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Every man needs a shed. I don’t know what a woman needs, and I would not presume to speculate, but men need sheds like hobbits need hobbit-holes. They have to have their territories, which are theirs and theirs alone. They need sheds and attics, tunnels and greenhouses. This is ‘dad-land’. He leaves the warmth and light of the tribal cave to go into the dark and scary outdoors. The air is fresh and cold on his face. The jabber of his tribe is distant. He can be himself. Here on the outside, there is peace and danger. There are wild beasts about but most dangerous of all, out here, are memories.
Memories are most poignant in an attic. You see the Christmas decorations and the toys that you cannot bear to throw out. There are the training wheels taken off the bike, as if they would ever be needed again, for once a child speeds away they keep going. There are stacks of old family movies and videos, and he is the custodian of memories, and the past. When the small bikes and prams were stashed away, he was younger, with a spring in his step that he will never have again.
The owners of these small objects, the bald-headed dolls and the high-chairs now have loud voices and are big and confident.
Attics are all very well, but you can’t spend much time in them. They are too poignant.
You can see sheds on television programmes that have been converted to snooker halls, and bars or cinemas. They have long since ceased to be sheds. They are no more sheds than a poodle is a wolf.
Sheds should be rough-hewn and tough, rustic and honest. They have no tolerance for purple curtains and mahogany. A real shed finds electricity a bit embarrassing, and would rather an oil lamp and a stove, if it were asked.
You can’t be the king of your own space with a half-ton of metal squatting sullenly beside you. A lawnmower, on the other hand, is easily intimidated
In the shed, there is no noise and no hurry. A man can play with fishing tackle or homemade wine or bits of beehives. Perspectives alter. The world suddenly becomes three-dimensional. He realises that he spends his day job staring at a flat screen, and if he went around behind it, he would see nothing. As he lifts a piece of wood and turns it in his hands, it has substance — it is real, and so is he.
Glasshouses and tunnels are warm and smell of earth and the jungle. The summer is always present, as you add on months and extend the seasons. A glasshouse is better than a Mediterranean holiday, as you feel the strength and heat of a watery winter sun. If the rain hops off the roof, you imagine that you are camping, as you fiddle about with trays and seedlings, setting and shaping life itself.
Garages are all very well in their way, but they are a poor substitute for a shed. They are more of a place where men gather around to stare at the inside of a diesel engine, in the same way that the Romans of old would examine the entrails of a sacrificial bull. They are modern-day blacksmith shops, and meant for sharing with other, like-minded people.
Think of Danny and the gang in Grease or Sergeant Bilko down in the motor pool. There is also the not inconsiderable presence of the car. You can’t be the king of your own space with a half-ton of metal squatting sullenly beside you. A lawnmower, on the other hand, is easily intimidated.
Behind the wooden walls of your shed, you are the boss and the captain and the mage and the mystic. You are the frontiersman of old, with your axe beside you in case of bears or worse. You are a pioneer in your log cabin, listening to the wild music of the forest. You are a badger in the wild wood, with nobody to annoy you, enjoying your solitude. You are…. well, you get the point.
The shed is yours and you decide the contents, the style and the purposes, the chief one being to soothe your soul. You create the shed in your own image, and to hell with the world and everybody in it. The shed is you.
It gets dark. The birds stop singing. You return to the house. It is bright and comfortable. Your children seem delightful. All is warm and cosy. Dark and light. Yin and yang. The house and the shed in perfect balance.