Tag Archives: masculinity

Shedloads – a gift list for book (and shed) lovers

There are lots of jokes about a man’s relationship with (his) garden shed. Much is jovial and harmless banter, some has a more sinister undertone; the isolation and escape of a garden shed is not always ‘a good thing’.

This selection of books is a bit of fun for Christmas and beyond. Tossing the odd shed fact – mostly trivia – into a conversation can also be a useful opening for talking about Men’s Sheds – communal workspaces that are keeping men healthier and happier for longer – one of my passions (see www.menssheds.org.uk).

Fifty Sheds of Grey

‘Hurt me!’ she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workbench. ‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘You’ve got fat ankles and no dress sense.’ Colin Grey’s life was happy and simple until the day everything changed – the day his wife read THAT book. Suddenly, he was thrust head-first into a dark, illicit world of pleasure and pain. This is the story of one man’s struggle against a tide of tempestuous, erotic desire and of the greatest love of all: the love between a man and his shed.

A Hut of One’s Own: How to Make the Most of Your Allotment Shed

Allotments are places to grow food, but they are so much more than that. They are also places that encourage spontaneity, exploration, learning, sharing, restful activity and camaraderie. This illustrated book is a celebration of the allotment hut – their architecture and design, their uniqueness.

Men and Sheds

One of the more arty titles on offer here – striking black and white photos and a running commentary feature men and their sheds in a variety of guises. From a workshop of strange inventions, to a chapel and the home of a milk bottle collection, to a cinema. I like it because the men and shed get equal billing and the personalities of both shine through.

101 Things to do in a Shed

Published in 2005, by design this little gem has a much older feel about it from the use of rough paper with brown tint (light sepia?) to the simple Look & Learn style line drawings. There really are a wide range in the 101 project ideas contained within 128 pages. Members of The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead can confirm its status as a how-to handbook if you make some allowance for instructions and illustrations that don’t always tally with each other. But such shortcomings add to the charm of this ideal stocking-filler for dads and lads.

A Shed of One’s Own

The sub-title for this book – midlife without the crisis – is a giveaway that this book is not really about sheds but more an amusing survival guide for men at an age and stage at which a shed for escaping to becomes increasingly appealing.

This is for you if you show symptoms such as shouting at the radio, getting angry about littering, and developing a passion for trousers with elasticated waistbands. It’s probably not for you if you’re trying to buy a Shed.

Shedworking

Written by a man with a mission – to convert the world to the delights and convenience of working at the bottom of the garden in a ‘shoffice’. This is part architectural guide, part tour of famous sheds, part how-to handbook, and part supplier catalogue. Illustrated throughout with full colour photos, this is a beautiful book for coffee tables everywhere (including in sheds).  http://www.shedworking.co.uk/p/buy-book.html

The Joy of Sheds

Another tongue in cheek collection of facts and figures (some famous, like Edvard Greig, Snoop Dogg, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame) associated with sheds around the world.

A selection of headings for short chapters give you the idea: Sheds in Music; Sheds at the Movies; Shed Art. One of the most intriguing chapter headings is ‘Hidden in a Shed’ which demonstrates the fact that they can harbour pretty much anything and everything.

The Shed

An early addition to the Ladybird Books for adults series. Well observed and a stupidly simple idea to appeal to people of an age to remember the originals. The idea – take the cover picture add a text that says “Using your shed as an office is called shedworking. Bunny works from his shed. He is a freelance cow-whisperer. At least that’s what he tells his wife. Bunny is unemployed” If you’re giggling, this is one for you.

All books (except Shedworking) are available online through Hive Books (www.hive.co.uk).

Hive are recommended for three reasons: their books are often cheaper than you-know-who; they pay UK taxes and, importantly, they support local bookshops. As someone who spent the first 15 years of his working life in book publishing this is important to me.

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My four mothers – no man’s land #5

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

Family gathering at my grandfather’s funeral 1965. Was my jaunty pose a front and where were my male cousins?

My mum used to say she only ever wanted to be a mother (admitting in the same breath many could not afford to have a similar ambition). She believed parenting was an essential skill and a noble calling for the wider benefit of society. And who could argue with that?

She also said she felt her life’s work was to leave the world a better place than when she was born – so she didn’t limit her horizons to bringing up a family!

My mum’s maternal desires meant that I was one of four children – the youngest, and the only boy. I believe she would have gone on having children until a boy came along, so it’s just as well I appeared when I did (although I think my parents would have considered adoption if I’d been a fourth girl).

I know that in my early years I was spoilt. I was ‘the baby’ of the family (and feel I have remained so ever since) growing up with four mothers. At school, my friends would say how lucky I was to have three sisters at home to do the housework. I was lucky – I love them dearly – but it didn’t get me out of cleaning and tidying up; I had five family members making sure I did my fair share of the chores.

I’ll never know whether, if I’d spent my adolescent years at home with my sisters, my self-image as a boy and a man would now be different. I didn’t have the opportunity to find out as I went to a boy’s boarding school from 11 to 18 years, more about this in a later blog.

What I do know is that living for the first ten years of my life in a house filled with women – not just my mother and sisters, but all their school friends – gave me a pretty one-sided view of the ‘opposite’ sex. Or you could say it gave me an accurate view – of girls as people rather than objects of desire. Obviously I could never see what attracted boys to my sisters, but that’s probably the same for all siblings.

