Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies – review

At the age of 31, writer and musician Catrina Davies lived in a cramped, noisy, expensive, unhappy flat share in Bristol. She wanted to live on her own but was perpetually skint so she had no real prospect of ever getting onto the housing ladder. Her good degree hadn’t led to any career to speak of and, as she puts it, she “lived hand to mouth, grafting, worrying, drinking wine on my own and teetering on the edge of depression”. 

In her memoir, Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed, Davies recounts her decision to return to Land’s End, where she spent much of her childhood. With no house or flat to move to, she instead heads to a small, dilapidated shed that was once used by her father as an office for his planning and design business but had been abandoned since he went bankrupt in 1992. 

The shed tests the generosity of the phrase “fixer-upper”. There was no electricity, no toilet, no heating and no shower. The door didn’t lock and it was full of mice and spiders. 

Her decision to live there was, she acknowledges, “not sensible or wise or legal or financially sound. It was a castle in the air, made of images from Google Earth and half-forgotten memories from childhood, and a yearning so strong that it had no name.” 

Over time, she builds furniture out of driftwood, installs a wood-burner and becomes chummy with the neighbours. Despite the difficult living conditions, not to mention the fear of eviction by the council, in her eyes the shed comes to represent both nostalgic continuity and freedom — “We need roots before we can grow wings,” as she puts it. 

There is a political and ideological element to her decision, too. Her life in the shed could be seen as a reaction against consumer capitalism, in the tradition of America’s first hippy, Henry David Thoreau: “There was something increasingly radical in doing nothing, it seemed to me, within a society that had fetish for being busy.” 

At times her book turns into a polemic against the madness of the housing market. I was unconvinced by some of her proposed solutions (“building more houses should be a last resort”) but Davies clearly and succinctly describes the vastness of the problem. 

In one memorable example, she points out that if food prices had risen as fast as house prices in the years since she came of age, a chicken would cost £51 — or £100 for lucky Londoners.

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies (Riverrun, £16.99), buy it here.


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