Friday, 1 January 2021

A year in review, part four: Furniture and fittings

This post has almost 8000 words in eight sections so, if you’re pressed for time, perhaps bookmark it to read later.

In January, I posted this on Facebook (I’d also written about the birdbath for the previous year’s year-end post):

Today two Indian mynah birds checked out the birdbath on the balcony, and one of them took a drink. Not surprised this species was the first to try this piece of furniture. They are feisty and fearless animals. The brave one hopped across one of the chairs I had put out the other day with the cafe table I set down there. Then it stood on the brink of the saucer that sits on the pedestal of the birdbath, and bent down to reach the water with its beak.

On the same day as the mynahs visited, a currawong flew into the sliding plate-glass door of the balcony. It was uninjured and immediately flew off.

At the beginning of January on Facebook I put up this one morning:

Bought a table for the balcony, a regular cafe-style table with a machined top (60cm). The woman at Bunnings initially told me that I had to buy a 3-piece set and that they didn't sell tables separately, but when I looked at the shelves they had tables by themselves. It cost $99 and probably cost $25 to make and $5 to ship from China. When I arrived at home the radio (2Day FM) was running a commercial that was a lesson in peak-Millennial. An ad for beer that features an explanation of the word "furphy", a commonplace word in my youth that my dad used all the time. … I finally assembled the table and put it on the balcony, where it sits with some chairs I bought in 2008 in Artarmon, the [northern] twin of Alexandria (where the shop I went to this morning is located).


The brand name is “Tusk”. Inspired by my small decorating success, later the same day I did a Google search for furniture and found a place called Cult in Chippendale, drove there and parked in one of the quiet streets lacing the suburb. In the shop I bought a Magis “Cyborg Vienna” chair designed by a Dutchman named Marcel Wanders, on sale for less than half the recommended retail price. The sale was due to start the following day, so everything about the chair pointed at serendipity, even the fashionable young men who man the store’s front desk. The guy who took my details and made the transaction, whose name is Clinton, had heavy, dark spectacles on his nose that made you think of a much earlier era, sometime just after WWII. You’ll meet Clinton again later in this post.

Back home, I put the chair in the living room and wheeled an unused office chair out of the library – where it was getting in the way – and into the master bedroom; I needed somewhere to put clothes if I had a daytime nap.


At the beginning of March I had a new bed – bought on 18 January – delivered and installed. One morning the truck arrived at just after 6am and I met the security guard on the street so he could open the loading bay’s door for the two men, who brought everything up in the lift and put it together in the master bedroom. 

The day before I’d vacuumed the floor. I slept in the spare room that night with the old queen bed in pieces in the library. The problem with the old queen bed – bought in 2005 at Ikea for less than $150 – is that, if it it’s used regularly, its supporting slats slip over time, even if you’re only lying still most of the time: suddenly the slats leave the support rail and drop to the floor, and it can happen without warning; a design fault that makes it necessary to occasionally lift up the side of the mattress to access the frame and shift the slats back into place. On the third Saturday in March, I disassembled the single bed in the spare room and in its place put together the old queen bed, then drove to the Supa Centa at Moore park to buy a new mattress, and to Bunnings to get risers, as one of the storage units – bought to go under the new bed in the master bedroom – was too high to fit underneath the old queen. The risers are made of steel and are spray-painted black. I bought six to sit on the floor under the legs of the bed in order to lift its frame off the carpet. 

On the second-last Wednesday in April I again visited Bunnings in Alexandria, this time to get bolts, nuts, and washers in order to secure the old bed’s feet on the risers. I made two trips, as the first time I got nuts and bolts of a diameter too great for the holes punched in the top of the steel risers. The second time I got a range of things and ended up with a suitable solution (the following image contains receipts). Not shown is the receipt I got when, after queueing, I returned some of the bolts acquired the first time there. This credit came to $26.40, so the total cost of the accessories (plus a socket wrench handle and a 3/8th-inch Kincrome socket for the bolts I didn’t use, of which I returned three unopened packets) was $71.34.


The first photo below shows a riser before fitting the accessories. In this configuration, any movement by a sleeper on the mattress might cause the foot to slip off and crash to the floor.


The second photo shows what the riser looks like with purchased accessories in place. The only tool required to fit the accessories was a Philips-head screwdriver.


