I have serious doubts about the title of this post – should it be “people and sheds” ? As I contemplated the subject matter I began to envisage a whole minefield of political correctness opening before me. If I’m going to be gender neutral do I use the term spouse or is that too elitist? Should I play safe and use partner? Definitely not “significant other”, or even “better half”, how about companion or soul mate? Perhaps not. I prevaricate and digress into whimsy.
Originally I was going to declare 2015 the “Year of Projects”, not quite as good as Scotland’s “Year of Food and Drink” but better than ” International Year of Light and Light-based Technology” or you can choose from “Strong Women”, “Mud”, “Design”, “Soils”, or “Consecrated Life” and the list goes on and on. A bit like our projects, but in the end I settled on “Year of the Shed” – a celebration of sheds in all their glorious diversity. The secret can now be revealed – this summer we have been building sheds (with a little help from our builders to do the heavy lifting and Himself as Project Manager).
Now sheds, like people, come in many guises and the island has it’s fair share of unique and innovative designs. More Hebridean character than architectural merit, but that is probably natural selection, as anything too fancy is likely to last only until the next gale.
So starting at the heritage end there are the old blackhouses, often restored with poured concrete and complete with a rusty corrugated iron roof and matching door, windows are optional but rarely glazed. Next, but now quite a rarity, are the old Nissen huts and we will gloss over the materials used as they are likely to be a health hazard. The most common form of small garden shed is the shipping container, again of various vintages (degree of rust is usually indicative) and often secured with straining ropes. Traditionally agricultural buildings, or big sheds are adjacent to, and often dwarf, the croft house. This is a development from the traditional blackhouse when the byre was integral and the central heating was provided by the kyne. Agri-sheds vary in size and design, but the modern trend is for breeze block and corrugated, coated sheets of metal. Using a redundant trailer and discarded rope to tie down the roof panels is a design feature.
Island sheds have a multiplicity of uses, everything from weaving to calving and storing bits of tractors, creels and lobster tanks, housing miscellaneous pieces of junk, lawn mowers and bicycles, serving as art and craft galleries and accommodating the local shop and Post Office. As well as being part of the landscape and our vernacular architecture they are also havens and places of refuge. The ability to escape to the shed to do whatever, is an essential part of being human. A shed (or an allotment, but these tend to have sheds too) has probably saved many a relationship and is now recognised as being fundamental to our well-being. In fact you can probably get one prescribed by the local community mental health team, it is more cost-effective than sectioning.
Traditionally sheds have been a male preserve, especially when the kitchen was seen as domestic territory ruled by “her in-doors” and the man of the house need a refuge from the hurly-burly of family life other than the local pub. Socially things may have changed, but the popularity of the shed remains. They are now less of a male preserve and accordingly have metamorphosed into home offices, hobby rooms, greenhouses or conservatories. I doubt if this gentrification will be the death knell of the traditional garden shed, but how long will it be before the first shed becomes a scheduled listed building, preserved for posterity and nation? Obviously you can never have too many sheds, a small shed (shipping container), big shed (workshop and produce store), a greenhouse and polytunnel should be adequate. So why build an extension to the big shed and to double the size of the study?
Fortunately we do not need multiple refuges to maintain domestic harmony or to house an excessive amount of bits of tractor; it just seemed a good idea at the time! The secrets of the big shed extension will be revealed soon. As for the study, it has metamorphosed from a cramped alcove into a laboratory suite. Not exactly mission control, but this is South Uist.
The polytunnel is my shed equivalent, as I do not have exclusive rights, I have an alternative refuge. It is mobile and is open for use anytime I desire. Like most sheds it is cluttered with junk and trivia, but it is capable of infinite expansion so that it can hold a lifetime’s memories, hopes and dreams. It is the perfect place to practice mindlessness (the opposite of mindfulness) and also houses my muse, when she’s not on holiday. The door of the shed has to be opened with care lest the thoughts escape as words or take flight as poems! We all have mind sheds, take a look inside yours, you might grow to like it.