Men and sheds

According to a survey conducted by the DIY chain B&Q more than a quarter of men questioned confessed to using their garden shed as a refuge, and a third admitted to visiting it more than the bathroom. It seems that sheds are no longer just a repository for half empty tins of paint and rusting gadgets that may one day come in useful. They are also sometimes places of deep mystery, places where many men store and explore their secret lives and dreams of freedom and adventure.

Catalogues for sheds now frequently refer to them as ‘garden buildings’ and some offer special features to make them a home from home. Naturally the subject of shed security has become an issue as more men install DVD players and computers into their favoured refuge. Many insurers now remind homeowners to lock their sheds and some shed aficionados, such as comedian Ross Noble, have installed complex security systems. I discovered this when I met Ross some years ago. We were both waiting in reception in BBC Broadcasting House and I asked him if he had a shed…I was doing some research into the topic at the time. As a conversational opener it sounds like his own often surreal humour. But it turned out he did indeed have a shed and he was very fond of it.

I was alerted to the importance of garden sheds when Jim, a character in my novel ‘Ready Or Not?’, decided he was going to move into his. I hadn’t expected him to do this but he was absolutely firm on the matter. He said he needed some space to himself and it was pointless remonstrating with him. People in novels can sometimes be very stubborn. His wife, Ava, was naturally almost overcome with curiosity about what he was getting up to. Because men do sometimes get up to very strange things in those innocent looking wooden buildings. It is part of the whole shed mystique.

An Australian documentary called Men And Their Sheds claims to have “uncovered the extraordinary world of sheds, from which the four main characters have been drawn”. Apparently one man spends loads of time in the shed with his beloved antique phone collection, while another “finds salvation from depression through creating a nativity display for his front yard at Christmas”. Then there’s the former teacher who “finds inspiration in sculpting gothic clay figurines spouting shed philosophy”. Ultimately “it’s a film about solitude, masculinity and creativity” the film’s producers conclude.

The book ‘Men And Sheds’ contains photos of ‘sheddists’ involved in a vast range of activities including collecting milk bottles, inventing the clockwork radio and breeding pythons. ‘Some men are obsessed with the unusual items they put in their sheds’ explains author Gordon Thorburn. ‘Some have made their sheds their social hub, inviting the like-minded inside to share that certain whatever-it-is…For many, though, it’s the escape thing. They admit it. A hobby might be the raison d’etre on the surface.’

Paul Gilbert, a psychologist, believes the potent lure of the garden shed is “about control and space. Generally speaking men like space and privacy. Men are more likely to go off on their own hunting, for example. And the concept of being a hermit seems to be more appealing to men. Women are more involved in kinship and networks.” But there are probably many women who like sheds too! Would rather like one myself!

Though I don’t have a shed in my wee patio garden there is a large honeysuckle bush and it is attracting lots of bumble bees now that it’s in flower. That hum is such a lovely summery sound.

Warm wishes,


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