Big trips like the ones made to Moore Park and Alexandria became less attractive due to the coronavirus – my friend Antony was unhappy with me for going out on one of these errands and to this effect put up a comment on Facebook – so on the last Thursday in March, using Myer’s website, I ordered a mattress cover, a doona, and a doona cover (see photo below). The mattress cover arrived at my place on 24 March. The other items were delivered separately and, because the lobby of my building was still, at the time, being renovated, I had need to visit the post office to pick up each package as it came. 

In December I’d also bought white damask sheets from a shop called Moss River Outlet located in Woollahra. I found the shop using Google and SMS’d them using the phone number on the website. The following photo shows the spare room with everything in place.


Because I didn’t want to leave my home, to make it more comfortable at the beginning of April I also put an old rug underneath my desk in the living room. This would help preserve the carpet which, due to the movement of my feet and because I spend so much time sitting there, risked being marked. I’d originally bought the 90cm by 58cm rug in or around 2009: it’s a dark red with small animals woven into it, so it matches my red-and-yellow couch. It had stood for years inside the cupboard in my bedroom and, before that, in a cupboard in the apartment I occupied in Maroochydore. 

On 27 May I drove out to Richmond on the M2 and M7 motorways to visit the picture framers, and organised for a number of artworks to be done. Some would be posted to the US and some to Japan, and I selected mats and frames, specifying the width of the border in the case of items to have a window mount. Some very old items had come down from mum, and others were newer, including two scenes of islands in southeast Queensland painted in oils that had come with the apartment mum had bought for me to use when I lived up north. The frame these wide paintings had come in weren’t very nice and I ordered replacements that would bring out the inherent qualities of the works, and also highlight certain colours in order to make the object more pleasing (though some of the materials chosen for these items were no longer manufactured so I ended up choosing alternatives).

The drive out and back was stressful – I hadn’t been so far in the car since August at least – and I found tailgaters a strain, but completed the journey without incident apart from one wrong turn (which I would almost repeat in November when I made the same trip again).

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The mixer tap in the kitchen had started to leak so on 21 June I phoned the plumber. It was too early in the morning and I hung up without leaving a message but the receptionist called back later and asked me to SMS some photos, which I did. This is the tap before the replacement. You can see the wasted water flowing out of the body of the thing. 


The woman I spoke with hadn’t heard of the brand. The following photo shows the new tap, which was installed on 26 June.


In late June I started looking for a new house where I could make art. After three weeks, inspired by my son’s taste, I chose a place I liked in Botany but I would have to sell in order to buy. On Monday 13 July, at the urging of the vendor and his agent – the agent was very insistent that I’d need to come in immediately if I wanted to secure the property (the owner would later say there’d been competition but that the other buyer’d refused to commit in time) – I signed the purchase contract. Removalists had earlier in the day arrived to pack up everything in my apartment so that stuff started to migrate, box by box and bookshelf by bookshelf, to the lobby on my floor (see photo below) and thence via the lift to a truck to be taken away for storage until the new house would be completed in September (though Joe, the owner/builder, wasn’t certain of this).


The next day painter Austin Bates arrived to start work, at first removing hooks from the walls and patching holes; see photo below for hardware that emerged. Austin was in the unit for three days, and late on Thursday the 16th of July the cleaner came through to work including carpet steam-cleaning.


On Thursday purchase contracts were exchanged and at the end of the working week removalists came to take away some things there’d been no time to remove on the Monday. Also on Friday stylists came with their gear to make the place presentable for a prospective buyer. With all the activity I contemplated moving into a hotel for a few days but, after eating a burrito, I just went out in the car to drive around; so much happening that I was at the end of my tether. At Five Dock I popped into Maccas to use the facilities and buy a flat white, then drove down through Burwood to Canterbury Road, and back home through Leichhardt. While in that suburb I got a call from Sotheby’s estate agents – who had, as well, sold me the place in Botany – so I promptly proceeded back east on the Western Distributor.

When I got home I was surprised to find everything in place (I’d only been gone about an hour). The entry hall (see photo below) has my 2008 painting of Bondi by Joash Tuinstra and a 1988 painting titled ‘Eastern Beach Visitor’ by Ian Keats that mum had in her home in Maroochydore. 


The next photo shows the living room from the entry, with the TV in view.


The following photo shows the living area. Two more chairs would be put here later.


