From The Bottom Of The ‘It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time’ Pile

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

It is hard for me to believe how long ago it was that the late David Brown and I were kicking around the idea of Better Hovels and Gardens, a book for the homeless. Had we published it, especially today, the protest lines would stretch from here to Vancouver and the protesters and picketers would have been right.

The problem was the book was not intended for homeless people, but was satirically geared to house the group of wealthy industrialists and investors in 2001, who, at the time, feared being ousted from their gated estates by a sudden downturn of the economy. We just carried it a bit further and had them forced to live on the streets. David was a cartoonist and a good one, together we came up with some detailed, but ridiculous, ideas for sheds, shacks and lean-tos all built with borrowed (or stolen) materials. At the time we thought it would have been very funny, and it was, but we forgot that thousands of people were forced to live that way even back then.

We even hoped that Home Hardware or Home Depot might feature the book in their stores across the country, or better yet, sponsor the printing; conveniently forgetting we were suggesting it was from Home Hardware and Home Depot they could steal the building supplies.

Nevertheless I am going to slip in some of our designs as a guide for Mr. Ford to study in hopes of finding a solution to the present housing crisis knowing there are few if any persons in his circle capable of coming up with better plans.

For instance:


Perhaps you, the reader, have led a somewhat sheltered life and may be reluctant to admit you are not completely familiar with any of these forthcoming architectural structures. Don’t be embarrassed, neither were we until a sudden lack of compassion by a pompous and somewhat unforgiving bank manager forced us to take a serious look at the various types of housing available to persons of limited means.

Although certainly the cheapest of the three types of habitats we will be discussing in this series of columns, the lean-to offers a few distinct advantages a hovel or shack cannot provide. Natural air-conditioning and exceptional cross-ventilation will be high on the list.

In order to build a lean-to sturdy enough to withstand years of driving rain and hurricane-force winds, one needs to build a fairly solid wall for the lean-to to lean on. Some neophytes through inexperience and failure to read the latest government regulations, A Guide to Hovels and Burrows – May, 1934, have been known to make the mistake of building their home against the side of a mud bank. It would have no doubt seemed to these unfortunates to be an excellent choice until that first cloudburst washed them and their personal effects, of which they have few, into a nearby gully.

Therefore great care must be taken to ensure that whatever we choose as a main (and only) support wall, will bear the weight of the structure without crumbling, tumbling or crashing down upon the inhabitants.

Any inside wall of a hockey venue such as Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena would be our first choice since it has the advantage of both excellent heating in the winter and a large number of drunks available for begging purposes. We haven’t seen any signs posted specifically saying one cannot build there; so go ahead. If there is a problem, I am sure a member of the arena staff or the local constabulary will point out the specific clause in the regulations as they are dragging you away.

The lean-to requires at least two, but hopefully three or more support beams. The beams should be fairly sturdy — 2″x 6″s should do quite nicely. Failing that, a couple of bamboo ski-poles or some dowelling swiped from a farmer’s tomato patch would also be acceptable, especially if your project is getting underway in late August and a bushel or two of tomatoes comes along for the ride.

Let us assume you have managed to expropriate a few feet of lumber from a local building site while the security person was making his morning pit stop to the Fiberglas portable potty. Lean the planks against the wall — or mud bank if you insist, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. Most architects understand the Law of the Lever, or some law anyway, that states that a 2 x 6 leaning against a wall (or mud bank) will eventually slide down said wall (or mud bank) injuring whomever is lying underneath. A fully qualified architect would advise finding some method of anchoring the support beams to circumvent said law.

We recommend a stake driven in at the base of the 2 x 6, or a cement block available from any unguarded construction site.

The main purpose of a lean-to is to keep the rain and snow off the occupant while he or she is resting. Therefore, a roof of some sort is required to complete the structure. According to the Boy Scout Training Manual, pine boughs are simply excellent for this purpose. This may be fine for Boy Scouts, but logic suggests an armful of pine boughs won’t keep out a hell of a lot of snow, and even less rain. We recommend something a little less porous — like an old piece of tarpaulin, or ideally, a painter’s drop cloth. The advantage of the drop cloth, as you may well imagine, is the added splash of colour to add zest to the decor.

To find a suitable cloth, one needs only to walk the streets until one finds a house in the process of being redecorated. Under the terms of any standard contract with members of the International Painter, Decorator and Wallpaper Person’s Union, lunch is from noon to 1:30 or possibly quarter to 2. While the trades-persons are dining on the patio, the front door will be wide open to allow the cooling breezes to whisk through and blow away the paint fumes. While the zephyr is whisking through, so will you, along with the drop cloth and if possible, a gallon or two of paint.

Once you have returned to your estate, simply nail (the nails previously stolen from the same place you got the boards) the drop cloth to the crossbeams and viola — a lean-to that even Donald Trump would be proud to own.

Next week we move up into something a little classier. THE HOVEL

(Image Supplied)

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