The Black Picket Fence

I contacted the city before getting the posts set for the fence in the front yard. London is weird in that there are very few fenced front yards. Those that do have fences in the front often have them set back at a strange distance from the sidewalk, 5 or 6 or more feet back. This I understand is because while your property is measured at Y x Y feet, that the city owns a certain portion of the land adjacent to the street. – even though it seems like YOU own it

This makes very little sense to me, as the city does not mow the lawn, provide plants or attend to any of the things that a reasonable property owner is expected to do. The documents attached to my property specify the dimensions and make no note of the city owned areas. I suppose this applies when a city wants to widen a road, or do infrastructure work, as the city utilities are typically in this area – but how often does a city do this ?

The posthole company had locates done, and where they would have probably set the posts – in that odd location halfway in my yard – was complicated by the location of the gas lines. They could not dig within a meter of the gas line. Thus, the posts were set closER to the sidewalk.

What the city said to me, in a phone call and in an email, implied that as long as my fence did not violate the height guideline – no taller than three feet tall – and IF the city needed to access my property that I would agree to the fence being taken down, there should be no problem. Now that the fence is mostly built, I am waiting for that other shoe to drop.

“City of London Fence Bylaw

Part 10


10.1   Street line to sidewalk- prohibited – exception

No person shall have, erect, construct, maintain or permit to be erected, constructed or maintained a fence from the lot line abutting a street to the sidewalk and along the same on the property of the City unless:

a) such fence conforms to the height requirements as prescribed herein: and,

b) the owner of the land abutting the property of the City upon which such fence is erected obtains a licence or other authority from the City and agrees to remove the same from the property of the City as and when directed to do so.”

This was the reply I received from the city regarding this matter (city employee’s name withheld):

“Good morning,

Thank you for your inquiry.

As per the City of London Fence By-law PS-6;

  • The maximum height for a fence in any yard is 7 feet provided the fence is not within the driveway or corner visibility triangles. A maximum height of 3 feet is permitted within the driveway and corner visibility triangles.
  • A minimum of 2.7 metres (8.9 feet) from the sidewalk or street line (if there is no sidewalk) is required to place a 7 foot high fence, however, it is up to the property owner to determine the location of the property lines as to not erect the fence on City Property.

For more information regarding the above, please see the below link to the City of London Fence By-law. (Fence)

If you have any questions regarding the above, please contact me and I will do my best to answer them or refer you to another staff member.



Is my fence a violation of this bylaw ? Even I don’t know.

I am prepared to argue that due to the social issues in this area, that on numerous occasions unknown strangers have been personally observed:

  • drinking in my yard
  •  urinating in my yard
  •  hiding stolen goods in my yard
  •  sobbing in my yard
  •  falling down dead drunk partially in my yard
  •  walking their leashed dog in my yard
  •  throwing their trash in my yard
  •  attemping to steal the ladder from the scaffolding in my yard
  • leaving used hypodermic syringes in my yard

therefore a short fence would at least create a psychological barrier. Would they open the gate to do these things ? I need to add that the business next door inexplicably, regularly leaves boxes of its trash beside their dumpster, which blows into my yard and is never reclaimed. Would they toss it over a fence instead ? It would be easier to put it in the dumpster I’ll bet.

The City of London Animal Control Bylaw states :

” 4.11 Animal – running at large. No person shall permit any animal to run at large”

“4.12 Tresspassing – by animal. No person shall permit any animal to trespass on any property.”

Any cat except for a disabled one can easily jump over a three foot fence. However, several of my senior cats are too lazy to do so. A front fence would assist me to comply with the animal control bylaws.

The city does allow people to trap animals that are “trespassing” in their yard and take said animal to the city pound, EVEN IF THEY KNOW THAT ANIMAL IS THEIR NEIGHBOUR’S PET ! (There are no laws that prohibit a trapped pet to be dumped elsewhere – like far in the country or by a busy highway for example. Nothing legally compels an animal trapper to only bring that animal to a shelter or be charged with cruelty and/or theft). If your pet has been taken to the city shelter, and you want to get your animal back, you will charged a certain dollar amount per day that your pet is in the shelter system, or you cannot get it back. Obviously microchipping is an excellent idea.

This law is all kinds of messed up. More front fences = less roaming pets. It should be an offence to trap another person’s pet, as in the eyes of the law a pet is considered property. Trapping a pet = theft. (Obviously this shouldn’t apply in situations where an animal is neglected, abandoned, ill or injured or appears this way.)

Anyhow, I wanted to make a picket fence in my front yard.

Did you know that pre-cut wood fence pickets are no longer available in Canada, at least at the many places I looked ? Home Hardware’s Building Center had just discontinued them. I did not want a white vinyl picket fence, the only other alternative.