The photo below shows the dining area with Craig Waddell’s ‘Study of J.C. III’ (2007) in charcoal. The vase with semi-dried Australian natives in it, on the kitchen pass-through, is by Ilona Topolscanyi and was made in 2007.


The following photo shows the Waddell in more detail.


Looking at the same drawing from the couch.


The following two photos show the master bedroom after the redesign.



The next photo is taken from the master ensuite bathroom and shows Crag Waddell’s ‘The Painter (After Titian)’ (2012), which I bought in 2013.


Here’s the second bedroom with a screen print, which I made in about 1981, showing part of the eastern suburbs railway line. 


The following photo shows the third bedroom. Here, they put something else of mine (a small Ikea desk) along with the office chair that’d been in the master bedroom, as well as my computer and printer. In this way I managed to have an office despite while feeling a little like I was living in someone else’s house (I’d suddenly woken up in a magazine!).


The following photo shows the hallway from the second bedroom, with a painting (oil on board) by Pixie O’Harris, ‘Untitled (Trees)’ (1970).


On the Monday I didn’t have much to do with the house apart from making a few phone calls, but on Tuesday the cleaner came to work again. Also arriving on this day, to fix a tile in the second bathroom, was a handyman, and the stylist, who brought an armchair to put in the living room. The next day the photographer arrived to work and, in the afternoon, I went to the house under construction to see about tiles for the pool area. On Thursday the estate agent updated their website with details, listing my property also on consumer portals. 

Saturday was the first open day, when I took the car and went out, stopping at Bar Italia in Leichhardt to consume (see photo below) a ham-and-cheese croissant and a flat white. Then I went to Lakemba and bought a bottle of pomegranate juice and took the M8 back to the city from its entrance near King Georges Road. In the tunnel it was an eight-minute drive at 70km per hour, and I came out at St Peters, where I got onto Euston Road and headed north toward home. Once there I made a sandwich out of pastrami, mustard, tomato and Edam cheese.


On the morning of Sunday July the 19th I woke up very early having a conniption wondering if no contracts having been requested by prospective buyers might mean not getting the price I wanted for my apartment. The following Thursday I drove down to Wollongong (see photo below for part of the view at the foreshore) to stay for a couple of nights with friends, and drove back home on Saturday to continue my wait for buyers. So that I wouldn’t mess up the apartment, once it was clean, in advance of inspections, on two subsequent weeks I repeated the same routine. Finally, having adjusted the guide price, I got offers and accepted one in the third week of August. 


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In the new house I initially planned to put my old vinyl couch upstairs in my bedroom. To see the layout in more detail in August I downloaded a piece of open-source software on the internet called SweetHome that allows you to add elements – such as bookcases, couches, and tables – and move them around on a convenient, snappable grid. The virtual elements stick to the grid as you move them in an effort to discover the optimal layout for possessions. 

The following diagram shows part of the result of this effort, which extended into September. This drawing is of the ground floor. The kitchen is in the middle but is not shown in detail.


The eventual layout would differ in certain respects from the idea I had then. What I ended up with was, as shown below.


The next drawing shows the second floor with the master bedroom and what would be, at the front of the house, a studio/study. I decided not to put the couch on this floor, and instead decided to put my desk in the bedroom.


What I ended up with is shown below. The front room – the studio – would need a further piece of furniture in the form of a worktable so that I could make drawings and prints. The space on the east wall of this room will be where that table is placed.


As well as helping me to visualise my new digs for my own education and amusement, I thought that my drawings would be useful, along with a spreadsheet containing purchase details of my bookcases, when furniture delivery took place. On that day, I’d need to direct the removalists so that they could place each item in its proper place. I imagined that doing so’d be easier with the mobile phone’s access to these data files and to a spreadsheet I had long before made listing my bookcases, but in the upshot I was far too busy to look at my mobile phone on the day my belongings were delivered.

The blessed couch had been bought 13 years prior on eBay. Advertised as leather it had actually been covered in an artificial fabric that gradually deteriorated so that bits fell off and I had to get it recovered. Still functional, I decided to keep it but now I took the car to go shopping for a new couch, visiting two stores. I got parking on the street in Chippendale so I could go to Cult and later, at a large shopping centre – full of homeware stores – in Moore Park, I used the underground garage to stash the car safely so I could check out the offerings at King Furniture. I went back to these stores the next day while waiting for the buyers of my apartment to sign the sale contract, which they did on the day before my birthday. 

