Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Top 50 Shed Sequences: the garden shed scene from The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima translated by John Nathan

Yukio Mishima
Warning: This sequence is not for the faint-hearted. Please do not read if you are squeamish or easily upset by violence. It is taken from the Vintage Classics Kindle Edition. 

Thirteen year old Noboru is meeting up with a gang of friends...

'But they all loved a large shed in the garden in back where they could go without passing under the butler’s eye. Except for a few logs and some shelves full of tools and empty wine bottles and back issues of foreign magazines, the floor of the shed was bare, and when they sat down on the damp dark earth its coolness passed directly to their buttocks. 
After hunting for an hour, they found a stray cat small enough to ride in the palm of Noboru’s hand, a mottled, mewing kitten with lackluster eyes. 
By then they were sweating heavily, so they undressed and took turns splashing in a sink in one corner of the shed. While they bathed, the kitten was passed around. Noboru felt the kitten’s hot heart pumping against his wet naked chest. It was like having stolen into the shed with some of the dark, joy-flushed essence of bright summer sunlight. 
“How are we going to do it?” 
“There’s a log over there. We can smack it against that—it’ll be easy. Go ahead, number three.” 
At last the test of Noboru’s hard, cold heart! Just a minute before, he had taken a cold bath, but he was sweating heavily again. He felt it blow up through his breast like the morning sea breeze: intent to kill. His chest felt like a clothes rack made of hollow metal poles and hung with white shirts drying in the sun. Soon the shirts would be flapping in the wind and then he would be killing, breaking the endless chain of society’s loathsome taboos. 
Noboru seized the kitten by the neck and stood up. It dangled dumbly from his fingers. He checked himself for pity; like a lighted window seen from an express train, it flickered for an instant in the distance and disappeared. He was relieved. 
The chief always insisted it would take acts such as this to fill the world’s great hollows. Though nothing else could do it, he said, murder would fill those gaping caves in much the same way that a crack along its face will fill a mirror. Then they would achieve real power over existence. 
Resolved, Noboru swung the kitten high above his head and slammed it at the log. The warm soft thing hurtled through the air in marvelous flight. But the sensation of down between his fingers lingered. 
“It’s not dead yet. Do it again,” the chief ordered. 
Scattered through the gloom in the shed, the five naked boys stood rooted, their eyes glittering. 
What Noboru lifted between two fingers now was no longer a kitten. A resplendent power was surging through him to the tips of his fingers and he had only to lift the dazzling arc seared into the air by this power and hurl it again and again at the log. He felt like a giant of a man. Just once, at the second impact,  the kitten raised a short, gurgling cry. . . . 
The kitten had bounced off the log for the final time. Its hind legs twitched, traced large lax circles in the dirt floor, and then subsided. The boys were overjoyed at the spattered blood on the log. 
As if staring into a deep well, Noboru peered after the kitten as it plummeted down the small hole of death. He sensed in the way he lowered his face to the corpse his own gallant tenderness, tenderness so clinical it was almost kind. Dull red blood oozed from the kitten’s nose and mouth, the twisted tongue was clamped against the palate. 
“C’mon up close where you can see. I’ll take it from here.” Unnoticed, the chief had put on a pair of rubber gloves that reached up to his elbows; now he bent over the corpse with a pair of gleaming scissors. Shining coolly through the gloom of the shed, the scissors were magnificent in their cold, intellectual dignity: Noboru couldn’t imagine a more appropriate weapon for the chief. 
Seizing the kitten by the neck, the chief pierced the skin at the chest with the point of the blade and scissored a long smooth cut to the throat. Then he pushed the skin to the sides with both hands: the glossy layer of fat beneath was like a peeled spring onion. The skinned neck, draped gracefully on the floor, seemed to be wearing a cat mask. The cat was only an exterior, life had posed as a cat. 
But beneath the surface was a smooth expressionless interior, a placid, glossy-white inner life in perfect consonance with Noboru and the others; and they could feel their own intricate, soot-black insides bearing down upon and shadowing it like ships moving upon the water. Now, at last, the boys and the cat, or, more accurately, what had been a cat, became perfectly at one. 
Gradually the endoderm was bared; its transparent mother-of-pearl loveliness was not at all repellent. They could see through to the ribs now, and watch, beneath the great omentum, the warm, homey pulsing of the colon. 
“What do you think? Doesn’t it look too naked? I’m not sure that’s such a good thing: like it was bad manners or something.” The chief peeled aside the skin on the trunk with his gloved hands. 
“It sure is naked,” said number two. 
Noboru tried comparing the corpse confronting the world so nakedly with the unsurpassably naked figures of his mother and the sailor. But compared to this, they weren’t naked enough. They were still swaddled in skin. Even that marvelous horn and the great wide world whose expanse it had limned couldn’t possibly have penetrated so deeply as this . . . the pumping of the bared heart placed the peeled kitten in direct and tingling contact with the kernel of the world. 
Noboru wondered, pressing a crumpled handkerchief to his nose against the mounting stench and breathing hotly through his mouth: “What is beginning here now?” 
The kitten bled very little. The chief tore through the surrounding membrane and exposed the large, red-black liver. Then he unwound the immaculate bowels and reeled them onto the floor. Steam rose and nestled against the rubber gloves. He cut the colon into slices and squeezed out for all the boys to see a broth the color of lemons. “This stuff cuts just like flannel.” 
Noboru managed, while following his own dreamy thoughts, to pay scrupulous attention to the details. The kitten’s dead pupils were purple flecked with white; the gaping mouth was stuffed with congealed blood, the twisted tongue visible between the fangs. As the fat-yellowed scissors cut them, he heard the ribs creak. And he watched intently while the chief groped in the abdominal cavity, withdrew the small pericardium, and plucked from it the tiny oval heart. When he squeezed the heart between two fingers, the remaining blood gushed onto his rubber gloves, reddening them to the tips of the fingers. What is really happening here? 
Noboru had withstood the ordeal from beginning to end. Now his half-dazed brain envisioned the warmth of the scattered viscera and the pools of blood in the gutted belly finding wholeness and perfection in the rapture of the dead kitten’s large languid soul. The liver, limp beside the corpse, became a soft peninsula, the squashed heart a little sun, the reeled-out bowels a white atoll, and the blood in the belly the tepid waters of a tropical sea. Death had transfigured the kitten into a perfect, autonomous world. 
I killed it all by myself—a distant hand reached into Noboru’s dream and awarded him a snow-white certificate of merit—I can do anything, no matter how awful.'