I did want the picket fence badly enough that John was willing to cut boards to length, then individually cut each picket. I didn’t want pressure treated lumber – it just looks awful to me. It is also so wet from the chemical infusion that you have to wait for almost a year to paint it.

We did all the pickets assembly line style. I made a template and marked the boards, John cut, and I moved the uncut and cut boards. As per my calculations – done twice – I would need 256 pickets.

I love the really old picket fences – where the pickets had fancy shapes or decorative notches. I wasn’t prepared to have my life taken over with a scroll saw, to do this myself, so I made peace with the notion of having a plain picket fence.


I watched some fence building videos, and the consensus was that it was more sensible to paint all the pickets first, before the fence was assembled.

This is what some but not all of the pickets looked like once they were cut. The wood was damp from outside storage at the lumberyard, so I propped them against any available surface to dry out


Then came my summer of black paint. I used oil paint from the hardware store, diluted with Penetrol. Penetrol helps the paint to sink into the fibers of the wood. I painted as many pickets as I could lay out to dry. I did this over and over all summer, two coats each side, including the bottoms:



When John was available again in the fall, he cut and installed the (prepainted, 2 coats on all sides) rails, then I started attaching pickets. I sat on a milk crate with my drill (corded).

I discovered that a paint stir stick was 1″ wide – the spacing I had calculated – so I used that. Since my property was on a slight incline, the position of the screw holes moved around some. I had never assembled a picket fence before. It wasn’t hard – but was slightly tricky. I needed to fudge the spacing somewhat to make the pickets all fit with no major and no minor gaps.

John had things going on in his personal life including a major move, so the gate for the driveway didn’t get made before the first snow. Despite this, I was pleased with the progress that had been made:






Fixing the Foyer


There it is – right when you walk in. More chocolate milk colored paint. More awful plaster repairs and problems.


Like the powder room, there were a lot of repairs needed in such a small space. This area is perhaps 5′ x 6′ ?

I patched, and skim coated, and sanded, and patched some more. I didn’t even take any photos – the area is so small what is there to show ? Eventually the walls and ceilings were smooth enough, so I primed and painted them Benjamin Moore “Queen Anne Pink” (HC-60) with BM “Lancaster Whitewash” (HC-174) as both the ceiling and trim color. The transom is pressed glass, in sort of a pinkish amethyst color. This made the beige pink look pinker than expected. The trim color is sort of a light clay color on its own, but this read as almost white. Neither was exactly what I expected, but it was brighter and not the color of chocolate milk. There was a lot of brushing with three doors, three transoms, textured glass, and lots of trim.




Fixing the Living Room

The living room wasn’t a major ordeal. The plaster needed repairs, of course, but it wasn’t so bad, compared to the other battles I previously fought here.

It was a relief to get rid of the chocolate milk color, another room gone. There were the familiar dings and holes but it was more of a minor situation. At least in this context this was minor.

The realtor presented this room the most realistically:


This is what the extent of the repairs looked like:


The walls and the ceiling needed repairs. Of course.

Then I primed and painted it (with BM “Castleton Mist ” HC-1, same as the powder room) and it just looked like a room:



There’s that other cabinet, that matches the one in the kitchen. It’s the perfect size for storing record albums.

One night, just after John had started work in the fall, I was out looking for my missing cat. I spotted a victorian chaise sitting by the side of the road, about 5 blocks away. It was covered in drywall dust, but didn’t have any bad smells. I didn’t know anyone who I could persuade at 11:00 p.m. to help me carry this thing home. I woke up the next day still thinking about it. John arrived, and drove me over to where it had been spotted – and it was still there ! It needed to be reupholstered, but the frame was sound. We loaded it into the truck:


I had been looking for an antique settee for ages. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – but it was free. The seduction of free. I had (wisely) planned to buy an antique settee that already had good, professional upholstery in the color I wanted, as this was much cheaper than paying for it to be upholstered. But it was FREE and I had been looking for a year, and the only settees that met my criteria were too far away. Did you know there is a huge amount of fabulous antique furniture in Ottawa ? Yes, it is NOT close to London, at all.

I started working on it in the winter. This was after spiralling into a neurotic state related to the imaginary color  of upholstery velvet I wanted. Years ago I had bought some velvet ribbon, probably from the late 1960’s – which was sort of a minty lime green. This particular color has not been seen since. I sent away for fabric swatches far and wide. A Toronto fabric store advertised some upholstery velvet in this exact shade on their site. I had shopped at this store many times, and they often bought auction lots from businesses that were closing out or selling off excess inventory – so sometimes you would find vintage materials there. I sent a Toronto friend in pursuit, but what they had in stock was a really disappointing synthetic avocado.

Finally I located exactly what I wanted, from a disagreeable place in Missouri.

I worked hard on it. My upholstery experience was limited to basic seat recovering on kitchen chairs. Thank goodness for the internet. I had to pull out what felt like thousands of tiny tacks, from the last upholstery it had. Being an insane person, I re-used these tacks to attach the new upholstery.

