Would You Do It….?

praerie August morning 008

We have a shed, a nice big shed we built in 2008 from the steel frame which once housed a tennis academy in Rondebosch.

architect's drawing

I remember landing on a cloudy, drizzly day at Cape Town International airport on the 10th of September 2001. It was the day before my birthday, also the day before that terrible disaster in the U.S.A. I was returning from a three week visit to England where I’d gone, among other things, to meet the penfriend with whom I’d been corresponding for 27 years.

My husband collected me and my luggage and one of the first questions he asked me when we got into the car was, “Do you want to see your new house?”

We were not planning to move. Our home of ten years was a small abode we built ourselves. Well, not with my hands exactly; my husband and one helper did the whole project completely on their own, with my occasional input of ideas, from the foundations to the roof beams and purlins which he made from Blue Gum trees he felled and cured himself.  In the first few years it was the sweetest, quaintest little cottage with only two rooms, an open pitched roof, a bathroom that housed a cast iron tub so huge and deep it could bath a whole family of small people all at once (we’d fetched it from my brother’s farm where it was intended as a drinking trough for cattle) and a petite walk-in wardrobe. He and I had plotted the exact position of the cottage one afternoon with four pegs and a ball of yellow twine. Later, in two separate flurries of building, we added more rooms until at last it more or less resembled a normal house. It had the dearest little stoep on the front overlooking a big dam. We had a small sailing boat and when the dam was full, it could be launched straight from our garden gate, which stood in the water.

Now I was being invited to view my new house.   What can I say.  It was very big, very IBR and very green. That means it was a big steel structure completely clad in “Inverted Box Rib” metal sheeting and painted tennis court green.  “It’s got lots of space…” is what I did say.  And, as an afterthought, “The tennis net comes too.”

My husband had seen it advertised, the price was pretty good, and the deal was that he had to take down the structure and remove it.  This was done in due time and all the pieces came home on a large lorry.   And the tennis net came too.

We had bought a piece of land outside Wellington that year and sooner or later it would need a house.  And my husband thought this was the quickest way of getting one built.  My challenge was therefore to convert a rectangular space of 22m x 9m with 4,5m side walls and 1,5m roof pitch into something liveable.  A rather lovely challenge, I thought.  So I got going and drew the plans.  And then filled a whole book with artistic impressions of what it would look like and what the garden would look like with an abundance of magnificent trees (the property had none, except the single ancient wild olive).  The only comment I received was, “You have drawn the trees with such spreading branches, but actually, they will never look like that.”

And they don’t.  Today they all look, to greater or lesser degrees, like old women bending under their loads into the wind.

For years nothing happened.  All the steel and sheeting lay stored in heaps. In 2008 there was a change of plan.  We would build a shed with the tennis academy structure and then a proper house for ourselves with bricks and cavity walls.  All the steel and sheeting was moved to the farm outside Wellington. A trip to a demolition yard yielded what we thought were wonderful windows and so, bit by bit, the steel frame was erected and the shed came into being.  Amazingly, a thief came with a lorry in the night and removed most of the stored IBR sheeting – the small pile they left behind they thoughtfully weighed down with rocks.  For a reason…several nights later they came back and removed those too. There was not a soul about to see them or stop them.  Buying brand new sheets for just the roof cost more than what we had paid for the entire shed with all its cladding.

With so much space on hand, we decided to build a flat on the end of the shed – you never know what you might need in years to come.  In fact, we thought we would probably move from our small house and temporarily live in the flat while our new house was being built.  I measured the areas, drew templates of our furniture to scale, and planned the interior.

Then my husband changed his mind about living in the flat. He said he did not want to have to move twice. So, building complete and after 19 years in our previous “handmade” home, we moved straight to our new house on the prairie.

That was January, 2010.  But…..the excitement of what we could do with the flat was quickly dashed when the farm worker couple we had employed came to us with big eyes and said they had nowhere to stay.  They were squeezed into some tiny place on a farm nearby with relatives and were very uncomfortable. Well of course they could stay in the flat!

While we moved into our house, they moved into the flat and made themselves at home.  The mother was afraid of heights, so chose not to let the family occupy the bedrooms upstairs. However, her two little boys did not mind scampering up there and having themselves a bit of a ball. I don’t suppose she ever knew what mischief they got up to.

For a few years we exercised tolerance and forbearance. By 2013 we came to the end of our rope.  Our working couple was so often drunk and unfit for work and their one son in particular so partial to breaking into our house whenever we were away and making off with our children’s prized possessions that we had to call it a day.  They had to go.

By the end of that year the flat was vacated. It required a good deal of scrubbing and paint, but it emerged reasonably intact.  Since then it has served the purpose of storing hay for our cattle and being sleeping quarters for orphan lambs at night. The little pilot light that had once burned to “do” something with it had gone out. The pigeons moved in en masse, the dust and cobwebs settled like blankets……….                   It is not looking so good.

the flat 002   the flat 003

Kitchen area….about 3,5m x 5,5m                     ….slightly divided from the living area…..about 5,5 x 5,5m

the flat 022    the flat 017

Front door leading from the stoep                                         closer view of the living area

the flat 004   the flat 001   the flat 006

View from bathroom door with stairs going up     Shower area in bathroom      A bedroom in the loft
the flat 007  the flat 011
A second window in the main bedroom                 From an upstairs bedroom – as the view looks now

the flat 024

And now, more than three years on, I am looking at this space and thinking, “Do I do it?”  Do I fix it up, furnish it and make it available?

It could be beautiful.  People could be happy here. For short stays, or even just overnight. There is not a soul or other house in sight.  If you were to sit on the stoep in the evening with a glass of chilled wine from our beautiful Boland, all you would see would be the views I have shown you in my la vie de Praerie Facebook photographs – the prairie, the distant Kasteelberg mountains and the nearby Lemietberg mountains.  Within a radius of 10 kilometres you would find African buffalo, golden wildebeest, black wildebeest, Bontebok, Eland, Quagga, and not to mention the roaming wild creatures – Cape fox, bat eared fox, karakul, wild boar, porcupines and deer.  Also an Alpaca farm down the road with its mill and gorgeous products and a goat farm up another road with its cheeses….

If you were me, would you do it?

the flat 025

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