Tuesday 31 August 2010

Midlife Crisis

John O’Connell, Jessica Cargill Thompson
Times, 28 August 2010

Chutney fantasy” is a generic term for escape-route dreams, many of which genuinely involve the dramatic quitting of a job in order to forge a new career making artisanal chutney over open fires in copper pans reclaimed from National Trust properties.

Typically, it takes root shortly after the onset of midlife, growing and growing until suddenly you’re phoning up banks to ask about business development loans. “It will be really special chutney,” you say. “Pear and ginger, but with prunes, too. We’ve got this idea for specially shaped jars, a bit like that St Peter’s Ale which comes in replica 18th-century beer bottles.”

You explain that it will be a premium product, designed to be sold in the sort of delis where people won’t mind paying £6.95 a jar. Yes, it is a lot, but start-up costs will be high. And obviously you’ll be paying yourself the salary you were on when you were doing crisis PR for Tesco.

Other popular chutney fantasies include:
Opening a B&B, but a really good one. “People get it wrong. The trick is making sure the sausages you serve at breakfast have a high pork content – nothing less than 75 per cent will do.”

Writing songs. “I’m 48 so pop stardom is no longer a realistic goal for me. But professional songwriting – that’s a piece of p***. If I spend an hour mucking about on GarageBand and drop a CD off at EMI Music Publishing this afternoon, I bet you they’ll have got back to me before the week’s out to say Cheryl wants the track for her new album...”

Landscape gardening. “I read this great biography of Capability Brown. He was amazing, the way he tamed unruly nature, moving trees around and stuff. I could do that. And I’ve found these great ‘gardening’ trousers on the Jigsaw website.”

Teaching. “I know people say teaching’s hard, but it can’t be harder than managing the supply chain at a small Leeds-based manufacturer of burglar alarm components – and I’ve done that for 15 years! It’s time to put something back... Kids just need to be inspired and reassured that they can really do something with their lives.”

Starting a greetings card business. “People are looking for something different, something tasteful. But cheerful, too. I could use fun images like cupcakes and buttons. I always felt I was artistic, but I’ve never found the right outlet. I thought I could sell these online. They’d be ever so popular – especially with the other NCT mums.”

Setting up a market stall. “Selling pretty knitted things. Or handmade jewellery – I learnt how to do it on that weekend course at our local art gallery. The other day I saw this really cool retro Citroën van for sale. We could convert it and take it round festivals selling proper coffee! And gourmet pies! And that artisanal chutney my mate makes!”

© John O’Connell and Jessica Cargill Thompson. Extracted from The Midlife Manual (Short Books, £12.99)


  1. My chutney fantasy is to develop an online web based business which will enable me to travel anywhere, anytime, armed with laptop computer. I've come to realise that for us who are in mid life many of us have acquired valauble knowledge, skill and information for which people will gladly pay. We do live in the information age after all - and this type of career and life transition is entirely possible. What it might mean though is that job search has a different meaning, more reliant on self rather than an employer.

    Best wishes
    Anthony from Job Search Mentoring

  2. Living on a canal boat and writing novels...