This is going to sound insane, really insane but there has been a leak in my roof for a number of years and I have not done anything about it. The reason is two fold: for one thing the rain has to be coming down really hard and usually at an angle to get through the hole, so it does not leak very often, even when it rains. As we live in Australia where it is mostly sunny and dry I am reminded of the leak no more than twice or maybe three times a year. The other reason is because I am not sure what kind of tradesman to call. There are roof carpenters, but they build the wooden infrastructure under the tiles and there are roof plumbers, who deal with water but in an entirely different way. There are wall and floor tilers, but they do not go on rooftops. It is a mystery.
The breach, though appears to be getting worse and this year when I found myself yet again putting a bucket into the hallway and listening mournfully to the clatter of water into it, I felt like I had sailed too close to a Dickens novel yet again.
After failing to secure the services of a builder through my insurance, who was not allowed to fix the roof as part of the claim because it was only a slipped tile, I decided to google ‘how to fix a slipped roof tile’. It looked pretty easy, apart from the whole getting up on the roof bit, but I decided to give it a go. I asked one of my neighbours, a lovely man from Eastern Europe if he might have such a thing as a ladder I could borrow.
‘Sure, sure,’ he said, ‘vat you need it for?’
‘I need to slide a roof tile back into place,’ I explained, ‘the builder who came the other day can not fix it as part of an insurance claim so I thought I would go up and see how hard it was.’
‘I vill do it for you.’ He said, ‘let me get my ladder.’
I had not expected this. My neighbour is in his late sixties, maybe even seventy. I had no intention of letting him climb on the roof.
‘I don’t want you to go up there,’ I said, ‘you may die.’
‘I von’t die, HAHA,’ he said. ‘I am up on roof all the time.’
I did not ask for further explanation. Before I knew it, he had leaned his ladder next to the bedroom window at the front of my house and was on his way up.
‘Hold these,’ he said, taking his keys from his pocket and handing them to me.
‘Does this mean I get your house and your car if you die?’ I asked. But he was off up the ladder and within a minute was clambering over the roof like one of those goats in Italy.
I moved into the back garden and climbed up with my foot on a window ledge and poked my head over the gutter to see what was happening. My neighbour is a little deaf and so lip reads when you are talking to him. As I stuck my head up over the gutter, I noticed it was full and covered with moss. It was very pretty but probably as useless at removing water as my roof was at preventing it from coming inside.
My neighbour was muttering to himself and focussed on one particular tile, which I could see him sliding up and down. He seemed to be having difficulty sliding it all the way up. Meanwhile, I had started lifting the grot out of the gutter. It was a mush of wet leaves, which had collected over the years.
I put a bucket on the ground to catch the muck as I dropped it from the top of the ladder, but although I used to be quite good at hand-eye co-ordination, age must have crept up on me. I consistently and repeatedly missed the bucket so that in no time at all the area on the ground under the guttering looked like it had been attacked by a maniac firing cow pats from a T-Shirt gun.
My neighbour’s face appeared.
‘Here,’ he said and handed me a tile.
After I met him back around the front he explained that the tile, which had a jagged edge, was prevented from sitting properly up against the air con unit because of the bit that was sticking out.
‘I will cut that bit,’ he said, ‘I fix it for you good.’
‘Errr, OK.’ I agreed. Things had already escalated beyond the google plan.
He appeared ten minutes later with the refashioned tile and a glue gun. Industrial sort of glue. The sort of glue you might use to stick linoleum on the ceiling if you wanted a kitchen floor effect overhead.
He handed me the tile, climbed up the ladder and I passed him the tile. He then spent another twenty minutes sliding the tile into place and smearing glue everywhere.
‘The tile will never move again,’ he declared. I believed him. As he came back towards the ladder I pointed laughing to the tree branches outside my bedroom window.
‘Do you want to trim those branches while you are up there?’ I joked.
He did not laugh back.
‘You vant me to kill this tree for you?’ he asked.
My neighbour is not a lover of trees. His tastes tend to lean more towards soviet-style grey concrete blocks. While it is true that the tree has got a little out of hand, and when I say out of hand, I mean kind of Triffid-level on the shrub-o-metre, It does provide shade in summer and I am not quite ready to murder it yet.
‘No, that’s OK,’ I said.
‘Blaady trees,’ he muttered.
I tried to find out what beer he liked so I could buy him some by way of a thank you, but he was having none of it.
‘No problem!’ he said, ‘anytime you need help, I am happy to help you,’ although he probably would not have said that if he knew that my fence needs painting.
I felt quite please with myself though. The roof was (probably) fixed. Nature had tried to break my house and my house was back in control.
I went back round to the bucket of wet leafy mush and moss that was half in and half out the bucket. At least I now knew where the moss that had begun appearing on my patio tiles had been coming from. Another little job done, anyway. I picked up the bucket to move the rotting vegetation to the bin.
There was a crack and the bucket spilt. Weakened and brittle from having been left out in the sun, it had cracked under the weight of the gutter detritus. That is the problem with nature, it can be a bit of a bugger and always has to have the last word.