The Freezer in the Garden Shed: An Untidy Life Can Spark Joy Too

Village in Winter. Isaac Levitan

Village in Winter. Isaac Levitan

Some time in the late ‘70s my parents decided to invest in a freezer. As they were catering for five kids, they selected a large chest-style model. It was so big that it wouldn’t fit in the kitchen, and our new arrival was installed with some ceremony in the wooden shed in the back garden. There it co-habited with an unruly assortment of paint pots, old curtains and rusty lawnmowers.

Mum bought a book dedicated to cooking for the freezer and embarked on an industrial programme manufacturing spaghetti bolognaise and shepherd’s pie for long-term Tupperware storage. (The shadow of nuclear war still hung over us back then and we needed to prepare for every eventuality.) Dad drove down to Bejam in Romford Town Centre and collected a frozen half-pig, thereby securing a near endless supply of pork chops for family suppers.

One evening the Carrolls sat watching telly, having just polished off that week’s third plate of pork chops, oven chips and garden peas. Contented, Dad placed his tray to one side and announced:

‘With our new freezer we may not eat cheaper, but we do eat better.’

The freezer in the garden shed provided many years of solid service. Indeed it was still performing admirably when I left home for Turnpike Lane in the late ‘80s. I confess I rather liked the fact that the family freezer lived in the shed, and I would have been upset if, in some unlikely fit of rationality and conformity, my parents had upgraded it or transferred it to the house.

In the early hours of one cold, snowy winter’s morning my good friend Thommo, also my flatmate at that time, was struggling to get home. He’d had a few beers in town and fallen asleep on the wrong train heading in the wrong direction. He spotted a train destined for Romford and thought at least it was a place he’d visited before. He jumped on board and, having reached the station, trudged through the thick snow to my parents’ home on Heath Park Road.

When Thommo arrived he saw no lights on, no sign of life, and being a considerate soul, he was uncomfortable waking the whole household. And so he made his way to the back garden, let himself into the shed and organised some makeshift bedding on top of the chest freezer.

Early the next day Mum spotted the evidence of an intruder. There were tracks in the snow and the shed was open. She got Dad out of bed, somewhat grumpy, and pushed him out of the back door to deal with the situation.

‘Oi, you, get out of there!’ Dad cried in a booming voice with a gruff note of intimidation.

A timid Thommo, hung-over and frozen to the bone, poked his head out of the shed door and explained the situation. He was welcomed into the warmth, fed and packed off to work.

This modest incident became a staple of Carroll family folklore. My Mum, a devout Catholic, subsequently made a small wooden sign and hung it above the freezer in the garden shed:

‘Here, on one cold winter’s night, slept Thommo. It might have been Christ.’

We spend a good deal of time nowadays ironing out the rough edges in our lives, smoothing over the contours. We are increasingly obsessed with tidying things up, organising them away, decluttering and streamlining. We want frictionless experiences, seamless journeys, logical order, rational consistency.

But friction creates experiences, and journeys begin at the seams. Life happens in the folds and creases, in the spaces between. Life happens around the freezer in the garden shed.

I have over the years grown comfortable with difference and discrepancy. I no longer demand that everything should conform and make sense. And I feel no compunction to tidy my world into neat compartments that spark joy. I think I may be happier that way. As my Dad might have said:

‘You don’t live cheaper, but you do live better.’

No. 218

‘You’ve Got to Back It Up’: An Encounter with the Tasmanian Devil

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Late one winter’s night in the mid-1980s, I was making my way home from Hornchurch Station with Thommo and My-Mate-Andy. Inevitably we were chatting about Lloyd Cole and Laughing Brew, fu shoes and The Face. Thommo and I were wearing the heavy tweed overcoats that marked us out as students. My-Mate-Andy was sporting his sheepskin-lined, Forza 12 bleached denim jacket, collar-up. We were high-spirited and a little the worse for wear.

As we progressed down the High Street, a young lad and his girlfriend passed us going in the opposite direction.

Something about us clearly irritated the bloke. We may have given him the impression that our good humour was directed at them. We may have brushed into them, or not created enough space for them to pass. We may have just looked a bit too studenty for that time and place.

In any case, he was not very happy, and in a thrice he became a mad whirring tornado of punches, pokes and prods; ducking in and out of us, throwing fast and furious fists; jabbing and clouting, slapping and bashing. He had turned into the Tasmanian Devil.

Now I’m somewhat ashamed to tell you this. My-Mate-Andy and I quickly recognised that we had met a superior force. There may only have been one of him, and he wasn’t the tallest lad. But we knew we couldn’t compete with the Tasmanian Devil.

And so, setting aside our masculine pride and the deep bonds of friendship, we scarpered in different directions, past bins and down alleyways, off into the cold, dark night.

Thommo meanwhile stood his ground. He took one blow after another. A lightning-fast jab to the left; a lusty upper-cut to the right. Biff! Bang! Pow! Soon his eye was bruised, his nose was bleeding, and his beloved student coat was ripped from end to end.

Eventually the young lad’s girlfriend pleaded for clemency. The Tasmanian Devil stood over the now prone Thommo, paused, took a breath and said:

‘Look. You and your mates have got to learn a lesson. You’ve got to learn one thing: you’ve got to back it up.’

Whilst we never quite established what we had done to upset the Tasmanian Devil, and what precisely we were supposed to be backing up, these words struck me as rather profound. And they haunted me for a good while after that shameful night had passed.

A few years later I entered the world of advertising. I discovered it was a land of hunch and hypothesis, supposition and speculation. And I was myself somewhat inclined to make sweeping generalisations about cultural change; confident conjectures about strategic and brand truths. And yet every time I made such an assertion, I heard a sinister voice, whispering quietly into my ear: ‘You’ve got to back it up.’

And so I would reluctantly reach for the research surveys and category reports. I’d consider commissioning a poll, staging a demonstration. I’d go in search of illustration and evidence. I’d do my damnedest to verify my claims.

Now I’m not saying I ever really became the most rigorous of strategists. But it is true that there’s too much hollow theorising and empty guesswork in our world. And, despite the ubiquity of data, things seem to be getting worse.

If you really want to succeed in this profession, you’ve got to fall in love with proof and validation. You’ve got to befriend supporting evidence and corroborating facts. The Tasmanian Devil was right: you’ve got to back it up.

I recently came across my old tweed overcoat packed away in a box. I tried it on and, remarkably, it still fits. It’s not in too bad a nick, and, with a new button and lining, it could even merit a few outings. I’m not so sure Thommo will be impressed.

No. 172