Tuesday, August 23, 2011

March 2010 - September 2010

Roy arrived on the 18th March, a Thursday, with a fully laden pick-up, borrowed from our long-suffering friends and, within minutes, a buyer for our "spare" caravan pitched up to collect his purchase. The proceeds from this sale paid for most of the next six weeks of labour!

Roy collected profiles, scaffolding and trestles, lent by the agent and then he rushed back to the plot to receive the delivery of bricks from Riversdale, varnish from Swellendam and wood from a nearby sawmill. On the Saturday, he had to return to Cape Town because our friends needed their pick-up. He brought with him a brick sample because he felt sure that it was the wrong colour brick which had been delivered but needed my confirmation. It was an orange brick and quite different from those we had already used. We contacted the brickfield owner who was incredibly apologetic and he promised to send the correct bricks as soon as possible.

Roy drove back up to the plot on Monday with Khaki. Khaki had been driven down to Cape Town at the beginning of January when an overzealous Provincial traffic officer on the outskirts of Swellendam confiscated the vehicle's lisence and insisted that Roy should put the vehicle through a Roadworthy test. (The previous owner had experienced this type of incident time and again because the vehicle was not a thing of beauty, with hand-painted body and being, so obviously, an ancient model). It was so annoying to have to do this as it meant extra mileage on Khaki, extra fuel costs and of course, the cost of the test. She insisted it could not be done in Swellendam because of Khaki's Cape Town registration. Driving a supposedly unroadworthy vehicle 260km back to Cape Town really made the whole concept of safety and road-worthiness ironic but Roy could see the spark of power in her eyes and did not argue. One just does not argue with traffic, metro or other cops these days for fear of crazy consequences. The pick-up passed the test in Cape Town with flying colours and not a scrap of work to be done.

On his arrival on Monday, Roy drove through to Suurbraak to see Jay, who we had contacted a month previously to arrange this building session. He informed Roy that he had hiked his daily fee for himself and his crew but Roy accepted this and arranged to fetch him and his two assistants on the Wednesday. Roy returned to the plot and started to varnish the roof beams which would support the knotty pine ceiling plus roof. We had decided that it would be a lot easier to varnish the wood while it was on the ground but this did turn out to be a huge mistake. (The wood later turned a mottled grey after it was installed...a sure sign that the wood was still very wet when it was varnished.)

On the Tuesday, the correct colour bricks arrived and the incorrect ones were removed, apart from three units of bricks which collapsed when they hoisted them. (These bricks would only be retrieved about six months later). After this, Roy spent time placing the floor beams on the back section of the house with some help from a passing worker, started to connect up various pipes, took out cement mixer and checked it over, all in anticipation of the bricklaying on the following day. 


When Roy arrived on the Wednesday morning in Suurbraak,  Jay informed him that he could not work for us until the following Monday because his current work was behind schedule. Feeling anxious about this delay, Roy telephoned around until he contacted a bricklayer in Buffelsjag later that day, who was currently free, and organised that he and his crew would work for the three remaining days of that week. 

The following day, the new bricklayer, Aitch, bricked in the rear floorbeams and continued with the walls above them. Work continued on the Friday and Saturday, despite some mist rain. On Sunday, in between watching the Grand Prix at the agent, Roy continued to varnish the beams for the front section.

On the Monday, he went through to Suurbraak to collect Jay, who then proceeded to tell Roy that he had found himself another job because he had heard on the grapevine that Roy had hired another builder. (We subsequently learned that Jay was still busy with the current project and obviously had had no intention of working for us on the Monday. One can only wonder why he had never contacted us in Cape Town to delay the entire building session until he was available. We shook our heads at "typical builder" behaviour). So Roy contacted Aitch and gave him the work for the next scheduled four weeks. That day, the knotty pine ceiling and flooring arrived from the same wood supplier and, for the next two days, an extra worker would help Roy with the varnishing. (Thankfully, it transpired that this wood WAS dry and today it is still a lovely pine colour).

