My grandfather had a shed. That isn’t a boast. That would be like boasting that he had a wool-knit cardigan. Or that he said that things were better in his day. Or never talked about the war. That would be like boasting about having had a grandad. But, oh man, I loved that shed. It was at the end of the garden, past the goal I had set up, past the beds of flowers I trampled with a ball, and it smelt of wood. Glorious wood.
It was a workshop. Beyond the clanking of a triple lock on the door was a treasure trove of saws and nuts and bolts and screws and sanders and vices and chisels and bar clamps. Coils of wood shavings covered the floor. Tiny particles of ash hung in the sunlight shining through the little window. The air filled with a deep, fresh-cut scent. No wonder Jesus was a carpenter: the smell of wood is next to godliness.
I was reminded of all this when I passed a furniture shop last week and saw a man in overalls sanding down a table in a small courtyard. Of course, I was never any good at cutting wood, or carving or sanding. I made a lot of “door wedges”, a lot of “spare Jenga blocks”. But I was humoured enough to have a go, and isn’t that one of the greatest gifts of grandparents?
I get my hit these days by walking in forests. Roaming around the north and south forests of Hampstead Heath in London, where there are more than 800 trees. Some of the oaks are estimated to be at least 500 years old. There is Epping Forest, too. When I am back north, I go walking with a group of friends in the 2,400 acres of Delamere Forest, Cheshire, the largest forest in the county. It’s packed with deciduous trees and evergreens. Different types of wood smell differently: the fresh smell of a maple rounders bat is not the same as a willow cricket bat. The smell of an Edwardian secondhand mahogany desk changing the aroma of a room is its own singular kind of pleasure, separate from the sweet, mossy scent of wet wood after a downpour.
Many people enjoy a good sniff of wood. Cedar is a popular ingredient in perfumes (I will always remember an episode of The Apprentice in which one team mixed cedarwood oil with the much more expensive sandalwood oil, blowing £700 from the off). And I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the smell of Christmas trees or sitting rooms in National Trust properties. I’m not the only one who pines for pine, who goes weak for walnut.