At Cult showroom manager Clinton verbally gave me one price but then, when he printed out a quote, a different price was visible on the paper. Because it was much higher than the price he’d told me I decided to abort the purchase but in late November the store advertised a Black Friday sale with everything priced at 20 percent off the RRP so I went down to visit again and got a new quote including some rugs. 

The next day, 27 November, I walked down to Chippendale again to sign a contract. Half the amount was due immediately, with the balance payable on delivery, which would be in March. 

I bought one rug, using it to echo the warm tones of the curtains – which would be continued by the red couch fabric I chose on the 26th, and these colours – dark red – would bring out colours in paintings and a print I own. The effect promising to be marvellous (you’ll have to wait until next year’s post to see, with me, what it looks like).

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That was spring’s end but even by winter’s end the road was laid partway through my wilderness. See, in the following photo, a view, on 12 July, from the balcony of my old home, the day before I signed the contract for my new one. 

I was almost homeless but I was busy making arrangements. One day in the last full week in August I went down to Botany to see about the window blinds. The day before, in a flurry of activity I was grateful I wasn’t privy to, had ended the cooling-off period of the contract for my Pyrmont apartment, meaning that that sale was, finally, unconditional. A sale become urgent as the purchase order for the other place was already signed. In the upshot I needn’t have worried as the new place was so late delayed that settlement wouldn’t happen even in January. Instead of agreeing to an offer in August I could’ve waited to get a better price, settled on the place in Pyrmont in December, and still without worry signed the contract for Botany in July. But I’m a worrier so at the end of the year I was unhappy about the way that I’d been manipulated by various people – agents and vendors and buyers – everyone angling for the best deal for themselves, and with me, agreeable as always, taking a hit every which way.


Settling on blinds was also convoluted. By the end of September it wasn’t even clear which supplier’d be asked to provide products and do the work. One company, Blind Inspiration in Lane Cove, sent out a saleswoman named Amanda – not to be confused with the picture framer named Amanda who works in Richmond – who told me about a store in Glebe named Warwick Fabrics where, in the showroom, they have a large range on display. I went there twice – the showroom being up the road from the temporary accommodation I’d occupy in November and December – to see different samples and to get portable swatches so that I could show people.

For the blinds on the ground floor – to go with my old (temporary) couch, which is grey and yellow and red – I ended up selecting Scarborough Blush, a fabric in a pinkish colour with an ornate, vaguely French and 18th century pattern that is pale, semi-warm, and fairly neutral. I chose this fabric to go with the old couch and then chose the new couch to go with the fabric. For the second-floor master bedroom I chose Elwood Brindle, a darker material. This would go in front of the sliding doors at the back of the building looking out past a balcony and over the pool toward the utility station behind our terraces (the gantries of Port Botany visible in the distance). 

It has a design that looks like a plant growing, rendered in black over a charcoal-brown ground, my inspiration being ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ – Steffy Forrester’s house having curtains with such a design – the process of finalising plans for window coverings being almost as drawn-out as a TV series! Just to get an idea of the number of motors for the blinds took weeks, and eventually I set a specification comprising ten motors in five rooms. Due to the difficulty of installing electrical supplies in the study/studio, I decided instead to just get cords put in there. Elsewhere, motors would be integrated using the internet so that, once the internet was connected and a special box set up, it would be possible to raise or lower blinds from a mobile phone (the pool pump would be controlled by the same method; it’d require its own connection box).

The following photo of the house under construction (photos of the finished and styled house next-door appear later in this post) shows the ground floor at Botany, looking from the vestibule through the kitchen to the windows, at the back, that give onto the deck and the pool.


The following photo shows the pool out the back. Joe allowed me to select tiles and specify where they’d be laid, and I went out twice to speak with James, the tiler. These border tiles – found by Joe in the catalogue of a reputable supplier and chosen along with a friend of mine – are of an Italian make and match the blue of the pool’s interior (not shown here because not yet applied). They’re designed to give the pool area an exotic feel; we aimed at a Middle Eastern look.


The photo below shows the internal staircases; it was taken on the first floor where there are three bedrooms and the laundry.


