Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Shedman well impressed! Chinese boffins crack invisible-shed window problem

With thanks to The Register - article by Lewis Page.

'Everyone, one hopes, is well aware by now of metamaterial - remarkable conceptual stuff which might be used in coming years to make invisibility cloaks; or more realistically, invisible sheds. Few, however, have spotted the critical flaw in a metamaterial cloak, shed or cladding - people so concealed would no more be able to see out than those outside could see in.'

Also see Boffin predicts invisible sheds on market in 5 years

Friday, 28 November 2008

A shed by any other name...

I'm grateful to Vivienne Boucher for putting me on to this - the Laubenmuseum in Nürnberg - that's the Museum of Summerhouses in Nuremberg, Germany. She describes it as a museum of sheds, discovered on a trip to encourage her son in his German GCSE. (She's quite a mum - she did the GCSE herself.)

Here's a rough translation of the homepage text:

'Garden arbors from the period 1920 to 1930, from various allotments in Nuremberg, have been lovingly restored and rebuilt here.

The urban gardeners of Nuremberg shows how romantic and imaginative garden houses at that time were designed.'

Karwendelstr. 30
90471 Nürnberg

Free admission. Fully wheelchair accessible
Opening hours: May - Oct. Sat 2 pm - 5 pm

'The goal of the local association of allotment gardeners is to preserve for future generations this valuable evidence both of the garden plot movement in Nuremberg after WW I and of the romantic creativity invested in such gardenhouses in that period.' European City Cards

And in that way so characteristic of sheds (or certainly the ones I come across), the garden houses of Nuremberg have acted as a focal point - gathering together a number of different strands.

A few years ago, when I was the director of a regional writers' organisation based Brighton, England - Nadine Mannchen, a German student, came to work with me, courtesy of the excellent EU Da Vinci programme that provides work experience for students across Europe.

Nadine hailed from an area of Germany I knew little about - Franconia. Nuremberg happens to be the capital of Middle Franconia, one of the administrative regions (Regierungs bezirk) of modern Bavaria along with Upper and Lower Franconia.

Nadine helping Shedman at the Weald Woodfair 2005

Nadine gave me a beautiful illustrated book about Franconia. As its name suggests, it is the land of the Franks. There is no Franconian state - although people still feel a strong sense of being Franconian as opposed to Bavarian. Shedman like's to think that like the South of England, Franconia is a region of the imagination. - the throwing axe of the Franks!

A curious aside:
Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Deputy in the Nazi Party, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. On August 17, 1987, Hess was found in a "summer house" in a garden located in a secure area of the prison with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. His death was ruled a suicide by self-asphyxiation, accomplished by tying the cord to a window latch in the summer house.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Havant The Blues

The Portsmouth News asked for a poem...

Haven't got a job no more
haven't got a gaff
haven't got a girlfriend
the one I had's gone off.
Haven't got enough for tea
haven't had my lunch
I'm getting pretty fed up
of my private credit crunch.
But with friends, fresh air and freedom
I'm not feeling down.
I'm happy writing in my shed
here in Havant Town.

Havant Literary Festival - A Fresh Page

Over the next few weeks I'll be writing up my experiences at the first Havant Literary Festival held at the end of September. It was a wonderfully successful festival that connected with all kinds of people. Special thanks to Lucy Flannery, the Festival's Director and Tim Dawes at Nineveh.

By the way if you're one of the people who is waiting for their festival poem from me - they're all cooking away and will be with you very soon. I'll also put them up on here on Shedlife - well, all except one maybe - that love poem...!

Shedman in The News...

The Portsmouth News that is...


"Former name of Ceylon + -ITY; coined by Horace Walpole upon the title of the fairy-tale The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes of which 'were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'. The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident."

From my trusty companion, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1933. Reprinted with corrections 1959.

The Three Princes of Serendip on Wikipedia

So much for September!

This blog is necessarily occasional as it fits in with the tidal flow of Shedman's life and projects. For newcomers or if you've just lost the thread, as he has a few times, it's worth mentioning that there is a weird kind of logic to the entries.

There are long running stories about the projects l've been involved in (Limerick, Ledbury, Havant, etc). There are one off pieces about something that has struck me - observations, reminiscences, reportage. And there are longer pieces - essays, wanderings, narratives. All are designed to entertain, amuse and bring a smile to your lips or a question to your mind. Do comment or get in touch via email if you'd like to.

