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Tim Dowling: Project Shed, and the art of delegation

7 April 2012

Last week my wife ordered a new shed online. Our old shed, with its rotted roof and holed floor, is filled with the kind of stuff you don't mind getting wet – mostly cracked pots, shredded plastic sheeting and leaves. It isn't really a shed any more; it's a skip with a window.

I have long maintained that getting by with a useless shed for so many years proves we don't really need a shed. My wife does not share this view, and has let it be known that my intransigence will not be allowed to spoil her shed project.

"It's nothing to do with you," she says. "I'm paying someone to put it up, and to take away the old one."

"Good," I say.

She doesn't mention that in order to save money, she has also offered me up as a work experience person.

"You're here, aren't you?" she says. "Just in case?"

"Yes," I say, "but I'm busy." This may or may not be true. It is important that the details of my working schedule remain a mystery to those close to me. In any case, it doesn't matter, because I spend the morning hauling old planks and broken glass down the alley and into a van.

By sunset the new shed is in place and my wife is so pleased that I begin to regret my unhelpfulness. The next morning, she is gone by the time I get up.

"Where have you been?" I ask when she returns.

"I bought a potting bench and some shelves for the shed," she says, holding out her keys. "They're in the back of the car."

The potting bench doesn't look like a bench. It looks like a bunch of wood wrapped in plastic with a picture of a bench stuck on the front. Before I can stop her, my wife has opened the plastic, letting the loose timber clatter to the ground.

"Shall I get you the drill?" she says.

It takes four and a half hours of false starts and free-form swearing to put the bench together. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed it's gone so well.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" my wife says.

"Yes, it was," I say.

"What about the shelves?"

"Tomorrow."

The next morning I rise early to find the youngest one watching TV alone. I open the back door and see the constituent parts of the shelving unit lying on the patio. I stare at them for a bit. Then I turn back towards the television.

"Come and have a look at this," I say to the youngest one. "It's like a puzzle."

He stands over the pile, a length of stainless steel edging in one hand and the pictorial instructions in the other.

"You bolt these together first, for the sides," he says. "Then you add the shelves, two bolts for each corner."

"Are you sure?" I say. "Because I think you might need to..."

"I'm sure," he says. "Get me a wrench."

"OK, but first we should just..."

"It's fine," he says. "I can do it by myself."

The sun comes out. I make coffee and pull a chair towards the open garden door, just out of sight, where I can listen to the birds singing and the youngest one muttering under his breath as he crouches over the instructions, wholly absorbed in my chore. It is the nicest morning in my memory. With any luck, I think, he'll be finished by the time my wife comes downstairs.

I hear the bright ring of a steel shelf tipping over and hitting the ground, the unpleasant squeak of metal on metal and the sound of a tiny nut rolling across a paving slab.

"For the love of fuck," says the boy, quietly.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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