Find your happy place.
The advice given on a couple of occasions felt clichéd as if it were the chapter heading in a self-help book from a conniving business writer. But it was honest. It had seen me through many evenings.
I was tweeting from my little shed a few months ago, whilst sat enjoying a couple of beers, when somebody asked me a rather obvious question: “Why do you drink beer in the shed? Are you not allowed to drink in the house?” I giggled at first then realised it was a genuine question. It does seem odd. It would seem so to outsiders. I’m obviously allowed to drink in the house. I think it was still winter when I was asked and I’d chosen to sit in a dark, wooden, leaning shack with a hot water bottle stuffed down my jumper rather than the far-too-comfortable sofa in front of the fire inside a brick house.
It is more than a shed to me though. It has become my happy place. The garden as a whole has, but this is one area that has a selfishly calming effect on me.
Males have commonly created such areas in the home. I’ve heard plenty of people comment to me along the lines of “So this shed is like your man cave?” Man cave. It seems a phrase evocative of toxic masculinity, coming from a place where men need their own space where they can act like children but lift no fingers. I wonder though whether there was ever another side to it; whether the societal male difficulty in expressing emotions, which leads to the high suicide numbers comparatively, is hidden behind “Men Caves.” It's a stupid name but is it a hidden need for an area where they can be alone and control depression or anxiety?
Because that is what the shed does for me.
That isn’t to negate the idea that finding a happy place is advice for all. There is no hint of Man Cave to me about this space, but it did make me think.
Beer is, of course, much more than a social lubricant to me, otherwise this blog wouldn’t exist. I do take joy in drinking beer, especially at home. On my consumption scale, I drink relatively little at home so when I do it tends to be accompanied by a little excitement in making the choice, opening that beer you were excited about on purchase, choosing inappropriate glassware and sitting back to enjoy – sometimes more than others – the taste you paid for.
More of the contemplative beers are consumed in and around the shed, though the odd Norwegian pilsner is known to have been supped here. It doesn’t always have to be because of a sad event but I certainly come to my happy place when something particularly upsetting has happened.
|Gladys in a plant pot
The Shed and the Coop
As somebody who grew up in an animal-hating home I surprise myself, as much as others, how much I adore them now and how many are around the place. Of course, many people have dogs and cats and mine are incredibly special to me. But somehow I have become famous as a keeper of chickens. Often it is all anybody wants to talk about. Plenty still ask me inappropriately when I “chop off their heads and stick them in a pot” but some are genuinely interested.
Perhaps it is because they are pets to us who happen to lay eggs as a by-product. Most of the eggs we give away for free, some even to our vegan friends who are respectful of the fact that our hens live a happy life and are not required to lay. Some lay fairly irregularly. Some are still too young. Some lay every day.
The beginning of our brood came to us from my partner’s sister, where they had lived a few years in great free range conditions, allowed to wander a huge hillside with no restrictions. When her sister moved, the cockerel and remaining hens couldn’t go with her and so we became chicken owners. Whilst not quite a sweeping hillside, they were still given free rein to saunter as they chose. They were close-knit; never too far from one another.
We added to the brood with three ex-battery hens, still in their youth who were shabby but inquisitive. They had the most incredible personalities, heightened by their love of the space they had inherited. They were wanderers but also attracted to human voices. They were always in the shed whenever I was in there, scratching around my feet for any scraps I may have with me.
They, with all the animals, make it extra special. It may sometimes feel like a place of solitude but it is always improved by a surprise visit from one of the many animals.
|Domino joining me for a drink outside the shed
Inevitably, the wanderers wandered too far. We were sat in the Guildford Arms in Edinburgh when we received the phone call from those feeding our animals for a few days. Buttercup had climbed into next door’s garden and spooked their usually quiet Lurcher. She was our first loss.
Rosemary was a real Marco Polo. She frequently didn’t make it back into the coop at night time, only to be waiting at the back door the following morning, chirping loudly to be let into the kitchen. Except on one occasion. She’d had one of those chicken moments and had seemingly been scared-to-death of something we’ll never know. She was in the hedge. Now she is next to the rosemary bush.
|Rosemary on the left, Buttercup on the right
Those two led to change. It couldn’t continue and when we had impending new baby arrivals, we had to reduce their ability to explore. I’d miss the rest joining me in the shed or the kitchen but it was for the best. They still have a great deal of room mind and we were able to create a new area when, amongst others, Dolly arrived; with her beautiful plume and distinctive cluck. When Dolly became our first loss to a fox after only a couple of weeks it was surprising the impact it had on my partner and I. She made quite the impression in such a short time. There were a couple of trips to the shed that week.
Having favourite brood members is a little like having favourite children: you really shouldn’t. But there was no denying who ours was. Gladys arrived with the original members of the brood. My most FAQ about hens is “What is their expected lifespan?” For happy hens it is around 4-6 years. Gladys was seven when she arrived. She never laid a single egg with us. She never needed to. This was her retirement home.
Gladys was the bee of the chicken world - anatomically she made no sense. She shouldn’t have been able to achieve any form of aviation. She was a huge volleyball with spindly legs. You could hear Gladys jump down from her perch in the morning from inside the house. She broke the bottom of the coop – three times – with this motion. Her run towards food was the most comical. She was the first to bed and the last up in the morning. She was the pensioner of the brood. She was nine fricking years of age. She was beautiful.
I never wanted to have to spend an evening in the shed because of her. I never wanted that beer to be in this moment. But, after Sunday morning, that is how it is. At least it was just her age that caught up with her. She’s underneath her favourite tree now.
I just needed an hour with a beer sat outside the shed. It’s not just a happy place. Sometimes it is a very sad place. But it is important. I’ve written before about how it has helped me manage health issues and I would still implore everybody to find that spot, wherever it may be. It may be that spot on the sofa in front of the fire. There is nothing wrong with taking time to yourself with a beer.
Sometimes it really is just about opening a beer and having that moment.