{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

January 28, 2015

Bathroom Fix-Up: Day 1

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I'm sure you're aware of the catastrophe that is our bathroom and shower room (If you're not, read about it here).

I started fixing the bathroom up yesterday, after much groaning and procrastination. We have been bemoaning the expense of the SatinCrete walling, because it really is such a waste since we've decided to just paint over it all, but it's either painting over it or redoing the special plastering. For the latter, we could spend more money purchasing more product, and then risk it not sticking to the already-sealed surface. I have my doubts as to whether it will be successful this time around anyway, and we're also relatively sick of having people in and out of our place. So we've opted for the paint option.

Over the weekend, I purchased a tinted tin of Plascon's Drifting Skies in their Kitchens & Bathrooms brand. The colour on their website is more blue than grey, but you can see it below on their paint swatch (it's the second one).
I started by removing the basin, and you can see how the sealant the workers used changed the end-colour, quite significantly. You can also see how rushed the job was. They had put the basin on according to their guide marks, but didn't bother removing them before sealing it all up.


Climbing up on the ladder helped me see even more shoddy work:

The plaster work around the airbrick.
The plaster work above the door frame. Note the drips of sealant.
The paint job in the corner. Note also how the ceiling was painted without any of the plaster sanded down.

By the end of the day, I had completed sanding three of the walls (I manually sanded the first wall before using our sanding machine - don't ask!). I filled the gap in the corner and between the door frame and wall, and also tried to tidy up the airbrick and other spots. I'm sure it will look fine once the paint job is done.

I also knocked off the plaster that had messed on our window bars and the plaster around the window frame, which had also just been painted over.

Today I will sand the last wall, and then fill in all the holes in the last three walls. These include gaps between the ceiling and wall, places in the plaster where scrapes are pretty deep (such as a spot where someone ran their fingers over the wet plaster and didn't flatten it out again, and gaps between the window frame and walls.

I was looking at the tile work, and considering whether I should redo some of them, since they're not level. What do you think?

Let me know in the comments section if you have any tips!

January 23, 2015

Book Review || The House Gun by Nadine Gordimer

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I haven't read many novels written by South Africans, even though I'm a prolific reader. But I have taken to reading such novels after a course in African literature that I took a couple of years ago.

South Africa has a unique history, what with its background of oppression and violence, and I feel as though it cannot break free from this past, a past that destroyed many lives, and still continues to do so today.

Though The House Gun is set in the early days of South Africa's democracy, the main themes are still valid in today's Rainbow Nation, for we are still at the mercy of relentless violence and criminality. This week alone saw over a hundred people arrested for looting and public violence in only one area of the country.

It is under this premise of everyday violence that 'The House Gun' takes its tenet: a handgun is purchased and kept in a communal home for the use of anyone who might need it to protect themselves and their belongings from a break-in or other violent act. But the gun is used instead in a murder, the motive of which is slowly uncovered (or not) throughout the novel.

The Lindgards' lives are thrown into chaos when their son, Duncan, is accused of murder. With the accusation and his subsequent arrest - and lack of remorse - they call into question their own parenting skills, their own supposedly liberal lives and upbringing of their son, and also the state of the country they are living in.

The Constitutional Court is still deliberating on whether or not the State can murder murderers, and Harald and Claudia hope against hope that their son will not have to face the death penalty. But Gordimer demands - albeit indirectly - that we compare the senseless and unplanned death of one man in a fit of emotional overwhelm with the mass killings undertaken during the apartheid regime with the sole purpose of instilling fear and control.

Meanwhile, the concept of forgiveness is also broached: can Duncan's parents forgive him? Can the partner of the man he killed offer forgiveness? Does a verdict and sentence in court start the process for forgiveness? Can everything be forgiven? Can South Africa's tumultuous, violent past be forgiven, by the individuals who were forever affected or by the nation?

'The House Gun' forces us to ask these questions, take a look at our own histories and beliefs, and consider how we feel in the greater scheme of South Africa.