It turned out okay ?


“Why didn’t you buy a better house ?”

That’s a good question.

I wanted a house that had the potential to be visually appealing to me, with enough space for the things I need. I also needed enough psychological space from neighbours.

I did look at a few places that had been renovated, but what I saw usually just made me angry. Many of the improvements were lazy – like painting over wood panelling. Or tearing out a wall to make a 200 square foot kitchen in a house that was perhaps 900 square feet, creating a senseless layout. The flipper houses were the worst, in that many sins were covered up vs actually being resolved. I just couldn’t deal with that. The trendy tile was to distract you from the roof that would need replacing within 2 years or less.

I wanted the most amount of house for the least amount of money, but preferred a place where the major stuff like plumbing and electrical were at least up to code.

I looked at many listings above my price point, for comparison, but didn’t bother to view the houses. A more expensive house usually meant more of the things I really didn’t want – like an entirely new bathroom with ugly tiles – or potlights – or giant stainless steel appliances. It wasn’t like there were a bunch of houses with exactly everything I wanted, if I just paid a little more. Or even just one perfect house.

I had plenty of experience painting and repairing plaster, and I was pretty persistant in sourcing house parts. I figured that I could handle most of what needed to be done, and hire professionals for the rest.

Hiring the professionals turned out to be the most challenging of all.

If everyone who actually worked on the house had been available when I needed them, the work would have been completed in about 1/6 the time. Tradespeople who are good at what they do are usually busy, and booked up.

I suppose it also depends on what your idea of a good house is. My minimum was “habitable”. My mother has no comprehension of why anyone would choose to live in or buy an old house. When she visited my former house, the one I bought with my not-ex-yet, I could tell she was deeply appalled. She did compliment the front doorknob – a crappy builder’s grade shiny brass one. She couldn’t see the original stained glass or plaster moldings or high ceilings as anything desirable at all. A house like this was a symptom of economic and moral poverty, in her frame of reference. I’m sure she was deeply, secretly saddened that my not-yet-ex and I couldn’t afford to buy a nice new town home in a sub-division.

My mother now has dementia, and lives across the country, so she hasn’t visited this house. I made her a photo album of it, with very brief captions. I tried to focus on the nicer things she could appreciate – like the flowers on the Catalpa tree. When we speak on the phone, as soon as I bring up my house she does this trick she has done her entire life: she pretends someone is at her door so she has to go, rather than talk about anything  unsettling to her. How she had a daughter who would choose to live in a “place like that” is probably one of her deepest shames.

Fixing the house WAS exhausting, and everything cost money. This was what I signed up for. There is only so much good fortune to go around.





Finishing the Kitchen, Finally

There had been major renovation from the end of October to just before Xmas. This included replacing the sills, getting the back fence built, fixing the powder room and fixing the kitchen. There were periods where we worked every day for a couple of weeks straight, with no weekend breaks. It felt like renovation bootcamp. I often worked after John left for the day, like getting another coat of paint on, or continuing the plaster repairs, or whatever. The house was in complete chaos, with contents from the kitchen displaced outwards. I was using the laundry sink in the back porch to do dishes – the FREEZING, dim back porch. I had a trouble light hung upside down over the sink so I could even see the dishes properly.

I felt on the cusp of sanity. The repairs that were completed were a major improvement, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

This is the photo of the cabinets from the seller’s listing on Craigslist:

00E0E_1YbcJx4GkeJ_600x450.jpg cabinetorig.jpg00B0B_bgvSVv3E8B_600x450.jpg

I just could not believe my good fortune that I a) saw the ad first and b) bought them both for $ 500.00. The seller even included custom tempered glass shelves.

Installing them properly had me fretting, though. The section that was going in the kitchen needed to have the single section at the far end removed, to make it fit on the wall. There was only one chance to do this correctly.

John has at least 60 years of carpentry experience, so I had faith in his skills and good judgement. However – there can be unknown variables that create havoc. I think we were both worried about many what-ifs.

It came together without any problems at all. John had to do some fussing to fit the tongue and groove boards around the electrical outlet, but that was the greatest difficulty. There are no words to express how relieved I was to see it up, at last:


The wainscotting was patched in on both sides of it, but this was undetectable once it was painted. (The wainscotting was missing due to the previous owner’s bad cabinet installation.)

Now one thing I knew from experience with antique cabinets like this, is that the height between the counter to the bottom of the cabinet is not high enough for a mixer or blender. I had some thoughts of raising the upper – but this would mean that the sides would need to get patched in. That seemed like a worse headache.

