A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. 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 65: I drink therefore I am
The catkins are hanging off the willows and lolling on the walls of the houses on the Mall, thick as butcher’s fingers and yellow as nicotine. Spring is here.
I’m pondering nothing very much as I potter along the river towards a piss-up with pals in a pub in Putney when the sun and the scent of the sap seeping from the buds on the trees start to stir up my imagination.
I’m not saying I’m having an apotheosis like Wordsworth in a field of Lake District daffodils or about to go all weepy and whiny about my wasted life like ‘Ozymandias’, after a basin full of laudanum.
Of course, not. After all, this is only the Thames path, not nature red in tooth and claw, or even Richmond Park. But the fresh air and sap has got me thinking.
I’m in the sort of trance you get just after the third pint of lager or Aperol Spritz kicks in, on a summer’s day. I’m filled with the peace which comes from graciously laughing at a friend’s joke, even though you’ve heard it 42 times before and never, ever, ever found it funny. (This is a feeling familiar to wives and women in long standing relationships, apparently).
The trance is throwing up big questions, too. If I have a problem with my tax code should I call my accountant or Boris Johnson? Will the Human Tissue Authority be willing to take my body for medical science or will I have to pay them to take it as the children suggested last night? Trickiest of all: am I pointless?
This last question, which lurks in the mind of every aging male Boomer as they find themselves stranded above the high tide mark of their careers and libidos, is the easiest to answer.
No, no yet.
Why? Because if I have two mates willing to put up with me for a couple of hours, then I have meaning. It doesn’t matter if I’m to be the only person in history to pay his way into the medical morgue at the Human Tissue Authority or that I don’t have the PMs personal number to call when things get taxing.
As long as someone’s willing to meet you for a drink, even if it’s only for a single round of schnapps, YOU are not pointless.
As long as there’s a campfire somewhere where other people will bear with you while you roast some old chestnuts, there’s an alternative to the despair of the local MAMILs bike club and Sundays spent in padded lycra shorts.
Ergo Bibendum sum. I drink therefore I am. QED.
A few days ago, I watched a TV programme about Socrates, the Greek philosopher, and I wonder if his rigorous approach to logic and problem solving has rubbed off on me? Is it possible that with ‘ergo bibendum sum’, I’ve moved western philosophy forward an inch or two? It may have taken me some time to have a serious thought about life, but Socrates left some of his best thinking to the end of his life, maybe I have too?
‘I don’t get it,’ says one friend, after I explain my philosophical epiphany to them, at the pub.
‘What he’s saying is that life is more bearable with friends,’ says the other.
‘And booze?’ asks the first.
‘Sounds like Epicurus to me,’ says the second, trying to sound positive.
‘It’s more than that?’ I reply.
They both look at me. It’s clear that they are not as excited by my towpath epiphany as I am. In fact, they don’t seem to get it at all. They’re looking at me benevolently bemused. It’s a look I see on my wife’s face quite often.
‘When you said campfire were you being literal?’ asks one of them.
‘It was a metaphor for human conviviality,’ I say, beginning to get frustrated.
‘Oh. Got it.’
There’s a pause as I soak up the fact that my idea is nothing new nor any great shakes. In fact, I realise it’s probably too late to have any new or original ideas, at all, at my age. The scent of blossoming nature conned me.
‘Time for another?’ I ask.
‘Why not,’ says the other.
‘Same again?’ says one friend, the only one who has managed to download the pub’s app.
‘Do you think we should take up bowls?’ says one, looking around.
‘Cheaper than golf,’ says the other.
‘There’s a novel idea,’ I say, getting excited again. ‘Let’s order some chasers while we chat it through.’
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 64: Should men wear Alice bands
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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