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Writers' Places 1: Jack Kerouac House

This will be an occasional series about writers' places I've come across and/or visited. There are many very well known writers' sheds and shed-like writing dens but I hope to be able to introduce you to some much lesser known ones too. First – Jack Kerouac's place in Orlando, Florida that just popped up on my news feed.
Thanks to
This was the house where Jack Kerouac was living when On The Road was published and where he wrote the follow up Dharma Burns in twelve days, typing onto a roll of teletype paper taped together as a continuous scroll. Because the home had no air conditioning, Kerouac mostly wrote at night or underneath the large oak in the backyard.

Photo credit: Tom Palumbo. Thanks to
In 1997, a local Orlando freelance journalist, Bob Kealing, discovered the exact location of the house. It was still standing but in a poor state of repair. Kealing wrote an article for the Orlando Sentinel and in response a group of local people decide to buy the house, re-furbish it and make it a sanctuary for writers, in tribute to Kerouac. Jeffrey Cole contributed $100,000 to secure the house.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Top 50 shed sequences: the cabman's shelter scene from 'Ulysses' by James Joyce

The shelter is no longer there...

Mr Bloom went round the corner and passed the drooping nags of the
hazard. No use thinking of it any more. Nosebag time. Wish I hadn't met
that M'Coy fellow.

He came nearer and heard a crunching of gilded oats, the gently champing
teeth. Their full buck eyes regarded him as he went by, amid the sweet
oaten reek of horsepiss. Their Eldorado. Poor jugginses! Damn all they
know or care about anything with their long noses stuck in nosebags.
Too full for words. Still they get their feed all right and their doss.
Gelded too: a stump of black guttapercha wagging limp between their
haunches. Might be happy all the same that way. Good poor brutes they
look. Still their neigh can be very irritating.