I had been looking for some kind of cabinet for a work surface, where the mixer and blender and other kitchen spare parts could be stored. There were a bunch of maybe’s, but then I spotted a PAIR, listed for $ 100.00 on Kijiji. The ad described that they needed new back boards. John said he could pick them up, so I called the seller. I asked if they were $ 100.00 each – or $ 100.00 for both. The seller just wanted them gone, so he sold them for $ 100.00 for both – $ 50.00 each ! The ad described how large they were – 36″ tall x 60″ long. I looked at a measuring tape – and one would fit where I needed it to go. They were bigger in person than what was in my mind, though. John could barely fit both of them in his truck, which has a canopy on the back. I have no idea how he accomplished this, but he did !

They were grimy, and the doors wouldn’t shut properly. John quickly saw this was because their shape had shifted slightly to one side. When they were pushed back into alignment the doors fit perfectly. One of the cabinets had been in a fire (!) which damaged one shelf. He replaced this, and cut new backs for them. The one for the kitchen was going to be mounted on casters. This was partly to create a toe-kick, partly to lift it off the floor as it would partially cover the floor heat vent.

I cleaned them, removed the original hardware and scrubbed the rust off, then gave that a good oiling. I tested a section and discovered that they had a shellac finish. This meant that I was able to lift the worst grime off and seal the scratches with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol. They cleaned up very well.

They may have been church or school furniture. One of them had “library” written in pencil on the side. They are really built, with doors that are 1″ thick. I sure couldn’t buy this at Ikea for $ 50.00.


On a stop at the ReStore I found a vintage handheld light, like for doing home movies with a Super8 camera. I realized that I could easily take the handle off, and the rest unscrewed, so it could be taken apart and rewired. This became the light over this cabinet.

I painted the floors with oil enamel in several sections. It was winter, so I was worried that if I painted the entire floor that it might not be dry enough overnight. It was my only kitchen and I needed to use it. I planned to paint a pattern on it, but the intense two months had really wiped me out. A year later there is still no pattern. Oh well.

At my former house was an old heavy shelf we never installed. I carted this through the Nightmare Apartment and finally had a place for it. One side of it showed what appeared to be the ghosts of support pillars. I think it was the top of an antique mantelpiece. The previous owner at the house had been a very frugal man, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked this up on garbage night – just like I would have ! It had a coat of ham colored latex paint that easily scratched off. I thought about repainting it – but the latex paint would need to all come off first. As I scrubbed away a nice vintage green color was revealed. I realized that if the shelf was flipped over – so the less good side was the shelf surface then I didn’t need to paint it at all ! I had searched for cast iron brackets that were the right size. Ebay had many – but they were all too small to support a shelf of this width. A Kijiji seller had a lot of cast iron items he was selling for crazy cheap, with four (new faux antique) brackets that were big enough. He wouldn’t split up the lot, though. I did want the brackets, and a few other items so I bought it all. I enticed him with a vintage cast iron frying pan he really wanted (Javelin, manufactured for a short period of time in Canada with a crazy history. Look it up !) so he even delivered. I didn’t  100% love them, but I loved them more than the nice reproductions from the UK that cost $100.00/pr, before shipping and duty.


A friend gave me a 1950 Moffat stove as a housewarming gift (when I moved to the Nightmare Apartment). I sent it away to Ed White Appliances in Port Hope, ON to be rebuilt. I had tried for months to find a competent repair person when I lived in Toronto, then before I moved to London, but couldn’t find anyone. The stove worked, but had a few issues. I was so happy when I finally got it back in Feb. The modern stove that came with the house was 30″ wide. My Moffat is barely 22″ wide. Reclaiming that 8″ in a difficult kitchen was another relief.


The Moffat has a glass dial for the oven that lights up when it is turned on, indicator lights, a timer, a warming oven and a broiler, with loads of chrome. What more could I want ? The oven is quite small – about 16″ wide. This is not an issue, as I don’t roast or bake giant things, anyway. I noticed that my electricity bill went down after I got my stove back – as it wasn’t using so much energy to heat a giant (for me) oven.

Without including labour, which cost a bundle, but worth every penny the final amount was:

