Sophie Dahl had the commentariat in a flap yesterday following her request on the Today programme for half a million quid to refurbish and move her much beloved Grandad’s near-collapsing old writing shed to a new home. Seems a lot for one old prefab, especially since mine was only valued at about £100. Clearly some people need to get their priorities straight.
Allow me to explain. When I was a kid promoting Danny the Champion of the World, I got the chance to go and meet Mr Dahl in his legendary writing space. It was indeed pretty magical; here was a guy dreaming up some of the most enduring flights of fancy of the last century, all thanks to his splendid isolationism in his own little brick and polystyrene kingdom. Apparently he liked an early evening G&T or two to be brought to him there, too. In short, it was an admirable way of living.
Young and impressionable as I was, I felt inspired to build my own similar work space, and for a long time I found it valuable. Cordoned off at the end of my garden with nobody in my face, I used my brand new outdoor nest for a number of years in coming up with some of the crazy stunts and campaign ideas I remain most proud of to this day, from clown auditions to elephant- accompanied alpine hikes.
Creativity needs space, whether it’s conjuring up PR gold or scribbling visions of gargantuan, insect ridden fruit reminiscent of a homeless former greengrocer’s terminal acid binge. As a result, these spaces take on a kind of sacred quality- they fascinate because they provide a visual and spatial signifier of the moment of genius.
Having said that, Sophie Dahl wasn’t exactly clamouring to poke her way into my shed (thank goodness), and now she couldn’t if she wanted to. I left the house with the garden office a while back, and shortly after my departure a massive tree fell on it and cut it in half. Somewhat put out, I called a workman and asked how much it’d cost to salvage and fix the shed. One hundred quid, I was told.
So there you have it; Sophie Dahl clearly hasn’t asked around in Gloucestershire. Or maybe the issue is that this was Mark Borkowski’s shed, not Roald Dahl’s (pah!). Whatever the price, anyway, this shed moving appeal looks cheap and unnecessary.
What inspired me all those years ago was this man, working in this specific space, and speaking as someone with a similar working style, I hold no illusions about any magic quality to the workspace itself. After my death, any rabid Mark Borkowski fans would do better investing their money in something tasteful, like an enormous bronze statue of me held aloft by the twin atlases of P.T. Barnum and Jim Moran. That’d do for a start.