Over the next couple of weeks, the building work progressed in fits and starts. People in the area were happy that Roy did so much building in 2010....it brought the rain every time!! On some really wet days, only about 180 bricks would be laid, which created much tension for Roy as he saw his building session growing in length. (he wanted to reach the point where he could close up the entire building before returning to Cape Town). Some days were a total washout. He managed to persuade the builders to work on Saturdays and even a Sunday morning, in order to play "catch-up"..... tiring for all and a costly business. 

While bricks and beams were laid over the next weeks, Roy continued to work, ahead of the bricklaying, with electrical pipes, water pipes, wiring and after delivering the crew to their home at the end of each day, he would return to clean cavity walls, water the new cement to cure it and generally tidy up. He moved into the agent's house for a few weeks to house and dog-sit and some friends spent a few days there too, going out during the day to sight-see and returning to join Roy for the evening meal and relaxation.

The builders put up a wall plate for the roof-beams to rest on, built up side walls, laid roof beams, nailed in knotty pine ceilings and put on the insulation and roof sheets for the front section. We had truly discovered a gem in Aitch. While not a master bricklayer like Jay, we discovered that he had worked for a roofing company which had installed the Chromadek roofing we had purchased. He had also worked at one time for an aluminum window-frame company, so there was no need to hire other artisans for this work. He was competent in a variety of other skills, including plasterwork.

Cross-beam for extra strength....just in case!
Wall plate

Purloins and  Isotherm insulation atop silver insulation sheeting.

a layer of silver insulation on top of this, then a layer of plastic before the roof.

Holes above window for future sunshade. Plugged with foam for interim.

Incorrectly supplied roof nail caps were later replaced with Peacock Blue. Just one more hitch.

On 8 April the inspector signed off on the front roof. There were more deliveries of sand, cement and other supplies. We tried to have many supplies delivered at once from Swellendam because it was R350 delivery fee each time for the round trip of 50 km. We had to order more knotty pine ceiling. It turned out that the supplier had supplied fewer planks but of a slighter greater length than the measurements of our order. Upon Roy's query at the  shortfall, the supplier proposed that Roy use small 70 cm sections of off-cuts between the roof beams!! You live and learn.  (We used the off-cuts on the outside eaves in order to cut down on the reordered amount, which was for our account).

Roy started putting together some giant shutter-doors to close off the two sliding-door spaces against the weather and to secure the building. We had not yet bought the sliding-doors and windows for the ground floor of the building. These huge shutter-doors were created from the wood of  wooden garage doors we had bought second-hand, dismantled and then fitted onto purpose-made metal frames we had ordered in Cape Town. A huge error in our calculations became evident once the doors were hung. (Perhaps you can spot the error in the photo from the September 2010 building session?) We had not made allowance for the extra width created by the hinges on each door. This is a problem that can be resolved at a later date but for now, the function of security and protection from the elements is adequately served.

Roy started boarding up windows to close the window holes. Rain continued to hold up work. On one such day, the single accomplishment was, appropriately, to fit the rain gutters during a dry moment. 

Roy continued with his usual chores while the building progressed. He chased into the walls for future possible geyser connection, copper pipes for shower. Due to his inexperience and uncertainty, he left the pipes accessible through holes in the walls, filling them with with miracle foam we had used on the bungalow's roof at one time. It would be easy to remove the hardened foam later. (He will not brick in these holes until bathroom fittings are finalized, installed and seen to work without leaks.)

My birthday came and went and still Roy was not finished. He was at least a week over schedule. He had noticed a slowing down of the builders as the end was in sight. One cannot blame them for trying to stretch the days of employment into the longest possible time but, after all the delays caused by rain, Roy was becoming tired of the endless session and so he sternly set daily goals for them, threatening to return to Cape Town immediately if they did not achieve them. Once again, top speed work resumed and by the time I arrived on Sunday, 25th April, the last wall on the West side was completed, rear roof beams installed, roof purloins, ceiling, insulation and roofing  all fitted on the Saturday. Roy had fitted all electrical pipes for upstairs lights into walls and ceilings.  I had brought with me the final aluminum window for the upstairs level.

