Archive for the 'House & Home' Category

Stairs built, Job quit

I can get from the ground to the deck using my newly built stairs, all they need is another coat of paint and a top-rail. The contractors have done a great job – a cheerful crew who have also taken all my old downstairs bathroom fittings.

I don’t know who was more pleased, me to get rid of a garage crammed with a basin, bath and toilet or the guy who can install a free bathroom in his newly built house. Perfect recycling.

Gavin handed in his notice on December 1st in a terrifying, liberating moment. A  long life only comprises 650 000 hours – there’s a  limit to how many of those you want to spend wishing you were doing something  else. He’ll be home by the end of January, we’ll get the downstairs (our) bathroom to a level of basic hygienic functionality, and be ready to house guests sometime in February.

Boomslang shed

Swallow's nest, boomslang bait.

The garden shed in summer is a lethal and frightening place. A pair of swallows make the annual return to their coastal residence in the eaves above our shed door. Their chirping and fluttering is a siren call to the resident boomslang – retrieving a spade or wheelbarrow is a scary task.

A few years ago I marched into the shed straight past a gently swaying head poking out of the nest. It took me a few second to register what I had seen and my shamefully girly shrieking bought Gavin and the boys running. Wielding the broom, Gavin gently prodded the reptile until it moved next door.

This isn’t as un-neighbourly as it sounds. The adjacent house is unoccupied except for a few weeks over Christmas, and a snake in the garden will make their holiday that much more eventful.

Of course, snakes don’t stay where you put them and the lure of the swallows nest has kept the boomslang way too interested in the shed. I never go in there now, even in winter, without scanning the top of the door from a safe distance.

In summer, I plan ahead, get what I need for a day in the garden, and am in and out of there before you can say ‘anti-venom’.

Secret Life of Builders


Four poles - start of my staircase?

Finally, finally I’ve found a builder to do the B & B renovations. The process seems esoteric and mysterious. Monday he came round and measured, nothing until Wednesday when a pile of cement mix was dumped on the pavement. Thursday morning brought a lot of banging and digging and four poles were planted and cemented into the ground. Friday – nothing.

I’m just taking a zen approach and taking it on faith that I will have a structure that links the ground to the upstairs deck. I’m hoping it looks like a staircase.

Selling Basil

The library had an exhibition of photos from old Sedgefield last week. There was our house, one of four or five cottages dotted on a roadless hill, in a picture taken in the late 40s. I could only tell it was our house by the position, the white shack in the photo bears no resemblance to the big hodge-podge of a house it is today.

Every owner has added on a room here, a second level there, a loft in the roof – every time the family grew they built an extra room, and I’m sure there was no planning permission – we have an outside bathroom, an outside bedroom and a strange brick and glass  structure next to the front door we euphemistically call the Sun Room.

Until now the place been a dumping ground for bikes and boards but it’s become my basil growing room. With abundant warmth and light the basil has gone berserk, every seed has germinated and flourished – even if we ate pasta and pesto every night for months we would never work through it.

My mom was bragging about it to the woman who owns the local health shop, telling her how its grown in organic compost and watered only with rain water. Upshot is that the health shop will buy as much basil as I can sell, so I’m now in the herb business.

It’s not going to make my fortune and having just finished watching all the seasons of Weeds I’m wondering if my grow room couldn’t be put to more effective use and help pay my crippling mortgage. . .


Transplanting basil from the grow room into the herb garden.

Gardening and Seller’s Remorse

DSC_6905I’m no housekeeper, germs and dust are essential components of a healthy immune system, but I spend hours gardening.

Weeding, watering, sharp clippers, planting and harvesting – pure zen.

I don’t form strong attachments to houses, but it’s a wrench every time I leave a garden. We have to sell, it’s what we do to survive if we don’t want 9 to 5 drone-hood, but when people view the house I’m torn between wanting them to love it and make an offer, and dreading that they will do just that.

On days that I water, a pair of sunbirds follow me around from section to section, Bob the tortoise rustles away in his foliage, and the resident Hoopoe aerates the lawn with his long, sharp beak.

Bees and butterflies dodge the spray as they waft between flowers, big spiders sit in webs, small lizards glint in the sun.

