Retrospective (12 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

I became 44 the other day. It’s surprisingly hard to take a day off when every day is a day off from doing things you don’t like. To achieve a complete contrast to the norm, I suppose I could have done my tax return… Instead, I made the pigs wait for breakfast a bit longer than usual, and I chatted to Emma slightly longer over coffee. But I spent a lot of my birthday happy in the shade of the tool shed, fixing my strimmer.

This mainly involved whacking the thing with a hammer and chisel (don’t ask) and thus represented the latest expression of our make do and mend philosophy. A few years ago I’d have taken it to an Authorised Person to service. The transformation of attitude and circumstance pleased me – along with a bit of annoyance about the amount of money I’d given to people in the past to do stuff I should have taken responsibility for…

Reverie about how much things had changed soon got me thinking (in a very middle-aged way) about how I’d ended up having a ragged, happy birthday in a toolshed in Brittany rather than the pre-ordained one: dejected in a suit in a bar in West Yorkshire. Why had my official life plan unravelled so absolutely?

At about 4 years old – my earliest memory – I fell into a bramble-filled ditch in Ireland. That’s a certain proximity to nature, I suppose, but not really the thread I’m trying to pick up! At 14 I was living in my parents’ dream house in Cumbria. It had a big garden and a little wood and, I think, woke up the notion of rural living as the highest form of existence. 24 marked the start of a decade lost to an accidental career. At 34 life was suddenly re-illuminated by the arrival of my first child. The jolting discrepancy between parental values and those of my job caused me to trade my coupé for a purple saloon and drive off into a sallow Yorkshire sunset.

A bit later, somewhere between and the nappy bucket and the allotment, the plan to come here was born. A confluence of instinctual rediscoveries – or something. It’s hard to know where purpose ends and retrospective justification begins, isn’t it? But I do know that strimmer is working just fine now.