All that remained on the  Monday was for the team to fit the  upstairs knotty pine flooring, temporary old doors to the West side and the last upstairs window (these upstairs windows were the only ones we installed as we built the walls). 

After midday on Monday, with all work completed to the point of being able to close the building against the elements, we held a celebration barbecue for the builders. 

The A Team wet the roof in style!

The following day, we invited some people in the area around for a celebration and on Wednesday, 28th April, we drove back to Cape Town. Roy had been away from home for six hard weeks. He gratefully reclaimed his armchair and the TV remote control!!

13 June

After dealing at Somerset West with a shredded, flat tyre of our borrowed  pick-up, we arrived with Mad Dog at the plot. We unloaded a sleeper couch (Gumtree), two little armchairs(Freecycle), old carpets and wall unit donated by a friend. We had also brought two aluminum  windows for installation later in the year. We set about cutting and fitting the carpet for the little bedroom and were so grateful for it when, on the  Monday, we awoke to snow on the Langeberg mountains. 

It was absolutely freezing and in the rain, we drove through to Swellendam to buy gas for the fridge (did we really need it?) and a new tyre for the pick-up. At the local Pep Stores, we bought a child-size polo-neck sweater for Mad Dog, who had been shivering the entire morning. On Tuesday we took a long walk, visiting the Gomo Guti Gate, Dani's place, the Ghost house and then had coffee at Ed's. 


On the following day, we planted out a few shrubs in the cold. After these few days, we determined that we would have to buy a second hand gas heater before we visited again during a winter month.  Of course, having the window holes only boarded up rather than installed with windows, did not help the problem at this time.


We went for supper at the agent and to my horror, met their new dogs (Boerbul and Bull Mastiff) which, even today, send me into a paroxysm of fear on the rare occasion that I visit there now. We left Mad Dog locked up in our car. I realised  that the days of house-sitting for them with our Mad Dog, were over.  Their old dog, KD, gets on well with ours but these two were a different story. I was quite sad because I had become quite familiar and attached to their quaint, somewhat eccentric house. Only Roy, on his own, would be able to house-sit for them in the future. We returned to Cape Town on the Thursday

Roy arrived on 18 August in the afternoon amidst the predictable rain. The talking drums had sent a message to Mujaji that Roy had organised another building session.  On the next day, it continued to rain as he collected tools and his generator stored at the agent. He picked up supplies and cement in Swellendam. Another enthusiastic traffic officer stopped him and insisted that as he had 5 pockets of cement on his half ton pick-up (Khaki again!), he should make his way to the Swellendam weigh-bridge with the written instruction she had issued, where an incredulous official was bound to weigh the loaded vehicle!

On Friday, after picking up 5 bags of rather pricy plastering sand, he collected El in Buffelsjag, one of the workers from the April session. El was to start digging a channel for the sewerage pipe to the existing septic tank.  Roy aimed to have the building inspector sign off on the outside plumbing on the following Thursday. 

After dropping off El at day-end, he met our trusty Willem in Swellendam and gave him a lift back to the plot, after first picking up another 5 bags of the  plaster sand. (10 bags = R900). On the Saturday, Willem completed digging the trench and they fitted the pipe and covered it up. Roy watched rugby at Ed as the All Blacks won 29:22 against the Bokke. 

When we first had plans drawn up for building, the plan included a house with garage of about 120 sq metres in total and then a second building of 54 sq metres for storage, workshop and some temporary accommodation, all for while we built the main  building.  However, after building this secondary building first, we realised that we would never be able to afford the bigger version and so, set about adapting this building to be our one and only on the plot. Future owners could decide whether or not to build the main house.  (Once the main building is built, legally one would not be allowed to utilise the secondary one for accommodation too but only as an outbuilding. Who checks up on these things?)  Thus, a verandah was called for, to ease the space limitation, especially in the good weather when one would like to live outdoors.

