In a few week’s time, the weather here will gently warm and the light will begin to signal that Spring is on its way.
Silent though this coming is – save for the clamour of the delighted birds – it serves as a cannon blast wake up call to all the home improvement magazines, who brush the dust from their shoulders and totter up from their armchairs to hail that stranger to winter: The Outside.
I wonder if other countries get the same feature wheeled out – with bright breezy optimism – to fill the hearts of their countrymen with territorial pride?
For soon, it will be Decorate-Your-Shed season once again.
I do not know whether readers far and wide have read something like this. I suspect it is a very English preoccupation. We don’t have a huge amount of space here in Blighty. There are those who do, but they are generally jolly well off. The rest of us have pocket-handkerchieves of land which we tend with all the devotion of a nun in her convent chapel.
Even our houses are generally smaller and pokier than many other countries. New houses are averaging 818 square feet compared to 1,200 in France, just across the water: and Master Builder’s Federation data shows they’re still getting smaller. Homes built in 2009, they reported, were on average 55% smaller than those built 80 years before.
So every year the home improvement sorts peddle the dream of a few square feet of one’s own, somewhere extra.
In other words, the garden shed.
Here, for the majority of us, that means 8 x 7 ft of floorspace pilfered from land next to the compost heap. And that, my friends, includes veranda.
But hope springs eternal. Here in Britain the magazine features run along the line of “three different looks for the shed/summerhouse”. You can have the gingham Doris Day Calamity-Jane look, the Heidi-inspired alpine look, the bachelor black theme, the outside office retreat.
Designers labour to shoehorn in workstations and anglepoises, bookshelves and chaise longues; they curtain the little shed windows in Laura Ashley and advise on the best mugmats for the job.
Because we are British and desperate, we buy the whole shebang. Yes, the march hares among us cry giddily, we truly can have more space.
By robbing the miniscule garden of 56 square feet (which used to provide admirable sniffing ground for the family dog and extra turning space for the great big toy plastic tractor), we can create a small box of idyll: a place to be alone, to leave one’s favourite paperback, poised for the moment when a steaming hot cup of tea can be borne like a trophy out across the paving slabs and away from the sound and fury of the household.
Three words: dream on, Britishers.
For despite what they tell you, our climate does not favour the garden shed. We buy them as part of a dream, but that dream has mould and mice attached to it six months after it has been bought, and the paperbacks grow warped and wrinkled waiting for us to shiver our way across the paving stones to use our 56ft.
Or worse: the shed becomes a repository of Stuff.
Whenever there is a clearout the cry goes up: store it in the shed! When the Man Drawer is overflowing with mole wrenches and posidrives, a new box grows and overflows in the shed. The garden tools once stood neatly with parallel vertical handles but now they list at crazy angles.
Our shed has a history. It was my first ever shed: I have had a greenhouse before, but never a shed. My father in law, who lived in the house before I did, adored the shed and clad its strange weatherproof sandpaper-like covering in fetching orange pine pilfered from the inside of the house.
Now it looked like an up-market sauna.
Tools, screws, bolts and brackets, all were lovingly organised and labelled, and if there were mice droppings and a pervading smell of damp it could still be called an organised space.
And then the chaos of the Shrewsday household was brought to bear on this little haven.
If you open the door, things fall out.
It might be a bag of plastic toys, or a broken spade, or a breadmaker; it could be my nephew’s high chair, or a plastic Mercedes toy car.
The lovingly laid squares of carpet are fit only for mushrooms.
This place is about as far away from those little quasi-alpine shed hideaways as it is possible to be; but mark my words. One turns into the other.
Our shed is scheduled for demolition, once the weather gets warmer. But sheds are like kittens: when one dies, some of us just have this overwhelming urge to fill the void with another shed.
For a giggle, try here
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme, My First…… which you can find here