Editor-At-Large: An altar in the home, or a home alteration?

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The Independent Online

There are four pilgrimage sites that will be a hive of activity this Easter, and none of them contains an altar. I refer, to Ikea, B&Q, your nearest garden centre and, of course, the humble garden shed. No religious holiday in Britain is complete without the male of the species reciting the following mantra: "I'm just off to pick up a few [and now you can tick any of the following as appropriate] peonies/ shrubs/bedding plants/kitchen units/ taps/cans of emulsion/pond kits/raspberry canes." By now - Sunday morning - the trip to the nearest shrine will already have been made. Saturday will have been spent watching sport on television and between action replays, the man about the house will have gone through the sacred ritual of laying out his purchases and discovering he forgot something. In the case of Ikea the initial trip will have taken four hours and necessitated a lie-down in a darkened room afterwards, followed by a bottle of good wine for medicinal purposes. His new flat pack Ikea cupboard may lack handles or have the wrong shelves. Whatever. Monday will see the second visit to rectify any oversights or omissions - more paint, different screws, bigger brushes, more plants.

Easter weekend is not a time for quiet reflective contemplation. Not in most households, anyway. You will probably be reading this column to the sound of a power hose, electric drill, lawn mower or chainsaw. A miracle has occurred and work on the big project has belatedly lurched into action. After all, Easter weekend is the biggest DIY date in the calendar. You've got to prep the barbecue area for the summer, decorate the spare bedroom for those guests you invited last Christmas, and perk up the garden now we can see in the evening. But it would be a good idea to recite prayers and place sacrificial offerings around the place, for this weekend will also see thousands of people (mostly male) rushed to accident and emergency department having been wounded in action. Last Easter there were 1,600 injuries sustained while wallpapering, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Seventy people died last year, mostly from accidents involving a ladder.

Home-decorating is clearly a lethal business. Did you know that 21,000 people injured themselves in 2003 with knives, 15,000 with saws and 5,800 with hammers? If that isn't enough to make you reach for the Yellow Pages and entrust the job to a professional, I don't what is. The trouble is, there are so many home improvement and decorating shows on the television that everyone thinks they can acquire the skills just by staring at Charlie Dimmock's chest or Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen's cuffs for 30 minutes a week. Sod reading any manuals. Besides, if you do give your garden a makeover, it probably won't be acceptable to the purists like the chairman of Gardeners' Question Time, Eric Robson.

Garden centres will be full of couples arguing about what to buy and where it should go. That's where the garden shed comes in. The point of a shed is not as a place to store the lawnmower, old plant pots, rusting loungers and bags of fertiliser. It is simply the only place most men can go to and veg out in private at stressful times like this. My father filled one with ancient television sets he claimed to be mending - but none ever emerged from its dark and uninviting interior. My grandfather had one in which he allegedly conducted scientific experiments. Some men can't even make do with one - a few years ago, at his former house in Kent, Vic Reeves took me across the lawn and past the swimming pool to admire one wooden shed where he sat and admired the view, before we dropped down into the shady woods to inspect another where he sat and planned TV mayhem.

A garden shed is a secret shrine where unhappy unfulfilled DIYers go to ponder why the wallpaper they've just put up looks so terrible, and why the new shower door leaks at the corners. Some people find sheds inspirational - dozens of successful authors, from Roald Dahl to Philip Pullman, write in them. A few years ago I interviewed Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the clockwork radio - in his - for the BBC Design Awards.

There are 12 million garden sheds in Britain, and in a recent survey one in eight people saw their shed as a "sanctuary" - eat your heart out yoga teachers. So it's not unexpected that the Home and Leisure television channel has chosen this weekend to launch its Shed of the Year competition. Simply send in a picture of yourself and your shed, with a brief description of why it's so special, and you could end up being filmed - a reality TV series set in your shed must surely be next. Sheds are a strangely male obsession. After a spot of DIY or gardening, most women prefer a soak in a scented bath with an expensive face mask while reading decorating porn like World of Interiors to sitting in a dusty wooden structure listening to Radio 5 Live and sorting out jars of screws. Funny that.

Terminal care

Many of you will have spent part of this weekend travelling and enduring the usual bores on the train who let everyone in the carriage know that they are still ordering copying paper, writing memos, and attending to business while the rest of us guiltily read Heat sandwiched between the pages of the Econo-mist. I'd like to thank the social worker on the GNER 9.30am train from Kings Cross to York last Thursday who shared with me (and at least 10 others) the detail of rehousing an incontinent old lady from one care home in Yorkshire to another, at full volume on her mobile. Most people were stunned at the mount of personal information divulged by the "care" (and I use that word loosely) operative about someone who would have been shocked to discover her most intimate details being broadcast as our in-train radio. When I get senile, pass me a plastic bag and I'll place it over my own head. Anything's preferable to being handed over to the professionals.

I always find family gatherings on weekends like these a complete strain. Before long you've said something unfortunate and mum won't speak to you for at least another month. Or she'll come to stay and criticise your cooking, your new kitchen or the bathroom tiles. So I couldn't wait to see Festen, at the Almeida in London, the stage version of the Dogme film. It revolves around the hideous revelations at a family birthday weekend, with Jonny Lee Miller quite outstanding as Christian, the son who finally discloses his father's shocking history. Jane Asher plays Else, his mother who has chosen to ignore unpleasant truths for the sake of appearances. Having come from a different kind of dysfunctional family, I found it all too familiar.

Since I decided to write a stage show and book (Baggage, published in May) about my childhood, most of my family, with the exception of my sister, have stopped speaking to me. They can't bear the fact that there are, perhaps, two versions of the past. Frankly I found it liberating, just like Festen. But as I looked at the middle-class Islington audience lapping up the tirade of insults coming from the stage, I couldn't help wondering that if any of their kids decided to confront them with a few home truths, would they be any more understanding? I don't feel sorry about the fact I'm in the doghouse. Life's too short.

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