Making The Grade


Mr. Mc Gaw Sees to the Laying out the Foundation of our New House, Tenderi, in Hillandale, Que Que 1956

Making the Grade

We had a perfectly good architect in town, Vic. Jenkinson, but Dad decided no one knew our house needs and wants better than us.

Making the Grade

Mom wanted a Mediterranean style house with graceful arches, an inner courtyard built around a particularly lovely specimen of mimosa tree, a stucco finish to the walls dropping off a low slung red tiled roof, but most of all arched windows to frame the view.

Dad was averse to ostentation.  “All that’s very fancy,” he said.  “What we need is something practical.  This is Africa not Spain.   There is nothing wrong with corrugated iron, painted red, for the roof. “

“Well I do like the sound of it when we have a thunderstorm,” she conceded.

“Settled!  Arches pose their problems.  We’re going to use unskilled African labor don’t forget.  And as for an inner courtyard, why on earth do we need that?  We’ve paid a premium for the view.  We’re going to look out not in.”

“Let’s make the house of the land, use Pise de terre, (rammed earth) just like the low cost Pise Housing Purchase Scheme you introduced.  Our soil is perfect for it, remember.”

“It’s so labor intensive! We can’t afford the luxury.  We’re paying rent meanwhile.”

“Remember some pise houses were still standing after 150 years, in Lyon, when we did our European tour in 1951.  Building one yourself shows how much you believe in the product.  We’ve even got a few sizeable ant heaps we could excavate to add to the mix.  It’s supposed to be the best thing there is for it.”

“There is no need to prove anything.  The Pise houses sold like hot cakes.  I want to support industry around here and go for concrete from the Limeworks at RISCO.  We can afford it,” he countered.

Many months went by before we were ready to move into the next phase, construction.   Dad employed an African builder, Timothy, to do the job under his supervision.

Sick Parade at the crack of dawn was replaced with House Instruction for Timothy. Dad would hurry home from the surgery at lunchtime to monitor progress.  After hospital rounds and house calls in the evening he would head over to the house before supper and make a list to go over in the morning.

The hill was cut into at the back and another terrace constructed in the front to maximize the rectangular footprint on the main level.  The foundation was dug deep.

We watched it grow from bottom to top, one solid six inch square concrete block at a time.

But something was a miss.  We couldn’t ignore the fact that the master bedroom designed so that Dad could roll out of bed and into the swimming pool for that early morning dip was suspended in mid air.

Throwing out the drawing board, Dad instructed Timothy to add a verandah, enclose it and add however many  steps it took to reach the pool below.

All said and done it was a grand house.  Dad was proud to show it off.  Vic Jenkinson, the town’s architect toured in silence as Dad pointed out all the features.  At the end of the tour Vic stood looking out through that fissure in the range of hills to RISCO ten miles away and said, “Well at least you couldn’t spoil the view.”


  • Betty Goolsby

    Reply Reply January 28, 2011

    I am always amazed at how brilliant your dad was and how he could do just about anything, and also at how strong your mom was and how she stuck by her guns, but also knew how to compromise for the greater good. What a strong pair as your role models! Were your brothers as centered and smart as you? Were they as creative?
    You seemed to get the best traits from both parents…including being very head strong and determined! I hate weak, indecisive wimps…hurrah for Diana!!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 28, 2011

      Thanks for all the compliments! You are my favorite reader for sure! I think the landscape and the times offered my parents the freedom and opportunity to express themselves and develop their talents that would have been much more constrained in a more sophisticated society. At any rate, all that greatness skipped a generation I’m afraid. We’ve all done rather modestly at best. Great expectations for the next generation!

  • Brian Lewis

    Reply Reply June 8, 2013

    Hi Diana,
    I don’t really remember you but shared a class with David until he skipped a year. I came across your site when researching the origins of pisé housing, such was our first house in Que Que in the early ’50s.
    I did visit your home to see David on a couple of occasions and remember being educated into the the construction and utility of terraces, something I often think about as I battle to maintain our centuries old terraces here, in the south of France.
    Now I’ve found you, I will check in regularly.
    Thanks and best wishes,

    • Diana

      Reply Reply June 9, 2013

      Brian, Yes the terracing at Tenderi, our Hillandale house, was quite impressive, very high walls, I want to say perhaps ten feet tall,that were very thick: huge granite rocks glued together with cement. It was quite a hill and I wonder how the terraces have stood the test of time since we left almost 40 years ago. Africa doesn’t have the same sense of centuries old permanency like Europe. I so enjoyed my trip to Poland and Netherlands with their rich histories and three weeks at Oxford Bodleian Library going back to the middle ages, researching Sir Edgar Whitehead for my novel…I trust you are enjoying France surrounded by all the culture.
      When I am finished telling Tim Hughes’ story on the blog I will be posting a blog about how QQ’s pise housing was financed. It’s quite an interesting story.
      David is in Jhb. Stay well. Diana

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