Le Managerie

Henry and Inkandla HenThere are two important times at Helpmekaar. Both occur daily, once in the early morning and repeated in the evening, although demands may be made as early as afternoon tea time! (or in the case of the rooster, at 2am!) Animal feeding time. Our menagerie consists of a flock of chickens, headed up by Henry the rooster,  sans tail at the moment because of a run in with a dog. He has five wives, two blond hens known as the Bond girls, two chestnut and brown hens, one of which is 14 years old and still laying! Then there is a grey speckled hen and her teenager who at the moment is of undetermined sex, although my gut feeling is that it is a cockerel. They spend their evenings in the hock and pass the time of day by scratching around in the compost heap, taking a midday sand bath, finding any gap possible to destroy the herb garden (its them against me) crapping on our veranda, lots of sex and producing the occasional egg.

Sophie and Bella Then there are the two donkeys, officially called Sophie and Bella but mostly referred to as simply “The Girls”. They came to us from the Smiths in Greyton. Sophie was a rescue case and four years ago produced a little foal who has only ever known generosity and kindness and as a result thinks the world, and us, are there to serve her. They arrived in March 09 and when they were inspected by the Van Ziyl’s from the McGregor Donkey Sanctuary they said that they were in lovely condition but were on the fat side and needed to go on a diet. They spend their day casually keeping an eye on the passing traffic as their paddock is right on the Robertson/McGregor Road, sleeping and dealing with the flies.

The house is also home to three cats. Kate,Kate cleaning who was picked up as a very sick kitten on the side of the road and who is tortoise shell and as a result of been so sick as a baby is only partially sighted. Tato is part British Blue (her dad was a travelling man) and was picked up at a truck stop motel called “The Luxor Lodge” (read misnomer) on the N1 just outside Bloemfontein.Tato


Finally there is Atilla, a pure bred lilac Burmese who adopted us two years ago. They do not particularly like each other and the world of cat politics at Helpmekaar is a constant source of surprise, frustration and change. It is a little like politics in Africa!

France 2009

DSC04911Last year we spent two weeks at Camphinie, which belongs to David and Paula Reid from Cape Town. They bought the house and James Mudge did an amazing transformation of the place. The idea was to have a look at the garden, but we ended up helping with some of the building work. When the container arrived from South Africa, we also helped to unpack and place the furniture. So this year we went back to enjoy the space on our own and look at the garden again. After a long dry Cape summer it was a real treat to wake up to a wonderfully green and colourful French meadow that surrounds the house.  All we did was do a bit of minimal mowing, oiled some woodwork and put up some of the final furnishings (we lugged a Victorian mirror, two small chandeliers, some buttons and a sewing kit from Cape Town to Soulomes, via Dubai and Paris!) We also got to visit the Airbus factory, and got to see where they build their A380 planes. A short skip around Toulouse and a night with Sharon who runs creative writing courses in the tiny village of Matrin brought our trip to an end.DSC04990

Map image

At last, a living room

finish living roomWalls plastered, doors hung , floors sanded and kitchen half done; one new room is ready for visitors! The new living room has finally come together and we could enjoy Christmas dinner. Corinne and Angela came up from Cape Town in their new Honda CRV after touring about 3000km from Durban via Rhodes and Mountain Zebra Park.Christmas dinner

  We are taking a break from building this week and next to refine the design of the pergola in front of the house. It’s meant to be a vine covered fringe to keep the heat out in summer and let in the light in winter. But gutters and protection of the walls is the priority and the whole thing is proving to be bit of a brain teaser. Etienne from greenhaus architects has helped with the thinking process. Now our heads are filled with architectural jargon; dialogue, logic, half portals, purlins, span and paving.

Bad Weather

Last year at the end of Winter, we had a major wind and rain storm that lasted for a few days. I remember saying it was was ‘the worst’ I had ever experienced. Well it wasn’t! This November, the worst storm in 100 years according to the records lashed us for 3 days. Wind and constant driving rain.

gable-goneSitting inside on that miserable Wednesday afternoon, we were having a cup of tea after work and heard a crumbly thump.  There in the room with the newly laid floors was a muddly hole in the South Gable wall, about the size of a fire-place. We could not believe it and went lovely-mudoutside to have a look. Standing in the rain and in shock, we realised that the rain and runoff had built up outside the gable wall and damaged the foundation.  The foundation must  have dropped into the mud and soft ground. As we stood there, without warning the entire half of the south gable came down in a pile of bricks, plaster and mud.

Digging out the Damp

foundations-1 Some of the front rooms suffered from rising damp mostly caused by cement ‘bridges’ added in the last 10-15 years. Having solved the bridges on the outside and lowering the verandah level to prevent water from reaching the cob walls, we started on the inside. First the old floor planks and concrete floors had to be removed. As suspected the concrete floors has rubble and sand underneath them bringing moisture right up into the walls from the inside.old-joists

Some of the bricks had lost their ‘integrity’ and were just soft lumps of sand instead of hard mud. Luckily only the outer skin of the bricks needed to be patched up – once they started drying out, they regained their former strength.

All the sand and rubble was removed and new pillars were made to support the new floors. Most importantly we made sure that ventilation could take place under the floor and so keep the house ‘breathing’ and dry.new-floors


new-outlineAt last, we have moved into the back of the house and started changing the front of the house as planned. Jill and her team of builders have removed the small ‘art room’ tacked on to the front of the house and reshaped the ‘stoep’ in rock and stone.   Then the old cement plaster was stripped and the wall was repaired with ‘cob’. new-stoepIn place of the old sash windows, the smart new doors were installed. As with all old houses, this process allows one a glimpse as the history of the house and the workmanship of the builders 100 years ago. It seems many changes have been made in the past both doors-go-ingood and bad. We are hoping to rmove and restore the bad and keep the good features. The lovely lintels in the wall were made of oregon pine – they have been cleaned up and put back for someone else to discover.

We have also added some hi-tech features on the roof as you can see, our solar water heating panels and solar electricity panels to keep the lights on!

A Stable Life

stable Every horse needs a stable and Athol’s horse “Jim” needs to come home. Jim is spending time on a spelling farm in the green and verdant foothills of the Drakensberg  and has no idea what’s in store for him. During spring we built a cob building using all the material we could find on site and produced this lovely stable for a lucky horse. Just this week a paddock and lunging ring were added to complete the rural picture. Mink and Manure in the Karoo. Well maybe just manure … and flies.

Spring is always a joy here, such rapid growth and startlingly bright plants. gazaniastange-bulb