Here’s a photo Joe took, at an early stage of his construction work (in July or August 2019), showing a machine being used to inject screw piles into the ground. “The screw piles are engineered to carry weight and are additional measures used with footings,” said Joe when asked about it. “The screw piles are apprx 6m long each and range between 150 to 250mm in diameter. They are inserted approx. every 600mm apart and act as beams to carry loads.”


The next photo (below) shows the construction of the footings for the complex (five townhouses in all). Joe said that they are approximately 800mm to 1.4m deep and 800mm to 1.2m wide. He added that they are double what was specified in the engineering drawings. He also made the basement slab twice the specified thickness.


Below are the staircases at the front being built. This photo shows concrete formwork.


Below are the front stairs once paved with granite.


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While construction was on-going, there was the need to move out of my old place in Pyrmont, in aid of achieving which goal I secured a departure date from the building managers. Settlement was due on 28 October but the 27th was not suitable for the removalists – estate security guards must be brought in to monitor them, as well as to pass over a lift-locking key – and another person’d booked the lift on the 27th, so the closest date I could get was 22 Oct. With a date finally locked in, I phoned the estate agent and asked him to organise the removalists, who said they would be free.

On one day in late October I went to Ultimo to pick up 20 different-sized packing boxes. Slowly and painstakingly – mindful of the time of storage and the jolting they’d be subject to in handling – I put into these tough, cardboard boxes everything I owned that was still in my apartment, starting with the kitchen, then the third bedroom, then the bathrooms. I wrapped crockery in paper left over from the earlier day of moving – removalists had come to pack stuff in July – alternating between packing big and small boxes. I’d end up using precisely 20 boxes for all of the stuff that was left in the apartment – and I’d gone big when estimating, while standing in the store, how many I’d need (in fact I’d had second thoughts on the way out the door, and had exchanged a pack of small boxes for a pack of large) – in the end my second thoughts being spot-on. Here, ready to shift, all the boxes sit near the front door:


I cooked breakfast on this day: two eggs, a piece of toast (half with taramosalata, half with hummus), and coffee. Early in the morning I also cooked a piece of steak and, after cutting it up, packed it in a plastic bag so that, with my fingers, I could consume it for lunch (diet is chronicled in the “shopping list” post for October). Then on with the job fuelled by the occasional glass of flavoured mineral water. After finishing packing, little was left to see. Here’re the combined contents of my apartment once the work was done:


And here’s the stuff I put aside read to go to the home of a friend who had been kind enough to offer me a place to crash:


That’s clothes, medicines, toiletries, books, valuables, dirty laundry, and some food I didn’t want to throw in the garbage. Grant called me as I was enjoying a quiet cup of coffee and told me he’d be lunching with his son in an inner west pub, so I grabbed as much as could be stowed in Ensign, my RAV4, so that nothing would be visible from the street, loaded up, and left Pyrmont. We met in the Golden Barley Hotel in Enmore and I had a diet coke while the two men finished their beers, then we got in the car and went to Grant’s place.

We coped with heavy traffic on the way back to Pyrmont – this trip done to retrieve my PC and a table and chairs he’d previously loaned me – but going west again I had an episode of cardiac arrhythmia and swapped seats with him so he could drive. I normally don’t get this problem during the day and once I was just a passenger it settled down but we contemplated stopping at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; I waved Grant on as we were driving on Pyrmont Bridge Road so without further incident we got to his place next to the river on the top of a cliff. That night his wife cooked yellow curry with chicken, rice, and a salad. Grant and I watched Netflix together in his library, prior to retiring. 

Two weeks later I moved again to a temporary unit in Glebe (see photos below) Mark (one of the estate agents) found. On the way here from Grant’s place I had a panic attack in the car and had to stop to rest at a servo off the Princes Highway. I’d stay in the new place until the middle of December.



With all the packing and moving I understood how anticipation must’ve affected presidential candidate Joe Biden as the postal votes came into the counting house in Pennsylvania and Georgia, gradually narrowing the lead of the Orange Liability in the race for the White House. By the end of Melbourne Cup Day I’d installed myself in a unit situated in the shadow of the Wentworth Park dog track. Often, driving Ensign, I navigated the horrendously steep driveway that leads out of the building’s underground carpark. This architectural structure must sit at 30 degrees off the horizontal, but I found the car sitting unmoving even if I took my foot off the brake while going up the incline toward the opening’s roller-door.

