Shed Heaven

Hiding out

A Shed:  Looks nicer from the inside

A Shed of the Year nomination: Looks nicer from the inside

I’m taking delivery of a shed tomorrow between 12 and 4.  It’s arriving flat-packed and I will attempt to put it together, though it’s only fair to confess that if sheds are redolent of craft-ish, handy men, that’s not me.  There’s an even chance that said shed will resurface in various neighbours gardens by the evening, if I am strong enough to throw it.

It’s very shed right now. At the weekend I watched Shed of the Year on Channel 4.  Someone who should know better tweeted sarcastically (@adamhess1, who deserves to be un-followed instantly)

We’ve finally done it guys! We’ve officially done every possible idea for a TV show. Great work everybody.

As if this was real barrel-scraping desperation.  But not only was Shed of the Year a terrific programme – taking sheds to luxurious and aesthetic heights – the writer was perhaps unaware that a whole channel is named after sheds: ‘Discovery Shed’.  When it launched it was described thus:

“the place for men who like good old practical activities to escape to”

Although perhaps:

‘the place for men who like to escape’

Would be more grammatically stylish, and accurate.

And that’s how we think of sheds on TV, is it not: Jack Hargreaves whittling, Bob Fleming coughing and the Doctor travelling through time (yes, the TARDIS is clearly a shed).  Men of a certain age, doing practical things, on their own or with a young helper.

Embarrassing hobbies

When the subject matter is a little mildewed, TV will sex it up. So Shed of the Year deployed many devices:

A contest (gives it structure but please, no wagering),

Lively, un-shed-like presenters (if anything, they seemed a little Hoxton-tinged)

Superlatives (incredible… wow, first, ‘the world’s first ever walking egg’, ‘such a ground-breaking shed’, eco-masterpiece, fantastic, brilliant).  Most of them deserved.

‘This is magnificent isn’t it. It’s almost not even a shed isn’t it?’

Counter-scheduling (this Thursday the next episode is opposite programmes about Peter Sutcliffe, Beavers Behaving Badly, sport and a doc about the crew of a dredger… OK, that’s not counter-programming, that’s going with a flow…)

A sense of universality: ‘Everyone should have a shed of their own’.  These amazing structures were generally cheap to build.

Authentic craftsmanship – these things were genuinely beautiful. Who doesn’t want to watch that?

Real people.  One may have said ‘A shed defines your life’ but they sounded more rounded than that, and not only the shed that was tea-pot-shaped. Having said that, they were all men.

Still, more than 2 million viewers overnight (yes, @adamhess1, 2 million).  More than Fargo and Utopia combined.   Particularly popular among middle-aged men, but also the people who love them.

The only problem? The public vote in the best ‘Unique Shed’ category clearly voted for the least interesting nomination – a cinema shed.  I’m sorry to be controversial, but THAT IS NOT A PROPER SHED.  It’s a wooden home-cinema purporting to be a shed.

One thing barely mentioned (apart from the cinema shed), the idea of actually watching TV in the shed.  And it’s true, is it not, that sheds are not associated with watching TV.  Why is that?  Aren’t they made for each other?  Especially now that TV is so portable.

No, they are not made for each other.

It reminded me of a project at work which explored how we like to watch TV, and why viewing in bedrooms and outside the living room was such a tiny part of viewing.  The  team at Flamingo pointed out that while we had expected new technology to have a centrifugal effect on our lives – driving us from our office to work at home, and from our living room into high-tech hubs in our bedrooms, or sheds – we actually LIKE being together. Not all the time, but when we are watching TV programmes and films.

Co-location matters.

[As an aside, I’ve been reading Family Breakdown, by Penelope Leach.  It’s about how to help children through a parental split.  Leach argues that during the process of separation and beyond, children need the stability of a single base: splitting them between the places where their mum and dad live adds to the sense of disorientation. When times are troubled, we like a particular base to call our own].

And without wanting to force the point too much, for most of us comfort, it isn’t the shed, it’s inside the house.  For all their woody-charm, sheds are lonely and depressing places that we might go to for a particular reason, to get away. When we’re not escaping or… I’m going to avoid smutty references… We want to be where others are.  Somewhere the wolf can’t blow down by moderate huffing and puffing.

And when it’s not about preferring to be in particular places for particular things, it’s about other people.  We do some things on our own, and other things with other people.

Consider Fifty Shades of Grey the book, compared with Fifty Shades of Grey, the film… We like to read books alone, don’t we.  But we like to see films with others, generally. If not with them, then so we can talk about it after. A steamy S&M themed novel fits a solo experience. Do we want to sit with a crowd of strangers (or even our partner) watching people who love each other very much* tormenting each other with whips?

Perhaps, but not in a public place.

A cinema in a shed.  Is that still a shed?  No. It's a Contradiction In Terms.

A cinema in a shed. Is that still a shed? No. It’s a Contradiction In Terms.

I’d go Fifty Shades of Pink if I did that.  Fifty Shades of Grey will flop in cinemas.  Not because it’s bad, but because the story is unsuited to the communal way most of us like watch films.

The best place to watch the 50 Shades of Grey film?

In a shed.  Got to be.


My Shed… it’s arrived

Tears may be shed

Tears may be shed


Not a Shed kinda person?  This song is for you

(* for any children reading)