Man in the Middle 66: I made a terrible error

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 66: I’ve made a terrible mistake and gone for a walk in the country

My body crumples onto the grass, exhausted. I lay my head down on the damp hillside, jowls folding onto the wet earth like omelettes from a pan. The soil licks its lips and kisses my left cheek. It’s wet and cold like a dog’s nose but it’s not unpleasant.

I sigh. I know, at some point, I will have to get up and move on, but, for the moment, this soggy slab of the Chilterns feels as warm and welcoming as the finest four poster bed at Balmoral. I deserve this rest, frankly. It’s been nearly ten minutes since we left the car park and I’ve been walking nearly non-stop since, mostly uphill.

I close my eyes and try to weigh up how the day lies.

The situation is bleak. I should be at home sipping coffee. I should still be in my jimmy jams. I should be clipping adverts from the back of the Sunday supplements into my ‘Boomer Album of Super Life Hacks’, which is where I collect adverts for things which I think will be useful to me soon: bath chairs (‘for easy transfer in AND out of the bath’); maroon corduroy chinos (‘introductory offer three pairs for £85!’); candles, whose scent takes you ‘overseas without leaving your home’ and cashmere pashminas named ‘coulis’, ‘plum pie’ and ‘Berry-Burst’. (For my wife, obviously). Instead, I’ve made a terrible mistake and come to the country for a walk.

I’m not quite sure how I came to be in this dreadful situation, but I think I’m the victim of WhatsApp Group Think. First, someone shared an article about bluebells being stolen from a private garden. Someone else said ‘let’s go see the bluebells.’ Someone else said we must go soon because bluebells have a short season, as short as politicians’ promises. There was an explosion of emoticons – thumbs up, smiley faces – and, before I could say, ‘my walking boots are at the dry cleaners’, here I am, face down in the grass on a damp hillside with a cyclone of self-pity building up inside me as rough as a Force 9 off Doggerel Bank.

What’s the quickest route back to London? Air Ambulance? Should I go up to the top of the hill or roll back down to the car park? Have I got enough cash on me to persuade the children to carry me the rest of the way? I’m uncertain where to go next, like the Grand Old Duke of York and Keir Starmer.

A muscle in my right buttock, which didn’t exist half an hour ago, is vibrating like a violinist playing pizzicato. I open my eyes and see a pile of sheep s**t three inches from my nose. Two piles, in fact. Two little pyramids of black pellets, lovingly laid down by the local flock to punish the urban unfit, like me, who mistakenly think weekends are for filling their City clotted lungs with rejuvenating country air.

I look at the sheep s**t, again. If I take even one big sniff and things could get very nasty in my nasal passages.

‘Typical,’ I say out loud and close my eyes again.

‘Aren’t you dead yet?’ asks my son, kicking the sole of my shoes.

‘I’m trending that way.’

‘You need to get fit,’ he says. ‘We’ve only walked 1.5km.’

‘Uphill. That’s 4km on the flat.’

He stares down at me.

‘You shouldn’t have had a second croque monsieur in the car.’

‘Is it too much to expect a little sympathy?’

‘Mum said not to show you any sympathy. It just makes things worse.’

I look up the hill. My wife is standing next to three people from our party, chatting and taking photos. One of them has opened out a map and is studying it. My heart sinks. Are they planning to go off piste? Or for a Gold Badge in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards? Maps could signify a recklessness of Olympic proportions. Half of the party are on statins, for God’s sake.

A friend strolls down and stands over me.

‘Skinful, last night?’ he asks.

‘I’ve made a terrible mistake and gone for a walk in the country,’ I say, shaking my head.

‘Easily done. Anything broken?’

‘Just dizzy.’

‘It’s the second croque monsieur, wot done it,’ says my son.

I want to roll onto my back but need to check out the lie of the land first.

‘Is my head lying in sheep s**t?’

‘No,’ says my friend. ‘But there’s quite a lot just in front of your face.’

‘I know.’

I roll onto my back. The sky is clearing up, a little.

‘What’s the plan now?’ I ask.

‘We’ve found a pub on the map. We’re thinking of heading there, now.’

‘Pub? On the map?’

‘Yes. Just up to the top of the hill, left a bit and then down.’

‘Down?’ I say. ‘Down is good.’

‘About half a kilometre. But if you’re not feeling well, I can walk with you back to the car park and we can pick you up after lunch.’

‘No. no. I’m feeling better. I should be able to make it to the pub. Give me a hand,’ I say to my son.

He reaches his hand out and pulls me up. I pitch him a poorly smile.

‘No sympathy,’ he says. ‘No sympathy at all.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 65: I drink therefore I am

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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