My own house would come with a complementary front doormat, the photo below sent by Joe. Perhaps it isn’t appropriate to knock the dirt off one’s shoes on the “tree of life”, suggested Basia, a friend who lives in Poland.


Below is a photo of Joe (on right) and me having dinner at a Thai restaurant in Botany on Tuesday 27 October. Just under two weeks later he gave me news about the municipal council meeting that had to be held to begin the process of building approval. I’d gone down to see the house on the 7th – testing the intercom and the front-door lock, both of which are digital – and learned that the council meeting had conveniently been moved forward to the 10th meaning, Joe said, that it could be possible for me to move in before the end of the year. 

The same day my ex-wife suggested that it would be auspicious to start a new year in a new house. At the end of the third week of November Joe assured me I’d be able to move in as promised. On 20 November I told an agent managing the Glebe apartment that I wouldn’t need to extend my contract past 15 December (I’d regret this later).


At this time Joe and his estate agents published the web page for the place next-door in Botany, which was also up for sale. To prepare it for the market they’d contracted stylists, who put furniture and accessories in the house, as well as a photographer. Some of the images they made are included in what follows. I won’t start with the kitchen – though, these days, we spend so much time making and eating food (or, at least, watching TV programs about food) – that it would be fitting to start at that point in the long, narrow house. Instead I’ll start with the stairs, since you see them as soon as you enter by the front door.


After moving through a small room in front of the street door, visitors to the house will probably soon end up in the kitchen (see photo below).


There are Bosch appliances in the kitchen including the stove (see photo below).


The kitchen feeds into the living/dining room (see image below).


Further out, heading southwest, you get to the deck:


Then out the very back of the lot is the pool (two images follow).



Upstairs you have bedrooms on the first floor, including one that looks like this …


Upstairs you have bedrooms on the first floor, including one that looks like this …


All the bedrooms have ensuites, though not all have windows.

On the second floor you have a study/studio …


… which gives onto a balcony at the front (see photos below).



Also on the second floor is the master bedroom (see photos below).






To finish up, the following photo shows the light well – which we saw briefly in the first photo in this sequence and which Joe and the agents call the “atrium”. This vacant space stretches from the ground floor to the air above the roof, allowing such elements (air, rain) to enter the house all the way down to the kitchen (the stove exhaust fan’s duct vents inside this space). The vegetation shown here is, however, plastic.


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At the end of November the end of my Glebe lease led to a flurry of activity that took me away from my books. I contacted Mark to tell him about what Joe had said in regard to my moving into the Botany house, but he couldn’t echo Joe’s words. I got in touch with the managing agents for my temporary apartment – a company called Furnished Property – and mentioned this fact to them but they told me that they’d already leased out my unit to someone else from 15 Dec. So I got back in touch with Mark, and we talked again but he couldn’t say anything for certain. A little later I SMS’d him suggesting I move all my stuff out of storage in early December and, in the interim, stay with friends in Wollongong prior to the building approval being secured. When the occupation certificate was finally signed, I could move into the house.

In another phone call Mark said that Joe’d agreed to my proposal, so I got in touch with the removalists, who said 10 December was free and that two crews should be used to be on the safe side – fewer people involved might kick the procedure over to a second day. Then I called Amanda the picture framer (with whom, in May, I’d left things to be prepared for use) and the picture hanger. The latter didn’t reply immediately but Amanda answered her phone and I found she’d questions relating to an email I’d sent some days earlier, so I suggested immediately driving out to her shop to help her figure out the puzzle. 

After putting on my laundry to dry, I got in the car and headed across the Harbour Bridge toward Richmond, and once arrived the two of us decided which items had to be done immediately – those for family in Japan and the US could wait – and then, by checking a database on her computer, Amanda ascertained if the required framing material was in stock. She agreed that the works listed for immediate action’d be ready to pick up on 16 December. 

It took about 30 minutes to get this done then I hopped back in the car. Once back in Sydney I SMS’d Beaumont the picture hanger, who said he wouldn’t be available on 17 or 18 December, so I got online and called a different person with the same trade. John Verhoeven agreed to meet me down at the house the following day (Saturday 28 December) and then Beaumont SMS’d me to say that his staffer would be available to work on the day specified, so I organised to meet his staffer – Oliver – at Botany, on the following Wednesday, 2 December. 

