Thursday, 28 June 2012

Another step done

View of east side of ballrooms-sized
spare bedroom (before)
Once we'd divided the ballroom-sized spare bedroom roughly in half, there was still enough space over for a spare room that would take a kingsize bed, a wardrobe and a dresser. It needed a window, though, not to so closely resemble the Black Hole of Calcutta*.

As everyone knows, the God of Renovations requires that every step is fraught with unexpected and usually costly hurdles, and in this case it was discovering that the outer wall was thick enough to withstand, well, over a hundred years of Cape winter storms. So knocking through it took hours longer than we thought it would, and the window ended up framing a very deep recess - which actually wasn't a bad thing, as I've got a local ironmonger to fashion a sturdy set of burglar bars that we can now sink into the outer wall itself with plenty of space left over for the windows to open.

The window is placed
* I had a smallish bedroom in the house I grew up in in Johannesburg, and my mother often used to liken it, on a Saturday morning with the curtains closed and strewn with the bodies of my sleepover friends and their belongings, to the Black Hole of Calcutta. I didn't find out what the Black Hole was until years later, but it sounded gloomy and dank enough to be a fitting metaphor. The Black Hole was a 25-square-metre guardroom at Fort William in Calcutta, India, which was used to house British prisoners in the mid-1700s of which many infamously died of suffocation.

My mother, who was born near Glasgow in Scotland and spoke with a thick Scots accent until she died, in spite of having spent her entire adult life in South Africa, also often likened our house at the weekend - with its multitudes of hangers-on - to 'Sucky-Hall Street'. It wasn't until I visited Glasgow when I was in my teens that I realised she was referring to Sauchiehall Street, which is the main shopping street in Glasgow's city centre. My mom used lots of other Scots expressions that we, her kids, took as completely natural, but which confused and entertained our friends - 'piece' for sandwich, 'messages' for errands, 'smirry rain' for light soaking rain, 'gloaming' for dusk...

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Yet more noise, dust and chaos

Living room (from kitchen area), before
Work on an old house is never done. If you’re not plugging holes or shoring up walls or rewiring or fixing pipes – the boring, nasty bits – then you always have the much more interesting option of rediscovering or recreating spaces. Because old houses almost always have long histories with several owners, each with their own way of envisioning how their living space should look and work.

Living room (from kitchen area), with wall removed
Over the 12 years I’ve lived in my 116-year-old house, I’ve created a verandah out of a living room; a bedroom, bathroom and study out of a garage; and a flow-through kitchen/living room out of a galley kitchen and entrance hall. But this last has never really worked – an entrance hall is never going to be a living room, no matter how much you suspend disbelief.

West side of ballroom-sized bedroom, before
The plotting and planning (and, importantly, saving) for this renovation took about a year, and included getting a professional in to examine the roof and walls to make sure the house wouldn’t fall down when we started knocking out bricks. He gave us the go-ahead to take out a major wall, but pointed to several sizeable cracks in the same area which were, he said, being caused by shifting in the foundations – which he advised us to leave well alone. So we decided a drywall, despite its drawbacks in terms of both aesthetics and soundproofing, was the way to go.

West side of bedroom, with wall removed
And so it began – taking down most of a long wall to steal space for the living room from an adjoining ballroom-sized spare bedroom. I’ve been living on a building site for about 10 days now - in fact, a quick calculation reveals that, of the 12 years I’ve been living here, I’ve spent a full year in this state of suspended animation: wiping dust out of cups before using them for tea, getting grit in my toothpaste, working for quick bursts in the short periods when the chaos subsides over workers’ tea and lunch breaks, piling furniture and knick-knacks up in corners, in other rooms and on the verandah, trying to find the kettle under piles of bedding, trailing electric leads from other rooms for light, and so on. (And, for some reason, a lot of this has happened during winter – which has also meant wrapping up warmly because of holes in exterior walls and/or constantly open doors.)

Drywall framework up (from existing living area)
Bedroom-side drywall panels in (same view)

Yesterday, my incomparable handyman, Lood Erasmus of Fluksnuts, cheered me up considerably when he showed me the industrial glue he was using to fix the drywall panels in place. It’s called Sticks Like Shit.

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Mad hats and DIY photography

Mad hats

My knitting obsession is in full flight and is taking the place of ordinary human interaction (and, for that matter, inappropriate human interaction, of which I’m normally quite a big fan), binge-drinking, chocolate-scoffing, DStv-watching, smoking, cooking, sleeping, reading and all the other things I usually do to fill my free time.

Having ‘mastered’ (and I put that in inverted commas because it’s not true) gilet- and sock-making (left), I’ve moved swiftly on and through dog jerseys, then scarves (too boring – even where the incomparably boring pastime of knitting is concerned), and now am on to hats.

My late sainted mother believed that you had to have ‘a face for hats’. She had one; to her regret, I didn’t – and, as evidenced by these pics, still don’t.

This was my first effort. I sent this pic to Johann, who replied wittily that all I needed was a bottle of Obies* in a brown paper bag to complete the picture.

This is my second attempt (which my friend Angie immediately dubbed ‘The Furry Monster’). I modelled it for my son and he couldn’t stop laughing. When he could finally squeeze out a sentence, he said, ‘I’m sorry, but it looks like a shower cap.’ Which I thought was a cheek, because anyone can see it looks like a tea cosy.

This is The Furry Monster, with a brim added. I love it in the way any mother would love a slightly backward child.

DIY photography

Most people’s self-taken pictures are odd-looking. Orangutans would probably do a better job, being able to hold the camera further away from themselves, but anyone with normal-length human arms ends up looking like a still from The Blair Witch Project. There’s also the problem of angle – too low, and your double chins magically multiply; too high, and you get a mad-eyed squint.

