Saturday, June 3

Tim Dowling: you say ‘pergola’, I’ll say ‘wisteria-clad garden structure’ | diy

There are certain words I cannot bring myself to say out loud. Sometimes this is because of my accent – ​​as an American I’ve never found a satisfactory way to pronounce “Torquay”, and I’ve stopped trying. If I had a story to tell you about something that happened there, I would probably just transplant the whole anecdote to another coastal town.

Sometimes it’s just plain distant – like with goujon – and sometimes it’s harder to explain. For the most part, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem.

“We’ve got to do something about the thing,” I say, looking out the kitchen window one Friday afternoon. “The back end is leaning badly.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” my wife says.

“The structure,” I say.

“What structure?” she says.

“In the garden,” I say. “The wisteria-supporting structure.”

“The pergola?” she says.

“It’s become detached at the back,” I say, “I think it might collapse.”

“Just say pergola,” she says.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” I say. “But something must be done.”

On Saturday morning I stand on the bench at the back of the garden to take a closer look. The structure was put up four years ago, by a man who did it quickly, without fuss or assistance of any kind, for a reasonable price.

At the time I admired the upright solidity of the thing, but up close I can see that the rear has been bolted to an old wooden batten previously fixed along the top of the high brick wall – support for some unremembered arbor or trellis. That batten had rotted away, pulling off its bolts under the weight of the growing vines, leaving the right rear corner of the structure hanging.

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“I can do nothing,” I say, back inside. “It’s going to fall down.”

“What is?” my wife says.

“I don’t have the skills, or the tools,” I say.

“Is this about the pergola?” she says.

“But I’ll tell you what,” I say. “Whoever does fix it will have to dismantle it and start again.”

“Can you just acknowledge that we’re talking about the pergola?” she says.

“And that means cutting down the wisteria first,” I say.

“Don’t touch that wisteria,” my wife says. “It took five years to flower.”

“It’s out of my hands,” I say.

But I can’t let go. I spend the afternoon watching YouTube videos of competent men installing similar structures in their own gardens, but they all start from scratch, doing everything right, with amazing cordless tools.

At night I dream about it, trying to puzzle out a solution. I hatch a plan involving scaffolding planks and the jack from the car, but every time I run the model in my head it leads to catastrophic injury. After that I lie awake until the sky begins to pale. It reminds me of a long, distressing night I spent in a hotel in, let’s say, Paignton.

On Sunday morning I make an announcement.

“I think I can fix it,” I say.

“Fix what?” my wife says.

“First I need to buy some L-shaped braces,” I say.

“Oh my God, is this about…”

“These super-strong steel braces that I dreamed existed,” I say. “Possibly available from B&Q.”

“How are you going to ask for what you want,” my wife says, “if you can’t say pergola?”

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“The point is, I can fix the braces directly to the wall, and let them take the weight.”

“Of the pergola,” she says.

“I’ll need to take some measurements,” I say.

I drag a folding ladder to the end of the garden and climb up into the framework, wisteria tentacles whipping my face. The right rear corner of the structure is now a foot lower than the left. With both shoulders braced against adjacent roof struts, I climb to the top of the ladder – the paint shelf – and straighten my legs. With me as its support, the whole structure rises; but it’s still a good six inches short of level when I’m at full stretch.

The ladder creaks alarmingly, and I have a vision of the kind of death that makes the local paper: Man Killed by Pergola. It sounds like a disease.

“We’re back to square one,” I say, stepping into the kitchen. “Or a bit before square one, because I’ve made it slightly worse.”

“Just leave it until the wisteria has flowered one more time,” my wife says.

“Do nothing for four to six weeks?” I say. “I can handle that.”

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