As mentioned in relation to moving out of Pyrmont, screws and hooks can be inserted directly into walls but there’s another way to hang art, using wall-mounted tracks. I estimated that a different kind of setup – one I had no experience with – would best be discussed face to face, as I did independently with John and Oliver. 

Showing John around the place I understood how vast was the space I’d have available for my pictures and how my collection wouldn’t be big enough to fill it. I planned a system of tracks which are pinned to the wall, from which cords can be hung to which pictures are attached. The wires are clipped onto the track and then – using special fittings that grip the cords but that you can position on the wires – hooks are set in place using your hands. In this kind of set-up I’d be able to add new works – without needing professional help, since a stepladder or ladder would be all that’s required. 

I met John at the house twice more, and met with Oliver twice. Both John and Beaumont sent quotes but in the end I went with both Beaumont (to install the tracks) and John (to hang the art). Beaumont’s quote was lower and he matched the meterage John had proposed – to gauge the scope of work you have to use a tape measure and add up the width of all of the sections of wall on which you’re going to install track – but the main reason for using Oliver for the tracks was that with him I’d be able to get the work done before Christmas. 

Beaumont included 220 wires in his quote and he wanted cash so on the morning of 7 December I popped down to the shopping centre to pick up some banknotes, then met Oliver down at the house in the afternoon so that I could hand them over. This was while looking the place over once more with a friend, who had said she wanted to move in as well. 

It was a big house so, I thought, why not? Ming is a Pisces so anything could happen; a water sign tends to change her mind but she gave me good advice about unpacking. On 7 December I’d asked Joe if I could stay in the house for a few nights due to all the activity associated with moving – Oliver and John had to be met at the site in order for work to proceed, and I had so many boxes to unpack that I thought it’d be impossible to do everything on the 10th – but he’d said it was risky with the certifier due to come to check work. I pulled my head in after talking with the agent and with Ming, who said I should take it slowly. Accordingly I booked a room for four nights at a hotel near the airport so I’d have a convenient place to stay after the 15th. On the morning of the 11th I extended the booking for another three nights because I realised that I wouldn’t be able to unpack the books – the picture rails had to be hung, so furniture’d have to be moved away from walls – and I’d need more time prior to the falling of Christmas.

Joe’s flagged delay was due to the middle bedroom needing to be altered to satisfy the requirements of a state government panel – a body put in place to deal with class-2 buildings since problems with high-rise construction had forced the occupants of two apartment buildings to vacate their homes – and on 9 December I went down to see work progress. I’d started to put stuff in the house that I wouldn’t need prior to moving in – books I’d already read, spare sheets brought from Pyrmont and washed at Grant’s place while staying there temporarily – and I popped down on most days to speak with Joe. 

Before the move or the hang took place I also liaised with the framer, who was ticking items off her progress list, ordering materials, and putting finished products together in her workshop. I also added location tags to my MS-Excel catalogue of artworks. I thought this’d enable me to more easily accommodate them on the walls on the 19th, when John came. In the end John and I were too busy to allow me time to consult my phone for guidance; I remembered enough of the detail to make it, in any case, unnecessary. In addition, I had new ideas once things started to go up on the walls so, over the period of time we were working together in the house, my plans shifted to fit new inputs. 

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The 10th was a massive day. I arrived on-site at 8am while the removalists – Men In Black Removals – arrived at about 12.30pm with two trucks. There were four strong men and once one truck was empty they drove it away to get paintings and framed photographs, coming back with everything and putting the furniture in place with Ming’s expert help. Her design skills were critical to achieving a good outcome, so altogether the move involved seven people, plus Gish, a handyman, who agreed to put together my bed for cash. I got his phone number and put it in my mobile phone in case I needed to use his expertise again for other items. 

Gish agreed to assemble two beds for $150 but I didn’t know where the fittings for the old Ikea bed were located – in one of the boxes, Lorenzo, a removalist, told me – so would have to unpack (potentially) every single box in order to find them. In the end Gish put together one bed and the couch. 

MIB left after I paid at about 4.30pm and when I got back to my temporary digs in the late afternoon I felt like I’d been put through a mangle. My phone told me I’d walked over 10,000 steps (more than twice my usual daily tally), and I once back home I collapsed with a glass of sugarless flavoured mineral water. 