January 19, 2015

Book Review || Beauty and Misogyny by Sheila Jeffreys

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If you, as a woman, believe you have a choice regarding your beauty practices every day, your makeup applications, your hair dye, your manicures and pedicures, think again... And Beauty and Misogyny by Sheila Jeffreys is just the book to help you think.

Jeffreys takes a hard look at the 'natural' aspirations of women and reveals their source to be male domination and male fetishism. Although it is through other women we learn these beauty practices, this merely conceals the reasons that we engage in beauty practices at all. We may even think we are wearing makeup for other women, but this is how we cope as the subordinate sex of our species - by creating subordinates within our own gender - by shaming women for not wearing makeup, for example - and creating a community of survival against oppression.

Connections are made between beauty practices and prostitution, with examples of how certain so-called 'female' indulgences originated from the world of prostitution. She says that in the ancient Middle East, lipstick marked a prostitute as being willing to perform oral sex, because of the similarity between the lipstick and colour and the appearance of the vulva. Indeed, makeup used to be called paint and was employed only by theatricalists and prostitutes - it was a mask indicating either the suspension of disbelief required in theatre or one's subordinate sexual status as a prostitute.

Parallels are drawn between how many women today cannot leave their homes without their faces on - without putting on their mask - and how women of some religions don veils to protect themselves from scorn, to feel more secure. It is this parallel that shares an origin in the requirements of men and how they need to see 'beautiful' women all around them. Women are not appreciated - either in private or public - without adhering to beauty practices.

Wikimedia Commons\C.H. Graves
A time-honoured example of such practices is foot-binding. In China, not at all too far away in the past, small feet were a requirement for finding and securing a good marriage, especially in the higher, wealthier echelons of society. And I'm not talking about a UK size 4 or 5; I'm talking about feet only 7cm long. Of course, this was the ideal, called a Golden Lotus. A slightly 'bigger' foot was called a Silver Lotus.

In order for a woman to have such small feet, a child about two years old (only half a year older than Emma), was taken to a professional foot binder (mothers were not the best people to do the job, as they had too much sympathy and tended not to bind their daughters' feet tightly enough). The binder would soak the child's feet in warm water to soften them before proceeding to break the bones, bending the little toes under and arching the sole of the foot, completing the job by tightly binding the child's feet into the desired shape and 'shoe'.

Often the bones in the feet would never heal, but the girls were encouraged to walk around despite the pain so the foot would retain its shape.

Although the tradition is certainly fiercely defended in some quarters, and many accuse women of being at fault, Jeffreys suggests that it is because of the fetishisation of women by men, and the subsequent fetishisation of the pain the woman with the smallest feet went through that this was done for men's pleasure. Jeffreys says that some men took it so far that they would masturbate with the arches of the women's feet, would soak the bandages in hot water and drink the soup, or fondle and drink from the tiny shoes.

Although this practice and its uglier cousin Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are mostly banned, Jeffreys sees no reason why Western beauty practices should not fall under the same banner of harmful cultural practices. After all, some make-up is filled with toxic substances that are absorbed into our skin every day. Some women alternately binge and starve to maintain a false idea of the perfect physique. Women risk their ankles to totter unsteadily on high heels so their bums poke out like baboons on heat.

Some beauty practices have also arose from pornography - that genre that has solidified woman as sexual object, merely in existence to please the male. Such things as long manicured nails and hairlessness are the 'natural' beauty practices women adhere to today because we have been made to believe - and the men in our lives have been made to believe - this is what is sexy and 'natural' for a woman.

I would hazard to guess that few women would reject the requests of their male partners when it comes to something the latter believes is sexy. If we don't indulge in those required beauty practices, we are told we will never have a man, or we fear our lovers will reject us outright. Look at Lolo Ferrari: a woman so bent on pleasing her husband that she allowed him to rename her 'Tit'.

Wikimedia Commons\Srotoys
Practices of pornography and prostitution have made their way into fashion as well. Jeffreys says the origin of this is the sadomasochism of the majority of homosexual designers. She says SM for them is about creating a new subordinate self, as they have been mostly outcast from homogenous masculinity. And women, the natural subordinate to the male, are the canvas upon which they express themselves: high heels that are painful to walk in and things like tattoos and piercings have their origins in practices of self-harm and self-mutilation for the calling of beauty.