He drew the letter from his pocket and folded it into the newspaper he
carried. Might just walk into her here. The lane is safer.

He passed the cabman's shelter. Curious the life of drifting cabbies.
All weathers, all places, time or setdown, no will of their own. _Voglio
e non_. Like to give them an odd cigarette. Sociable. Shout a few flying
syllables as they pass. He hummed:

     _La ci darem la mano
     La la lala la la._


Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of
the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up
generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed. His
(Stephen's) mind was not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit
unsteady and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr
Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water
available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes hit upon an
expedient by suggesting, off the reel, the propriety of the cabman's
shelter, as it was called, hardly a stonesthrow away near Butt bridge
where they might hit upon some drinkables in the shape of a milk and
soda or a mineral.


Mr Bloom and Stephen entered the cabman's shelter, an unpretentious
wooden structure, where, prior to then, he had rarely if ever been
before, the former having previously whispered to the latter a few
hints anent the keeper of it said to be the once famous Skin-the-Goat
Fitzharris, the invincible, though he could not vouch for the actual
facts which quite possibly there was not one vestige of truth in. A few
moments later saw our two noctambules safely seated in a discreet corner
only to be greeted by stares from the decidedly miscellaneous collection
of waifs and strays and other nondescript specimens of the genus _homo_
already there engaged in eating and drinking diversified by conversation
for whom they seemingly formed an object of marked curiosity.

--Now touching a cup of coffee, Mr Bloom ventured to plausibly suggest
to break the ice, it occurs to me you ought to sample something in the
shape of solid food, say, a roll of some description.

Accordingly his first act was with characteristic _sangfroid_ to order
these commodities quietly. The _hoi polloi_ of jarvies or stevedores
or whatever they were after a cursory examination turned their eyes
apparently dissatisfied, away though one redbearded bibulous individual
portion of whose hair was greyish, a sailor probably, still stared for
some appreciable time before transferring his rapt attention to the
floor. Mr Bloom, availing himself of the right of free speech, he having
just a bowing acquaintance with the language in dispute, though, to be
sure, rather in a quandary over _voglio_, remarked to his _protégé_ in
an audible tone of voice _a propos_ of the battle royal in the street
which was still raging fast and furious:

--A beautiful language. I mean for singing purposes. Why do you not
write your poetry in that language? _Bella Poetria_! It is so melodious
and full. _Belladonna. Voglio._

Stephen, who was trying his dead best to yawn if he could, suffering
from lassitude generally, replied:

--To fill the ear of a cow elephant. They were haggling over money.

--Is that so? Mr Bloom asked. Of course, he subjoined pensively, at the
inward reflection of there being more languages to start with than were
absolutely necessary, it may be only the southern glamour that surrounds

The keeper of the shelter in the middle of this _tête-â-tête_ put a
boiling swimming cup of a choice concoction labelled coffee on the table
and a rather antediluvian specimen of a bun, or so it seemed. After
which he beat a retreat to his counter, Mr Bloom determining to have
a good square look at him later on so as not to appear to. For which
reason he encouraged Stephen to proceed with his eyes while he did
the honours by surreptitiously pushing the cup of what was temporarily
supposed to be called coffee gradually nearer him.

--Sounds are impostures, Stephen said after a pause of some little time,
like names. Cicero, Podmore. Napoleon, Mr Goodbody. Jesus, Mr Doyle.
Shakespeares were as common as Murphies. What's in a name?

--Yes, to be sure, Mr Bloom unaffectedly concurred. Of course. Our name
was changed too, he added, pushing the socalled roll across.

The redbearded sailor who had his weather eye on the newcomers boarded
Stephen, whom he had singled out for attention in particular, squarely
by asking:

--And what might your name be?

Just in the nick of time Mr Bloom touched his companion's boot but
Stephen, apparently disregarding the warm pressure from an unexpected
quarter, answered:


The sailor stared at him heavily from a pair of drowsy baggy eyes,
rather bunged up from excessive use of boose, preferably good old
Hollands and water.

--You know Simon Dedalus? he asked at length.

