The shape of things to come

Hello, and welcome back. Yes, it’s time for your now-bi-monthly-probably-soon-to-be-quarterly-over-hyphenated newsletter, courtesy of the laziest blogger on the great continent.  It seems you couldn’t resist getting your fix of our tawdry tales of home construction and landscaping (or “build porn”, as it’s being called), so I won’t keep you waiting any longer. We might need to change the tag-line of this blog soon, though, thanks to the progress we’ve made recently.

As always, you can get your peek on before, or instead of, reading. Otherwise, let’s get on with the news…

New year

Wasn’t I just writing about New Year’s? And now we’re into April. Already I feel like such a fool, letting that time slip by so unbloggedly. I suppose that with the establishment of my new work routine the days are losing their uniqueness and have begun to flow together. I settled into it at the start of February, in a mental state somewhere between euphoria and total disbelief that I could be so lucky. But apparently the whole thing is not a dream because at some point some new zeroes appeared at the happy end of the number in my bank account – my first South African paycheck. Yes, I am officially no longer a freeloader in my own home. We are now two incomes strong, and buffered with this extra buying power, we prioritised a list of goodies and got spendin’. First was a long-overdue luxury – a 3 x 8m section of buffalo grass, to cover some of the bare clay excavation in front of our house. Now, early February is not the time to plant anything in Western South Africa, as the average temperature is above 30 C and rain is scarce. However, it was part of our great plan to use some of that 15000 litres we’d captured from the previous winter in order to establish the grass. Three weeks later, it is thriving and at long last we can flop down on the ground and enjoy the view without having to fret about tracking in white foot- and paw-prints all over the house. To complement the grass, Kogie bought the first four specimens of what one day will hopefully become a thriving rose garden.

Inside, carpentry work finally resumed and our built-in cupboards, bath pedestal, and bathroom cabinet were assembled upstairs. This was followed a little later with yet more granite – this time for the cabinet and the nearby bathroom window sill – and shortly thereafter with the final plumbing fixtures. Our ensuite bathroom upstairs is now complete, and it turned out rather nicely. All that remains now is the upstairs balcony.

With the cupboards in, the unpacking began. Since December our many vacuum-sealed bags of clothes, sent from the UK so long ago, had been lying in a corner of the bedroom waiting for the cupboards to be finished. Before that, the study, and before that, the shed. The minute we opened the bags that old English air trapped inside flooded out, and immediately began to complain about the weather. The clothes might have been from the 1800’s, for all the time that seems to have elapsed since I last saw them. They were a welcome sight for both of us though, as we’ve lived in the same two or three outfits since our arrival, and hardly have anything left that isn’t paint-splattered, torn, or thread-bare. Kogie then began an ironing marathon and two days later our new cupboards were full of fine ensembles ready to be torn and splattered with paint.

New digs

Also during this time we dropped a little dosh on some earthworks. The lessons we learned last winter have not been forgotten; and although the rains which fall in those three months can seem a little overwhelming, with the appropriate channels it can be diverted, slowed down, and put to good use. Our first dam, on the far west end of the plot, had never really been adequate for catching any considerable amount of water, so we first had this deepened, so that now it should be able to hold about 50,000 litres. That water can easily be pumped to some new tanks due to be installed by the nearby nursery before spring, or left to encourage some visitors of the avian variety. The channel which feeds this dam, starting 100m away, at our reed-bed, was also completed.

The eastern half of the property also has good catchment potential, and so we had another dam created about 30m from the house, near the bottom of the slope, to facilitate that. In order to protect the driveway from being flooded with surface water during heavy rains, we dug a channel just uphill from it, which will divert that water and feed the dam as well. In time the driveway will be lined with trees and that channel should help to keep their roots soaked. This was given a pretty good test over Easter, when a proper taste of winter blew through during the latter half of that weekend, leaving behind about 30mm of water.

There’s simply no substitute for an earth-moving machine, and I consider it money very well spent. We have put in a large order of indigenous shrubs and trees, too. With a bit of luck, we may soon see the transformation of the landscape begin.

New faces

Kogie has chosen to continue her week-of-night-duty/week-off work schedule indefinitely. So in exchange for a week of bleary eyes and interrupted circadian rhythms, she is rewarded with a full week here at home, where, theoretically at least, she relaxes. It never seems to work out that way though. Apart from all of the various jobs that still need finishing around the house, the past two months have seen a pretty steady stream of visitors. The weekend before Easter two of Kogie’s sisters visited from Durban, for an all-too-brief reunion and taste of the country life. Then the kids were up for part of their school holiday, and most recently a friend from the UK dropped in, our first from that neck of the woods. In between we also had the chance to meet the owner of the plot south of us (up the hill), who if you recall, nearly sold it to what they call around here, “an invasive species”. She herself is definitely ‘dal material though, and once she sorts out some details back home, plans on building here.

