand was needed during the week, which Roy compacted and watered. 

The following Saturday, Willem finished compacting the soil. The problem with a once a week inspection became apparent. The inspector would not drive out to inspect the fill until the following Thursday and, in that time, the wind blew a gale for days. Despite watering the fill as much as possible, so much of the sand was lost. Roy had to top up with yet another delivery of soil. The inspector finally passed the foundation walls and the fill. 

On the Saturday, I arrived with my friend Em, her dog, our other little dog and once again, Bonnie, our "foster dog", while her parents were on holiday.  Roy was still stressing out about the sand blowing away as the wind continued to blast its way across the hills. On the Sunday, I helped Roy to measure, cut, join and then cover the slab with the heavy gunplas (black plastic) and, at last, Roy could relax when no more sand could escape the foundation walls. He had already laid out plumbing pipes in the fill for the sink and possible washing machine, bath and shower. 

He then laid out the electrical pipes  on top of the black plastic in anticipation of the concrete floor slab being poured the following day by JJ and his team. (We do not know whether we would ever apply for an electrical connection but, keeping an eye on the possibility for ourselves, or some future owner one day, we plan to wire the building up for electricity).

KD the supervisor keeps an eye on operations

On the Wednesday, my friend and I returned to Cape Town. Snuffy made it patently clear that he wanted to return with us. We squeezed every dog in and off we went.


Sadly, Snuff died in that November, we believe, as a direct result of this stay in the country. The multiple daily walks between the agent's house and our plot in the heat impacted on an existing heart condition and he deteriorated from this time onwards. We had only owned him for two years after his previous owner had died and I still feel that 12 years was not a long enough life for such an intelligent and delightful dog. 

Roy stayed on to water the slab and continue with the housesit. In Swellendam, he would pick up food for the cows and horses along with more bags of cement.  He organised with JJ to lay the last 1500 bricks the following week because we did not want the bricks standing around on the plot until the next building session. For this, he ordered another 2 cubes of sand. Over the weekend, along with watering, he placed electrical plug boxes on the slab along where the walls would continue to rise. He had quite a few shrubs to plant out which I had considerately brought from Cape Town. I explained to him that it was to help him while away the time while the slab cured!  On the Tuesday, JJ arrived to finish laying the last 1500 bricks in a day and a half. The highest level that the bricks reached was up to five courses along the back wall.  

Roy carried out the messy task of cleaning the cement overflow that had been dropped into cavity walls. On the Friday and Saturday, he buried drainage pipes around the foundations to carry water seepage away from the building and topped them with smallish stones. (some pipes were subsequently lifted in 2010 when we added a verandah around 50% of the building).

He spent more time cleaning up, in between watering the walls to cure the cement. Finally, he returned to Cape Town on 23 August to make way for the agent's return. Roy had been on the job for six weeks!

When we arrived there again on 1 October, we noticed that some of the cement between the bricks was starting to crumble and decided that JJ's cement recipe was not ideal. This vindicated our decision not to use him for further building work. Although his team worked like the clappers, he himself basically stood around for the morning and then would nip off back to Swellendam for the rest of the day. We worked out that, after paying the going rate to bricklayers and assistants, he was paying himself R1000 a day for his time and transporting the team and after studying our budget and costing materials, we knew that we could not afford for him to complete the building. Despite our request, he had never supplied us with a fax number or an address to which we could post the plans for him to give us a quotation to complete the building and so, we felt free to make other arrangements. (Unbelievably, in mid-2011, he telephoned us and expressed his anger that somebody else had finished the building...he had driven past it for the first time since 2009 and seen its completed state!) 

On the next day, Brendan and his cousin dug holes for some new trees: Another Bon Chretien pear, a Sungold plum, two rather large Celtis Africanas, two Wilde Pruim and a single Fever tree (exchanged for newspapers from Stodels). Ed brought around some delicious home grown strawberries and goose eggs. We had a wonderful breakfast at the agent, then tea with Barbara in Barrydale. We drove through to Suurbraak to track down Jay, a bricklayer we had met in Cape Town many years ago. We had recently discovered that he was living in Suurbraak. We arranged that he would continue work on our building when Roy returned at the end of October. When we returned home on the 7th, Roy drove Khaki back to Cape Town for a shock absorber replacement.

Roy arrived on 29 October with Khaki and found that our bungalow and caravan had been broken into. Roy was amazed when the police sent an officer from Worcester on the same day to dust for fingerprints and to take a sample of the blood which the burglar had left behind after cutting himself on the broken window of the caravan. All that had been stolen were 4 wine glasses. The biggest loss was the window of the caravan, actually.

Friday saw deliveries of building sand from our Suurbraak farmer, lintels from Swellendam and then, once again, bricks from Spitskop in Riversdale. Our old high school teacher popped in to tell him that his daughter's house had been burglarised for a second time, the loss of a generator being a huge blow. Roy worked on electrical and plumbing fittings and prepared for our new bricklayer from Suurbraak. He had lunch at the agent and learned that one of the cows had died after eating a plastic bag. 

On Monday, Roy drove through to Suurbraak to pick up Jay and 2 assistants at 6:25, as he would do for the next two weeks and take them home every evening, after which he would return to rinse out the cavity walls of cement overflow. The bricklayer asked Roy to buy washing powder which they mixed into the cement mix! The bricklaying was going so well, I ordered another 2000 more bricks to be delivered to the plot, after which, the rain settled in on a few days which meant that time ran out before the bricks did.  Despite the rain on some days, on one day it was so hot, it reached 42 degrees C. 

Roy set up the plumbing and electrical pipes in the walls while they laid bricks. This was the first time ever that he had attempted such work and was grateful that there was only one bricklayer that he had to keep up with. During this time, Rman was at his smallholding and it proved to be quite fortuitous because he had the tools Roy could use when some lintels and wood needed to be cut. The rain and wind continued to hold up play and Roy had to use all his powers of persuasion that the builders did not take a half day on that last Friday, and this was after they had sat around for most of Thursday, sheltering from the rain and drinking coffee! After almost two full weeks up there, Roy was lucky enough on the Sunday to get a lift back down to Cape Town with another neighbour of ours who is a retired minister and who had driven up on Saturday to George to preach on the Sunday. This lift meant that Roy could leave Khaki at the plot.

We returned for one night in December en route from Oudtshoorn back to Cape Town. We  had driven my brother and his girlfriend, both on holiday from the UK,  on a trip to the Cango Caves. Due to her archeological interests, we made a special detour through the Tradouw Pass to show her the rock paintings and then spent the night at the plot. We still owned the second caravan, so we had plenty of sleeping accommodation.

We arrived at the agent's house at 08:00 on Christmas Day for more house-sitting duties. My sister and her family joined us for Christmas in the countryside. After they left on the 28th, Roy fetched Jay and assistants on 29th, 30th and 31st to finish laying all the bricks which were still lying around,  while we worked with our plants. Looking back, Jay was the best bricklayer that we used on the entire building project but we were not to use him again after he pulled the rug from under us in early 2010.

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