Not that my pre-boarding school life was entirely bereft of male company. My next-door neighbour – a friend until his untimely death aged 52 – was only slightly older than me and we did all the things pubescent boys do. We argued, bust up and made up on a regular basis, dabbled in girlie magazines, talked and watched football, went to see Mott the Hoople surprisingly often across the Mersey in Liverpool, made dens and climbed trees in the woods behind our house.

Of course, parents would never allow unaccompanied trips to the woods these days (I only had one dirty old man expose himself to me) but maybe the fact we often had our two elder sisters with us made it OK. Both those sisters were described at the time as ‘tom boys’ and only recently I read someone’s observation that there was never an equivalent description, that wasn’t derogatory, for boys who liked to do the same sorts of things as girls.

I know I was quite a sensitive young man. Before going to boarding school, I went dinghy sailing with another sister’s boyfriend. I don’t know how or why, but I read a love poem he’d written (someone suggested it might have been referring to my sister but that would be just too romantic…).

50 years on I can just about remember the poem – so touched was I by its sweet simplicity and his use of words

I remember her face (I think)

and a summer evening

standing on the shore

watching the Mersey

turning in its sleep

and the seagulls crying

sliding down the sky

like kids on banisters

while we wrote

I love you

in the sweaty summer sand

with sticks

and skipped across rocks

and both held hands

to keep from falling

out of love

But we couldn’t

That sense of lost love must have struck a chord with me, even at that stage in my life, and yet if you’d asked me to describe love I would have been hard-pressed to do so (but maybe this would be the same for most boys of that age, if not for most girls as well).

I was surrounded by love – my ‘four mothers’ and a father whom I now realise has had a massive influence on my whole life – good more than bad (but more about that in a later blog). Maybe that’s why being ‘sent away’ to boarding school felt like rejection, even though it was done for what my parents considered to be all the right reasons and with my complete agreement.

To be continued…

For other blogs in the ‘No man’s land’ series click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

A spot of bother – No man’s land # 1

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

tedxtalkI’m standing on stage, on a circular bright red carpet. 80 strangers, spotlights and cameras are watching my every move and wanting to hear what I have to say. Silence – my mind has gone blank and I’m thinking ‘Uh-oh, I’m in a spot of bother here. What now?’

I’m tempted to run and hide, but I don’t. I stare at the carpet for what seems like an age and suddenly I’m back on track – not fluent, but continuing to talk about being male, stale and in a shed.

I’ve been a fan of TED Talks for many years (I’m amazed that many of my contemporaries haven’t yet discovered them) which is why I helped organise a TEDx event in Bedford in June 2013 – a local ‘little TED’ that uses the big TED branding and talks format and rules.

My chance to give a TED talk came three years later when I learnt that a TEDx Chelmsford event was being planned for June 2016. It’s not just a question of turning up; I had two auditions with feedback from the organisers to meet the big TED requirements, including having ‘ideas worth sharing’ – the TED strapline.

The appeal of TED Talks for speaker and audience is that none are longer than 22 minutes and many are shorter than that. My own TEDx Talk, including the pregnant pause, came out at around 14 minutes 30 seconds and was then edited down to 12 minutes 55 seconds.

When invited to submit a subject for consideration, I had no hesitation – reflections on being an older man, associated issues around health and wellbeing, and the role of sheds in men’s lives. ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ was born – an important step in my mission to help keep older men (including myself!) healthier and happier for longer.

To start at the end, I had discovered a very special kind of shed – the Men’s Shed – nearly five years earlier. There’s no such thing as a typical Men’s Shed; most are not even sheds. In Maldon in Essex the local Shed occupies a former mortuary, in Bedford the shared workspace is in a community arts centre, while in Bristol their sports pavilion premises means they don’t disturb the neighbours.

The common theme is that the facilities are communal and accessible to men (and increasingly women) of all ages and abilities. Most shedders (as we are known) tend to be 50+. I call them NIPPERS (Not in Permanent Paid Employment, or Retired) because they’re so young at heart. Many are returning to, or learning afresh, woodworking, metal working and other making and mending activities. The most important elements of a sustainable Men’s Shed are tea and a table for planning and playing around the particular skills and interests of the Shedders. In other words… DIY at it’s most human – self-organised and mutual-supported in equal measure

I’ve been interested in woodworking and doing practical things with my hands from an early age. We always had a workshop at home and one of my dad’s best friends was a master builder. I played ‘chippy’s mate’ from primary school age and into adulthood I’ve made functional furniture (with a specialism in beds) that won’t win any prizes but works. Five decades on from my initiation into the wonderful world of woodwork, and two and half years after helping to set up The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, I realise that my relationship with Men’s Shed is as the best mortice and tenon joint should be – a great fit.

man-on-the-spotBack to that red carpet in Chelmsford on 16 June 2016 and, soon after my first, faltering and frustrating experience of giving a TEDx Talk, I made two resolutions. First, given my difficulty in memorising (a TED rule) even a 15-minute talk, I would stick to talking with notes in future. Secondly, I would write a series of blogs that could shelter under a ‘no man’s land’ umbrella; you’ve just read the first in that series.

Further information:

Male, stale and in a Shed  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Male-stale-and-in-a-shed-Chris 

When doctors prescribe sheds instead of meds  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-lee/no-mans-land-when-doctors_b_13073266.html?1479745146

UK Men’s Sheds Association www.menssheds.org.uk