Looking in the mirror my face was pink from all the sun I’d exposed my face to while waiting outside for the crews to arrive. That night John replied to my message (notifying him on the day’s events) suggesting that he come down to the house on Saturday to scope out the work to do. The next day – the Friday – I drove down to the house via Bunnings in Alexandria (to pick up a kitchen cutlery drawer module, a drawer insert to keep separate knives, forks, and spoons) but spent most of the day resting in Glebe after the terrific exertions of the day before.

On the 12th and 13th I unpacked boxes of kitchenware and on the 14th I unwrapped artworks and photos that had been on the walls of my old place, or else in a cupboard since mum died. Kitchen stuff went into cupboards on the ground floor and paintings were stacked in the front bedroom on the first floor ready for hanging. On the 15th I moved out of my Glebe apartment. I locked myself out in the process, which wasn’t traumatic as I’d with me my mobile phone – it’d plenty of charge, allowing me to contact the letting agents and even call a locksmith (who I ended up cancelling having called them in a flurry of activity) – and I had returned the bond for this accommodation on the second last day of the year. 

On the 15th I also did an hour’s work at the house unwrapping artworks and photos mum’d had framed when we lived in Queensland. By this time I’d checked into Citadines Airport Connect Hotel in Mascot. On the 16th a workman named Ricardo came in to move furniture and boxes away from the walls to make space for the picture rail installers to work; they were due on the 17th and 18th. On Friday the 18th I also drove out to Richmond to pick up some things that had been framed, and on the 19th the son of a friend helped me put the furniture back in place. Later John came over and we hung most of the art. 

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Daily I lost weight but the cramped hotel room got on my nerves and three days before Christmas I took the plunge and drove south to Wollongong – where I’d organised to stay with friends – carving out a route in the crepuscular dark, the tops of the trees black against the sky as I negotiated hills prior to the final plunge down the escarpment toward the narrow strip of land on which the city rests like a cracked jewel, all angles and construction sites near which, during the day, the sounds of electrical tools can be heard. 

On the day after Boxing Day we all got back in the car and drove against the heavy traffic, heading – in our case – to Sydney to move furniture in the Botany house. Having a strong young man help with heavy items was critical to my success and my friend Ming also reorganised some of the crockery to make it easier to find things once we moved in. Sorting out belongings was hard as alone I had done as much as I could possibly do but it was such a massive job to get all my belongings situated correctly. Getting help from others was central to my purpose and the trip back to Wollongong also was again against the traffic – most people going out of Sydney in the mornings and coming into the city in the evenings.

Their way of holidaying had changed since the virus had eliminated overseas travel. Holidays hadn’t been on my radar. I’d only just recovered this year from two health scares (see last year’s memorial) and since June had been intent on moving house. It even took me all of five days to organise contents insurance, which I eventually did successfully just after Xmas using AAMI, whose process was fairly simple and was able to be completed using email – necessary so that I could send them a spreadsheet with artworks listed on it – and once it was finished I was able to log into their database using an iPhone app. 

Joe had asked me to get insurance as workmen would be coming in to work ahead of the certifier’s visits. I spoke with him on 29 December about moving in – on a rental agreement, prior to the occupancy certificate being issued and prior to settlement – which we discussed would be on 18 January. 

It’d have to wait for a contract to be signed in the new year. The rent under such an agreement would be $1000 a week – to cover such things as pool maintenance and insurance – and later that day I started the process for the National Broadband Network (NBN) to be connected. I had second thoughts about moving in before settlement, however, due to the cost – I thought that Joe should cover expenses due to the fact that, when I’d first enquired about the property, he’d said the place’d be finished in September (which became November, then January) – so contemplated staying in Wollongong for at least six weeks. 

The thought wasn’t too onerous and it had an upside in that it’d give me an opportunity to get to know the city better. Instead of being a tourist I’d become a resident – at least for a while. What is the Gong like to live in? “Maybe I should find out?” I said to myself gaily, endeavouring to make the time spent homeless as functional as possible. If I couldn’t be happy, then at least I could be happy in future. Knowledge can make you happy: let’s see what NSW life in a regional centre is like. I’d spent six years living in a Queensland regional centre so, I thought to myself, I’d had practice. It couldn’t be hard.

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