Marcus Berkmann’s one of those eminently amusing writers I’ve been stumbling across for a couple of decades. So opening his latest comic memoir, A Shed of One’s Own: Midlife Without the Crisis, feels a bit like finding a familiar face in a reassuringly fusty pub where you’ve both retreated to escape the vicissitudes of modern life. He’s a little older, a little more resigned to greengrocers’ misplaced apostrophes and the decline of personal ambition but essentially the same amiable humourist.
Berkmann’s chronicled his cricketing obsession in multiple volumes and featured in the late Harry Thompson’s marvellous Penguins Stopped Play about village cricketers on a quixotic tour of seven continents; he’s a Private Eye regular; and he used to review TV in the Daily Mail back in the early Nineties, which was actually just a few months ago (that’s according to Berkmann’s theory of Decade Erosion among the middle aged). As I recall, he once had a ponytail, and indeed he addresses this hair episode in a chapter called ‘Mutton’, which also features the World’s Oldest Punk and such seismic sartorial shifts as the expunging of slacks and the “universally distressing phenomenon” of the T-Shirt on the Fat Man.
Berkmann wears his wisdom lightly in an engaging read that knows its (crumbling) audience without ever feeling cynical. Yes, he will make you guffaw on public transport but there are also moving passages about the mid-lifer’s filial duties, as well as a philosophical enquiry into the plight of the middle-aged hermit, tucked away in his shed and nurturing an obsession with facts (news websites, military history, true crime) in place of people. In the acknowledgements, Berkmann thanks Nicholas Lezard, a fellow mid-life memoirist whose new book Bitter Experience Has Taught Me promises more of the same – creaky cricket, excessive amounts of red wine, a glimmer of Wodehousian wit – but with added penury.