  • Cabinets – $ 250.00 per section, Craigslist
  •  Tongue and groove boards per cabinet section: $ 200.00, Lowes
  • Overhead light fixture, $ 80.00 used with a vintage milk glass shade I already had, Kijiji
  •  Porcelain and milk glass light over the sink : $ 30.00, Kijiji
  •  ReStore light $ 5.00 plus $ 15.00 wire, plug, etc.
  • Sink: Free on CL
  •  Door for Powder Room and Back Porch – $ 250.00 and $ 375.00 (one was a strange size that needed to be custom ordered) Home Depot
  •  Reproduction Rimlocks – $ 25.00 each from a strange Toronto hardware store, since closed, plus antique knobs from the same store, $ 15.00/ea
  • Cabinet : $ 50.00, Kijiji, plus wood from Copp’s Building Supply ( $ 60.00 ?) plus casters from Princess Auto ( $ 30.00 ?)
  • Cast Iron Shelf Brackets, $ 7.00/ea, Kijiji
  • Vintage clock: I had this for years, from a garage sale
  •  Chrome wall mounted wax paper dispenser: $ 5.00, bought in 1995 at a thrift store
  •  Crazy Tablecloth: a gift from my friend Liza. The colored circles are 1970’s fortrel polyester, with traditional cotton crochet around each circle. Nuts ! Preserved under clear plastic, sold by the ft from Home Hardware, which all classy homes use
  •  Oil based primer, $ 40.00/gallon or so, from Home Hardware
  •  Joint Compound, about $ 60.00 worth
  • Plaster washers and fiberglass mesh tape: about $ 60.00
  • Benjamin Moore paint, about $ 300.00
  •  Table and chairs were mine since forever, from a thrift store
  •  Curtains are vintage tablecloths from thrift stores, owned for years
  •  Antique Trim : About $ 100.00 worth in this room

This tallies up to $ 2011.00. The drywall is missing from the list because I can’t remember what I paid, as well as many other items like screws and what have you. As kitchen renovations go, this was dirt cheap.

I had bought a cute 1950’s fridge on Kijiji for $ 200.00 to replace the monster that came with the house, but it died after nine months. To replace the compressor would cost at least $ 800.00. I frowned and bought a new fridge from Best Buy on sale for about $500.00, just under 10 cu/ft. I was really sad to give up on my vintage fridge. I swore to myself that I would not buy another vintage one unless I could find a local repair person who was competent with vintage fridges. I did not.


The kitchen was done. Done !





Fixing the Kitchen

The kitchen troubles seemed insurmountable. I spent many hours in the kitchen, sitting and staring at all the problems, mentally rehearsing solutions.

While John did carpentry, I patched the walls. Most of the walls were sound with a few soft spots. I used another 200 plaster washers to shore things up.

The wall for the sink was a nightmare. It was partially masonry (the former chimney) and partially plaster. The masonry had shifted, so it was not all on one plane. The sink was wall hung, on a cast iron cleat – but that surface had to be strong enough to support a cast iron sink full of dishes and water. There were some headaches routing the pipes and drain for the sink, but solutions were found. Boards were screwed to the studs, which would be concealed under drywall. Both the 1/4″ and 3/8″ drywall was used on the wall, and some tricky transitions had to be built up to make the wall look like a continuous plane.


The original wainscotting behind the stove had paint that had blistered off the wood, from years of heat exposure. I heat stripped many boards. One thing that was really surprising that even though this wainscotting was originally painted, for use in a very modest house – that all the boards were clear – no knots at all.


The wall with the sink was the first to be finished and painted. It was more sensible to paint the wall then hang the sink, vs painting around it.

The sink and drainboard were free on Toronto Craigslist, from when I lived there. The person who was giving it away had an older house she was renovating. The sink was still mounted, so I had to find a competent person to undo the plumbing and remove it. I was very careful to take all the parts, including the giant mounting screws, and I also took photos of the underside before it was removed.

I had a moment of extreme panic months previously, when plumber # 1 pointed out that I needed to find a new gasket for it, as the one that came with it was cracked. There is a place in the US that sells antique plumbing components. They said their old supplier had dried up, and they did not have ANY of this gasket in stock, and did not know when they might get some more. Horror ! I started emailing any vintage oriented plumbing places I could find and nobody had this part. On Ebay there was ONE of these gaskets listed, from a seller in Quebec. Due to the seller’s Ebay settings, there were a bunch of hassles completing the transaction because I was in Canada. Hoops were jumped through, and one day this part arrived in the mail. And it FIT.

If you are looking for an antique wall mounted drainboard, this is what the bracket looks like, and how it is mounted:


That looked pretty grotty, so I sprayed it matte green, the same as the underside of the sink. The elusive cast iron sink gasket was also sprayed. That is what it looks like if you need one. Good luck with finding one if you need it, I really mean that !


Salmon Plumbing was willing to install my antique sink. The height of the sink that came with the house always bothered me, as I felt stooped over washing dishes. It was 28″ to the bottom of that sink. I had my new old sink installed 4″ higher, so it was 32″ to the bottom of the sink. At first the height looked a little strange – but using it to do dishes was such a relief. It was a functional height ! I am about 5’7″ tall – but it made me wonder about the standards that had evolved around kitchen fixture heights. A fancy chrome drain could have been used – but there were more complicated headaches in attaching that to the ABS. At this point I really didn’t care about the decorative value of a drainpipe, so ABS it was.