--I've heard of him, Stephen said.

Also see:
Jorn Barger's The Internet Ulysses 'A watershed in Irish culture!' said the Irish Times.

And for more on cabman's shelters see:
Cabman's Shelters on London Landmarks

The Cabman's Shelter Fund

Heritage and History including other shelters around the world

And just for fun click here to find every use of the word 'shed' in Ulysses!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

What's the attraction? Discuss!

Roald Dahl's writing hut
Google 'shed art' and a thousand links and images fill the screen. So why do so many contemporary (and not so contemporary) artists, writers and poets use, explore or adapt the shed as a motif, symbol, exhibit or location.  Are there common underlying reasons? Is the shed revolutionary or reactionary, retrograde or reinventive? There seem to be some obvious answers but what do you think? Make your comments here...

George Bernard Shaw with his rotating shed

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More on Murdoch: Blame the father... or the tree house...

In a Sunday Tlelegraph article, Michael Leapman profiled Rupert Murdoch and his upbringing by a stern father.

"Some 30 years ago I was strolling with Dame Elisabeth Murdoch in the garden of Cruden, the old farmhouse near Melbourne where Rupert spent his childhood. Over lunch, she had given me useful material for my biography of her only son, the burgeoning media mogul who had recently bought The Times and The Sunday Times. We passed beneath a tree. "That," she said, pointing towards the branches, "was where Rupert had his sleepover."

She explained that his father, Sir Keith, himself a successful newspaper executive and a stern disciplinarian, had been worried that Rupert did not possess the required steel to follow in his footsteps. To toughen him up, Sir Keith insisted that, during the school holidays, he should, whatever the weather, be banished to the unheated tree house. This regime was imposed for eight years, until he turned 16."

Saturday, July 09, 2011

We made this - shedworking to beat the recession

At Artsmart in London, Shedman was interested to see Etsy promoting their online community of makers and sellers. One of their giveaways was the tea towel pictured above featuring a tree of sheds - an interesting image, suggesting growth, networking and the unique role of the shed for artists and craftspeople. At the bottom, the strapline: 'Stay handmade'.

Etsy describes itself as a global community 'with buyers and sellers coming from more than 150 countries. Etsy sellers number in the hundreds of thousands. Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.'

Their approach seems to be paying off. In May 2011, Etsy sold 2,006,810 items worth $40.0 million - a 75% increase on May 2010.

Shedman can't remember who said something like 'All a business needs is to make it and sell it', or that many successful businesses started off as a partnership between someone who could make the product and someone who could sell it. Etsy - and other sites like it - offer a way for makers to access their market globally through the partnership of an online salesperson.

Global distibution of Etsies if they were all glowworm
There's the thorny issue of quality here. One person's crafted birdhouse is another's lump of shed junk. But there's a democracy of demand here, and a refreshing lack of elitism. Many makers may have honed their talents and skills in the academy but the academy remains the training ground not the arbiter.

The number of Etsies who work in a shed must run into thousands, so in their honour Shedman has added an Etsy shed search to the sidebar. 

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sunburnt in the shed

Magnifying glasses and sunshine take Shedman back to cubs, primary school and burning holes in his sandals, hands and anything combustible. (The school was rebuilt.)

On sunny days over the last forty years or so, Roger Ackling has spent a lot of time in the shed, or just outside it, turning schoolboy fun into an artform. 'Down to Earth' is an exhibition of his sunburnt garden objects including forks, rakes, trowels and seed boxes at the Chelsea Space until July 30.

For our younger readers, please don't try this at home.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Top 50 shed sequences: from 'The Castle' by Franz Kafka