Serendipity (very much a trait of Shedman) plays a huge part - as do coincidence and luck.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Normal service resumes for September

After an excellent holiday in California, Shedman is back in the UK.

Latest news is that Shedman was interviewed by Mark Lawson for the UK BBC Radio 4 programme Front Row. They'll be running a special feature on creative sheds sometime week commencing 1st September.

You can also help Shedman raise funds for Cancer Research UK....See opposite!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

What daughters do for dads...

Andrew Hollins - or rather his daughter Bethany (My dad has the best shed ever so I hope he sends you a picture!) - contacted Shedman about his collection of original paintings by Australian artist Pete Browne. Shedman asked Andrew if he had a shed and here's his response:

they do set you up!
i do have a shed, but alas no pictures
and just like my life it is narrow, chaotic, cluttered but every now and again things of worth, beauty and even genius emerge!
used for running repairs to the house, garden and equipment
the most recent article to be finished was a house number for my mum - attached
as for the genius bit - still in development!

the originals of the pictures i sent by peter browne
double in price every 3 years! add to your shed collection and your income in one easy move!'

(Love that 17, says Shedman...)

By the way, Bethany works for the Royal Horticultural Society who happen to have a Flower Show this weekend at Tatton Park near Knutsford, Cheshire .

Note about Pete Browne:
'Peter Browne was born in 1947 in West Wyalong NSW.
Peter Browne claims to have been found under a sheet of tin in West Wyalong around 1947. Raconteur and scallywag, Peter moved into a ruin at Silverton and established it’s first art gallery, where he held court for travellers entertaining them in his almost roofless “renovated “ ruin for many years.' More about Pete at Outback Artist.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Watershed 5: The Lithuanian for shed

One of the joys of poetry festivals is meeting poets from many different backgrounds and traditions. Ledbury was no exception with poets from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and Syria. The preponderant representation of shed-erecting cultures was pure coincidence. It was especially good to meet up again with Merja Virolainen from Finland who read for THE SOUTH during this year's Brighton Festival Fringe.

Lithuanian poet Marcelijus Martinaitis

At the Reception on the first evening I met Laima Vince Sruoginis, a Lithuanian poet and Fulbright scholar who is teaching at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. She introduced me to Marcelijus Martinaitis, whose poetry she has translated into English. They were intrigued by Shedman and the British cultural obsession with sheds, especially Marcelijus, who told me via Laima that he pictured his character Kukatis in one of his poems in a garden shed.

It was real pleasure to meet all the poets and thanks to them I now know the Lithuanian, Latvian, Swedish, Finnish, etc for shed. If any of you check in here please feel free to correct my spelling as the cider seems to have affected my notes!


varasto garden or outdoor store
maja tree house or small building
mökki wooden cottage or play house
mörskä delapidated building usually wooden



skjul, koja

Laima told me that at the end of the era of Russian control in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital , a small group of sheds were erected near the Cathedral. People lit candles all round the sheds and tourists would often comment how picturesque they were, not realising that the sheds were honouring imprisoned protestors on hunger strike.

A mass grave in Vilnius sheds light on a catastrophic military campaign that changed the course of Europe.


Watershed 4: The collective noun for a group of poets

On Friday July 4th, Carol Ann Duffy gave a beautifully paced reading to a packed house. She was rewarded with the warmest applause and laughter that swept through Ledbury's Community Hall like wind across wheat.

I haven't heard her read since she came to The Queens Head near Brighton Station when Jackie Wills, Eva Saltzman and Don Paterson were running Brighton Poets in the nineties. The reading was in the large ground floor bar where the huge windows transmitted the diesel resonance of the buses going past, top deck passengers rubber-necking to catch a glimpse of what was going on. I think that was the same night a well known Brighton writer had been going it a bit on his blood pressure tablets and passed out after a half a pint of lager, so they might have seen a spectacular stool-topple.

After Carol Ann's reading the poets were invited to the Heritage Centre, a fifteenth century building, for a cider supper in the upstairs room. The floor sloped like the wedges of cheese accompanying the local pies, ham, beef , fruit and salads on offer. A number of distinguished poets from Finland and Latvia almost ended up on their backs as the floor's camber threatened to aid the work of gravity as they leant back on their chairs.

