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Our son and his friend hitch a lift, past our collapsing fence on the right

Our son and his friend hitch a lift, past our collapsing fence on the right

We’ve been having a wall built around the garden. As usual when it comes to building work here, things did not go strictly to plan, though strictly speaking, how much of a plan do you need when building a wall.

We, like most pre wall people, had a rough post fence, these posts are cut from the forest and are not cheap, to say nothing of the environmental cost caused by chopping down the native forest (as is happening all over).
First you have to pay the man who’s land the forest is on and for his men to cut the posts, then the men who bring the posts to the house on a huge truck and then someone to put up the fence (unless you have someone like Neu’s dad, in which case he does it) which is a lot of work.

As the timber is untreated, the posts do not last for long, bits of bark explode and fly off as the posts dry out in the heat of the day, with an accompanying sound of pops and pings. The multitude of insects that came with the posts and the new ones that invade, use their incredible jaws to reduce these thick posts to a brittle honeycomb, apply the slightest pressure and the post collapses, the dogs having sussed this create a dog sized hole and escape and on occasions donkeys or cows would lean on the fence, causing swathes of it to collapse, allowing them in to trample over and eat the plants.

We’ve completely replaced the fence twice in ten years and were constantly filling in gaps by replacing posts that had given up the ghost, but we couldn’t keep the dogs in and I spent far too much of my time chasing after them to get them back, especially one dog who is an escape artist extraordinaire and has a habit of eating anything truly disgusting that she can find. As we have lost dogs and cats because they have eaten poisoned bait (usually put down for rats but sometimes sadly, deliberately put down for cats and dogs too), a truly awful death for them and very distressing to witness, we had to keep our escapee on a long line in the garden, something I was also not happy about and it clearly drove her mad.

Now the fence needed replacing again, we decided to bite the bullet and build the wall, over time it would cost us less than repeatedly replacing the fence and the dogs would be able to run freely in the garden. We had already bought some of the bricks and the builders yard said if we paid for some more up front, we could pay for the rest of the material in interest free instalments, our builder friend said we could pay him the same way.

We calculated that a wall of 1.5 meters height, should be sufficient to stop even our most determined dog from getting out and would screen other dogs and most of the people who go past, the sight of which sometimes sends one of our dogs into a fury, he never bothers about other dogs or people when he’s out for a walk but obviously thinks they have no business walking past HIS garden. Of course if one dog barks, it usually sets off the other four and as the dogs are in the garden more often than in the house, having a wall should lead to a quieter life for all.

I had a rough idea of the bricks we would need above ground, I simply counted the number of bricks used in a square meter and multiplied by the length and height required, it’s not rocket science, but what I couldn’t do was calculate the number of bricks that would be placed below ground for the wall’s foundation or the amount of cement, sand, gravel etc to be used because I’m not a builder and know nothing about constructing walls.

I asked the builder to calculate how much of the various material we would need and he came back with a total. Now I know that the builder is not very good with his estimates, he has done various jobs for us and never gets it right. It wouldn’t be a problem if his estimates were always too low or always too high but sadly he’s not very consistent, so sometimes we have to buy more, other times end up with things we don’t use. As he always under estimates the time it will take him to do the job, he often ends up working for nothing, which makes us feel bad because he’s such a nice guy and works so hard.

Our builder friend isn’t the only one with this estimate problem, when we’d just moved in to our newly built home, a man visiting the house, asked me why I hadn’t had the balcony built wider, I said that as the balcony runs around the house and is therefore a large area, I hadn’t been able to afford it. He had looked at me incredulously and asked why I thought that, how ridiculous, it wouldn’t have cost me any more at all! So more than 40 square meters of ground and roof materials plus labour would have just appeared, uhm I think not.  Mind you the same man told me I would be better off buying a bigger water tank, if I bought a smaller one I would have to fill it twice as often and this, he said, would cost me more. There’s a certain logic in that I guess.
I have to say here that the main part of our house was built by a master builder who came from the nearby town, his estimates were spot on every time, down to the last detail, which was impressive because our house is an odd shape, being rounded not square.

As the road doesn’t come to our house, everything has to be loaded onto a cart and pulled by a mule over the sand, for the 400 meters to the house, heavy loads for the mule and hot work for all. In came a small mountain of course sand, one of fine sand and one of gravel, bags and bags of cement and thousands of bricks.

One load of sand comes in

One load of sand comes in

Another load of sand comes in

Another load of sand comes in

The old fence was ripped out and a trench dug, very quickly the wall began to rise. I went out, when I came back the wall was considerably higher than the 1.5 meters we had asked for. Neu said the builder had explained that owing to the slope of the land, if he built the wall to only 1.5 meters then by the time he reached the other end, if the wall was to remain level, it would be a very low wall, Neu gave the go ahead.
Then the builder realised that he could place steps at intervals along the length of the wall so it would be the same height at either end of it’s length, unfortunately he didn’t think of it until after he had built the wall to 2 meters in height, so now we were going to have a 2 meter high wall. He seemed to think we had enough material to do this, which I seriously doubted, we were building the wall half a meter higher all round, either he had massively over estimated in the first place, or we would have to buy some more of everything, unfortunately for our bank balance it was the latter.

And the wall goes up

And the wall goes up

and up and up

and up and up

As the wall was going up, we had to remove various plants and at one point seriously prune a small tree, this meant swinging an axe so I left it to one of the builder’s mates, who weighed in with more gusto than thought, bringing down a long limb in one piece and knocking down a newly built section of wall, it’s so Laurel and Hardy at times, it makes me laugh. Another section of wall had to be knocked down when I pointed out that they hadn’t left a space for the gate!

and comes down again

and comes down again

Talking of which, the builder had offered to make us a new garden gate and this he did. As the others were busy finishing off other jobs, he asked if I could give him a hand putting the gate in place. I assumed that he had measured the space left in the wall and had made the gate to fit but that would be too simple, he had instead taken a guess at the measurement and the gate was considerably wider than the space. It took the best part of the afternoon to fit the gate and meant he had to knock down bits of the newly built wall, going too far at one point and having to rebuild again. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that the next day, on opening the gate for the first time, it dropped on its hinges and now wont shut properly.

Nice new garden wall and gate

Nice new garden wall and gate

A lot of wall to plant against.

A lot of wall to plant against.

I hadn’t really wanted such a high wall but there it is and with luck it will cut down on the noise which comes from our too frequently arguing neighbours. It has certainly stopped our dogs from seeing anything that passes and even our escapee extraordinaire has been stumped by it.
I hope that soon it will be covered in bougainvillaea, giving a delightfully colourful surround to our newly peaceful (hopefully) garden.

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Other stories of building work:

Building work and a fiddler on the roof

Building work, not necessarily an open and shut case

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