Little, Brown £12.99
A Shed of One's Own: Mid-life Without the Crisis, By Marcus Berkmann
Don't get angry, get a shed
Sunday 15 January 2012
If a different part of you aches every day, or you've developed a strategy for dealing with ear hair, or laid down a jolly good wine cellar, you are probably a middle-aged man. Under-35s think they're immortal and that this will never happen to them, but age comes like a thief in the night. Hair recedes, the world enrages us with its rudeness and bad punctuation, youthful dreams are dashed, memory starts to ... what's the word?
But there is hope. Marcus Berkmann has a plan to save us from the indignities and melancholy of midlife: good quality shed time. It doesn't have to be a real shed, just a place or even a corner of the mind where "directed idleness" can be nurtured, follies laughed at, and the plus side of mortality can be contemplated. Take brain cells. Berkmann quotes a recent report that "by middle age, the brain has developed powerful systems that cut through the intricacies of complex problems. It is more nimble, more flexible, even cheerier." A survey last week that contradicted these findings is surely just a plot by twenty-somethings to keep us in our place.
The trouble with modern society, according to Berkmann, is that mid-lifers think they've done the hard yards, that they deserve more. They don't. But they have so many other advantages. "I have lost the shame I had when I was young," he writes. "I have lost fears, I have lost jealousies, I have lost that awful feeling that the centre of things is somewhere else and I have somehow been excluded."
There's a danger of complacency in all this; the north London aesthete untouched by pain or poverty. In fact, the list of family and friends Berkmann has loved and lost would make me nervous about accepting an invitation to dinner. Or even nodding at him in the street.
A Shed of One's Own is warm, funny and wise, the antidote to Jeremy Clarkson, the Daily Mail, Grumpy Old Men and the other tools of the rage industry that stoke anger and pomposity in the middle-aged. Their solution is to consume more! Get a facelift! Drive faster! Take a mistress! Write an angry letter! Berkmann's is quietness, a glass of wine, accepting that you're not young any more – which is a good thing, because young people are boring. A sort of "Zen and the Art of Mid-life Management".
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