My daughter, who’s a beautiful young woman (here’s a pic of her as she actually looks – although, oddly enough, in this picture her eyes look brown when in fact they’re pale blue), gave me the following advice about self-taken pics:

1. Always take the pic from above.
  1. 2. Always purse your lips slightly.

  2. 3. Always look away from the camera.

This is the pic she took of herself to show me how well these tips work.

* Obies: curdling the cockles of your stomach

Obies, or Old Brown Sherry, has long been a South African favourite, although I first discovered it back in the day when I went away with friends on a midwinter hiking trip. After dinner around the campfire, the bottle was passed around, and everyone took a warming nip or two from it. Everyone except me. I was so thrilled with its lovely nutty taste and the way it made me find everything so charming and funny that I couldn’t stop drinking it, despite several warnings from those present. What I learnt from that is that hiking the Swellendam Trail in a driving storm on wobbly legs after being up all night puking Obies and two-minute noodles into the fynbos isn’t an experience you'd want to repeat.

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Telkom and technological woes

It hasn’t been a great week where technology is concerned out here in the country. A series of power cuts on Tuesday – the first really bone-cold day of winter – reminded us just how fragile is Eskom’s grip on the grid, and doesn’t bode well for the chilly months to come. And a concurrent ‘network failure’ on Telkom’s part didn’t exactly inspire confidence either.

Not that I knew it was a network failure to start with. I first did all those fiddly things people do when their email/internet isn’t working, like reboot the modem, then reboot the computer, then reboot the modem again, then phone my neighbour to see if she was having similar problems: she was; and, like me, her ISP is MWeb. So I phoned MWeb, and got a prerecorded message that listed Riebeek Kasteel among about 20 other places that were having network failures; it was, apparently, a Telkom problem and Telkom’s engineers were ‘investigating’.

Fair enough. These things happen.

But when lunchtime rolled around and the situation hadn’t changed, I decided to phone Telkom’s helpline myself and find out what was going on. And, honestly, if I hadn’t made a resolution not to scream at people on the phone, I would have, because Telkom has a ‘it wozzen us’ policy that seems designed to drive its customers crazy. After following an infuriatingly lost list of computer-generated options (which included, annoyingly, keying in my phone number twice – why? – and a laughable one that invited me to go online to fix my problem) in order to finally get an actual human being on the other end of the line, this is how the conversation went.

Me: I work in one of the areas that is currently having a network failure, and I wondered how long it’s going to take to sort it out?

Telkom rep: Is your modem switched on?

Me: Look, we don’t have to go into all of that. I’ve already established that it’s a Telkom problem. I just want to know how long it might take to resolve.

Telkom rep: Oh. Hang on.

Quite a long break while I hear computer keys clacking.

Telkom rep: Right, here it is. The problem was resolved at 9.56am.

Me: Uh, no it wasn’t. I’m sitting in front of my computer, and there’s still no internet access.

Telkom rep: Oh. Hang on.

Another long break, more computer keys clacking.

Telkom rep: Okay, I’ve got it. It’s a network failure.

Me: Yes, I know it’s a network failure. It’s been a network failure since last night. I just want to know if you have any idea how long it’s going to take to fix.

Telkom rep: No.

So it was a completely fruitless exercise, and I put down the phone feeling bloody frustrated – but a little bit proud of myself for having remained polite and even-toned.

Almost immediately, the phone rang. Now, I must note here that I never answer my landline any more, as it’s inevitably someone trying to sell me something I don’t want; but I answered it this time because the timing seemed to suggest that it might be Telkom phoning me with news about the network failure – I had, after all, keyed the number in twice.

It was, indeed, Telkom, but it wasn’t about the problem – and, in fact, the timing of this cold sales call was so bizarre that I had yet another one of those ‘where’s the hidden camera?’ moments that seem to happen so often to me.

Telkom rep: Good afternoon. I’m calling from Telkom to offer you an extra-special deal on our ADSL packages—

Me: Hello? What? Are you really phoning me to try to sell me a Telkom ADSL package?

Telkom rep: [pushing on regardless] —as a valued Telkom client, you qualify for a month’s free internet access and—

And, I’m sorry, but I lost it.


Telkom rep: [apparently unfazed; I suppose they must do a course in verbal abuse before they begin harassing people] So you don’t want one of our ADSL packages?

I slammed down the phone so hard I’m amazed it didn’t shatter.

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Saturday, 9 June 2012

The joy of knitting II: a jersey for Athens

I recently took up knitting again for the first time in over 20 years, and I've become completely obsessed with it. So far, I've made the hideous gilet I mentioned here (which I love and wear often, and which draws comment - some of it amused - wherever I go), and finished the black woolly jacket (pictured left); and I've knitted a pair of woolly socks (the two turned out to be completely different shapes and sizes, which was something of a puzzle, but I'm knitting while I watch TV, so that probably explains that) and am well on my way to completing a second (and hopefully more similar) pair.

But the most fun I've had was knitting a jersey for Athens, Jill's little dachshund. (Jill is the creative genius behind my gorgeous garden mosaics, here and here.) I used the same furry wool as for the black jacket, and had to guess at the shape and size (because I knitted it without having Athens around to measure), so it was a hit-and-miss affair, but luck was with me, and it fits Athens perfectly. She looks like royalty in it, and we agree that a string of pearls would be just the thing to round it off. (I love this picture of her modelling her jersey, with her tail wagging so fast that it's a blur.)

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