He was from one of the sprawling black townships north of Johannesburg, and this was his second week in his first job. Standing in our kitchen, clutching the hose he had just wrenched from the water inlet, he was staring in bewilderment at the deluge now lapping around his feet and meandering towards the back door. We were moving house again – Johannesburg style.
The eight-strong packing team eagerly seized the opportunity to stop work and congregated around the disaster area. I had noticed this custom on our arrival here, when a similar audience gathered to witness the uncrating of our marble dining table which, having left Engand in two pieces, a base and a top, emerged in South Africa in six pieces.
This time, however, the foreman was on the spot immediately, and the flow of water was quickly stemmed.
We were only half way through the first of the three days allowed for packing our household and he was already shaking his head doubtfully. As a safeguard, I had re-arranged our flights for late on the fourth day in case of packing problems, so I was relatively unfazed by his gloom. This merely seemed to render him gloomier.
Crossing the hall, I sidestepped two packers wrestling with our ancient rocking chair, a family heirloom which successfully withstood the rigours of our last move, only to have its arms pulled off during the unwrapping process. I shuddered at the memory.
The lounge now resembled a large warehouse, with our leather suite so tightly wrapped I knew the creases would never smooth out. But at least the suite would be shipped in its entirety this time, unlike the last occasion when the sofa ended up in storage in England with our two motorcycles, whilst the two chairs were sent to Johannesburg. Since sea freight takes about six weeks, we survived with only half a suite for almost two months, which was about the time it took to get the marble table restored.
The dishwasher was now standing on the cream lounge carpet, leaking oil. I paused to wonder at the logic of carrying it into the sitting room for wrapping and then retreated to the maid’s quarters for a few minutes of peace.
Here, however, I discovered our two border collies throwing themselves frantically against the locked door in their attempts to escape. The packers had clearly grown tired of being herded round the garden and had taken the law into their own hands.
Ultimately, the packing was completed on time. Loading the container took less than an hour, and the crew, clutching their tips and every remaining scrap of food in the house, formed a guard of honour at the back of the lorry to watch the foreman ceremoniously padlock the container.
The key was handed over with a flourish, and the reassurance that our goods were now completely secure and en route to Germany. It seemed churlish not to go along with the charade, so we smiled our grateful thanks and pocketed it carefully.
Unfortunately our flight the next day was cancelled for technical reasons and following a misundersanding between the pet travel firm and the airline cargo section, our rearranged flight did not include passage for the dogs.
On checking in, we found a message from the cargo terminal staff who, having had two heavily sedated dogs dumped on them by the pet travel firm, wanted them to be immediately removed. The airline rose magnificently to the occasion, taking the dogs to kennels for the night and ensuring they caught the following evening’s flight.
Six weeks later, the German foreman snorted contemptuously when I presented him with the key to unlock our goods and chattels. Instead, he jemmied off the replacement padlock which had been surreptitiously fitted since the container had left our home in Johannesburg.
Our insurance claim amounted to more than £1,000, covering the broken frame of the settee (despite the corset-like packing), a badly buckled refirgerator and a host of missing items including my designer wedding outfit, a table lamp, kitchen utensils and assorted tools.
It was not so much the loss or damage that I minded, but the sheer frustration of securing estimates in an unfamiliar language. On the positive side however, I was fully reimbursed for a wedding outfit which I hoped I would not have to wear again.
After an exhausting weekend of unpacking, we were finally settled. Never again, I said to myself, pinning up the bottoms of the sitting room curtains, which had been up and down like a yo-yo over the past six years.
I was wrong though. Almost two years later, we are heading back to England. This time, the whole moving procedure must be carried out in a language of which I still, regrettably, have only the most rudimentary grasp.
Having travelled this far, the dogs are obviously coming with us and I have only just begun to explore the horrors of the UK quarantine system.
Thank goodness I never got round to stitching up the curtains though.