Diary of a renovator: weathering the storm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am

Labels given to emotional ups and downs can determine how you feel. That is a contention of The Loss of Sadness, whose authors explore how psychiatry has transformed normal sorrow into depression. Although I wasn't after a name for my dark mood, I picked up the book after figuring I had come down with a bad case of SAD. Perhaps the rain was to blame for my Seasonal Affective Disorder. It had dampened my spirits by sabotaging my renovation schedule and bloating my budget.

I was lucky not to have been submerged like other Hongkongers but I did wonder why, with forecasts predicting bucket loads of rain, my contractor proceeded with the one task that requires good weather: window replacement.

So on the day the Observatory issued an amber rainstorm warning, my ground-floor flat was the only home on the street that looked as though it was ready to party. Perforated in seven places, it also appeared to be sheltering under a holey Mackintosh, which it sort of was. Only a half-collapsed awning at the front - left by the previous owner because it was a hassle to disassemble - provided protection against a raging Thor.

When his temper subsided and Ra came out to play, I joined my workers downstairs to survey the mess. Surprisingly little rain had entered through the side windows although the construction rubbish on the terrace had become an amorphous mess.

'Is this yours?' Ah Ming asked, gripping a bunch of instruction booklets and warranty cards disintegrating through his fingers.

'Who left them outside?' I asked.

It turned out the gas man had shoved them under a flower pot after installing two heaters on an exterior wall.

Count your blessings, I murmured while watching the men guide rivulets of water out what will be the main door. Acquaintances nearby had reported much worse damage. The new lawn of a wealthy homeowner had turned mouldy after a few days of rain, and a waterfall had formed behind a false wall in a lavish, carpeted house.

During three years of living on the top floor (I'm combining the upper and lower levels of a house) the only water that has infiltrated my home has come through poorly designed balcony doors. When rain volleys against the glass, it pools in the track below and overflows inside.

This summer, however, my roof developed a leak. Several days after the big wet, Joe, my contractor, informed me of a 'small' dripping problem.

'How are we going to solve it?' I asked, nervously, feeling the onset of SAD. My neighbour had slapped 'tennis-court paint' onto his side of the roof so I suggested doing the same.

'That won't give you lasting protection,' Joe said, although my interpretation of his Cantonese may have been because a sketch he produced resembled, to my mind, a sanitary napkin.

So now I'm facing an additional HK$25,000 to coat the rooftop with a waterproof skin, then cover the area with wood decking. Not only that but the work will take about 10 days. 'Weather permitting,' Joe warned.

My stomach growled. Although it was only mid-afternoon, hunger - the like of which only loaves of bread could sate - diverted my thoughts. Then, of course, it would be time for a nap.

Who knows. Perhaps I feel the way I do because the health site I checked listed lack of energy, increased need for sleep, carbohydrate craving and weight gain as common symptoms of SAD.

The solution? Sunshine, antidepressants or counselling, advise SAD researchers.

My cure? A stock-market gain, which landed unexpectedly.

As they say, put a name to it and it becomes real. I didn't have a disorder. The only thing wrong with me was feeling out of pocket, the unavoidable stress of renovation and the sodding burden of rain.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at features@scmp.com