On Sunday there was a strong wind blowing while Roy measured out an area around the building for a verandah. On Monday he collected Aitch and his crew, who had completed a project elsewhere at the end of the previous week. They set about fitting the missing aluminum windows downstairs and started plastering around the window perimeter to give it a finished look, in light of the fact that we were not planning to plaster the entire building. This continued for Tuesday and Wednesday. One worker's task was to start digging the foundation trench for the verandah.  

Thursday was a miserable day but on Friday, it was perfect and without wind, so they took the opportunity to fit the flashing onto the roof. During this time, Roy made up shutters with purpose-made metal frames from Cape Town and recycled wood from second-hand garage doors we had bought. This was to protect the newly installed windows on the East side. (We have discovered that if the second-hand door includes the springs, we can sell the springs for almost the full price we have paid for the entire door. Apparently, new springs are a prohibitive price but to buy an entire door just for the springs is a lot of PT for most people. Thus, this wood was only costing us the effort and fuel to collect it).

On Saturday Roy worked on his own and the realization that his sight is deteriorating at an alarming pace was once more reinforced when, at the very top of the ladder, balanced on the agent's borrowed trestle, he hit his index finger with a hammer and mashed it down onto the edge of the Chromadek roof. Feeling faint, he held himself together while he climbed down and then undertook his own bush first-aid to stem the flow. This injury took weeks to stop weeping and recover. It really should have had a few stitches.  Watching the Rugby in the afternoon brought him some small comfort as the Bokke beat Australia 43:31. Undaunted, on the Sunday he worked to finish the window shutters

He also put up some more scaffolding for the builders who, on Monday, fitted some varnished knotty pine wood under the eaves, along with gutters and down-pipes on the very high South side. Aitch also plastered a border around the two tiny windows at the top. The building inspector passed plumbing and sewerage pipes (he had not managed to inspect on the previous Thursday and had promised Monday).

On Tueday and Wednesday, plastering work on the inside plus digging foundation trenches continued. At least rain could not deter the inside work !

Roy returned to Cape Town on the 2 September, satisfied that the outside of the building was pretty much finished off (for now).

9 - 15 September

Roy arrived late afternoon and collected tools stored at the agent. In the rain on Friday he collected Aitch and crew. They could do no work on the foundation trenches but set about putting together the parts of the two sliding doors Roy had brought and plastered a cement surround. Clever Aitch! 

Saturday was a perfectly sunny day and the crew continued to work on trenches and sliding doors. Roy started to prepare the little bedroom's walls for painting and also walked up to Eds place to water his plants and animals while he was away. Another perfect day on Sunday saw the crew, who would  start work on a huge local road-building project on the Monday, complete the sliding door installation, finish plasterwork around the doors and inside windows and finish digging the verandah foundations, in anticipation of pouring the foundations at the end of the month when Roy returned to house-sit for the agent.

On his own on the Monday, Roy fitted a solid second-hand door on the West to replace the old rotten, partly glass-paned one that had been used temporarily. John, a new worker in the area, who rented the labourers cottage on a nearby property, came to do some weeding on Monday and Tuesday. This would turn out to be a very fortuitous situation for us, especially now that Willem seemed to be romantically involved with someone in Swellendam and no longer returned to the area every weekend. On Wednesday, Roy returned to Cape Town for a two week break before the next three week session.


  1. Amazing to read the progress. And it will be very interesting to read in years to come - nothing like a good memory jolt of all the ins-and-outs to make one feel really fortunate :)

    Well done Roy. You did a sterling job!

  2. Thanks. I feel a bit OCD trying to finish up these Diary posts about past effort on the plot. Only one more to go and then no more back-pedalling....very time-consuming....but Roy does enjoy reading it and wondering how he ever did all that!