What is invisible in this photo is the location of the former heat vent. It was patched over with salvaged tongue and groove wainscotting, so it looks like nothing ever happened there. I primed over all the dark grey then painted it with Benjamin Moore Advance enamel in “Weston Flax” (HC-5):


The final wall color is BM “Hawthorne Yellow” (HC-4):


Meanwhile, I primed the rest of the room using a tinted oil based primer. Oil based primer is best on areas that have a lot of skim coating repairs. Joint compound can be reactivated (ie get soggy) with a water based latex, so oil primer it was. My preference is to get the primer tinted so I can better see any areas that need a final touch up.

The kitchen walls and ceiling were now smoothER. Even after all the skim coating and sanding, there were still minor dings to patch one last time:


The wall where the cabinets would go was prepped with the outlets. It was the least smooth, as the cabinets would take up almost the entire wall.

I had found an original color on the ceiling, which was a pale minty green. I saved chips from it, and had the color custom mixed at the paint store. I was absolutely confused when I applied the color and beside the Hawthorne Yellow walls, the ceiling looked blue. BLUE ! But the chip was correct and green, even while dry. I guess this must be due to the door and windows facing north, as there was no other explanation.


The wall with the powder room door, before:


The powder room wall, After. So much work to make it look like a normal wall:



the John Troubles

There’s street level prostitution in this area. On many nights, I can look out my bedroom window and see a woman standing on the corner, no matter what the season. I’ve lived here for almost two years now, and there have been many different women standing on the corner.

This is not some 1980’s t.v. show glamour prostitution – no fur coats, large wigs, sparkly clothing or precarious heels. The women out there look pretty ordinary, at least they do when they first show up. The one who was around the most when I first moved here is gone. Facially, she looked a lot like Janis Joplin, and was in her mid 20’s at least. She was always around – at midnight or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. During the afternoon she would move up the street a little, closer to the Senior’s Center. Anyhow – she just looked like an average woman that you might see at the grocery store or riding the bus. Around the time I stopped seeing her she started having this creepy smile plastered on her face. Her reality was now deeply suspended.

There’s another woman in the area I really worry about. I don’t know if she has schizophrenia or meth psychosis or both. She has an agitated walk. When things are really bad with her she has loud screaming and sobbing confrontations with people or entities who are not there. Her shouting has woken me up more than once. One time she ran through the parking lot behind my yard, and was retching in the strip that runs next to my house. Then I heard what sounded like a phone conversation with a family member. I could hear her telling someone to stop praying. She sounded very upset. This conversation intensified, and she was telling them to stop playing the tapes of her father praying. I had been working in my yard, but I just stayed still – eavesdropping, paralyzed. The conversation got more bizarre. She was sobbing and shouting “They’re stealing your orgasms !” There was no phone, with no person on the other end. Her reactions were completely sincere – gut wrenching emotional pain. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do ? Offer her a glass of water ?

I had previously called directory assistance, looking for some kind of psychiatric outreach, on a night last fall where she was really upset, sobbing and raving. There was nothing. I called the Assaulted Women’s Helpline to ask what I should do ? There didn’t seem to be any resources to deal with this kind of situation. The woman I spoke to said my only option was to call the police non-emergency number. London Police have an astonishingly terrible track record with women who reported sexual assault:

I suspected their empathy would be even lower with a woman in a state of psychosis, who did prostitution on Hamilton Road. But – in this state this woman was extremely vulnerable. I hated calling the police. Someone else had called the police about her, too. She was gone for a few weeks and when she reappeared she was subdued for awhile. Whatever is going on with her seems to wax and wane. There is someone in her life who is making her wear clean new clothes.

Every woman who lives on this residential street has been assumed to be a prostitute, usually when they are doing things like walking their children to school, or walking to or from their job. I’ve been accosted by would be johns while standing at the bus stop, plainly marked BUS STOP, at 3:00 in the afternoon. I had a creep in a car stop to ask me if I was working while I was standing on my front step in the evening, ruminating about my garden plans.

Many johns think they are being discreet by pulling around the corner off Hamilton Road, which forces the woman to have to run a small distance to them. There’s always lone men lurking in idling cars on this street after midnight. Or men dropping off women. There’s colorful condom wrappers blowing into my yard.

I’ve had some strange conversations with neighbours about this. Some of them have the attitude that the women who are doing prostitution are doing this because of a moral failing, as though they are nymphomaniacs. Their attitude is that the women are the problem, and if they would just go away that the area would get better. This makes me deeply uncomfortable.

There is no “Belle Du Jour” empowerment happening here. This is no “Pretty Woman” pygmalion Hollywood bullshit.

I don’t know their life story – it’s not my place to ask – but I am guessing that poverty is their biggest issue. Poverty breeds intense desperation. Mixed in with this is probably addiction, maybe an abusive partner and/or pimp and/or drug dealer. And shame. And entrapment. Probably a dysfunctional family of origin. Probably Social Services and childcare and custody issues. Debt. Precarious housing. Mental illness and trauma. Violence from johns. Social isolation. There seem to be few pathways out. There’s no posters in the area for exit programs or other assistance. There’s a drop in center nearby but it’s only open two evenings a week.