I think Jeffreys is very hard on the gay community, but she is clear that Western beauty practices have nothing to do with femininity and everything to do with masculinity and malestream fetish. Jeffreys' book is filled with historical anecdotes and personal opinions, and is dotted throughout with valuable references to theorists who support her theory that all beauty practices should be disallowed.

Her book is an excellent, frank, and informative overview if one wishes to learn more about patriarchy, fetishism, sadomasochism, male domination, and female subordination.

January 13, 2015

Book Review || Winterling by Sarah Prineas

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As one of my (many) aspirations in this life is to write children's books, I know that to do so, I need to read children's books. Many of them. And I have sadly been neglecting this part of my education for too long, particularly as I am drawn to classics, horror stories, and historical fiction.

But the time has come, the walrus said...

I started with Winterling by Sarah Prineas. Prineas' work is delightful. Her ideas of parallel worlds, the seasons, and magic are fresh, and she merges these new innovations with known mythical characters, such as the Puck. The characters are full of depth and the world is rich with scents, colours, textures, and tastes. This is a novel filled with descriptions that remain long after you've read it, and leaving you with a sense that good can overcome evil.

Jennifer is plunged into a world to which she feels intensely connected - a world of nature - and her feelings of wrongness in a way echo the wrongness of our current times as we strive for economic excellence above meeting nature halfway, where we refuse to see our own mortality, and leave everything we touch in ruin.

The wrongness in Fer's homeworld spreads into our world, showing how connected everything in nature is to everything else. It reminds me of a video I watched about the wolves in the United States' Yellowstone Reserve. The wolves were killed off by farmers in the region to protect their cattle. Wolves were reintroduced a while ago because the deer were flourishing, having no natural predators to keep their numbers down. The effect of the reintroduction on other animals and even the landscape itself shows this connection.

We would be so lucky to have a Lady come to our world to set things right. 'Winterling' is an echo of everyone's hopes that a beautiful world awaits our children and grandchildren.

January 9, 2015

Book Review || The Dark by James Herbert

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I haven't read a proper horror novel in ages. The last thing I read even remotely resembling such was a compilation of horror stories which was actually quite disappointing - practically none of the stories gave me chills in any way. And before that... who knows. Perhaps it was this disappointment that made me set aside horrors for a while.

So when I happened upon a copy of James Herbert's The Dark at a second-hand store, with him being one of my favourite authors in the past, I was sparked into wanting to read them again, and then it was the first novel I picked up to read after at least three years of study texts.

I really enjoyed reading a horror story again. The catchphrase at the bottom is 'From the blackest pits of hell...' and the back cover testimonial claims, 'devil of a chiller'. I remembered why I became sick with Herbert though - becoming acquainted with characters that are inevitably killed off becomes a little old eventually. But as usual his knowledge of the paranormal and his theories regarding the subject are intriguing and thought-inspiring.

For example, [spoiler] the darkness that progressively spreads and inspires aggressive madness in people is created by the state of mind of the person at the time of his passing. The idea is that one should be aware of your mind, your intentions, your beliefs when you die, and this allows you to create a force of good or evil. To have the presence of mind to be calm and have a clear intention upon your death is the challenge.

Another thought popped up while I was reading this novel. I don't remember noticing it before, but my readings lately have helped me spot such things: whenever a woman of a larger size is mentioned, she is referred to in very derisive tones. Words such as 'gross', 'rump' when referring to their behinds, 'great mounds' resting 'sullenly', 'gross shadow', 'grotesque', 'great flabby shape', 'oozing flesh', and 'big body'.

It occurred to me that, as a frequent reader of horror books, it may be possible that my own body insecurity was subconsciously planted by reading such phrases. Clearly larger women are viewed negatively, thus reinforcing the impression that being overweight is unattractive. Of course, insecurities are an amalgamation of all kinds of influences, but I wonder what the subconscious effect of such descriptions are on people, considering that we know subliminal messages in advertising work.