A garden is not just about re-sale value or about me, it’s a hidden world, an eco-system for a chain of critters. If, by the end of my life, all I leave behind is a string of self-seeding, indigenous gardens. . . well, that ain’t bad.

5 things I Hate about Selling my House

imagesGavin will be coming home at the end of winter and it’s time to put our house on the market. We have bought and sold 3 properties in the last five years so I am a bit of a veteran, but it never gets easier.

1. You have to let cretins into your private space and act welcoming and friendly. Some potential buyers are great. They look around, make their judgments, keep those judgments to themselves to themselves, and leave.

Others, the cretins, point out every flaw stridently, and dart meaningful glances at each other and the agent. If you don’t like my shocking pink stairs repaint them WHEN you buy my house.

Don’t let the first question out of your mouth be a chirpy “so, why are you selling this beautiful house?” when it’s obvious you’ve read Real Estate for Dummies and expect me to say, “oh, we are desperate for money and would love you to make any offer, no matter how low.” Not going to happen.

2. Dealing with estate agents. I won’t even go into the usual obvious top 10 reasons to hate realtors, those you already know. I will just mention photographs. They wander around with their tiny digital cameras, pointing and shooting, and then publish blurry, out of focus and unflattering pics. After the agents selling my last house published a big pic of my toilet on-line, I now do all my own photos.

3. Keeping a house buyer ready while living in it with two kids. One or two agents have made the mistake of doing the ‘pop in’ – something they’ve never done twice. When agents unexpectedly rang the doorbell once on a Monday morning at 8.30 am I actually dropped to the floor and hid behind the couch until they went away. I NEVER give them keys.

 4. Handing my beloved garden over to someone who thinks indigenous is another word for indigent. The same cretin staring at me as if I’m a nutter when I rave on about the delights of having four huge rain water tanks.

Losing my menagerie of tortoises and guinea fowl. Especially, those fair weathered fowls who are your best friend when you are chucking daily seed for them, but who completely forget you five minutes are the moving van has pulled out of the driveway.

5. Regularly packing all my treasures into boxes, half of which never seem to see the light of day again. I wake at 3am remembering great pieces that I know I put somewhere safe and which I haven’t seen for 5 years. It bothers me.

Frugal Style – Free Stuff

face1The New York Times ran a great article recently on the joys of being frugal. This quote from it – ‘The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses. The mantra is cut, cut, cut — magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair. ‘

I’m not averse to spending money for pleasure, but  real joy comes in getting something really special and unique for nothing. The perfect Scrounge. 


When I look around the house nearly all my favourite things are pavement specials, other peoples cast-offs. The most recent treasure is a  sign I am having block mounted. Every second shop in Abu Dhabi is a barber shop, they’re all called salons (oftentimes saloons!). We could see one from our flat window that I particularly loved – Stars Gate Salon. When Gavin saw them replacing the sign with a new one, he rescued the old one from the dumpster. It’s vinyl, huge, and really beyond fabulous with a great pic of a younger, prettier Brad Pitt. Instant Pop Art.


Prettier Brad

Prettier Brad

 My tea chest table was rescued from a dustbin on rubbish day. A clean out, a coat of varnish and suddenly everyone wants it.


It pays to find free stuff.

It pays to find free stuff.

My herb garden is watered with a perfectly good watering can that was left on a building site, and the basil grows under the watchful eye of a plaster of paris face that was left on a side-walk. He’s weathered from gun-metal grey spray paint to pure white over the years (pic at top of page).

Cadbury clock

Cadbury clock


We had a book shop in Joburg and every day I told the time using the clock from the cafe over the road. When the elderly Greek owner closed up shop he gave us that clock and it’s one of my all time favourite things. I never look at it without thinking of him, or chocolate – a cool memory combination.


 Chickenman Mkhize was an eccentric artist and performer in Pietermaritzburg. He used discarded materials to create road chicken-man1signs, puppets and animals on wheels – and has become very collectable. Someone dumped this sign on a Joburg pavement when they moved from Afro-chic to minimalism and it’s now found a home in Sedgefield.

These things can’t just be bought. They all have a personal provenance, a story attached. It’s not just stuff, it’s a found object archive of our lives thus far.



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