I’m really appalled by the johns, though. Who are the men who feel that any woman on the street is potentially a prostitute ? The ones who pestered me exhibited no embarrassment whatsoever. Why do they think women are for sale ? How come the Janis Joplin woman was limping so badly, for weeks ? Was it because she fell off her bicycle ?

I read a couple of books by women who had exited prostitution. They are grim books, worth reading. “Paid For” by Rachel Moran is really compelling:


“Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade” edited by Caroline Norma and and Melinda Tankard Reist is a collection of writing by women who had been involved in prostitution in Australia, where brothels are legal in some areas.

Many of the accounts start off the same – that prostitution seemed like an option when there were no others. Having no other option doesn’t make this a “choice”. Viewing this as a job was quickly overtaken by the reality of how inherently abusive the clients were, and the power structures that kept women trapped and desperate.

Victor Malarek wrote a book from his interviews with johns. Their sense of entitlement is pervasive. This is also grim reading:

Someone created a site, with excerpts from an ERB (Escort Review Board – like a chatroom for johns). It offers some insight into what these men think of the women they interacted with, in their own words:

Yes, there are also many books about how wonderful and empowering and how radical it is to be a sex worker or sex buyer. Experience is not universal. That could be true for them. Or it can be a lucrative work of fiction.

All I know is that is that I see very little joy going on out there.

A Black Fence

I had this idea for a fence. It probably grew from my hatred of pressure treated lumber. I thought a fence made from identical old doors would look good. I found a few photos of people who had done this, usually with a variety of found doors in whatever colors.

I had chased a few doors on Kijiji but this was complicated by my lack of a truck to pick them up. I described my idea to John. He was worried that if he built a fence using old doors, that I expected he would have to hang them so they could all be opened. I explained I only needed one door to open.

He’s not a Kijiji user, so I showed him the site, then did a search for antique doors. Miraculously the first listing was from a seller nearby with 10 identical doors from an old house that was being demolished ! With a phone number ! John said he could pick them up. I called right away and the seller called me right back, from work.

At this point it was early November. I called a couple of posthole places. They were near the end of the season but open to my small job.

I had also wanted to build a picket fence in the front. I had a series of confrontations with a very hostile neighbour, who blamed my cats for a variety of problems. Oddly – she did not carry on like this with her next door neighbour who had an outdoor cat, or the outdoor cat owners two doors down, or the cat person several doors down that kept having litters of kittens (and of course attracting intact, spraying tomcats when she was in heat). Only my cats – my fixed cats, who stuck close to home – who I rounded up after a couple of hours of liberty – were the problem. My semi-feral cat Marm disappeared at the end of September and I never found her. After I postered the area, someone very aggressively went around tearing down all my posters.

(I also called the crew that picks up deceased animals, signed up for alerts from LAC, posted her as missing with photos on Kijiji and London Lost Pets. I walked around at night with treats for a month. I had a few plausible leads but none were her. What happened ? )

Anyhow – I needed fences, plural. They should help to keep my cats in the yard, and drinkers  and pissers out.

It was cheaper for the posthole place to come once rather than on two separate occasions, so I had posts set for everything.

I decided to move the fence location towards the front yard. With no car I already had more driveway than I needed. This lined up with the corner of the house and seemed to work well.

The doors were great. They had small holes for rimlocks (perfect) and while they were filthy were in otherwise good shape.


The doors had lived with some smokers. I scrubbed each one with TSP, which was disgusting. I patched the worst holes, then painted each door with two coats of oil based paint. This actually took a long time to do. I did this in the back porch, which was cold and dim.

John was really careful about constructing the fence. he notched the posts and triple checked that everything was level and straight.

A friend in Toronto had given me a french door with textured glass, that I used in the Nightmare Apartment. It moved with me, with some dim notion of being installed for a powder room door. I liked the idea of using this for the gate, so I could see if someone was there – while still having privacy. I was definitely hung up on privacy.

Before Fence (note cinderblocks propped against the rotten posts to keep it upright):


After Fence:


I was very happy with my new fence. I was expecting that “someone” might call the city to complain. I had read the fence bylaw backwards and forwards. My fence was under the 7′ height limit – and while there were laws prohibiting corrugated metal fences (why I would like to know) there was nothing about making a fence from antique doors. It was definitely within my property lines, too.

Click to access fence-PS6.pdf

Finishing the Powderoom

That little room ate up so many hours.

The ceiling and all the walls had new drywall. Fresh primer and paint. I had some color angst but finally settled on Benjamin Moore’s “Castelton Mist” HC-1 – sort of a toned down chartreuse, with “Nantucket Grey” HC-111 trim:



There was new antique trim around the door.

The pipes in the corner got boxed in.

A ceramic tile floor was applied, properly.