The Chair of the Festival , the marvellously calm Peter Arscott, welcomed the poets and mentioned that he had been trying to discover the collective noun for a group of poets. With barely a beat the northerly breeze of Carol Ann's voice sailed across the tables.

'A paranoia,' she said

He who sheds his fear first, LOL

As reported in Wired, science writer Jim Holt explores why we laugh in his book Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes .

'V. S. Ramachandran, the brain researcher, has a theory about the origin of laughter — that when you're in the jungle and there's an apparent threat, the first member of the kinship group to notice that it's not a real threat emits this stereotyped vocalization. And it's contagious, so everyone starts laughing. That's also the basis of the relief theory of humor, that there's a release of the energy you had summoned up to solve some puzzle. Kant said that the essence of humor is a strained expectation dissolving into nothing.'

Talking of which Shedman had his piles banded yesterday for the second time in a decade, and he wouldn't want to enjoy the procedure more often than that thanks. Sitting in damp sheds can't be doing him any good at all.

He appreciates that the NHS is very keen to make sure patients are fully informed and have lots of opportunity to ask questions, but lying bare-bummed in a small cubicle waiting to be interfered with the thought did cross his mind that now wasn't the best time for an explanation of the human digestive system, a detailed analysis of the risks involved in the procedure or a blow by blow summary of what happens to hemorrhoids when confronted by a rubber band. Inside, Shedman was silently suggesting that they should just get on with this please! He was relieved that the consultant (whose name was Mr Ridings, which seemed strangely apropriate) was a real gentle man, although his commentary was more like a fisherman on a river bank finding a particualrly fine specimen of bait in his tin. 'Oh, here's a really juicy one.'

Shedman took a taxi home. The driver decided that the quickest route from the hospital to Shedman's home negotiated every speed bump in Brighton. Thank you so much Brighton Streamline. Isn't something streamlined smooth, fluid and relatively pain-free?

Another book about philosophy and humour is the very amusing and informative Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.

If you enjoy philosophical discussion find your local Philosphy in Pubs

Shedworld - the adventures of Shedman

The Big Day Out Parker's Piece Cambridge July 2007

This is Shedworld - Shedman's blog. It features the random jottings of Shedman on the road, travelling far and wide through shedland. Occasional notes about plans, people, projects - and sheds.

Shedworld provides a refreshing personal view of sheds, poetry, and life in general based around Shedman's present and previous projects. As time allows, Shedman will be updating the blog with projects old and new. If you've met Shedman at projects in the past he'd love to hear from you. Do send in any reminiscences or pictures if you have them.

Limerick City Ireland October 2005

Jamie's Turkish Sheds

Talking about holiday snaps from Shedworld - here's a couple that Jim Newell kindly sent Shedman a whole lot of holidays ago. Thanks Jamie!

A Turkish shed

Almost a Turkish shed

Gordon Brown's Second Home?

'Hello Shedman, we enjoyed meeting you recently at Ledbury. I was passing Westminster Palace recently and noticed a floating shed...

All the best

Paul Kennedy

Friday, 18 July 2008

Watershed 3: Liminal at the Littoral

After David Whyte's reading, later that evening I’m talking to Gary, a qualified forensic anthropologist, although he now works in IT to earn more money. He had once worked on writing the software for a model of how bodies drift in water – in an estuary, for example, with a tidal flow.

In the mid-seventies, as a camera assistant with a film crew, I had worked on a programme about the building of the Humber Bridge. I told Gary how impressed I had been by the model of the Humber estuary that we had filmed in a huge shed at the National Maritime Institute at Teddington. It was every model enthusiast’s dream – a fully functional working model of the Humber estuary complete with tides and flows. What fun to press the button for High Tide or River In Full Spate. It had been built to model the water flow around the bridge’s towers.

Did I know, Gary asked, that the central flow in a river is very easy to model, but at the periphery, it’s much more difficult to predict? ‘Things go quantum,’ said Gary with what I took to be glee, feeling a certain sense of glee myself, at connections, ramifications. ‘Working out the main flow is easy. At at the littoral, it’s liminal!’

