By Maxim Griffin.
Moved house – not far, not far at all – same road, same faces – the usual chaos and unexpected mishaps – good garden – very overgrown – most importantly, a shed – an ordinary, decent sized shed that sits handsomely in the deep nettles. The previous owner fashioned crude shelves and an even cruder table – 2x4s awkwardly nailed to chipboard and logs – wobbly, delicate, almost entirely impractical – it’s good – an old wooden folding chair looks out the door, cobwebs catching the sun.
A single, pigeon splattered window looks out through ragwort and thistles across town with very little obstruction – telephone poles send lines to unseen houses – clock tower of market hall, then spire, then Belmont mast – treelines, slate roofs of Victorian terraces and sky – lots of sky – vapour trails that disappear somewhere over the Pennines – a flight from Köln to Detroit scores a white vein westward.
There’s work to do, of course – felt to replace, a leak to plug – Meg, the dog, suspects the presence of mice – possible – one of the boys found a tiny rodent skeleton on the first day – he buried it with great solemnity and grave goods of cheese and chocolate – he’s a good lad. The bells of St James’ have been ringing all weekend – just far away enough to be ambient, a sound from an imagined past – swifts still hard at it, wheeling screams – high summer then – a Sunday, full of Sunday jobs – next door have young grandchildren over and by the scent of it, are having lamb for tea.
So, this is Shed Life – sitting and looking, trying not to think too much – a clear spot – a fly comes in, goes out again – a fellow could turn into Georges Perec here – the dog pads in, and curls into the shadows – from other gardens, a chorus of enraged children armed with super soakers call into question the Geneva Convention of water fights – someone, somewhere is having trouble with the lawnmower – here, towering dandelions grow and spiders brood in the caverns of the brick pile.
There were grand ideas – build a proper studio, paint it black with yellow windows – go totally Jarman, full Dungeness – it’s a good spot for hag stones – a friend down there posts them from time to time – one hangs off a nail over the door, a great stone eye, lidlessly warding off any potential hoodoo – an ice cream van twinkles in the distance, all nostalgic electro, poorly copied cartoon characters. Having sat in the shed for a while, plans turned – no need for a studio, no need for paint – the shed is good for now – a few little imports – one large worked flint, recently found – a horse brass of a goblin gifted years ago – a small ancient box that once sat on Martin O’Flanagan’s desk in the post office of Skibbereen – an 1835 British cavalry sabre (possibly for tackling the nettles when summer ends) – four fine lettering chisels – a medium sized fern named Frank Zappa – there’s been talk of painting the innards of the shed white, not today though.
From nowhere at all, a short summer squall – fat rain that falls fast, passes quick and does little to blunt the heat – the dog does not stir – the peals from the spire do not stop – the paddling pool, brought out earlier, is a mirror of ripples – each raindrop lands with a profound plop – the bacon crackle of warm rains – almost tropical, an echo of a sketchy week in Saigon, 1999 – the rain beats down – the only appropriate action is to put on ‘Riders on the Storm’ – Jim was a daft lad but those last couple of records are bangers – the rain blows towards the sea as fast as it arrived, The Doors are still in that twangy second solo when the sun comes out – the shed smells hot and damp – children resume their clamour – Jim fades out.
The thickness returns – heavy heat, slight breeze – the washing line of children’s bedding shimmies – Lego men wobble in the wind – that sun through that sky – no clouds now – stay out too long and you’ll turn into an ammonite – a whiff of charcoal ignition, a selection of mystery meats to be prepared – a wren perches on the shed door – gives a little trill and moves on. A neighbour calls over the fence – “You cutting that grass back yet?” – “No, not yet – a man is coming but not today” – wheat grows through the thistles – bees attend to their collections – the basking dog walks over to the paddling pool and takes a couple of laps, but, as is her way, does not get in.
A child calls – “Daddy” – ah, rumbled – “Have you seen Daddy?” – another child pipes up – “He’s in the shed” – bare feet patter back inside and quickly return – the child appears, one of the more warlike sons – “I brought you one of these – an ice cold can of Eurolager” – this is excellent service – proper Sunday afternoon stuff – John Mills necks a Carlsberg after the desert – the bells and sun continue – shed life is, for the time being, where it’s at.
Of course, the shed will evolve – reinforcements made – the roof to consider – turf, maybe – perhaps a colour on the exterior – black perhaps, with yellow round the windows – then there’s the garden to think of – something Japanese, maybe – no trees, only sky – something round – a border the shape and scale of a Bronze Age barrow – something red – garden planning as an extension of painting – what would Jarman do? How would Claude Monet approach this space? We’ll see, we’ll see – the water fight resumes and the lamb is smelling good – bells still clanging through the ragwort – the dog shifts and sighs – another beer? – why ever not – this is shed life.
Now it’s time for settling – accept middle age – accept getting fat – it’s fine – your meat is marbled – your hobbies are okay, of value – sit, enjoy ordinary beer – accept shed life – hold a flint until it gets warm in your hand – prepare for death – in a shed – shed life is spiritual betterment – the nettles come and go, enter the shed.