Tim Dowling: I’m fixing the roof
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Tim Dowling: I’m fixing the roof

Jul 23, 2023

Were the last people who did this nine-feet tall, or did they use a crane? My ladder is just about high enough, I hope …

Over the past month I’ve taken a small number of men out to the garden to show them the large hole in the plastic corrugated roofing that spans the side return, and my solution to the problem: an umbrella poked up through the hole and opened, with a wrench hanging from its handle to keep it from blowing away. I only wanted them to admire my low cunning, but they all had criticisms.

“The umbrella covers the hole,” said Kitch the electrician when I showed him. “But any rain hitting the roof above the umbrella will run down the corrugations and pour straight through.”

“OK, professor,” I said. I already knew this because it had already rained, and that had already happened.

It was obvious a more permanent solution was needed, so I ordered two new sheets of plastic corrugated roofing, which were delivered the next morning. Then they sat on the garden table while I waited for a break in the weather.

Finally a dry and sunny morning arrived – after two weeks of rain, but before I have managed to visualise a single successful repair scenario.

“What I if take the old roof off and then can’t put the new one up?” I say.

“How do you even know you can take the old roof off?” my wife says.

“That bit is easy,” I say.

This proves to be true: the weathered corrugated plastic is thin and brittle; I can just snap it off in splintering chunks. I have to destroy the perfectly good end section to get to the damaged middle bit, but that’s exactly why I bought two sheets.

The main difficulty becomes apparent only as I stand on a ladder, head poking through the beams, to remove the old rusted screws. I realise that once the roof is in place, it will be impossible to drive in the farthest screws – the way the whole structure is tucked into the side of the house puts them beyond reach. And yet, I think: someone managed it before, for I am even now removing the screws they put in. Did they use a crane? Were they nine feet tall?

My solution is, in its own way, just as elegant as the umbrella repair.

“I just won’t put any screws up that far,” I say.

“You realise none of this means anything to me,” my wife says. We are having lunch at the halfway stage of my project.

“As long as it’s screwed to the panel next to it,” I say. “And that panel is screwed to the beam, it’s fine, right?”

“Tell me if you want me to say yes, and I’ll say yes.”

After lunch I manoeuvre the new corrugated sheets into place and climb to the top step of the ladder. With a felt tip pen in one hand I take a deep breath and reach across the flimsy roof. Anywhere you can make a dot, I think, you can drill a hole. And anywhere you can drill a hole, you can drive a screw. At full stretch only the toe of my left boot is touching the ladder. And then suddenly the ladder isn’t there any more.

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The first time I find myself hanging from the little roof by my elbows, legs windmilling beneath me, is frankly hair-raising. The second time, merely spine-tingling. By the fourth time it has become routine; I know the end beam will hold my weight while my toes search for the corner of a shelving unit to latch on to. By the seventh time I have decided life is cheap when weighed against the progress I am making.

The last two screws are easy: the pre-drilled holes are right in front of me. As I drive the last one in, I pause to look across the expanse of clear corrugated plastic before me. “This,” I whisper, “is a fucking miracle.”

“I can see that must be satisfying,” my wife says, as we stand under the new roof together. Drops of rain have begun to hit the corrugated plastic, which is very satisfying indeed.

“There were many setbacks,” I say. “False starts, stripped screws and at least two near-death experiences.”

“I’ve learned to ignore the screaming,” she says.

“Each screw, as you can see, is fitted with an individual collar and a snap-on lid, to keep the water out.”

“Please don’t try to involve me,” she says. “Do you feel proud, looking up?”

“I feel dry,” I say.

“Anyway,” she says, “well done.”

She turns to go inside. I stay to watch the rain hitting the roof, the individual drops joining together, until eventually some are heavy enough to form little rivulets that course down the channels of the corrugation, over the garden wall and away.

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