Poets don't drive

A review of John Redmond’s MUDe by Robert Potts (The Guardian Review Saturday July 5, 2008) connects with concerns and issues discussed here:
‘There is a running joke, with a kernel of truth in it, that poets can't drive; Martin Amis uses it in The Information ("Poets don't drive. Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems ...").

In other words, poets shouldn’t know where they are going, shouldn’t be in control?

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

Dante The Divine Comedy Trans Henry Longfellow

Watershed 2: A River Runs Through It

An Irish Yorkshireman living near Seattle, David Whyte has earned a certain reputation as a corporate seer, challenging business people with a poetic stance. With a youthful sweep of black hair he looks a little like Ted Hughes. At Limerick Poetry Festival in 2005, Jane Hirschfield asked me if I knew of him. I did not and looked him up on the web. Her question stuck in my mind. Perhaps she was suspicious of this English soothsayer? Or didn’t quite understand where he was coming from? What special talent does he have to hold an audience of financial services managers enrapt for an hour or more?

His ‘reading’ at the Burgage Hall in Ledbury provided answers.
(By the way if anyone knows why the Burgage Hall is called the Burgage Hall please let me know…)

David Whyte is a charismatic presenter. He holds an audience and the audience holds him – in reverence, anticipation, expectation. He performs or ‘reads’ with an evangelical passion. He invites us to consider our lives, advises us on strategies and values:

‘Half of life is disappearance.’
‘Creation was born to be free.’

He has much in common with the coach or the motivational speaker, types or functions the English, I think, habitually look down on, judge. He comes over as 'worked out', as having answers, but encouraging us to question. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that there’s something about him that would close down questioning even at the very same moment that he is expounding its virtues. Like all powerful men he's a mixture of paradox.

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

David Whyte began his presentation at Ledbury by reciting this - Shakespeare’s Sonnet 24 - followed by a run through of its nested contexts, from the almost self-pitying author to the potential deity of the ‘thee’ the poet ‘haply’ thinks on.

‘What questions do you need to ask yourself?’ He asks.
What questions am I not asking myself? I ask myself.

He then recites some of his own poems from memory, ‘learnt by heart,’ he says, ‘with a memory that’s physical.’ It’s an idea that appeals to me, as if words have innate physicality, linked internally into the body’s own geography, but also externally into place. But where’s the proof for my particular take on this. Isn’t it more that, as actors tell me, if the words are good they contain the motive power for the action? Speaking the word brings to life the act?

Whyte’s reading style is riverine. He meanders, tracks back, takes another run at a line or a section. He leaves oxbow lakes of meaning, detached from the main flow. But this approach – although it has the potential to be irksome, did ‘work’ for me. He argues for the benefit of the meander. His live ‘reading’ is an attempt to reproduce the quality of ‘sight-reading’, where our eyes chase around the poem trying to help our explanation, our understanding. We don’t get the first two lines so we run them past our comprehension one more time. We get the next three but we need to see them in the context of the three that follow so we reiterate a complete section to absorb it and aid digestion: comprehension of a poem as a small intestine.

And the river is present in the titles of two of David’s books - River Flow and Where Many Rivers Meet - as well as in the name of his website and the umbrella organizations for promoting his work: Many Rivers Press and Many Rivers Company.

I could argue his style is alien to English audiences, but his audience at Ledbury waited on every word. Whyte is a consummate showman (that’s a compliment by the way) and poses a challenge for lesser poets whose poetry is inaccessible. Although he frequently quotes from the traditional canon (Dante, Shakespeare, Keats, The New Testament) he has more in common with performance poets than poets of the page. He has the cathartic energy of a preacher, but he can sound as if he’s sermonizing and so has the preacher’s handicap. His words and phrases are memorable, but, curiously, less trustworthy for all that.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
- from Sweet Darkness The House of Belonging

The danger is that this is a poetry of answers.
Is a poetry of answers really poetry?

He is different. He does take poetry into areas where many poets fear to tread, into the capitalist workplace, into business. But I remain sceptical. Feel uneasy. Questions nag. Has he opted for the comfort zone, earning a good living providing quasi-religious feelgood homily, poetic humbug as a balm for those with stunted conscience? Does he pedal poetry as rentable conscience, hireable secular religion? F. R. Leavis would be proud.