Also during one of Kogie’s weeks off we met many more of our neighbours at the first official market held in our little town, a friendly and informal affair which allowed local artisans and food producers to meet and sell directly to each other. Kogie was strongly encouraged to volunteer to cook for this, and in short order whipped up nine dozen samoosas and a pot of biryani, all of which was sold within two hours. The next market is at the end of the month, and I suspect mouths are already watering for her next batch, which will have to be a much larger one. So at the moment, it’s hard to tell which is more stressful for Kogie – her time on or her time off.

Finally, it had been suggested to us repeatedly that we should acquire another dog as company for Bruno.

Now, I was in no rush to invite some interloper to come and disturb my bro-mance with my little Bru’, but his breed is a very sociable one, and now, with his master occupied inside for many hours at a stretch, it seemed the right thing to do. I was keen to get a dog of some size, too, to make neighbouring dogs roaming around at night think twice about extending their territory. I ended up bringing this little guy home:

Working title: "Dickens"

Working title: “Dickens”

I chose this name not out of respect for the author, but so I could stand akimbo and make idiotic comments like: “you little ___”, or, “why, you’re the very ___ !”.

He is what they call here a “pavement special”, but fortunately one that came via an excellent vet in Stanford, so he’d been topped up with all necessary meds. He’s at least part Alsatian, which should promise a fairly sizeable dog and one that will protect his patch. Though, he’s not really so much a dog as he is the canine embodiment of Hunger. He’s like a desperate, insatiable sense of need dressed in a dog costume. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything inside him but intestine and stomach, because I once witnessed him inhale a whole sausage that was almost as long as his own body, without chewing. I suppose during his first four months he’d had to compete for every scrap available, and this constant hunger was strongly imprinted on his young mind. For the first few days, he had no boundaries whatsoever. The first food I laid out for Dickens didn’t last 30 seconds, and as soon as he was done he simply moved to Bruno’s bowl and started on that. Bruno, who has never had to rush through a meal in his life, simply looked at me aghast, horrified at this uncouth behaviour. For the first few weeks I had to referee every meal, as Dickens became used the routine and Bruno became used to defending his own.

It wasn’t Bruno who had the greatest difficulties adjusting to this newcomer though, it was me. Aside from his endless food cravings, Dickens also required constant attention and thought nothing of interposing himself between me and my favourite pied pet at every chance, completely oblivious of my Bru-mance. I even strongly considered returning him, but of course that would have further traumatised him and eventually, seeing as Bruno accepted him, I had to as well, and have since grown quite fond of him. The two couldn’t be more different dogs, though. Bruno is an intense, emotional, empathic creature with the athleticism of a cheetah. Dickens is a clumsy, unthinking loper who can usually be found on, or just behind, my heels. But he’s friendly and in time will no doubt prove his worth. Most importantly, the two actually get along very well, and although Bruno vacillates between bare-fanged, bone-hoarding domination and fatherly fondness, I suspect he is happy to have another of his kind around.

What’s old is new again

The mighty cape Winds visited us frequently this past year, and were kind enough to point out the weaknesses in some of our buildings. The nursery, to begin with, was a little too tall and poorly anchored in the ground, so after the first heavy rain last winter two of the poles were dislodged by ground water. On top of that, the shade netting let in too much light and wind, and had been bound to the framework by gut string, which had eventually deteriorated in the sun. By December of last year the netting was hanging hopelessly off of the wire framework.
Nursery v2 is a great improvement – the footprint has been extended, ceiling lowered, the pole framework footings encased in concrete, and its improved structure bound in a stronger shade net. In front, on the downslope, a small tyre wall was added as a retaining wall and planting area.

Oh, and contrary to what I wrote last time, the local critters have not left my unfenced garden alone – some pernicious porcupines sampled the rind of of almost all of the cantaloupes, and of the riper ones, the flesh of the fruit too (but you can’t stay mad at porcupines, can you?) So it seems my first crop, planted late and tended to in a rather distracted way, amounted to not much more than some expensive compost. Seems the nursery needs the addition of a fenced garden…

The shed had been blown off of its brick foundations late last year, after we emptied it of our household goods. Although still laden with about 500kg, a strong South-Wester’ found some space underneath and nudged it aside, causing it to rest on a very uneven rocky surface underneath. Thus it stayed for many months, until recently when we built a proper cement foundation for it. The only problem was the shed still rested in its place 10 metres away, and had to somehow be put on that foundation. Although empty, it still couldn’t be lifted, and dismantling seemed like a doubtful solution. Instead a few local oaks, myself included, spent an exhausting but rather hilarious hour levering it up onto some large poles, and then rolling it safely onto its new perch. It was immediately tied down and having survived the weather at Easter, seems to be on firmer ground now.

And that’s that. In a word, we’ve been busy. We began with a blank canvas and filling that canvas promises to keep us busy – but happy – for a very long time. I hope I’ll have plenty of interesting things to report in the next installment. Until then, thanks for reading.

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