by Edward Wilkinson-Latham

The Toronto Standard

A couple of weeks ago my wife gave birth to another offspring and wasted no time in proclaiming that I will soon lose my study in favour of a nursery. In a last desperate attempt, I tried pointing out that children born to hippy parents, or those from the third world, regularly sleep in the same bedroom, if not the same bed. There was something called a bunk bed I explained, but it goes without saying that I lost the battle with She Who Must Be Obeyed. Thus I’ve been forced to make a stand: in the spirit of springtime and new beginnings, I have decided to build a shed.

This should be an exciting prospect, but it signals I am now well and truly middle-aged. Young virile men don’t buy sheds, it’s what middle-aged and elderly men do as some sort of subconscious preparation for the final wooden box they will one day be fitted for. Sheds also, however, fulfill a profound psychological yearning in us men for a hut where we can feel chiefly in our undomesticated disorder; where we can drop our public persona and tinker with things, even if that means having to wear fingerless gloves against the cold.

Upon my allocated piece of the garden I will create my man-embassy, but what will it be built from? Would it have metal sheathing over a metal frame, or be an all-wood construction? Choosing the right materials is like being one of the three little pigs. I could go for something relatively cheap and hope for the best against the weather wolf, or should I build a reinforced concrete Parthenon?

Men have long used their sheds for an infinite number of reasons, from masturbatorium to space rocket laboratories and even that place where “potting” occurs, what ever that really is? From time to time I will have company, for sheds traditionally attract other males, a bit like Amsterdam does. There’s usually booze, some sad old pornography knocking about, and something that might be called art on the walls.

Down under, Australian males are passionate shed dwellers, the same way they can’t help wearing very high shorts that nearly expose their genitals and habitually putting the letter “o” at the end of every word. They’ve turned a nationwide recreation of spending time in the “shedo” into a form of therapy for older men known as the Men’s Shed Movement. In a “community shed” they can meet some mates and put the world to rights over a cup of tea and pack of bickies. It’s also drastically cheaper than building a community centre. The idea has also spread to the UK, where the number of older men living alone has just reached one million. Soon there’ll be bands of grey brothers all over the British Isles sitting in small wooden huts, plotting, and then forgetting what it was they were talking about.

Far from wanting my shed to become a community hub for old geezers to fart in, I would like to see it as a place for contemplation, writing and discussion. A desk and a library of assorted titles should be on view, and for libation I will offer a shed speciality — homebrew. Men have long fermented things in sheds. I have recently been experimenting with making my own ale, the hoppy results dubbed Old Grumbler; my dear wife’s tasting notes describe it as being “best suited for compost.” The keg will sit in the corner and on social evenings plastic milk crates could act as stools. They would also add some colour to the interior. The interior doesn’t have to look like something from a design magazine; real sheddies don’t buy IKEA Vejmon coffee tables. They liberate a palette from behind a Portuguese bakery at 10 pm.

There will no doubt be times when my shed will serve as an overnight barracks. When, after an argument, I will march out refusing to apologize, while Her Indoors phones her friends for a good giggle. On other occasions a shed might even spice up one’s marriage. The old guard sheddies will be disgusted when I say this, for they forbid all female presence within the hut, but a red handkerchief or a bottle of weed killer displayed on the windowsill could be the signal for the lady of the house to visit “Percy the Gardener” in the potting shed for some advice on her perennials.

I’ve been tempted by some of the modern pre-fab sheds on the market, which come in all shapes and every conceivable finishing — from shingles to armour plating. But I’ve resisted those. I’m going to build my own with some pals, in the spirit of a Mennonite barn raising. In return, I have agreed to offer my time when they construct their own man hut. But if they think for a moment that they can pop round and visit my shed whenever they please, they have another thing coming. I’ve got plenty of potting to catch up on and two copies of Gent Magazine from 1993 to get through first.

Ed Wilkinson-Latham is a Senior Editor at The Toronto Standard