Or is he one of the most innovative poets around, transforming lives and letters with visionary zeal, supporting ‘poetry as a unique art form embodying courageous speech and the magnificence of the human imagination’?

As Shedman I use the strapline ‘Open the magic door…’ to suggest the potential any creative space offers – whether a physical location like a shed, an imagined destination or the head space of a creative endeavour. Specifically, however, I intend it to refer to the protecting, authenticating and transformative space that is poetry. More generally, it's an encouragement to do something different.

David Whyte discusses the same issues in more detail on his website, positioning the poet on a border like a shed : ‘The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid. The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat.Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage of a few short lines.’

Sheds are temporary structures, but it's very easy to imagine they are permanent, to forget that frontiers move internally and externally. David Whyte is an entralling and engaging reader, inspiring and thought-provoking. If you get a chance to hear him, do, and see what you think and feel. Shaman or not, his journey is fascinating.


It's always amazing the way a theme emerges from almost every Shedman project. For some reason the theme of Shedman's sojourn in Ledbury has been 'river'.

It started with David Whyte, described in the Festival programme as a ‘modern day shaman’. It continued with Gary, the forensic anthropologist and gathered pace with Margaret, the Festival Treasurer and bio-dynamic farmer. It flowed from Alison, the music teacher from Newbury and meandered through conversations with the poet Angela France. It found its path of least resistance, not surprisingly, in Tom Hogkinson of The Idler.

Picture courtesy of Ledbury Portal

Picture Matthew Bailey

Perhaps the river theme is no surprise given the fact that seven miles to the south, beyond Dymock, the River Severn flows towards the sea?

'The River Severn (Welsh: Afon Hafren, Latin: Sabrina) is the longest river in Great Britain, at 220 miles (354 km).[3] It rises at an altitude of 2,001 feet (610 m) on Plynlimon near Llanidloes, Powys, in the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales. It then flows through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, with the county towns of Shrewsbury, Worcester, and Gloucester on its banks. The Severn is England's greatest river in terms of water flow, and is considered one of the ten major rivers of the United Kingdom.'

Or that Herefordshire is the county of five rivers? Or because in 2007 Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire had seen the worst flooding for years?

By 19 June, Herefordshire was affected by flooding. The M50 motorway near Ledbury was closed on 22 July due to flooding.

Floods returned in December
Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd said it was donating a quarter of a million 500ml bottles of its Malvern Water to Tewkesbury Council for distribution to the local community. Central Trains services between Worcester and Hereford are not running due to flooding at Ledbury in Herefordshire.
Sky News Archive

Or because St Swithin's Day falls on July 15th?

Saint Swithun or Swithin (died 2 July 862) was an early English Bishop of Winchester, now best known for the popular British weather lore proverb that if it rains on Saint Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days and 40 nights.

St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain na mair

Swithun was buried out of doors, rather than in his cathedral, apparently at his own request, so that the "sweet rain of heaven" could fall on his grave. In 971 it was decided to move his body to a new indoor shrine, and it is said that the ceremony was delayed by 40 days of torrential rain, a sign of Swithun's displeasure at the move.'

Whatever the reason for the river theme's appearance, its course through Shedman's time in Ledbury,
like all the best rivers, took surprising and fascinating turns, as it wove a special magic through an extraordinary week.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Creepie-Crawlie Shed Quest

Wherever Shedman runs a project he likes to go on a Shed Quest to find the best sheds in the zone. Mark Cockram is a bookbinder/book artist who's on a shed quest of his own. He's been invited to exhibit in the South Bank Centre in 2009. The exhibition is called the Pestival and is about the world as perceived through the eyes of insects. He wants to create a Garden Shed Gallery.

Mark needs to find an old dilapidated shed that has lots of evidence of insects living in it. Can anyone out there help at all? If you can, send a message via Kontactr with a picture if possible - and while you're at it, tell Shedman what you do in your shed!

Mark's teaching in India and takes his tea breaks in a shed.

'The shed gallery will be one part of a much larger exhibition,' Mark writes. 'For the shed to have impact it would have to be of a reasonable size. I think that the older the better. The contents would be important as I would not want it to look like a disney film set.'