*&^#% builders!

I am living in the midst of building chaos. On Friday I rinsed with Coca-Cola after brushing my teeth in the garden. And I have discovered the joys of solitary drinking.

The initial project was going to be simple: paint the ceilings of three rooms, and re-do the kitchen. Three weeks, I thought in my childlike state of innocence.

I enlisted the services of Pat the all-rounder handyman and Sindiso, who had worked on my property before, and whom I have known for seven years. We surveyed the task ahead with glib optimism, probably similar to that of the German troops off to invade Russia in the summer of 1941. We all know how that ended.

Just as Hitler had not thought quite enough about the coming winter, I had made certain assumptions about the sturdiness of my house, plumbing and electrics included. After all, it has been standing since 1897 and we've never had fires or floods. How bad can things be?

The answer to that is simple: bad, very bad.

Sometimes, in the case of old cars, it is best to simply not open the bonnet. I should have nailed shut the trapdoor in the roof. Lurking up there was a nightmare in wireland. Pat emerged pale from the attic. And he doesn't pale easily – he survived years of full-on combat in the border war.

I found out from the neighbours that one of the previous owners was a DIY enthusiast – hence a few sloping floors, el cheapo shortcuts in a million places, a bit of a damp problem in four places, and outlet plumbing that slopes upwards. And the outside lights are not earthed. I have no idea what happened to the previous owner, but a good guess would be that he was electrocuted.

Once we started,  something predictable happened.  The ceilings were painted, but then the walls looked forlorn and grey. So we painted the walls. Then the windows looked sad. Then the front door. And then the two rooms I wasn't going to touch. Then came the outside of the house, store rooms and garden pillars included.

I am now on first-name terms with people in seven hardware stores/timber factories/demolition yards. I know the life histories of the delivery staff. My debit card buckles as I walk into the paint shop for another 20 litres. I now know about stopcocks, running metres, universal primer and sanding mesh. Shops now give me 10% discount.

My earthly possessions are scattered across the floors of two rooms, with family photographs sharing space with a bottle of chutney and a pair of socks. It looks like footage from the Blitz. An unexpected weekend guest had to go on an archaeological expedition to find plates, knives, forks and tin foil. It was either a braai or a pie from the corner shop.

But we soldier on bravely. It has occurred to me that my two helpers are both victims of the same apartheid system, albeit the opposite ends of it. No one can emerge unscathed from years of active combat.  And Sindiso lives in a squatter camp, presumably not very far from the bread line. I doubt if he had more than three or four years of schooling.

The end is in sight. I have a sink, the stove works, 90% of the painting has been done. We're in the home stretch, I hope, because my end is in sight too. The duo  that arrives in Sindiso's yellow Golf every morning on the dot of eight have completely taken over my life. They are kind and understanding and nothing is too much trouble. It's nothing personal, but I would like them gone. Along with their woodwork machines, paint trays, brick dust and ladders.

Because this whole project has driven me to drink. I had two very large glasses of red wine on my own on Wednesday night. It was either that, or doing something lethal to myself with any one of about 50 vicious-looking tools lurking under a tarpaulin on the stoep. My sanity is now in the balance.

I can just see myself at an AA meeting: "Hi. I am Susan and I am an alcoholic because I had my home renovated." No one will believe me. Unless they've camped out in their own home during building renovations.

One word of advice: if you have mould on the ceiling, or a room needs painting, resist the urge to do something about it. Learn to live with it.  It's the thin edge of the wedge. It's like tik: once you start, you can't stop. And it ruins your finances.

If I promise to wash the dishes, can I come and stay with you for the next week?

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2010)

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