Tim Dowling: there’s a hole in my roof, but I have an ingenious plan
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Tim Dowling: there’s a hole in my roof, but I have an ingenious plan

Jul 11, 2023

I stare up, imagining successful repair scenarios. Maybe I could abseil down from an upstairs window, tool belt on …

The narrow gap running between the side of the house and the garden wall is partially roofed over with sheets of clear corrugated plastic. It’s where we keep things that do not need to be warm, but do need to be dry: paint, scrap wood, garden tools and an old toaster that isn’t quite broken enough to throw away.

At the end of February I noticed the plastic roof has a hole in it, about six inches in diameter. I think a fox probably put its foot through it while it was gnawing on the chicken bones I found up there when I finally dragged the ladder out for a look.

The problem qualifies as urgent, because the stuff that sits under the plastic roof is getting wet, and there is no place else to put it all. But corrugated roofing sheets come in many different sizes and thicknesses, not to mention varying levels of corrugation.

“Even if I manage to order the right kind,” I say, sitting up in bed with my laptop, “I’m not sure I can install it.”

“Uh-huh,” my wife says from behind her book.

“Metre-wide sections are no good,” I say, “because once it’s in place I won’t be able to reach the screw holes on the far side.”

“You don’t need to say any of this out loud,” my wife says.

“Of course the beauty of corrugated roofing is that it overlaps,” I say. The dog barks from the garden.

“Your turn,” my wife says.

I go down to the kitchen and stand facing the cat flap.

“It’s fine!” I shout. The dog noses the flap from the other side, hesitates a moment, and then squeezes through.

“Idiot,” I say.

The dog will go out through the cat flap, but it won’t come back in unsupervised in case the cat is on the other side waiting to pounce. After a few ugly encounters, the cat no longer needs to be present to maintain this threat – the dog won’t risk it. Instead, it stands outside barking until someone comes downstairs to announce that the coast is clear. Mostly me.

“It’s not mostly you,” says the youngest one the next morning. “I had to come down at 3am to tell her to come in.”

“The kitchen door needs to be shut at night,” my wife says. “So the dog can’t go out in the first place.”

“Then the dog pees inside,” I say, “And the cat gets trapped in the kitchen all night.”

“Have you got a better idea?” my wife says.

“It seems like a problem this stupid should have an easy solution,” the middle one says.

“We just need to decide which animal to get rid of,” I say. “I vote dog.”

I take my coffee outside and stare up at the roof hole, imagining successful repair scenarios. Maybe, I think, I could abseil down from an upstairs window, tool belt on. Then something occurs to me.

I go inside, get an umbrella, poke it up through the hole in the roofing, open it and let go. It settles on top of the roof, covering the hole. The dog comes out through the cat flap and looks up at me.

“Problem solved,” I say. The dog stares.

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“Not you,” I say. “You’re still unsolved.”

That night I am woken by the dog barking outside the cat flap at 5am.

“I told you to shut the kitchen door,” my wife says when I come back upstairs.

“I did,” I say. “Someone came home at two and opened it. And then made, like, spaghetti carbonara.”

The next morning is windy and cold. On my way back from the shops I find my umbrella two streets over, still open, lying against a hedge.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I say, to no one.

That evening my wife comes into the kitchen while I’m sitting at my laptop.

“I was about to order some new roofing,” I say. “Enough to re-cover the whole area.”

“Good,” she says. “What’s for supper?”

“And then I decided that was a very big job,” I say, “one perhaps better suited to the people who live here after we’re dead.”

“OK,” she says.

“Now I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m so hungry,” she says.

The next morning I am staring up at the hole again when something occurs to me. I go inside and return with a heavy duty adjustable wrench. And the umbrella.

I poke the umbrella through the hole, open it and let go. Then I tie the wrench to the umbrella handle to weigh it down.

“Eureka,” I say.

That night in bed I hear rain hitting the windows and imagine the umbrella doing its work, firmly in place. I fall into a satisfied slumber, until the dog starts barking at four.

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