Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Saying goodbye to your garden office

Friend of Shedworking Chris Routledge has recently said farewell to the garden office he built. Here in a guest post, he discusses his feelings about saying goodbye after many years of faithful service.
In 2003 I decided to build a writing hut at the bottom of our garden in Lancashire. Even though it took me all Summer and most of the Autumn, resulted in a lot of hammer-thumb impacts, and made my hands go up a glove size, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The motivation was to provide a place away from the house to work, and to keep work-related things there, but the actual act of building it was life changing in a quiet sort of way. As I wrote at the time: "That first week, listening to the rain pounding on the roof I made and not coming in, I felt connected with something very old and very human."

For a while the writing hut was shedfamous, featuring in the 2010 book Shedworking, and being visited by curious local dignitaries, such as the vicar and the postman, who, despite the extra legwork involved in traipsing down the garden, seemed to accept it as a new address on his round. It was always amusing, on a work call, when one of our chickens began to celebrate laying an egg, and the question would come, inevitably: "Where are you?" It was a question I never quite felt I could answer convincingly: a shed, a writing hut, an office, an escape, a farmyard, a cabin in a meadow; for one children's party it was a pirate ship, the Blue Pig. Despite my over-specified collar ties and roof timbers the hut was an imaginative space that somehow remained unfixed.

Over the years my wife and I wrote many thousands of words there and several books. For one memorable project I used it to interview distinguished people around the world. Near midnight on one dark Lancashire night I had to explain to a prominent Hollywood agent that the background noise to our phone call was the sound of wind in the trees and heavy rain beating on the roof. More recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it became a teaching venue, where lectures on English Language were delivered to students at the University of Liverpool.

But twenty years after I laid down my hammer and saw, my writing hut is sold; we threw in a free house to sweeten the deal. In all the days and weeks of clearing out a large family house in order to downsize, clearing out the shed was the hardest part for me and took far longer than it should have. The house was where we raised a child, had friends round for dinner and parties, Christmases and birthdays, and spent long lockdown days together. 
But the shed was something different; an achievement even to build it, but somehow also a laying down of deeper roots. What went on there was not just two decades of work, but a whole other phase of life, of youth thickening into middle age. They have been two decades of dreams and disappointments, of struggle and breakthrough; two decades that seemed to stretch ahead in the building and now, in the leaving, seem short.

What will I miss about the shed I built all those years ago now it is no longer mine? I'll miss it as a mental reference point in the geography of our lives; I'll miss the writing and reading that went on there, the cocktails on the stoop on a warm evening, and watching the seasons pass in our unruly garden. But most of all I'll miss leaving the house with my shed key and my laptop at the beginning of a promising day.


Wednesday posts are sponsored by Booths Garden Studios, the UK's No.1 supplier of zero maintenance and portable garden studios

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