As this issue is about community, I want to tell you about two of my favourite communities, both of whom have a spiritual affinity with one another.
The first is a group called the “Men’s Shedders Association.” I recently did a charity fundraising gig for them, my dream is to be the ambassador, the comedy circuits very own Angelina Jolie. I might even adopt one of these stray men and bring them back home to live with me. In a house full of women it would be nice to finally have a wingman for when my wife and I have an argument.
There is a serious reason that this charity was set up. Men’s mental health is a big concern. The statistics on male suicide make for horrific reading. It remains the most common form of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK. Years of being told to “Man up” and the stigma surrounding mental health has made it hard for men to talk about their problems.
Thankfully things are changing and the “Shedders Association” is one initiative set up to help. Men of all ages, young and old can now gather together in sheds all across the country, it’s a bit like an open prison, except that the only vices they have are the ones holding the wood.
It seems like men find it easier to talk when we are these sort of environments. Sawdust are our smelling salts and a Black and Decker Workmate is just another one of the lads. If you have a BBQ you can see how hard men find it to converse. Women will be sat on the patio furniture with a glass of Pimms, the air is alive with their excitable chatter. The men will usually be stood around the flames with a can of lager in hand, just staring in silence. Occasionally one of the older ones will pluck up the courage to speak: “It looks like you need another bag of lava rock on there Keith.”
I have a shed and it’s changed my life. It’s the only room in the house the children haven’t conquered. I like my kids but I love my shed. It’s my place, my own private temple. It’s not hedonism its shedonism! It’s how men bond too. My mates never ask me about my kids, but they will always ask me about that shed. “How is she doing mate?” “Great!” “I’ve got some pictures on my phone” “Oh, she’s beautiful!” “I’m treating her this weekend” “Are you?” “Yeah, a bit of Cuprinol.”
My wife Jemma got me that shed as a surprise when I became a professional comedian. It was somewhere I could concentrate, a private place away from the chaos of family life. At first, I thought it was a lovely gesture, now I’ve realised it’s just a way for her to get me out of the house.
Some of the men in the shedders association are retired. Their wives send them in there, to keep them occupied and stop them from getting lonely. They spend hours making coffee tables, catapults, and tiny models of cathedrals out of matchsticks, whilst their own homes just fall apart. “John I don’t need another bloody spice rack, when are you going to decorate that back bedroom!”
Another community I am fascinated with are the monks. To the onlooker they seem to have the right idea, taking themselves off the grid, seeking something more spiritual and meaningful in a world of panic and fear.
I’ve met a monk. I know this sounds like the start of a joke, “a comedian and a monk walk down a hill”, but it’s true. I was out for a walk on my own one day, in a country park in Gloucestershire. In the grounds, there was this Monastery. As I walked past the entrance, this monk came out of the gate and fell into step with me. He was in white robes, but he’d stuck on a fleece, bobble hat, and walking boots, an undercover monk, a friar with a wire. Some people find god after a moment of despair, this guy looked like he’d found him halfway through plastering a fireplace. It looked like he was on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition and had taken the wrong bearing, for nearly four decades! He said, “are you walking my way?” I thought, my God, he’s trying to recruit me! He got the calling when he was 25, he’d been there 35 years. He’d left his whole family behind to serve god. I told him I’d just turned 40. He said that is the age we start to look for fulfilment within ourselves, we stop chasing and start reflecting. This could be the moment for you, he said. “Now I’m not saying I’d want to abandon my family, I love my wife and children more than anything else in the world, they are everything to me…however…. it’d be nice to be brother Scott just for a weekend.”
I think that’s what these monasteries are full of, tired dads who said they were going to put the bin out one day and just kept going. They didn’t stop until their heads hit the monastery door. The monks find them there in the morning, just laid out on the steps: “We’ve got some more brother Michael and this one is weeping!” “School holidays Brother John always a busy time!” “Five this week alone” They just prize the Ikea bags out of their hands and take them through to the vestry. I think this is a secret fantasy for most men. As they get older you can see their inner monk slowing starting to come out. They aren’t ageing, they’re transitioning! They get the bald head, the potbelly, start spending all day in their dressing gowns, mumbling to themselves, they take a vow of celibacy, often not their choice. They wake up one day and say to their wives, “Susan, I’m going to put my name down for an allotment!”
But if the price of tranquillity is to give up everything you love, I don’t want it. I couldn’t handle the guilt, it would be unbearable. Maybe they aren’t holy these guys, maybe they’re just really selfish. We can’t all abandon our responsibilities just to save ourselves. It can’t be that good in there either. If it was, then why are they all drinking booze?! Not only that, but they are also making it themselves, it’s like Breaking Bad in there, I bought some of their Trappist Ale, its 9%, that’s stronger than special brew!
When you see them doing those chants in their robes, they aren’t praying, they’re hungover, what are they trying to forget! In this world of pressure and chaos, a garden shed is more than just an outbuilding, it’s a place of sanctuary. All you need is the Pope to pop by and bless it then and you’ve got your own Monastery. You can be your own monk by not even leaving your own home!
Speaking of which, I’ll see you all later, I’m off to rub down some plywood.
@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes