For over forty years there has stood, nestled against the north wall of the church behind the choir vestry, a small wooden building known as ‘Cyril’s Shed’. It was once the H.Q. and bolt-hole of our old Verger Cyril Shaw. Over time it has aquired, what antique dealers might describe as, ‘an interesting patina’. It has also accrued some interesting contents, broken and rusting garden tools, tins of old dried paint, and several kilos of ancient ‘Oasis’ from long-forgotten flower arrangerments. As part of the plan to spruce up the churchyard it was time for a change. Churchwarden Robin Field-Smith declared that he would levitate the old shed and resite it in a less prominent place within the churchyard in a single Saturday morning. He and his Holy Gardeners had previously set about ruthlessly culling this rubbish and unsentimentally dumping it, in preparation for ‘The Big Lift’.

And so it came to pass that on the appointed day Field-Marshal Smith assembled his troop of hand-picked shed-lifters at 10 o’clock exactly (or ten hundered hours as he prefers to call it). All planned with military precision (we have come to expect nothing less). I had been told to report as acting Corporal (Catering). I was ten minutes late on parade (we have come to expect nothing less!), my camera in one hand, the other clutching a forged doctor’s-note excusing me from any kind of physical exertion. A couple of the crew were sporting colourful rugby-shirts as if to underline their lifting credentials, others looked more apprehensive in the face of the daunting task ahead. One unexpected volunteer was the Vicar’s wife, Jo. She immediately disabused us of any sexist thought we might have that she was here to make tea. She had brought all her professional experience of Civil Engineering to the party and soon had her shoulder to the shed.

At ten fifteen, his team crouching in position, Robin gave the order ”LIFT!”. There was a moment of eerie silence. Photographing from a safe distance, I braced myself, expecting disaster. Then slowly the complete shed lifted about a foot off the ground, hovered hesitantly, then crashed back down. Someone at the rear had lost their grip.The second attempt was more confident, the shed rising to waist height and slowly moving forward. The plan was to carry it several metres and rest it on two large flat ledger stones that had been covered with plastic builders’ bags for their protection. The landing was dramatic and, to the sound of shouts and gasps, the shed came to rest precariously overhanging the drop to the path a metre below. Despite all his preparations to ‘make straight the way of the Shed’, even Robin cannot flatten mountains or fill in valleys. Moving a fully assembled shed across a churchyard with undulating ground levels and packed with grave stones is no easy matter.

Phase 1 had gone remarkably smoothly. Phase 2 required the shed to be lifted down onto the path that runs east/west through the churchyard, at the same time rotating it through 90 degrees. All went well until the floor, weakened by years of wet-rot and insect activity, suddenly separated, causing the rear lifters to stumble throwing the shed forward, crashing to the ground. There was a sudden outbreak of muttering of differing opinions as to how to proceed. In a moment we had descended into what seemed like a meeting of the ‘Tower of Babel Planning Committee’ . The remains of the floor having been removed, the shed was on the move once more. But now, confused by the terrain and conflicting instructions the shed was weaving and lurching out of control. The Babel voices reached a crescendo.”To me!”, “No, to you!” etc.

Sensing the situation was getting out of hand, the Vicar’s wife cried ‘Stop!’ adding in a tone of almost Biblical authority, ‘There must be only one voice giving instructions. Mine!’ The team stood still, their heads bowed like school-boys caught having a furtive fag behind the shed. Except there was no ‘behind the shed’ anymore, stuck, as it was, in the middle of the churchyard. Moments later the team had agreed that Jo should take charge of directional commands and Phase 3 commenced. 

I thought it prudent at this point to head to Sainsbury’s for chocolate biscuits and extra milk for the coffee. On my return, the troops had manoeuvred the shed almost into position. A few moments of inpromptu tree-surgery and the roof was extricated from the overhanging branches. Then, with a precision worthy of Brunnel, the shed slid between a grave stone and the boundary fence, with millimetres to spare, into its final resting place. Mission accomplished!

Was this a victory for irresistable force over a moveable object? Most certainly. Was the succcess a result of Robin’s meticulous planning and preparation. Undoubtably. Was this a triumph of female logic over raw male power? I couldn’t possibly comment. All I can say is that those involved can be justly proud and tell their children and grandchildren that they once played a part in the great elevation of the shed.