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1st of November 2004


Opinion: Of Men And Sheds

We've had the last ride of summer (in RC08). Now NVNL's attention turns to wintry things and the one shed; the shed that is one though the rooms be many...

Shedishness has developed in me gradually over five decades. Many of my favourite memories are set in sheds of one sort or another. I have even lived in a shed, mind you the shed was in Chelsea, darlings!

Now We Are Six...

The first shed I can remember was my grandfather's in Cheshire. it was huge, dark, wooden, and it smelled of tar. As a small child I thought it odd that he'd sit in there on a Saturday afternoon with his mates, talking in strange northern accents; he had a perfectly good house after all, so why did they all hang out in the shed? And why didn't they let me stay in there for very long?

Another favourite shed from those early years was in Christchurch in Dorset. It belonged to a cottage where we used to go for holidays. This shed was tiny and brick-built. It was an empty coal bunker and I liked to sit in there and read.

Over Fifteens' Cosmic Word Association Football Team...

Of course, in my teen years I got into sheds as places of industry - painstakingly fettling old British motorcycles with my mates in our fathers' sheds, we were wise, we were incredibly witty, we saw visions of fabulous bolides assembled using borrowed socket sets. We laughed at Ogri and thought Mark Williams was revolutionary (which he still is). But really we were just spotty youths endlessly reconfiguring worn out engines and individuating from our families of origin and arguing over whether Dylan was better than Cohen or Triumph better than Norton. We didn't know how Caesar conquered Gaul and we didn't much care.

When I Was Twenty-Five It Was A Very Good Year...

The twenties were better years and we certainly had motorcycles that worked. We fettled at the kerb side, but we didn't have sheds. Our need then was to escape into the world rather than from it. So I think we wouldn't have known how to be in a shed. However I did live in one in Christchurch Street for a good while, but that's not really shedding is it?

Thirty-Five And The Beginnings Of Wisdom...

By my thirties I'd mostly lost touch with the Old Gang and somehow the bike thing was still burning inside me. I had a British bike again, though I kept a Jap bike or two as well, and a Land Rover, and a couple of cars, sometimes three. Shedwise my thirties were well populated and I learned a lot about what I value in a shed by having so many. Often I had four or five on the go usually within a three mile radius of each other. Oh how I longed to have all my sheds in one place.

It would have to be wood

Forty-five...

Over the years I've fettled in small, medium and large sheds; wooden, brick stone and block sheds; dry sheds, wet sheds; sheds on beaches, built into hills, and sheds in fields. But it wasn't until my forties that I designed and built my own shed. Ah the sweetest, most eclectic, most refugee shed. When the world declines to be my oyster I can always go to the shed, and I often do, oyster or no oyster.

Small Sheds

Best memory - changing the head gasket on my mate's 1971 T120R in an 8" by 6" garden shed back in 1974 when I was slimmer and more agile than I am now. It was his first Brit bike and he asked me to show him how it all worked because he'd not had to look inside his Jap 250. Still can't imagine how we got the bike through the door.

Medium Sheds

Best memory - in the late 1980s my shed was a block built single car garage with a steeply sloping floor. By dint of practice I learned to lift the back end of my Tiger 750 high enough to kick a piece of 8" by 8" timber under the centrestand with the bike facing up the slope, this made removing and refitting the back wheel very easy. I had a deal more upper body strength back then.

Large Sheds

Best memory - the huge, heated farm shed where in 1972 we all gathered to fettle our ailing British two-stroke learner bikes. The bikes were all utterly clapped out but we enjoyed ourselves. The subsequent A-level results were as disappointing as the bikes' performances.

Large Sheds

Best memory - the huge, heated farm shed where in 1972 we all gathered to fettle our ailing British two-stroke learner bikes. The bikes were all utterly clapped out but we enjoyed ourselves. The subsequent A-level results were as disappointing as the bikes' performances.

Garages As Sheds

The distinction between garages and sheds is a simple but telling one; if you can drive a car into it then it's a garage, if not it's a shed. The exception to this rule is a tractor shed which retain shed status in my view. Personally I've never felt as satisfied working on a bike in a shed you can drive a car into, as I do in a shed with a narrower doorway. There does seem to be something special and fit for purpose about the space in life where the car cannot venture. Small-doored sheds are often warmer too. Of course once you get inside the space it's not a just shed, it's also workshop.

Perfect shed filling

The Eclectic Shed… Big Band Version

I arrived at my early forties with not much sheddage but plenty of ground and the usual set of complex needs. It's taken me seven years and counting to build my shed but I finally moved in this month. FW has written; 'When I was born, I had no Shed, my eye was single, and my body was filled with light...' and he has built his shed to his own glorious specification, we have read of its capaciousness, its electricity and its drainage, its natural light and its glorious ascension to its eaves.

Step inside, stay awhileIt lacks but one thing, stabling. I suspect, dear readers, that most of you can get through life without stabling in your sheds, but for me it is the essence of convenience. Somewhere for the animals is the very bedrock of this lazy man's shed. No longer do I have to break off in the middle of a clutch change to drive three miles and trim a poorly hoof.

The Eclectic Shed has stabling for two horses and two donkeys, a hay store and tack room. The cat has his own heated bedroom which doubles as the nerve centre for rodent control operations. The bedroom (sometimes called a caravan) for humans is also heated. There's a single car garage which is a good place to park spare bikes, and a woodwork shop for the production of smaller out-station sheds, bird nesting boxes and extra sturdy shelving.

Obviously there's a kitchen and an outdoor dining room for the humans complete with woodburner and fish pond, and an indoor dining room for the dogs. An indoor toilet is a must too. As is a bedroom.

All these excellent conveniences are of course merely prelude to the main event, the sonata and fugue, the motorcycle workshop. For the first time I have a warm, dry, level, well-lit workshop I can sit and smoke my pipe in -- I mean, work on a bike in. It has a three foot wide door, so I can't possible get a car in to spoil the ambience. It's only roomy enough to work on one bike which ensures that I don't get in too much of a muddle. The parts washer is in the kitchen and doubles as a dish washer but the little red bench by Sealey sits perfectly in the workshop and I don't have to manhandle the Bonnie or lie underneath it. There is fixed lighting and portable lighting (though not enough natural light). Obviously there's a swallows' nest even though I've never been into sidecars, yet. Now that I've moved in I find to my surprise that I just love poddling around in there, listening to the radio and fettling this and that. Sometimes I just loaf about up there flicking through back copies of RealClassic, occasionally I take a laptop and RC about on the message board.

The Payoff...

The really good bit about the Eclectic Shed is that it's a centre which can hold so many of our extra mural activities - guests come to stay in the caravan, all sorts of birds nest in and around the place, wrens, various sparrows and tits as well as the swallows. I can put a pizza in the oven to bake while I'm working up a healthy appetite but -- best of all -- Mrs NVNL's always close at hand doing her thing so there's none of that 'you spend more time with those horses/motorbikes than you do with me' stuff.

But now the days grow short
I'm in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
It was a mess of good years

And plenty more to come, I hope. Enjoying the world aright.

The guest bedroom, right. Right?

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