Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Emma Warren

Emma Warren | 2nd January 2012

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

There is a gap in my garden which should be filled with a shed. Not a flatpack shelf from B&Q or the Homebase up the road, but a shed built from skip treasure: walls made of windows and discarded doors, built around borrowed For Sale signs, with a panel of plastic for a roof.

However, the shed doesn’t exist yet, although the inspiration exists in ramshackle glory on a side street in Brockley. It’s in my friend Kev’s south London back garden where he and his girlfriend add lovely twists to their lives by, for example, inviting people round for a mini festival instead of a BBQ. Their artist friends turned the bathroom into a neon installation with hanging octopi and dreamy seaweed. They hung a huge roll of paper on the outside wall and pulled and pegged the resulting pictures out around the house, and someone sung a funny song about why his dad was a c-word.

We sat in Kev’s shed, that he had built himself. He had raided skips and de-burdened builders of salvage they’d otherwise have to tip. He uprooted Sold signs outside houses and used the poles for joists. “Estate agents are immoral,” he said, “so it’s fine.” Sitting in Kev’s shed was like sitting in a building imagined by Hammer & Tongs or Roald Dahl, a made-up shed made real by a simple equation: idea + action + a healthy disregard for other people’s rules.

I wanted to make my own shed, and fortuitiously, I had created a window of my own, in the shape of a three-month sabbatical from my job as editorial mentor at Live Magazine. It would be a time to fill myself up with ideas and inspiration. I would read, write, research, meet up with interesting people… and built my own shed. It would be my shedbatical. However, there were some problems: I was ill and exhausted and spent the first month of my sabbatical in bed and looking out of my window like an invalid from 1892 and I spent the next two months making a radio documentary about influential nightclubs. Instead of making a place of my own, I made radio about places that had built the foundations for inventive and shape-shifting music culture. It was an enjoyable mission and a labour of love, but it left no time at all for skips and saws and hammers. The shed remained unbuilt.

I have to be honest. My garden is more of a yard (or a ‘yarden’, as I like to call it) and it’s quite possible that my shed actually belongs in a garden of the future. I’ve got a perfectly nice bench already, reclaimed from a 1950s ferry, which I bought from Brixton Village Market, which is another epicentre of the ideas + action equation. I love it down there because you can buy items from people who’ve actually made them: an idealised version of localised capitalism where there’s a delightfully small gap between your purchase and its impact.

So the shed sits in my mind, waiting for a future when it is built. I think it’s good to have a plan that’s just out of reach, I’m all for steep learning curves and I like having something to work towards. But in this case, I’d probably best actually buy a jig-saw and some proper nails, which ironically means that my first step towards my self-built utopia is actually B&Q.

Emma Warren – Writing & Radio