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
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine