Home Supporting structure Tim Dowling: I’m at the hardware store – surrounded by things I...

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


It’s Saturday, and my wife and I are in a line of cars trying to find seats at the big B&Q.

“Everyone had the same idea as us,” says my wife.

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

Here’s the idea: make a long list of everything that’s broken, then go out and get a bunch of things to fix it. We came up with this plan long before anyone else noticed the weather was nice and decided to buy a pizza oven.

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

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

Once inside, I find myself stuck in the slums 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 insufficiently poured into it.

The expander bolt display has an empty bracket where the size I want should be, but the shape of the bracket I’m looking for seems to only exist in my dreams. Eventually, I find my wife in the outdoor section, pushing a tray cart.

“There’s kind of a shortage of grout,” I said. “Did they have floor paint the right color?”

“No,” she said.

“Then why are we still here?” I say.

“I buy plants,” she says.

Exasperated, I wander up and down, looking at the 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 straighten it, I discover that it is well over two meters high.

“What is that?” my wife says as I approach her, my new purchase banging against hanging signs.

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

“Why?” she says.

“To fix the thing,” I said.

“The pergola? she says.

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

“How?” she says.

“Once it’s cut to size,” I said. “I should be able to use it to reinforce the structure and keep it from falling.”

“Is it strong enough?” she says.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Will it fit in the car?” she says.

“Those are all very good questions,” I said.

He gets 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 rear end had been bolted to a brick wall, but the support slat had since rotted and as a result the right rear corner sag about a foot lower than the left.

I jam the triangular end of the fence post under the bottom corner, lift it an inch, and lay the bottom end on the ground. The new bracing post protrudes at an acute angle, but stays in place. I calculate how much I will need to saw when the youngest appears in a T-shirt and barefoot.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said. “Can’t you lift him higher than that?”

“It’s not that simple,” I said. The youngest drags the garden table to the wall and climbs on it. Crouching under the structure, he grabs two crosspieces and pushes upwards. I move the post inward and the angle decreases slightly.

“It’s a little better,” I said. The boy, red in the face and still pushing, growls something I don’t understand.

“What?” I say.

“Continue!” he says.

We proceed by degrees: he lifts, and I move the bottom of the post back a little towards the corner. Finally, in what seems like a last ditch attempt to court disaster, I give the post a sharp, reckless kick.

“Wow,” said the younger one. We both watch.

A minute later, I go home to my wife.

“The pergola is fixed,” I say.

“Did you say pergola? she says.

“Yes, I’m cured,” I said. “Come and see.”

Sign up for our Inside Saturday newsletter for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the magazine’s top stories, plus a curated list of our weekly highlights.

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

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

“Well done,” said my wife. “It will be fine until someone can fix it properly.”

“You should know that I consider this a permanent solution,” I said.

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