In our garden sanctuary, we may escape life’s burdens to be ourselves.
If you’ve no shed, as Mark Antony came tantalisingly close to declaiming in Julius Caesar, prepare to tear up now. “You” in this context is shorthand, of course, for “you men”… all you poor, pathetic shedless saddoes who will shortly well up from self-pity and bilious jealousy at the words that follow. Words, I might smugly add, written from the beloved shed at the bottom of the garden, where I sit serenely cocooned from whatever deafening mayhem is currently enveloping the house.
The sympathy is not solely sourced to the pathological shed envy which, according to an official statistic I’ve just made up, afflicts 94.7 per cent of 30-75 year old males without garden huts. It now appears that your shedlessness is killing you.
Perhaps this states it too crudely. The charity Men’s Health Forum has developed a national network of communal sheds to entice chaps to communal chats about medical concerns they are loath to mention in more permanent, less manly structures such as the GP’s surgery. This does not mean that “death by shedlessness” will join the roster of coroner’s verdicts. But it does imply that the craving for shed-time is so strong that, in return for a fix, men will discuss embarrassing symptoms they would otherwise ignore, and might live longer as a result.
I congratulate the charity in my capacity as a leading hypochondriac. In fact, one of the joys of shed-life is the chance to indulge this interest free from recrimination. Glancing at the bookshelves, I note, alongside a collection of short stories by the god of all shed-dwellers Roald Dahl, three medical dictionaries and 11 volumes about specific diseases.
If my wife caught me reading Living With Angina by Dr Tom Smith, one of those tense exchanges that plagued our pre-shed wedlock would ensue.
“Why are you reading that?” she would tersely ask. “You don’t have angina.” “How do you know I don’t have angina?” I’d reply. “Do you think you have angina?” “I’m not sure.” “Well, if you’re worried, you need to see the doctor.” “Why do I need to see the doctor? You know something, don’t you? You know I have angina.” She would then leave the room, with diplomatic relations suspended for up to 18 hours.
In this post-shed world, she will never catch me reading Living With Angina, because she will never enter the shed. She will try, as she has thousands of times before, but thanks to my unimpeded view of the garden path, through perpetually lowered blinds, she will be intercepted several yards before the door.
Her curiosity has mounted incrementally since it was delivered, pre-fabricated, 10 years ago. It was lowered from a crane, and for 30 minutes it gyrated in the air like Dorothy’s tornado-spun home at the start of The Wizard of Oz. Either side of the house, startled faces simultaneously poked through windows so that this roughhouse Shepherds Bush road briefly resembled the set of an MGM musical. Alarmed by its tall, sloping, Alpine roof, the woman the other side of the garden wall was on the phone to the council before it landed on its girders.
However, as this neighbour discovered very shortly before putting her house on the market, one of the great things about sheds is that you don’t need planning permission even for one as effete and grandiose as mine.
Some men apparently keep garden tools in theirs, or make things with their bare hands, and good luck to them. With its laminated floorboards, lavatory, kitchen area replete with fridge, kettle and toaster, and reclining armchair facing the telly remotely linked to the Sky box in the house, this shed will never know the screech of power drill or graunching of hacksaw.
But the specific purpose of any shed is of minimal importance. Be it hosting carpentry or engine repair, the writing of fiction (George Bernard Shaw worked in one he manually revolved to avoid sunlight), or internet poker, the core function is identical. It is a place to daydream, perchance to snooze. It is escapism from the grind of what might loosely be called life. It is sanctuary.
Sanctuary can work both ways, of course, and for all her irritation at the permanent exclusion order, my wife loves the shed almost as much as I do. During World Cups and Wimbledons, the furious yelling at Frank Lampard and Andy Murray is inaudible in the house. The neurotic fretting about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis no longer drives her mad. She even showed a flash of maternal pride when a juvenile acquaintance requested a cheap, make-your-own mini-shed box set for his 13th birthday. For him, it was the equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah – a rite of passage towards manhood.
Every man should have one, and if every man did there would be fewer divorces, less psychosis, and no wars. “You all do know this mantle: I remember the first time ever Caesar put it on,” Mark Antony continued. “Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent, the day he overcame the Nervii.”
If only he had been in his shed, Caesar would never have bothered with all the conquests and empire-building that led to his death at 56. Men’s Health Forum has it right; it wasn’t only Brutus and the gang that stabbed him in the chest. As Caesar should have put it with his dying breath, “Et tu, shedlessness”?
I think most men reading the article above can relate to it – ED