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The life of a Yorkshire widow: The secret in the garden shed

11 Jan 2024 | Written by Jan Dunbar

In her latest installment of ‘The life of a Yorkshire widow’, Jan Dunbar’s protagonist finds something very mysterious in the garden shed…

I can’t believe it’s nine months since Jack passed away and I still haven’t tackled the garden shed. I’ve always found an excuse to put it off; I’m almost afraid of what I might find. Jack had hidden depths that I very rarely plunged. I put it down to his upbringing, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, I’d got nothing else planned so, with loins girded – well, old trousers and some trusty marigolds at least – I set off down the garden clutching the shed keys and a very large rubbish bag. 

The first problem was the padlock. None of the keys seemed to fit. I went back to the house and fetched the box of spares. Now some of these keys could have been quite valuable, had I any idea where they’d come from. Many of them looked considerably older than me. I tried one or two but in a fit of frustration, I abandoned the search and fetched a claw hammer from Jack’s toolbox in the garage. Armed with this hefty piece of equipment, I removed not only the padlock but also the mounting and half the door frame. I found my little fit of temper quite liberating.

Having finally gained entry to this mysterious man-cave, I have to admit to being mildly disappointed. It was quite ordinary, if a little mucky. Now I don’t mind a bit of dust or the odd cobweb. I’m not one of those women who spend their lives tied to a feather duster. Once a week does me but this looked a job for an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner and I almost abandoned the task. So I did what any woman would do in my position. I made a pot of tea. Suitably fortified with several custard creams, I returned to the shed, this time armed with a long-handled brush. I don’t like spiders at the best of times and I could see one or two I thought might put up a fight. Jack was my spider removal expert but as he wasn’t here, I set to. Should I go in full steam and sweep them out of the corners and see where they end up, or should I try and gently persuade them out into the garden? The heck with it, I thought, and clouted the first one with the brush then ran out in case it landed on me. On the basis that if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist, I did the same with the other one. I was wearing stout shoes and having once dealt with several cockroaches in foreign climes, I thought the odds were probably in my favour.

That done, I had time to look around. Eh, what strange things men keep in their sheds. You expect to find half empty paint tins, gardening tools and boxes of things that “might come in handy one day” but I was flabbergasted to find out what my late husband actually did in his spare time. There, sat on the work bench as if it had only just been finished, was a little train made entirely of matchsticks. A locomotive, I think you’d call it or a steam engine perhaps. It was quite beautiful. And I never knew.

I put the little train carefully to one side and decided to tackle the job one shelf at a time, starting at the top where almost everything went into the rubbish bag. Old newspapers, rusty hand tools, a mug with no handle that said I might look like I’m listening but in my head I’m playing bowls. That reminds me, I must pass on Jack’s bowls. I thought to give them to a charity shop but they were a good set so I’m going to donate them to the bowls club.

The second shelf was much the same, with the addition of a painting of The Last Supper that I recognised from his mother’s house. I’ve no idea why he kept that. He wasn’t religious and his mother certainly wasn’t. The nearest she got to religion was meeting her latest conquest in the cemetery behind St. Hilda’s church on a Friday night. That went in the rubbish bag, obviously.

The next shelf had fly-fishing paraphernalia, a couple of forgotten cassette tapes of Hancock’s Half Hour and a Dan Brown paperback. None of it worth keeping. It was only when I got to the bottom shelf that I discovered a wooden box, hidden behind a stack of old Fly Fishing for Beginners magazines. It wasn’t a new box but not old either, and it was locked. The box itself was beautifully made from what I would have said was walnut. It had brass hinges and a solid brass plate on the lid with a swing handle. What intrigued me was that I’d never seen it before. And the fact that it was hidden.

So why was my husband hiding this locked box in his garden shed? And where, I wonder, is the key?

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