Antique baseboards and quarter round went on.

The toilet returned.

The antique marble sink, with the chrome deco stand (a Kijiji score – $ 30.00 !!!) was installed. The antique taps were fine.

The heat was connected. A reproduction cast iron vent I bought for something else turned out to fit.

Honestly, it seemed like a miracle. A very labour intensive miracle.



Undoing the Powder Room

This was the worst room in the house.

I think it had originally been a pantry. Kitchens in the late 1800’s did not have cabinets on the walls, like the kitchen of today. There was a stove, which might have also heated water. There was a sink, for homes with running water, or a dry sink for those who didn’t. Packaged foods started to become common in the 19th century but it was nothing like today where everything – even vegetables – are packaged. There would have been an icebox for perishables like milk and meat. There would have been a separate storage area for preserves, probably in the basement. Staples like flour and sugar were kept close at hand. Most women went to the market several times a week to buy the ingredients for meals.

I found an image from a 1906 catalog that shows a modest kitchen with an adjacent pantry. I think mine was probably like a miniature version of this:


In the late 1890’s a cabinet now known as a Hoosier was invented, then popularized under many names. This was an invention of astonishing modernity – in that it kept all the necessary cooking components in one place, with labour saving devices – and a countertop work area:


I’ll bet this house had one, eventually. Anyhow – there was small room off the kitchen, with a window. The plumbing for the toilet and shower and sink had been added in the 1970’s or 80’s. This room had previously had wainscotting around the perimeter. There were very old holes in the floor from where pipes had been. My guess is that there was a small wall mounted sink in this room, with shelves for food storage. The window could be opened or closed to regulate the temperature. I had lived in a turn of the century rowhouse in Toronto, which was probably built as worker housing for the Massey Harris plant, a few blocks away. It had a similar pantry off the kitchen, with a window. Thus, my pantry theory.

This powder room was so awful. There was a ceiling fan, which turned on automatically when the light was turned on. I hated the sound, so used the bathroom in the dark.

After the bad shower was removed, I could see the tiles which had been applied in proximity to the shower. They were 12 x 12″ tiles, from two different lots so they didn’t match. They had been adhered to chipboard – not greenboard as would properly be used in a damp area like a washroom with a shower. There were exposed ABF pipes that ran from the floor through the ceiling. There was more of the horror turmeric yellow paint, copiously sprayed on the walls and ceiling, with overspray all over the pipes. The walls were very very lumpy, with no effort made to scrape off the wallpaper.

But – a second toilet is practical – and the window faced south, so this little room was bright in the late morning. There was hope.

I bought a small prybar that summer, to get the ceramic tiles off the wall. Not only were they unsually thick, they were also intensely stuck to the chipboard. I had to smash them with a hammer before I could even pry off a few chunks. A large piece bonked me on the head and it hurt. (Later I would see these same tiles at the ReStore, and I cursed whoever donated them.)

I scraped away at some wallpaper lumps. The pattern below looked like it was early 20th century, with metallic ink, and lots of hot pink, sort of pre-Deco. There was a busy floral border on top of this. This room had been a fancy pantry ?


The floor and subfloor were pulled up. This room was not so lucky, and a couple areas had more serious rot. The floor could not be painted, as is, and a new sub floor would have to go down. I suspected this would happen, so I had more than enough ceramic floor tiles.

Here’s a typical wall:


Ancient paint, some DIY repairs using Plaster of Paris (no, no, no – this is much harder than joint compound and therefore more difficult to sand). All bad.


During the summer I replaced the lower window with privacy glass. The window was a little high, and there was zero pedestrian traffic outside, but it made me feel better once it was in. There’s some of the hateful tiles still attached over and beside the window.


John got the trim up. The seller had a pair of odd square rosettes so they went in here.

The plumber roughed in the new locations for the bathroom and kitchen sinks.

John installed an antique medicine cabinet. I had been looking for one like this for ages, then one day while I was in my friend’s car, about two blocks away from the Nightmare Apartment, we drove by a 1920’s apartment building that was being renovated. One of the worker dudes had it in his hand on the way to the dumpster. We screeched to a halt and the surprised guy gave it to us. When I opened it, it had one live roach, too !


This room was tiny, but full of dilemmas. It was decided that both 1/4″ and 3/8″ drywall were needed. While the Home Depot (Canada) lists 1/4″ drywall on their site, the local stores didn’t stock it, and neither did Lowes. Some staff acted like such a thing did not even exist.

A sympathic staff person made me a list of where I might find such a thing, locally.

The thinner drywall was really necessary as I was so neurotic about not burying the trim.

The powder room was probably the most labour intensive room in the house. While every day it looked worse, it was also so much better.


Did I mention that the heat vent was disconnected, and that the hole from the fan hadn’t been filled in yet ? Not only was this room ugly, it was also freezing,