A remarkably stout shed

Wednesday April 9, 2008

My maternal grandfather, known in the family as Fred Paige, had a shed in his back garden, almost filling the available space.  To my boyhood eyes it was as large as he was small.  He was my grandmother’s second husband, so not really my grandfather at all, but I was a polite kid and saw no harm in humoring him.  A nice old guy so far as I can recall though I have to admit I never saw him again after my grandmother died in the late 1950s.

She was as large and fierce as he was timid and small.  I was a little frightened of her, especially when she crossed the lane from the cottage to the chicken pen, axe in hand and murder in her eyes, intent on securing a small fowl for our supper.  I’d be sent off at that point, to play out of sight and sound in Fred’s shed while the gory parts were done.  I am grateful for that, and even more grateful they’d given up keeping a pig in the pen behind the chickens.

The shed was dark, filled with mysterious things stored in tarry boxes and wrapped tight in sacking.  Fred was way too old by then to do any of the things that blokes did in sheds except sit in an old armchair, rolling and smoking one skinny cigarette after another, the lid of his tobacco tin clinking and clacking the hours away.  We had little to say to one another.  Even my boyish chatter was stilled in the dark, earthy-blokey air of Fred’s shed. They were safe, companionable times, in my recollection.

And that’s about all I remember of poor old Fred.  He was not highly regarded in the family and, from what I can deduce of the few pictures of him I have in my head, the feeling was entirely mutual.  He took his meals alone in the damp, cold scullery at the back of the kitchen while my grandmother presided over the table in the kitchen, close by the coal range and under the old portrait of Queen Victoria that hung over the mantelpiece, flickering in the gas light.

Shortly after she died, my grandmother’s cottage was condemned as ‘unfit for human habitation’ and poor old Fred was evicted, to be carried off to the old folk’s home that was still known as the workhouse back then.  The family forgot him and I’ve no other knowledge of him or what happened to him after that.

Sad, isn’t it, how all those old guys wandered quietly and inoffensively through life, to end it with their face turned to the wall in some strange place?  All those unwritten, forgotten histories.

Acting on impulse I took a Google Maps trip just now, looking for the lane and the cottage.  The lane is still there, though it’s been renamed from ‘Place’ to ‘Drive’ and there are houses each side of it.  There are a couple of nice little houses on the ground where the chickens and pigs were kept, and grandmother’s cottage is completely obliterated, replaced by a rather grand-looking house with a large Volvo estate car parked outside.  The satellite view shows no more than a featureless dark space where Fred’s shed would have been.  I’d like to think there are a few bits of the timber buried there still, decaying slowly, and giving off just a ghostly trace of old bloke smell.

I shall visit it again in six months or so, when the ‘satellite’ pictures have been upgraded, to see if there are any visible signs to back up my memories.  I rather doubt I shall see anything, even though it was a remarkably stout shed.


14 responses to “A remarkably stout shed

  1. Your story brought to mind my own forgotten “grandfather”. He was my Grandmother’s husband. We called him Grandpa Ed. A rather frail looking man that smoked himself gaunt look. No kids of his own. He was a nice man, but that is all I remember of him now. No history to him.

  2. Thanks for sharing that snippet of your past John. I love hearing recollections (especially well-told ones) of childhood past and how such details that we deem minor today were all-consuming back then.

  3. Fred Paige, may you rest in peace, with the knowledge that your kindness to a little boy now has you remembered around the world.

  4. Every child needs a shed like that to poke about in. My grandfather was a farmer and had a drive shed crammed full of wonderful junk. I can still smell the oil that saturated the top of his workbench, the smell of decaying leather harness. I can see the swirl of dust motes kicked up in a sunbeam by the resident pigeons.

    Thank you, John.

  5. Interesting bit of your ‘history’. Fortunately I still recall my Grandparents and think perhaps I should write something somewhere as I am forgetting so much now days.

  6. I only had one “grand” and that was my Mum’s Mum. All the rest were dead and buried before I entered this world. I would loved to have had a grandfather, too.

    I love Google Maps. It’s the only way I get to “travel” over to England anymore! And the air-fare and auto hire is a lot cheaper that way!

  7. A really lovely and nostalgic bit, John. Seems to me we’re gifted with four grandparents, and yet I can only visualize two of mine — my mother’s mother who lived out her last days with us, (I never once laid an eye on that grandfather, they were (gasp!) divorced! And my father’s father, a courtly and very charming gentleman who emigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century. His wife passed away when I was way to young to remember her. Small wonder, she had 12 kids, and if they all were like my father, a bunch of merry pranksters, much like their father!
    But I do have to shake my head and sigh a saddish sigh for Fred.

  8. I love Wendy’s comment and this gem of an entry. What a superb wordsmith you are!

  9. a Volvo parked there, maybe where there were once pigs and chickens? is that progress?

  10. Wendy nailed it. As did you, John. And I lift a mug in salute to Fred Paige.

  11. Thank you so much, John. You woke up some welcome memories as well as introducing us to a good man.

    I wonder about your grandmother, though. Was she like the greyhound who chased the sports car and didn’t know what to do with it after he caught it?

    Hugs from Asia,
    ~ Sil

  12. Poor old Fred. My grandad’s shed behind his council house in Bridgwater doubled as a darkroom and was full of mysterious chemical smells. We weren’t allowed to touch anything and had to knock and wait outside in case he was working in the dark!

  13. We had a shed in our backyard when I was a kid — I’ve never been able to figure out why such a modest backyard required such a large two-story building for a shed. It was old — like our house — probably 1900 vintage — the property had belonged to my father’s aunt before us. The shed was about 12 x 14 feet (this is pure guesswork but probably accurate). The entire lot itself was but 42 x 100 — and by the time you subtract the house, etc., the backyard was, at best, 42 x 50. We were forbidden to go into the shed, for fear that we might get hurt with some of the tools kept there (and old windows and furniture and who knows what else) but more so because of fear it would collapse on us. Naturally, my brother and I could not resist sneaking into the shed, especially going up the stairs to the second floor.

    Our nextdoor neighbor had a smaller shed in the backcorner of their lots and the two sheds seemed to lean against eachother. My father used to say that if you took one of them down, the other would quickly follow. However, when the neighbors finally did demolish their shed, much to my father’s surprise, our shed stood alone. Finally, while I was off to college, my father took demolished the shed. Much to his amazement, it turned out to be a very difficult job; the old shed just seemed to want to stay there and not come down.

  14. To Fred *raises mug*

    Thanks John 🙂

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