The shed war – for Frederic and Barnaby – started with David Cameron. Or, at least, it started about the same time. There he was, all over the newspapers, grinning from the steps of his brand new £25,000 shepherd’s hut painted in Farrow & Ball accents of Mouse’s Back, Old White and Clunch.
And it was about the same time that Barnaby started work on what his wife Ingrid called his “folie de grandeur”. She’d already put up with the extension housing his model railway. But here was something altogether bigger. At the foot of their Cotswold garden there rose a tasteful wooden outbuilding twice the size of the average London starter flat. It was a shed, but in name only: there were no spidery old pots; no rusty trowels; no musty deckchairs; no crumpled old copies of Auto Trader or tins of rolling baccy.
There were, instead, shining magazines in a minimalist rack; there was a surround-sound music system, a pair of Skyline Fabio hanging chairs, a Tibetan rug and a half-covered porch on which he could be seen, of an evening, contemplatively smoking (well, vaping) a pipe.
And then Frederic, next door – who had never quite forgotten the day when Barnaby had topped his new Porsche Cayenne V6 with the Turbo model – started laying foundations himself, just across the treeline. Over the months, the sheds expanded by turns. Barnaby built a sub-shed with a sauna in it; Frederic a gleaming glass lean-to with underfloor heating. Barnaby added a picture window; Frederic built upwards with a bell tower-style reading nook. And so on. And the design schemes kept morphing: Elephant’s Breath gave way to Dead Salmon; Rotting Courgette was overtaken by the unbeatable Clunch.
After the EU trade talks collapsed and the “Brexit bounce” became the Brexit splat, both men ploughed on with their grand designs, when really they shouldn’t have. Frederic, very quietly, borrowed £200,000 against his house for the continuing works. Barnaby went a bit higher than that. Then there were the overruns. But it was the eventual correction in interest rates – in combination with a hit to the portfolio – that really did for them both.
So it was that one Sunday Frederic was sitting in his giant beanbag gloomily reading the financial pages, when he was startled by a clunk against the window. He peered out. On the grass below the window was an empty tin can – organic cannellini beans in natural spring water.
He picked it up… and saw it was connected to a wire that snaked through a gap in the leylandii towards the opposite structure, painted in tastefully muted Salty Tear. A childhood memory stirred in him. He pulled the string taut and lifted the can.
“Frederic?” a voice buzzed in his ear – tinny but audible.
Frederic looked at the tin can as if it had bitten him. He pulled it taught again, and put his mouth to it: “Barnaby?”
“We have to stop,” said Barnaby. “Truce?”
“Truce,” said Frederic. “I’m glad you said that.”
“It’s pretty bad. I’m living here, actually,” said Barnaby, pleased his neighbour could not see a flush of humiliation. “Overextended a bit and we’re now having to – um – with the main house…”
“Airbnb?” Frederic paused. “Me too. Dasha’s furious.”
“Ingrid too. She and the kids have had to move to her mother’s. I mean, I said it’s just for a bit. You know… just to tide us over. Cover the mortgage for a few um…”
There was a pause, while the two men pondered the gravity of their situation.
Then Barnaby pulled the tin-can phone taut again. “You know what, though? It’s not all bad, is it? Just for a bit, I mean.” He added: “Over.”
“Yes! I’ve been reading PG Wodehouse and eating biscuits all day. You? Over.”
“I’m on level 434 of Candy Crush Saga. Over.”
“Got whisky. Over.”
“Got Haribos. Tangfastics. Over.”
“Excellent idea. Midnight feast after. Over?”
“Now you’re talking. Over.”
And so their plans were set. Barnaby pushed away from the floor with his feet and let his chair swing back and forth, digging into his pocket for another fizzy cola bottle.
“Sheds,” Barnaby announced to the empty room, “are brilliant.”