About nothing and DIY in the middle of winter

22 06 2012

I haven’t written anything for sometime now. Nothing much has happened though I’ll have a go about writing it. Actually, quite a lot of nothing has been going on in Zimbabwe. I’ve heard of at least 2 Spar supermarkets that have closed their doors recently due to lack of trade. The small sawmill that operates off the same premises as my nursery is also on the verge of closing. They had a run-in with a union some time ago so paid off all their staff and now just employ them on a day-to-day basis as and when they have work. I got them to cut 1200m of battens for the greenhouse that we are recovering with plastic. We are not that busy either so are doing the maintenance that we ignored for so long in the dying days of the Zimbabwe dollar (LONG may it stay that way!). Actually this is traditionally a quiet time for us so I am not that concerned – yet.

I know that in the developed world there are specialist greenhouse covering and maintenance companies but that is not how we do things in Zimbabwe. If there’s a problem on the farm you get on and fix it yourself. ART Farm where I live has a fully fledged workshop that does all the on farm repairs and maintenance and on occasion I do use their skills. The senior mechanic is a pleasant fellow and I have used his help on the Land Cruiser after-hours on a Saturday. Though I have to admit (with head briefly bowed) that I thought replacing the oil seals on the half shafts would best be done professionally in town this week. Then I got the bill and thought that for $580 I should have had a go myself!

Building is not my fort√© but what the hell I gave it a go this week. OK, I supervised the builder who did the building. It’s nothing much, just a pit toilet known as Blair toilets in this part of the world after the government laboratory that many years ago developed the standard. It’s simplicity itself; a sort of square spiral wall (work it out!) over a squat hole in a concrete slab with a roof and vent pipe. There’s even a plan in the CFU (Commercial Farmers’ Union) handbook. Pretty basic stuff but it still required me to supervise the builder for the best part of the day while he got the plans wrong. It has taken him the last 3 days to do something that a skilled builder would have done in a day. At one stage I began to think that I should have got in a skilled builder and just paid but actually his building is OK for a farm builder and the skilled builder is “not reachable” according to the cell phone service provider. Which is a pity as we have some tobacco ponds to construct and it really does need accurate building skills. A previous builder “had a go” at some ponds a few years back and when I queried about why the walls were not visually level (no spirit level required to see this) he told me that it was not the walls that weren’t level it was the water in the ponds that wasn’t level! Harsh words were exchanged and I refuse to employ him. Maybe I’ll have to give it a go myself. I know that Tony has a dumpy level and I watched the skilled builder doing it just in case I needed the knowledge.

Maybe I’ll just go and employ a builder off the wall I see being built around a property on Harare drive. It’s certainly straight and level enough. And big. It’s at least 3m high and 300m long on just the road side – they have yet to build the other 3 sides but the bricks are there. That’s certainly someone with plenty of money and no taste. It’s been painted a light pink with mauve on the top. Mind you, I saw another like it (though much shorter on the Rolf Valley road) that was painted lavender and had a mirror in the electric gate. The lavender did not last; something much less brash now though the mirror is still there.

I suppose I should also have a go at repairing the coffee plunger pot at my elbow. Stainless steel no less and not cheap the spout is in the process of coming off and there is coffee leaking onto my desk. I could be catty and say it was made in China (which it was) and what does one expect except I do still have the box and it goes on about what a quality coffee plunger thing it is but it does claim to be designed in the UK and the English is genuine. Or I could just get on and have a go at fixing it. I have no idea how to solder stainless steel but I suppose I can find someone who does though I suspect it would be cheaper to buy another coffee pot. Though I did see some “cold solder” in an auto supplies outlet yesterday…

DIY and the humble cork

15 01 2012

I admit it. I do like my wine. As I type this I have a nearly finished glass of a nice heavy cabernet-shiraz by my elbow. I’ve also found a nice sauvignon blanc and I’ve bought a box (6 bottles of it) which is nice during the day – drunk very cold. I don’t have and expensive lifestyle so I think I can justify this indulgence and I am certainly not a wino. I think that must be an Australian term; they like to add an “o” to words. Wino, smoko, hobo, drongo. Dingo. Anyway, I like to keep the corks that come out of the bottle though these days there seem to be a lot of screw tops which sort of degrades the romanticism of pulling a cork. And of course it does not help the Portuguese cork-oak industry. Who am I to care about any of that? I inevitably drink the wine by myself. I do like to keep the corks. It’s not evidence of my drinking prowess and I am not a fisherman of any distinction (I prefer fly-fishing) so I guess it must be a squirrel syndrome thing for which Zimbabweans are famous. Years ago I came across an old car shock absorber whilst cleaning out the garage before a move. It was a car that had long since changed hands and it was obviously a used item but who knows it might have been useful for – something! Behind me on the dining room table is the not so old computer that was struck by lightning whilst I was away over Christmas. It has wires, fans and heatsinks that must be useful for something. And I am sure I can find a use for the case.

The shower attached to my bedroom has been malfunctioning for some months now. The cold is at best a trickle when the water pressure is high and frequently just a dribble. I really enjoy my showers. Yes, a bath is a good thing once in a while when I am cold or tired but a shower – it’s invigorating in a way that a bath can never be. Now the hot water for the shower goes through a pressurized heater that holds little water but is adequate for a shower. The thermostat doesn’t work that well. In Zim dollar days it stopped working altogether and rather than fork out a small fortune for a new one I had a go at fixing it. Now the water varies between scalding and tepid; mostly scalding. Trying to have a shower with a dribble of cold water and plenty of scalding hot is no fun or satisfaction at all. (I must refill the wine glass).

I pondered the piping system – both hot and cold come off the same pipe just near the water heater but why the cold supply was so poor was a mystery. Obviously it was blocked but with what I couldn’t think. I took the cold tap apart in the shower and poked a piece of heavy nylon line back into the pipe but there was a bend and the line would not go around it. Then earlier this week I had a brilliant idea – compressed air! But I could see that the air gun on my compressor would not fit into the pipe in the back of the tap which was much too large. The the REALLY good idea occurred – I would use a cork! Carefully selecting 2 corks out of my horde of 44, I drilled a 10mm hole down the centre of each. Then this morning I enlisted the help of the gardener to get the compressor into my bedroom. I ensured that all taps were closed in the house, unscrewed the problem cold tap in the shower and opened the cold tap in the nearby basin. Pushing the nozzle of the air gun into one side of the hole in the cork I then pushed the cork onto the end of the pipe in the shower and squeezed the trigger of the air gun. Water sprayed from the basin tap all over the bathroom floor.¬† I removed the cork and airgun and filthy water dribbled onto the shower floor (I hope that whatever was causing the blockage was inorganic) and repeated the process. Success! I now have a fully functioning shower!

Now the admission of guilt. The best cork for the purpose was not cork at all. It was one of those compressed spongy plastic things.