Man in the Middle – Chapter 7: No Respite

A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No. 7: No Respite

Mother and I agree we’re going to ignore the advice of the Minister for Loneliness to ‘take your grandparents on holiday’. The Minister used to do it and wants the rest of us to follow her lead as part of her strategy to ‘beat loneliness’, apparently.

It’s not that the Minister’s advice is bad, theoretically. But it’s going to be hard to follow because Mother hates trains, planes, automobiles, ferries and cars. She also detests bicycles. Or rather bicyclists, whom she regards as thoughtless hooligans who enjoy scaring old people by riding on pavements and jumping the traffic lights.

The only way to get her to the south of France – which is where we’re heading – is to hire a sedan chair and a team of muscled youngsters to carry her. The journey would leave almost no carbon footprint and give two fit, young people work for a fortnight or more. I wonder if the Minister would finance this as an innovative piece of policy making and a sure fire publicity coup?

‘The last time I went to France the dog had diarrhea for a week and your father drank a bottle of a brandy every day. At my age, I can’t risk reliving that all over again,’ says Mother.

Son thinks she has hodophobia, a rare disease, which makes you fear travelling and should be taken to the psychiatrist. Wife thinks she’s being selfless and should be left alone. I am trying to remember if Father liked brandy that much. The bit about the dog is true.

‘If she were a dog, we’d put her in a dog home. She’d get three meals a day and happily run around with the other dogs. Why aren’t there dog homes for old people?’ says Son.

‘We could set up cameras in her flat so we can watch her on our iPhones,’ says Daughter.

‘We could just respect her wish to stay at home,’ says Wife.

The worry that something might happen to her while we’re away doesn’t disappear just because we’re going to respect her wishes. But son has given me an idea. I investigate short term respite care and talk Mother through the concept of her signing up for some while we’re in France. She looks at my kindly after mulling it over for a short while.

‘If I drop dead while I’m in this so-called respite care home, they’d be obliged to tell you I was dead. Which means you’d be obliged to come home. Which means the family would be obliged to come home, too. Which means the holiday would be ruined for everyone.’

‘But here’s the rub. Coming back early won’t bring me back to life. And if I die before you get back, nothing very much will happen. They’ll just shove me in a giant freezer and call you when you come home, sun-tanned and relaxed. Frankly, you’ll be in better shape to deal with the shock after the holiday not during it. Don’t you think? So, when you think about it this respite care business is clearly a pointless complication and expense.’

I am bamboozled but not stupid enough to fight on.

‘You’d rather be by yourself? At home, then?’

‘Yes. L’enfer c’est les autres. Why do people always assume us oldies need to be with other people? The politicians and those busy bodies need to remember that.’

She pauses for a moment.

‘Good God, imagine being on holiday with a politician.’

First published in Age Space

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 8: Cakeism

Read the previous one – Chapter 6: Shopping with Mother

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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