Like the familiar tick of a Grandfather clock in a storm the shepherd’s hut offers me the reassuring continuity that I need. The clock keeps its regular time long before and long after any event. The hut rests here, just the same. Nothing has changed since my last visit, it’s like donning your faithful woollen jumper or meeting a good friend you haven’t seen for years. One could paint, draw or craft in a shepherd’s hut and leave that day’s gain, and the paraphernalia that goes with it, out on the easel or desk and know it would be there ready to pick up, just as you left off.
We need to cultivate a calm mind which, like the clock, weathers the storms with the same steady beat. I walk out from the house, laptop and mug of tea in hand, and step away from the relentless news of a pandemic which they measure with a grim daily toll. Wise people warned of what was to come in a matter of weeks, that we must isolate and flatten the curve so as to reduce the burden on frontline staff. When it does occur, some still cry foul. I need my hut.
It takes a while to find my rhythm. I lay down thoughts as if I were sketching in my drawing pad. Ideas that have been percolating for a couple of days, firing out words ‘to kill the white of the page’, as my art teacher used to advise. He would say all sorts of things whilst rubbing his hands together with exuberant glee. He may be long gone now. His passion then was to create paintings of corrugated iron in watercolour and gouache, often portrayed in heaps of decay and reclaimed by nature.
The shepherd’s hut helps me. The door is open and, on this blue-sky Easter Sunday in lockdown, the familiar bird song is what fills the hut. A woodpecker makes me smile; it intermittently uses the metal bracket on a high voltage power line in the distant farmyard to let everyone know he is busy. His brain is built to bounce as he jackhammers on the cold steel but wow, what a way to spend the day. The soft call of the woodpigeon sitting on the hut’s chimney makes for a pleasant contrast.
Working from home is no bad thing, and journalist Alex Johnson has been blogging, and publishing books about it, for years. The morning commute of only a few paces to a hut or garden room has its appeal, although of course many people will prefer the interaction and banter of office life. But it can be done, and the technology is now fully established for it to be a success. You can, of course, experience face to face meetings remotely, as ably demonstrated last week when I took a fortnightly guitar lesson via the internet. It was refreshing to click ‘Join now’ as opposed to the inevitable hasty rush to drive into town, to park, to remember all you need.
One hour or so in the hut and I find it is hard to stop; initially when faced with a screen of white it was hard to start. The hut helps with this, I’m becoming lost in its embrace. But as with anything creative I must take a break, so I spend some time slashing back the rampant hemlock water dropwort that threatens to overtake more diminutive plant life in the stream. It reminds me of a brief summer job as a teenager, working with river keeper Harry Teesdale on the Allen near Wimborne, cutting weed with a scythe and absorbing his quiet words of wisdom.
Energised by the exercise I return to my desk. I have disconnected the Wi-fi device in my hut so as not to be tempted to link to the outside World, but the option is there. What is needed to work from home? Some kind of link to the web is easy, from hotspots via a phone to wi-fi links run out from the house. Many people are out there, working from our shepherd’s huts, including someone offering virtual assistance to businesses, answering the phone for any number of small companies from her shepherd’s hut in Suffolk. There’s a veterinary medicine PR in the Cotswolds, a textile artist in Scotland, a maritime broker in Cornwall, a writer in the Lakes and a musician in Surrey. We are designing a new ‘work from home’ hut that will be equipped to fulfil the needs of those thinking of a change of tack or, due to circumstances, are making a fresh start.
We furloughed our team on my fiftieth birthday. It was always to be a significant day. I set it as a milestone a long time ago, but no one could have foreseen this turn of events. Isolating the team as part of the national effort was the right thing to do. I aimed for everything to be in place in 2020 and it certainly is, after almost two decades of laying the foundations and raising the structure of the business to be self-sustaining. The pioneer days were fun and exciting, and of course challenging, but they are in the distant past now. During the upward climb of any business there are many belay points, each section is a learning experience to help you on your way, and that only ever comes with time. Some simply haven’t resonated with that, expecting to be at the plateau when you still have so far to go, or they are unable to leave their own baggage at the door. When we re-start we shall be more tenacious than ever, after the few weeks of isolation. Everything is in place for the most experienced team of makers in the country to make the very best shepherd’s huts, at the top of their game.
For my fiftieth birthday the team kindly gave me a classic pocket watch, a lovely 1911 Omega. When I sit down to write I carefully wind it and allow myself a session of about an hour and half, maybe two. As I hold the watch to my ear I marvel at the mechanism that has kept time for over a century, so resolute in spite of whatever occurs around it.