It was Timothy Reginald’s contention that there were various topics of conversation that could only be discussed with his male friends, and these included the anticipated batting averages of Alastair Cook, the horsepower of the Audi R8 and the joys of a garden shed, in particular its size, mod cons and winter heating costs.
“I’ve just bought a USB-powered mini-fridge to keep the wine cool in my den,” the financier confided to his masculine drinking crowd at Boisdale of Bishopsgate a few months after he started working from the retreat at the end of his garden. A frisson of excitement rippled through the listeners. If he had declared that he was having an affair with Nicole Kidman it could not have caused more of a stir.
In 2010 Timothy had chucked in his safe job in the City and gone freelance. Since when he had worked a couple of days a week in town (mostly lunching contacts) and the rest of the time at his home in Richmond. Unfortunately, his wife Livvie had hated him hanging about interrupting her daily routine of chatting on the phone and watching True Movies, and so Timothy invested in a shed from which to work. However, it was no slatted-wooden hut smelling of creosote. Rather, it was a five-figure studio complete with power sockets, laminate flooring and a small veranda where the money man could enjoy an occasional Marlboro Light and a lunchtime glass or three of his favourite claret without rebuke from a boss or his spouse.
His garden “shed” was his fiefdom. It was more than just four walls to him – it was a lifestyle. And he soon found that a surprising number of his mates either had a similar sort of outside den or wished for one, and that the subject of the shed was a male bonding experience. Friends directed him to websites devoted to the huts, informed him about books on the subject and even lent him a Cotswold Life magazine that had an article entitled “Shed Heaven” featuring the insides of sheds belonging to the Gloucestershire gentry.
Timothy’s retreat among the nettles was in deliberate contrast to his previously austere, soulless City office. It was, he liked to think, a proper chap’s lair. He furnished it with a torn-leather sofa bought at the local auction house, where he also found a couple of suitably well-worn Turkish carpets. His desk was made by a local artisan from pitch pine that came from the discarded beams of a demolished docklands warehouse. He hung a dartboard on the back of the door, installed an iPod docking station with surround sound and, behind his desk, he stuck up a poster of a red Ferrari F50, the car he joked he planned to buy if his freelance business was successful. He even nailed a piece of wood over the main door with the Rudyard Kipling couplet: “For where the old thick laurels grow along the thin red wall/You find the tool and potting sheds which are the heart of all.”
And it was in this financier’s bothy where Timothy, with his laptop and mobile phone, began conducting a financial business. And it was a business that quickly began to flourish as his old City colleagues started sending him work. In fact, within a few months he needed to employ a part-time secretary whose first job was to make room for a new desk by moving out the old sofa.
As the work piled up, the secretary had to become full-time, and Timothy was forced to hire a junior partner, Julie, who didn’t drink or smoke and who certainly didn’t approve of frittering her time away playing darts, a view which she duly enforced by removing the board from the back of the door.
After that it was only a matter of time before Julie and the secretary ganged up and decided that the Oriental rug should be replaced by a grey fitted carpet, that the windows should have proper blinds and that the F50 poster should make way for a display board.
Within three weeks of Julie’s arrival, Timothy’s beloved shed was as spare as a banker’s boardroom. All that was left was his USB-powered mini-fridge – the very object that had, for him, symbolised his breaking away from the City treadmill and that now, sadly, contained merely bottled water.