Tuesday, September 26

Tim Dowling: I’m at the DIY store – surrounded by things I don’t need | diy

It is Saturday, and my wife and I are in a queue of cars trying to find spaces at the big B&Q.

“Everybody’s had the same idea as us,” my wife says.

“We had the idea before any of these people,” I say.

Here is the idea: make a long list of everything that is broken, and then go out and get a bunch of stuff to fix it. We hatched this plan long before anybody else noticed it was sunny and decided to buy a pizza oven.

“Should we go to the little B&Q instead?” she says.

“No,” I say. “It must be the big one, for depth of choice.”

Once inside, I find myself stranded in the shallows of choice. They have white grout, and clear grout, but no gray grout. I know there is such a thing as gray grout, because my shower is inexpertly grouted in it.

The expansion bolt display has an empty hook where the size I want should be, but the shape of bracket I am looking for seems to exist only in my dreams. Eventually I find my wife in the outdoor section, pushing a flatbed trolley.

“There’s some kind of grout shortage,” I say. “Did they have floor paint in the right colour?”

“No,” she says.

“Then why are we still here?” I say.

“I’m buying plants,” she says.

Exasperated, I wander up and down, looking at fountains and decorative gravel. On my third circuit something catches my eye: a fence post with a triangular profile, the last of its kind for sale. When I stand it on end, I discover that it’s well over two meters tall.

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“What’s that?” my wife says as I approach her, my new purchase banging against overhead signs.

“Giant fence post,” I say. “Eight quid.”

“What for?” she says.

“To mend the thing,” I say.

“The pergola?” she says.

“Yes, that.” For complex reasons, I cannot say pergola.

“How?” she says.

“Once it’s cut to size,” I say. “I should be able to use this to brace the structure and stop it falling down.”

“Is it strong enough?” she says.

“Dunno,” I say.

“Will it fit in the car?” she says.

“These are all very good questions,” I say.

It does fit in the car, just. When I get home I carry it through the house to the bottom of the garden, where the collapsing structure resides. The back end had been bolted to a brick wall, but the supporting batten had since rotted away, and as a result the right rear corner sags about a foot lower than the left.

I jam the triangular end of the fence post under the low corner, lift it an inch and set the bottom end on the ground. The new bracing post sticks out at a sharp angle, but remains in place. I am calculating how much I will need to saw off when the youngest one appears in a T-shirt and bare feet.

“That doesn’t look good,” he says. “Can’t you lift it any higher than that?”

“It’s not that simple,” I say. The youngest one drags the garden table up to the wall and climbs on top. Crouching underneath the structure, he grabs two crosspieces and pushes upward. I move the post in, and the angle decreases slightly.

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“That’s a bit better,” I say. The boy, red in the face and still pushing, grunts something I cannot understand.

“Que?” I say.

“Keep going!” he says.

We proceed by degrees: he lifts, and I inch the bottom of the post a little further corner-ward. Finally, in what seems like a last bid to court disaster, I give the post a sharp and reckless kick.

“Whoa,” says the youngest one. We both stare.

A minute later I go inside my wife.

“The pergola is fixed,” I say.

“Did you say pergola?” she says.

“Yes, I’m cured,’ I say. “Eat and see.”

From a distance, the pergola now seems perfectly level – although it isn’t, quite – and from certain angles the triangular fence post appears to be square, matching the two front posts. The whole building has a distinct aura of intentionality.

“No sawing, no nails,” I say. “Just immense structural pressures.”

“Well done,” my wife says. “It’ll do until someone can fix it properly.”

“You should know that I consider this to be a permanent solution,” I say.

“When are you gonna do the grout?” she says.


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