This is the diary of a middle aged man. A man who walks the tightrope between the demands of his Mother, wife and kids when all he wants is more ‘me time’. Post Crash, Post Covid, Post Libido, Past Caring. Ecce homo. Ecce Boomer. Ecce Man in the Middle.
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
No.60: A Right Royal Valentine
‘Megan and Harry have been at it again.’
‘She’s having a baby. It’s all over the papers.’
I pass my laptop to my wife, who’s sitting next to me in bed, wearing a knitted beany, the colour of a pale raspberry.
(It’s been so cold this week that we’ve got back into the habit of sleeping hatted, which we pioneered when the boiler died in December leaving us central heating free for a month.)
She puts aside the cup of tea she’s been staring at blankly and peers at the picture of Megan lying on draped in Harry’s lap in a park somewhere. Seeing the picture, she starts to smile.
Something in me starts to grumble.
‘Why isn’t he wearing shoes.’
‘This Valentine’s picture is putting a smile on the face of half the people on the planet and all you can do is criticize him for not wearing shoes?’
‘Look at the grass. It’s long and sharp as a needle. I think he’s been ill-advised to go barefoot on a photo-shoot on a lawn like that. He might have cut his feet on the photo-shoot.’
‘You’re not going off on one of your Royal rants, are you?’ says my wife, the smile slipping from her face.
My daughter walks into our bedroom.
‘Bickering already?’ she asks.
‘No. Just discussing the symbolism of the picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex,’ says my wife.
‘Awful, wasn’t it.’
A little smile creeps on my face.
‘How do you mean, darling?’ I ask.
‘Oh, you know. The usual paternalistic rubbish: pregnant woman swooning back on the thighs of her Royal knight. Looking up at him lovingly, while he ruffles her hair like she’s a pet pussycat. And then all that Christian symbolism. The two of them simply clothed in a lush landscape of palms and long grass. It’s clearly meant to suggest a prelapsarian Eden in which Megan is Eve and Harry is Adam.’
I am not sure what prelapsarian means. But I’m very happy to have support for my irrational irritation.
‘Excellent analysis. I noticed the long grass, too,’ I say.
‘I agree. The picture is totally heteronormative,’ says my son chipping in from the doorway.
‘I preferred her back in the day when she wrote articles attacking Trump,’ says my daughter.
‘Enough. I preferred it when you two weren’t so critical,’ says my wife. ‘Time for a nice family Valentine’s Day breakfast.’
‘I’ve already put some croissants in the oven,’ says my son. The look on his face suggests he should be awarded the Croix de Guerre.
After breakfast, we agree the house is a tip. All over the house, there are cardboard boxes stacked inside other cardboard boxes, like Russian dolls. Some are filled with household rubbish and newspapers. Their like brieze blocks randomly scattered around the house.
It hasn’t helped the paper recycling bin was refilled within an hour of it being emptied because of a large delivery of wine and beer boxes and that the glass recycling bin has been stolen. But things have got out of hand.
Shoes are scattered throughout the house, there are piles clothing in empty rooms, as if people have spontaneously combusted leaving their socks and shirts and underwear behind.
There are four crates of empty beer bottles in the kitchen and, in the hallway, an electric piano, two golf clubs, four cardboard boxes of rubbish and Lilly Allen’s autobiography have made the passageway almost impassable. There’s fliers at the foot of the letterbox like dribble.
‘We’re entombed,’ I say to the family, as we survey the task ahead of us.
‘Lockdown has turned us into hoarders,’ says my son. ‘Maybe we should leave it for another week and see how we feel then?’
‘We’ve got sloppy,’ says my wife.
We all agree that in a perfect world we wouldn’t want to clean the house on Valentine’s Day. It’s not romantic or fun. But this is an emergency.
‘We’re facing a major health and safety issue and we need to act now,’ says daughter.
My wife quickly puts together a plan and assigns us tasks. I am as fluffed as a randy peacock at my task which is to get all the cardboard boxes downstairs in the shortest time possible.
Instead of carrying them down, I kick them down the stairs and shout ‘goal’ every time one drops onto the next landing, which irritates my wife and daughter but half amuses my son, who then breaks the boxes up and puts them outside near the bins.
Three strenuous hours later, we reconvene for a coffee break in the kitchen.
‘You should be proud of yourselves,’ says my wife.
‘We couldn’t have done it without you, boss,’ I say, imagining I’m a football whose been given a half time stroke from their manager.
Everyone silently looks at the floor.
After a short while, my daughter breaks the silence and says: ‘It smells better in here.’
‘We must have been nose blind for a while,’ says my son.
‘We’ve all earned our Valentine’s Dinner Day treat,’ says my wife.
How could I have forgotten? Our Valentine Day’s treat is a slap-up dinner made by a local chef. The food is due for delivery in the next couple of hours. Then it’s down to us to turn on the oven and pop the food in.
My spirits lift and I start to recite the menu out loud, like a Gregorian chant.
‘Truffled beef tartare with brioche cubes.’
The family join in.
‘Tempura vegetables with chimichurri sauce and saffron ailoi,’ says my son.
‘Halibut fillets with a champagne sauce,’ says my daughter.
‘Passion fruit cheesecake,’ says my wife.
We laugh. Valentine’s Day is looking up.
‘We’ve had some great Valentine’s dinners over the years, haven’t we?’ I say looking at my wife.
‘Oh yes,’ replies my wife.
‘Which was your favourite?’ I ask.
‘Well, there was the one when you fainted into your bowl of stilton soup.’
‘Messy,’ I say.
‘Or the time at that restaurant where all the dining tables were high off the ground, like bunk beds. Or a nest. You fell off the ladder climbing up and we had to go to A&E? We didn’t even make it to the first course that time.’
‘Memories,’ I say.
‘But my all-time favourite was when you set fire to your flat with the fondue set.’
‘When the fondue burner exploded like a cannon?’
‘And shot flames across the table.’
‘Which burnt your eyebrows off.’
‘And my fringe.’
‘And the tablecloth caught light and then the carpet.’
‘Those were the days.’
I look out into the garden. There are three circles of purple crocuses huddled together but blooming in the cold air. The rain has stopped. Harry and Megan are having a baby. Dinner is on its way. This Valentine can still turn out OK.
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the previous one – Chapter 59: Hurrah for my free bus pass!
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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