I don't think this was the best horror I've ever read, and I enjoyed it so much because it was a long time since I'd read one, but it was definitely intriguing and interesting,

Our bathroom catastrophe

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Living in an older apartment complex left our pipes with such low pressure that our hot water barely trickled out of our kitchen faucets. We decided in October to have the old pipes replaced, which would involve removing all the old tiles, the bath, the basins, and the toilets, smashing through the walls, taking out the old pipes, replacing them, plastering everything back up, repainting and retiling.

What should have been a two-week job max ended up taking more than a month due to the contractor - who shall not be named - taking his own sweet time.

We were without hot water for a night, without a toilet for a night, and without a bath or shower for nearly that entire time. I know, it sounds gross, but I promise we washed every night! ;) Emma even bathed in the kitchen basin.

I think at the end we just let them leave because we were just so tired of everything, but the little details were completely ignored. And they showed no care or pride in their work. I believe it's because their supervisor only came to see what had been done maybe four times in the whole month.

They ruined our enamel bath - we'll have to have it redone. They messed up the SatinCrete application, so not only does it *not* feel like satin, it's not even a uniform colour. When they applied the sealant, they applied so much it dripped down the walls and pooled on the basin and floors. When they painted the ceiling, they dripped all over the place, and I eventually figured out that a strange splodge on the wall was actually where the sponge roller had slipped and fallen against the SatinCrete. The tiles were stained from the SatinCrete they messed, they installed a basin skew, and knocked a screw in flat instead of driving it in. And we kept noticing new stuff every day.

I intend to do the fixing up myself - not willing to risk another disappointment. But below are some images so you can see for yourself what a mess we have to deal with.

This is what our bathroom looked like just before they applied the sealant. You can see just from this image what the job looked like. See the finish of the plaster? It looked worse after they sealed it.
This is how the SatinCrete was done above the bath joint. The first image is what it looked like before they sealed it; the second is what it looks like after they sealed it.

This is what our tiles on the bathroom floor look like. The grooves between the tiles were filled with SatinCrete, but the workers just filled up the leftover spaces with grout. 
This is the finish of the paint on the ceiling.
They left the plaster job unfinished above the geyser. I know it's a difficult spot to do, but no one told us it would be a problem until they'd finished the plaster job.
The air brick in the shower room.
The paint job on the window frames.
Our once-white bath.
They didn't bother using a drop sheet. This is our carpet.
Our skew basin.
The drips of sealant at the bottom of the walls. 
The ledge between our shower and the floor.
This faucet, as well as the shower head and the one for the other bathroom, wiggle when you move them.
The finish of the wall in the shower room.
More drips of sealant in the bathroom.
The strained pipes to the faucets in the bathroom, and the hammered-flat screw.
The paint splodge I was talking about.
The finish on our tiles and around the toilet in the bathroom.
Finger-scrapings in the finished SatinCrete. The didn't bother sanding it or flattening it while it was still wet.
The tile job under the toilet in the shower.
 I would love to know what you think, and if you have any suggestions on how I should proceed?

January 8, 2015

Farewell Taxing 2014

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Silence has been the overarching theme on my blog in 2014, particularly at the end of the year, which was taxing emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Not only had I to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of a ride the grief of my dad's illness brought, I also had a newly-walking toddler to follow around, who also challenged me on a mental level, along with my displeasure with work.

It all culminated in November, when my Dad finally received the release he so deserved. The Alzheimer's had had its fill of his mind and also of his body - his mind disappeared first, and finally he was barely recognisable near the end: simply a shell of the man his family once knew.

I know it sounds terrible, but I was pleased that he passed silently and peacefully in his sleep. He, least of all, deserved the pain so often associated with death.

Shortly before his passing, his fast regression inspired me to make a move I'd been wanting to take a for a while. But the excitement I felt at the move was shouldered aside when he left. Standing with the eulogy I had written and rewritten over and over again because it could not possibly do him justice and looking at the people he's touched, something wonderful had clearly gone from the world and would clearly be missed. I've been struggling to find the motivation to move on, to work hard, to make him proud. But I often feel bereft.

I know it will get better. One day. But not yet.

{Image credit: Lette Valeska [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}