Little, Brown, £12.99, 248pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

A Shed of One's Own, By Marcus Berkmann


Every man needs a shed. For most of us, midlife marks the death of ambition. We're not going to edit newspapers or score goals in the Premier League. We can't do eminence or pomposity or work ourselves stupid only to get replaced by someone younger and hairier. For Marcus Berkmann, the end of youth is the realisation that "most of us will stay roughly where we are."

"We are weary of great purposes," he writes, in his book on "midlife without the crisis", but this is not without its compensations. Midlife man finds "a sort of zen calm... the need to strive and achieve is supplanted by a desire to please yourself." He just wants to lose himself in pottering, or "directed idleness", pursuing small purposes. Favoured activities include fishing, which involves creating a "virtual shed" around the fisherman, taking things apart and then not being able to put them back together again, cooking new dishes not very well, and going for a walk to the pub.

It's familiar territory from a man who has written books on useless amateur cricketers with Rain Men and pub quizzes in Brain Men. Yes, it is a little close to Grumpy Old Men at times, but Berkmann writes with easygoing charm and not a little insight into our fear of both mortality and nasal hairs.

A Shed of One's Own is based on the comedy of familiarity. This reviewer readily identified with a number of leisure activities, such as working on a garden water feature instead of delivering copy, purposeful walking, joining the National Trust, trying Pilates, joining a pub quiz team, rambling, owning a dog and the full-scale hobby of obsessive recycling, with its attendant slug-fighting in the compost bin.

His chapter "Crumbling" contains horribly familiar details such as the Grecian 2000 dilemma - but mentioning Tom Jones and Paul McCartney soon rids the reader of this temptation. Though it has to be said the cover shot of Berkmann, who recently hit 50, looks suspiciously dark-haired.

Then there's baldness, not being able to hear at parties, wayward eyebrow hairs, frequent flatulence, dribbling at the urinal, and never being able to read the A-Z or a CD cover again without the aid of a searchlight and reading glasses. Mental crumbling begets pedantry – he doubts if anyone under 40 bought Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves - and an obsession with clearing up litter and reading obituaries and noting the ages of the deceased.

Yet there's something uplifting in the way Berkmann rejoices in the liberation of old fartitude: "Having shed most of my ambition, I find I have also lost the shame I had when I was young. I have lost the self-consciousness and self-doubt that make you second-guess all your own reactions and never just loosen up and just enjoy yourself."

Strangely, Berkmann confesses to not owning a garden or a shed. Mega-success might inhibit his directed idleness, but let's hope he will sell enough copies of this book to purchase that shed and a pot of creosote.

Pete May is author of 'There's a Hippo in my Cistern' (Collins)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas