Sept 2008 – 2010.
In a little hollow, one of several scooped out of the hillside over the millennia, I bought a one acre property with a ruined cottage. Plot 123. This tiny side valley in our village of Haarlem is called Klein Gatjie, or Small Hole. Other similar dips are Groot Gat, Die Fonteine and Skilpad Gat. The latter means Tortoise Hole, and nobody can tell me why. Surely not tortoise’s arse?
In September 2008 my little construction team were starting the veranda foundations and digging the septic tank pit. Despite the fact that the city of George is 130-odd km away, the village lies under the control of George Municipality. Because the ruin was a metre into the road, I approached the City Engineer/Town Planner who assured me that its location was historic and sited long before streets were laid out. However, I decided that, being on the lower side of the hillside road, it would receive road storm-water run-off, resulting in rising damp, so I dug down beside the wall and installed some subsoil drainage to sop up the moisture and release it beyond the French drain into the road.
Hooked to one wall of the roofless walls was the still live electrical box, covered only with a bent sheet of rusty iron and a plastic fertilizer bag. As soon as I raised and completed the walls and installed the roof, I could move it to a better, safe position. Then I could apply to have a replacement installed at no cost due to the age and weather damage.
Before the roof was on, the solar company I had approached mailed to tell me that the batteries I had ordered had arrived, but they agreed to store them until I could install a wooden floor on the upper storey.
The old mud-brick walls were collapsed by myself with a two-handed push, so rotten were they. The rubble went into filling the under-floor of the new veranda.
By October the outer walls were completed to the top of first floor level and the new doors and windows were installed. We moved to the internal walls and the veranda columns, then in November the upper walls up to the gables. Limited scaffolding and having to move it frequently slowed that down.
I designed the roof to be split-level. One half being trusses with an attic bedroom and a store inside them. When that was covered in corrugated iron sheets, we tackled the other half, which was higher, (completed by March 2009); the rafters on a central beam, housing a bedroom where the batteries and gas geyser were situated on the west side, and my office with two spare beds on the east. As I write, I see a lovely view down the valley to the east through one of those three small windows to be seen above the veranda.
By mid November 2008, the team started plastering; outside when the weather permitted, inside the roofed half when it rained. I put in the last sewer connection and also the water line into the house. In early December we roofed the veranda and worked on the street-side wall to remove the visible mud from between the rocks and replace it with cement mortar, coloured to emulate the mud.
By the end of February, 2009, we completed the under-floor waste plumbing, the concrete floors and final plastering. I welded a steel security gate for the front door and a second one to put on the bedroom door to the veranda.
In May of 2009, the main team finished the floor toppings. With a lot of work to do on a part of the Backpackers in Uniondale, I didn’t get much done except welding burglar bars for the windows. I’d had the break-in and robbery at my Twin Chimney’s property with a lot of power tools stolen, which had to be replaced. Luckily, the robbers missed the big angle grinder so the men were able to cut the roof-sheets. They started on the gables but the glare off the new roof sheets kept the work to overcast days.
I tackled plumbing, electrical installation and also the wooden staircase, myself; an interesting exercise in planning to make it fit with even risers… I tried to build a solar water-heater on the roof with 50mm irrigation piping but it kept bursting, so I ordered a commercially-made unit what works beautifully.
There being still work to do with the transformation of a garage into a flat at the Backpackers, and more work at the Twin Chimneys property, as well as another one acre property with a cottage ruin to rebuild, it was well into 2010 before the place was liveable. I built on a workshop/garage, as well. It became my home in April 2011; a welcoming little cottage where I write in blissful solitude.