This is my husband’s favourite of my Northern Echo columns. It appeared on 22 January 2004. (At that time we lived in a small house with a very large garden; he now has his own study and a double garage to play with!)
‘Every man should have a shed,’ said my husband pointedly on his return from his weekly Italian class.
He was repeating what he’d overheard one of his fellow students saying. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that view: it makes sense really, especially if your husband is newly retired and under your feet all day. That’s what you need – a shed for him to retreat to, where he can potter about to his heart’s content.
Our trouble is that only one of us is retired. I’m a writer and writers don’t retire, ever. I’ve enough stories in my head to keep me going until senility sets in.
Unfortunately I work at home. The house is my office. For the 20-odd years that I’ve been a full-time writer I’ve had my own routine. He’d go off to work in the morning and come back in the evening. I’d sit down in front of my computer as soon as he’d gone and start writing. If I was stuck I’d go and make a cup of coffee, put some washing in the machine, pull up the odd weed in the garden, all the time thinking about the next tricky sentence or how to get this character out of that situation. Lunch, when the time came, would be whatever was in the fridge, snatched while I continued to develop the story. Then a walk, still tuned in to the plot, before getting back to work again.
Now there’s someone else around all the time (except when the Italian class is on). He loves gardening, so if it’s fine he’s outside from first thing, but if I get up from the computer I’m liable to bump into him; we chat, have a coffee together, or I make a meal (he needs more than the odd sandwich to keep him going). By that time, I’ve lost the thread of what I was writing about and it will take a lot of getting back again. Most likely that’s it for the day.
I’ve tried to get him interested in cooking, then at least I’d be able to write a bit longer before stopping for meals – but his idea of cooking is shopping for packets inscribed with the magic formula ‘microwavable in this container’, which is okay now and then, but not really my idea of good eating. Besides, he grows excellent vegetables, but they need picking and washing and chopping and cooking.
So, a shed he could retreat to has its attractions. I’d have the house to myself again, he’d have somewhere to go to get away from me. We all need our own space.
On the other hand, perhaps I’m the one who needs the shed. Though it would have to be a bit more than a shed; more of a garden office, with electric sockets for the computer and some sort of heating.
We have a shed, in fact. Quite big, made of wood. It’s been out there for 20 years and now it’s patched with bits of roofing felt, old compost sacks, scraps of hardboard. Mice come through the holes in the floor and rain through the roof. I sometimes think the honeysuckle (with birds’ nests) climbing up one side of it is all that really holds it together.
We decided this summer we’d clear it out. It took days – there was stuff in there we hadn’t seen since it was built and a lot we’d forgotten about. There were boxes of bank statements (pre-decimal), bags of old clothes (the mice had finished them off), enough gardening gloves to equip the entire staff of the Royal Parks – well, you can’t find the ones you’ve put away at the back of the shed, so you buy another pair. That applies to trowels too. There were strange potions for feeding (or destroying) plants, most of which had to be safely disposed of. There were deck chairs with rotten covers and woodworm. Then there were the kid’s old toys – the 1982 World Cup football and the buckets and spades (we cleaned them up in time for our grandson’s visit).
We’ve filled the dustbins several times over, lit several bonfires, made many a journey to the tip. Satisfying stuff, though there’s still a lot left.
But one’s thing’s clear: we need a new shed before the old one falls down completely. It’s an opportunity perhaps. We can put up the place of retreat for my husband, or the garden office for me.
Great! All our problems solved, harmony restored. The only trouble is, what do we do with all the things still left in the old shed?