I Wonder

If you are a South African of my age (55), doesn’t this song just take you right back to those heady, angst-filled student days? I haven’t seen the movie “Searching for Sugar Man” but I look forward to it. Somehow, Rodriguez just seemed to capture the moment here.

Wonder I do. What a lovely word wonder is, it means to question as well as to marvel. I question our intelligence embarking on home improvements as semi-retired folk and I marvel at the capacity for it to take on the momentum of a runaway train. I call it the domino effect.

We decided that we needed more living space; that we weren’t getting the full benefit of our front stoep (veranda) because it bore the brunt of the prevailing winds and rain. So we called in the builders to raise the height of the stoep floor so that it was on the same level as the house. Then we called in the aluminium door man to enclose it. Then we got the man in to put in a new floor, but of course, as we were caught up in the moment, we decided to refloor the rest of the house as well. As I sipped my cuppa tea early one morning perusing the pile of crush left over from raising the height of the stoep floor, I had a brainwave. Why not use it to throw a slab down in the rather neglected area at the back of the house, somewhat grandiosely referred to as the courtyard? So we did, but in order to do so we needed to build a retaining wall, which we did. And then I started to feel quite artistic, so I sculpted a rockfall between the retaining walls and mixed blue and black oxide with the cement screed on the courtyard cement floor. I was on a roll. Why not neaten up the window sills at the same time, and don’t we need steps now that we’ve raise the height of the stoep floor? And shouldn’t they be paved with pavers that just aren’t available anywhere other than Pietermaritzburg? Oh my god – and now we are committed to repainting the lounge and guest bedroom and plastering all the cracks on the outside wall. Will it ever end? The short answer is only when the money runs out, which it is doing at a rapid rate. Sorry kids, your inheritance is disappearing fast.

We’ve found a really good team of builders, Zimbabweans as it turns out (Nathan and Bevan) and what a pleasure to do business with them. We have wonderful (there’s that word again) discussions about life in Zim and what it’s like to live in KwaZulu-Natal if you are not Zulu. Today they dropped three guys off to do the window sills and cleaning up. When Bevan came to fetch them at three o’clock, they were still busy farting around. I happened to mention to Bevan that his guys worked rather slowly and enquired if they were Zimbabwean. “No” he replied, “They’re Zulu”. “That explains it”, I said and he concurred, rather amused.

The Gas Man Cometh

‘Twas on the Monday morning the Gas man came to call.

The gas tap wouldn’t turn – I wasn’t getting gas at all.

He tore out all the skirting boards to try and find the main,

And I had to call the carpenter to put them back again.

Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

‘Twas on the Tuesday morning the Carpenter came round.

He hammered, and he chiseled, and he said “Look what I’ve found:

Your joists are full of dry rot, but I’ll put them all to rights”.

Then he nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights.

Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

‘Twas on the Wednesday morning the Electrician came.

He called me ‘Mister Sanderson’, which isn’t quite my name.

He couldn’t reach the fuse box without standing on the bin,

And his boot went thru a window, so I called a glazier in.

Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

‘Twas on the Thursday morning the Glazier came round,

With his blowtorch and his putty and his merry glazier sound.

He put another pane in – it took no time at all –

Then I had to get a painter in to come and paint the wall.

Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

‘Twas on the Friday morning the Painter made a start.

With undercoats, and overcoats, he painted every part,

Every nook and cranny, but I found when he had gone

He’d painted over the gas tap, and I couldn’t turn it on!

Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

On Saturday and Sunday they do no work at all,

So it was on the Monday morning that the Gas man came to call.

Michael Flanders

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3 Responses to I Wonder

  1. Adam Rice says:

    Ah the pleasures of the building trade. Just finishing off a kitchen in Exeter (I will try to remember to take a few pictures). The plumber came and found a leak under the sink and then concluded, in a burst of unusual creativity, that he needed to redo all of the plumbing in the kitchen for a huge sum. We managed to convince the customer that this was not really necessary….
    Here is an amusing song by Bernard Cribbins about tradesmen in houses.

    PS ‘Searching for Sugarman’ is worth seeing, especially for our generation of South Africans.

  2. James says:

    As long as you don’t fall into this trap:
    Flanders: Now this song, “Design for Living”:

    Flanders: When we started making money,
    Swann: When we started making friends,
    Both: We found a home as soon as we were able to.

    Flanders: We bought this bijou residence for about a thousand more,
    Than the house our little house was once the stable to.

    Swann: With charm…
    Flanders: Colour values…
    Swann: Wit…
    Flanders: And structural alteration,
    Both: Now designed for graceful living,
    It has quite a reputation.

    We’re terribly House and Garden,
    At number seven-B.
    We live in a most amusing muse,
    Ever so very contemporary.

    We’re terribly House and Garden,
    The money that one spends.
    To make a place that won’t disgrace,
    Our House and Garden friends.

    We’ve planned an uninhibited interior decor,
    Swann: Curtains made of straw…
    Flanders: We’ve wallpapered the floor…
    Both: We don’t know if we like it, but at least we can be sure,
    There’s no place like Home Sweet Home.

    It’s fearfully Maison Jardin,
    At number seven-B.
    We’ve rediscovered the chandelier,
    Tres tres very contemporary.

    We’re terribly House and Garden,
    Now at last we’ve got the chance.
    Swann: The garden’s full of furniture…
    Flanders: And the house is full of plants!

    Both: It doesn’t make for comfort,
    But it simply has to be.
    ‘Cause we’re ever so terribly up-to-date,

    Flanders: Have you a home that cries out to your every visitor,
    “Here lives someone who is exciting to know”?


    Well, why not… collect those little metal bottle-tops, and nail them upside-down to the floor? This will give the sensation… of walking… on little metal bottle-tops turned upside-down.

    Why not… get hold of an ordinary Northumbrian spokeshaver’s coracle? Paint it in contrasting stripes of, say, telephone black and white white, and hang it up in the hall for a guitar tidy for parties.

    Why not… drop in one evening for a mess of pottage? Our speciality, just aubergine and carnation petals. With a six-shilling bottle of Mielle du Pap, a feast fit for a king.

    I’m delirious about our new cooker fitment with the eye-level grille. This means that without my having to bend down, the hot fat can squirt straight into my eyes!

    Both: We’re frightfully House and Garden,
    At number seven-B,
    The walls are patterned with shrunken heads,
    Ever so very contemporary.

    Swann: Our boudoir on the open plan has been a huge success…
    Flanders: Though everywhere’s so open, there’s nowhere safe to dress!

    Both: With little screens, and bottle lamps,
    And motifs here and there.
    Swann: Mobiles in the air…
    Flanders: Ivy everywhere!
    Both: You mustn’t be surprised to meet a cactus on the stair,
    But we call it Home Sweet Home.

    We’re terribly House and Garden,
    As I think we’ve said before.
    But though seven-B is madly gay,
    It wouldn’t do for every day,
    We actually live in seven-A,
    In the house next door!

  3. Wendy Page says:

    I saw Searching For Sugarman as part of the New Zealand film festival. Really great movie, brought back lots of memories of the 70’s. Hope you get to see it sometime.

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