Sunday, 24 July 2016

Everything in its place

Shed (noun): a simple roofed structure used for garden storage, to shelter animals or as a workshop.
Yet words do not give meaning to objects -we impart that ourselves. Define “dog” and you'll understand what I mean. The definition almost obscures the object itself. A much beloved pet and Dorothy's companion on the road to Oz both equal the same three letters; but one could easily be a Dachshund and the other one Toto. The same applies with shed's.
Shed as Rorschach inkblot: Some might only see a chaotic mess and wonder the origin of all the mis-matched jam jars and tins Others would perceive the answers to a generation of questions; an intricate tapestry that it would take a lifetime to unwind; a tool for every purpose, however obscure.
Gramps' shed -and this is where the memories merge, and for this I'll let them. For the purpose, this is a homage, a collective to all the many shed's I've known and a mourning. One handed down as hereditary rite of passage.
Tools can be bought, true, but like Excalibur the best are handed down through generations. Experiences as children mark the tools, sweat soaks into the handle imbibing them with life-force until the day comes that they finally are handed down. But no ceremony is needed, all the actions within the shed are sacred enough, the work worthy of Hephaestus himself.
So the shed becomes a church, a sacred space -one of the few bastions of masculinity, linked to ancient rites; every act a ritual. Leave the political correctness at the door, alongside your ego, and allow men to be men. This is not about emancipation or subjection, here women are as equals -as much as they would wish to be, but they will never be one with the tools, unless they have been bequeathed.
My mother, in Gramps later years, spent as much time in the shed as he and now it has passed on to her. She has been accepted; but had it not been done gradual and properly then it is quite possible that harm could have been done to either. The tools could easily have been blunted or broken, or turned against their masters. Just as swords owe allegiances to their samurai masters, so do all other hand-crafted tools.
There's a certain, hard to define smell that all sheds have, despite all of them being completely different, that reflect back the personality of the owner.
I find smells elusive. I tried to describe the smell of the shed earlier and it slipped away, like sawdust on a workbench. There are the obvious ingredients: the paint, ethanol, turpentine, creosote; intoxicating, burning scents that are kept far up the other end of the shed; the dust and wood scrapings permeate the air, thick with memories of their own (dreaming, perhaps, of when they were trees in themselves?); sweat and testosterone, a marking of territory alongside the blushing rememberants of the inevitable farts that coalesce into eddies and pockets.
There are places where accidents occurred, blood spilt like milk -not cried over, but cursed. There, by that patch on the workbench, where the screwdriver slipped whilst opening a can of paint. Not all wounds are masculine and to be boasted about; there are the majority which are mishaps and careless mistakes.
Never read the instructions if 'common sense' will do.”

The shed as Top Trumps:
Size: 17 x 12 x 11ft
No of Screwdrivers: 52
Largest Saw: 4ft
Electricity: Yes
Extras: Working Lathe

(Commons sense, by the way, is a fallacy. You and I are two completely different people. We couldn't be more dissimilar if we tried, so where does this fabled commonality lie? In the shed, of course!)
An unwritten law between men; better than a confessional booth, for what is spoken about in the shed stays in the shed. Anyone can step into the shed as a visitor, but to be invited in.. nay, invited in to cross the threshold as an equal is an honour and something that is never to be taken for granted. This is to gaze at the innermost cave of a man's soul.
Inside my Uncle's shed; which was one of many, I might add... The shed was alike a Yew tree, able to create a tap root and grow new versions of itself... inside my Uncle's shed were two items that fascinated me. One was a cigarette lighter and the other an ashtray, both of which were made of artillery shells. I never found out who had made them or why.
The shed as fractal: The shed is a whole, but open a cupboard and there are drawers, inside the drawers are tins, inside the tins are packets, and inside the packets are screws, pins, tacks and nuts. Other drawers have sandpaper -whole and virginal, untouched since the factory. Some are folded and barely used whilst others are torn into quarters and scuffed; further more are torn into smaller and smaller pieces, worn and streaked and well used.
A place for everything, and everything has its place – the motto for every shed.
The shed as 'secret' hiding place: “Oh, he goes into his shed to have his sneaky fag, but I know what he's doing!”

Ode to a Shed by Tim Draper
This is where I come to hide,
It might not look like much, I may confide..
..but it's mine.

My Granddad’s third shed was a concession. He gave up an allotment and a whole family of sheds when my Nan made him move to Bognor to be closer to the right side of the family (though I sometimes wonder whether he would've preferred to have left them behind.)
It was small in size -having just enough room to hold a child's bicycle, but it was built like a TARDIS, and he knew where everything was. It drove my Nan crazy and she often swore that he'd arranged things so they fell on her whenever she crossed the threshold. I dare-say he did, but she could never see the genius logic to it. It looked a mess to her.
To be fair, it did to me when I first saw it... but when I got to know Granddad the more I understood the shed's layout. It got to the stage, in the month's before he died, that I knew precisely where everything was stored.
Shed's as archeology: you can date a shed by the tins and bottles that are used to house the nails and screws. Granddad smoked roll-ups so there were an abundance of Golden Virginia tins around. He used to wind Nan up when he said that the chalk for the Shove-halfpenny game was in the Golden Virginia tin. Course, I knew which one it was in, but never told until I received the knowing wink.
Some sheds even have theme tunes. Granddad also had an old beaten up tape-player with the songs of Paul Robeson and Wand'rin' Star (with Lee Marvin handling 'vocals') from Paint Your Wagon on it. It was the only tape he owned and he played it every time he was in the shed. It wasn't just that he loved those songs, but they were the only ones he could sing along to.
My dad had a record player in his shed... one of his sheds anyway. He had four sheds in the end, this one became his den. He had a kettle, a makeshift bookshelf and a recliner, built in the corner, and by the door an old reproduction gramophone.
He had an odd assortment of records: Western movie themes and cowboy songs (a genre of songs that has been lost now to the maudlin's of Country & Western); an Elvis boxed set of ten LP's; several Beatles albums (well played with yellowing sticky tape acting as makeshift field dressings); a couple of Lonnie Donnegan EP's and an oddity that one no longer see's any more -the Cover's album. (These were albums comprised solely by session musicians who covered all the hits of the day “at a fraction of the price”. In all cases the songs really were exceptional and it was almost impossible to tell that they weren't the originals. I suppose that, in this day of the X-Factor and The Voice, the concept has come back into vogue.. but without the musicianship and talent.)
The shed as psycho-analytical tool: There's a rumour that a chemist's dispensaries reflect their attitude to mortality – it all depends on how close the poisons are to the individual. So this is reflected in the layout of the shed. Gramps was very secretive and kept the layout locked away to himself and a chosen few.
Others are far more methodical. Screwdrivers go there (Flat heads to the left, Phillips to the right); hammers over there... This drawer has plastic gloves, face masks and first aid kit....
Other people have no sense to anything. Accident prone and constantly losing things -the shed imitating life.
The sheds of today smell wrong. They smell of the factory; mass produced and no personality. In the land of gender equality it's no longer a safe haven. Tools are massed produced to be labour saving and shiny, with LED lights and it's not long before they come in matching pink.
There is an uprising taking place though. The Auto-jumble and traction engine ralleys... tools; HUGE tools, oily, dirty, drenched in history, masculine tools with a story to tell that captivate those around them; fresh from the hell-forges of Nidavellir; forged for men only.
Woman's place is everywhere and anywhere and it's right that there should be no limit to what they can do and where they can go.
But man MUST have his shed. Inviolate, his womb, his tomb where he can be at rest. HIS

I don't have a shed.

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