Hidden away in a back garden just outside of Cambridge stands Grandpa’s shed. Its moss-caked, corrugated roof bows in the middle like a wry smile. A horseshoe hangs above the door. “He used to put horseshoes up all over the place,” Nana recalls in her thick Yorkshire accent. “He used to give them to people, or stick them on things for people all over the place.”
Inside, there is a very particular, somewhat peculiar logic at work. Each oil, lacquer, grease and gloss rests respectfully in its right place, lined up and labelled save for the odd pot that protrudes at an unruly angle. Nana had to “keep buying coffee from Sainsbury’s” so that Grandpa could fill the shelves with row upon row of matching glass coffee jars. They stand, all stacked up together; a glinting archive of odds and sods, assorted pins, sprigs, screws and plugs.
Church-like, dim daylight is cast down onto hung files, pliers, taps and dies through a thin window, cut high into the far wall. Across the shed, newspaper cuttings of a BSA 250 Scrambles Star motorcycle are pasted above the double doors. Alongside them sits a weathered poster of Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, madly grinning, eyes bulging. Snaking its way in from the house across a contorted ivy branch, a power cable arrives inside the shed through a hole drilled into Armstrong’s armpit. It is morbidly comic.
A Fen boy through and through, Roger Bond was born in the small village of Lode, just outside of Cambridge, in 1930. As a dispatch rider in the military police in the wake of World War II, he delivered messages by motorcycle to outposts around Hong Kong and Kowloon. A bundle of photographs from the time depict him and a mob of young men riding black motorbikes, blurred against backdrops of vast paddy fields. “One day he rode over the border by mistake,” Nana remembers. “They were just changing guard and he went straight through and suddenly realised he was in China!” Fortunately, after relatively peaceful service, Roger returned home to Cambridge by way of Casablanca, following a rather tense jaunt up the Suez Canal in an aircraft carrier. Trouble had already flared up with Egypt over ownership of the immense stretch of manmade canal and accordingly, the men were warned to stay “asleep in hammocks, down below.”
Ironically, Grandpa once crafted a Canadian canoe and carted it, “out over Ramsey way to the river,” Nana remembers. Despite the calm waters and no hostile military threat, it was only sailed once and sold shortly after. “He was a bit scared I think … so that was the end of it. He just enjoyed making things.”
The wealth of joy that Grandpa found was located in the act of making, rather than the made thing. Attentively, he would turn the wood in his hands, studying its grain and thumbing its joins before ritualistically priming, painting and polishing. Although carefully considered and lovingly crafted, the end result held very little interest.
“He once bought a motorbike that had been in the river for, well, they never knew how long, but it had settled in the bottom of the river and he bought it,” Nana reminisces in a tone that still expresses her sheer bewilderment. Grandpa always had a knack for finding the diamond in the dirt; he could probably even make a diamond out of dirt if you asked him, yet still there was absolute disbelief that, “once he’d cleared the mud off the wheels, the chrome was still perfect … It was absolutely immaculate.”
Sharing this affinity for the act of making with a gang of “six or eight” old boys, Roger formed the Shed Club in the 1980s. Together they would explore car boot sales on the far reaches of the Fens at dawn and commune over ales in backwater village pubs at dusk. One week they would marvel at the heavy-rollers at the Haddenham Steam Rally and the next, they would tinker with Rudge-Whitworth bicycles. However, ceremonial pints and odd rural traditions always came a close second to simply visiting each other’s sheds and lending a hand when needed. “Money never changed hands. That was one thing that he was very strict about. If somebody wanted a job doing, everybody went and helped them.”
Grandpa passed fifteen years ago today. The MW/LW radio sits heavy and silent. The comforting musk of Golden Virginia smoke and geranium plants faded years ago. Sturdy and stubborn, his shed wearily shoulders the years, hunched into ever-peculiar perspectives. A quiet melancholy emanates from the hand tools, poised and prepared, without a hand to take them up. There’s something extraordinarily sad about a sharp chisel with its delicately turned handle, patiently awaiting being put to work, carving out curls of wood.
Eyes closed, Nana softly remembers, “When he retired he used to disappear into there. He used to say, “I’m just going to clock on…” and then about 12 o’clock he used to come out and take back a bottle of beer, or bottle of wine. He was quite happy in there.”
Grandpa’s shed still stands, hidden away in a back garden, beneath that bowing, moss-caked corrugated roof; a humble monument with a horseshoe above the door.