'When K. had taken out the bucket of dirty water, fetched fresh water, and now began sweeping the schoolroom, a boy of about twelve rose from one bench, touched K.’s hand, and in all the noise said something he couldn’t make out at all. Then the racket suddenly stopped. K. turned. Here was what he had feared all morning. The teacher, small man that he was, stood in the doorway holding an assistant by the collar with each hand. He had probably caught them fetching firewood, for he thundered in a mighty voice, pausing after every word: ‘Who has dared to break into the woodshed? Where is the fellow? Let me crush him as he deserves!’ Here Frieda rose from the floor, which she was trying to wash around Miss Gisa’s feet, looked at K. as if to draw strength from the sight, and said, with something of her old dignity in her voice and bearing: ‘I did, sir. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. If the classrooms were to be heated at all this morning, we had to open the shed, and I dared not come to you for the key at night. My fiancé had gone to the Castle Inn, it was possible that he might spend the night there, so I had to make the decision for myself. If I did wrong you must forgive my inexperience. I was scolded hard enough by my fiancé when he saw what had happened. In fact he even forbade me to heat the rooms early, because he thought your locking the woodshed showed that you didn’t want them heated until you had arrived yourself. So the fact that they aren’t heated is his fault, but breaking into the woodshed is mine.’ ‘Who broke down the door?’ the teacher asked the assistants, who were still trying to shake off his grip, but in vain. ‘That gentleman,’ they both said, and pointed to K., thus leaving the matter in no doubt. Frieda laughed, and this laughter seemed even more convincing than her words.'

Kafka, F., 2009. The Castle. Oxford University Press. (Page 116-117)
Translated by Anthea Bell

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Top 50 shed sequences: from 'Austerlitz' by W. G. Sebald

'Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings, listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size – the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lock-keeper’s lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children’s bothy in the garden – are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which in itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.'
[P23/24 Penguin 2001]

Austerlitz also contains the telling remark that shows the other side of Shedman's dictum Open the magic door:

'No one can explain exactly what happens within us when the doors behind which our childhood terrors lurk are flung open.  [P33]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nominate your top 50 sheds in fiction, film and drama

Which are your favourite sequences featuring a shed - in a novel (graphic or otherwise), short story, movie or TV drama, stage play or musical?  Is it the Potting Shed in Graham Greene's play of the same name, or the gamekeeper's hut in Harry Potter - or Lady Chatterley? Enid Blyton's S.S. shed or Sarah Dunant's pig shed in Fat Lands? Eraserhead or Swimming Pool? The Dambusters or Kes? Provide the full title, context and exact reference if possible. Make your suggestions now. Prizes for the ten best entries. (The Shed movie and the world's worst novel The Shack are not eligible for nomination.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Guardian commissions new Shedman poem

There's a specially commissioned new poem by Shedman in the Work section of The Guardian today (Saturday April 25th) in honour of all you Shedworkers.

A Doddle

Alan’s in his shed, working away,
away from the children and the washing machine.
His aim, to start a business making Allan keys,
then move to a new factory in Milton Keynes.

Two doors down, in this gentrified terrace
of temporary structures some call shed,
Terence (Terry to his mates) Ferris
dreads the working days, the lonely hours,

spent, like Shami, in the caravan next door,
head inside a screen connected to a world
that’s rarely seen. The benefits of broadband
like Guantanamo without the waterboarding.

Jill, across the road, takes a different tack.
Her online business, run from a log cabin
the size of Slough, hawks holidays in
Moroccan riads and visits every one.

Terence, like his Latin namesake,
watches the newts gambol and
the lark of tits through the window
of the converted garage he did himself

and thinks, ‘You're a wise person
if you can easily direct your attention
to whatever needs it.’ He’s halfway through
the architectural drawing for his client

when the kids get home. Shedworkers rise
as one and insert pittas in the toaster,
praise their children, search for Marmite
in the wrong drawer, then return to work.

©Copyright Shedman 2009 All rights reserved.

If you would like to commission Shedman to write a poem for you or you would like to invite him to take part in your festival or event , get in touch with shedman at Serious shedworkers are also advised to check out Shedworking.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Shedman sorts out his online sheds!

After six months' blogging, Shedman feels he's getting the hang of it - after help from Alex at Shedworking and attending the fascinating Digital Horizons 2012 course at Ravensbourne College. But like all good sheddies, he's decided to move things round a bit.

So he's moved and refreshed quite a few of the stories and is sorting out the side panels.

Now, in Shedworld, Shedman explores the wonderful world of sheds.

And here in Shedlife you can tell Shedman what you do in your shed.

The basic idea is that Shedman goes into Shedworld and discovers Shedlife!