Man in the Middle is the fictional diary of a Boomer coping with the demands of an ageing mother with dementia, his millennial children and his own impending obsolence. Bowed down by Brexit, Covid and self-pity, all he wants is more ‘me time’. Will he succeed? Or is he destined to be stuck forever in No Man’s Land in the war between the generations?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
No 68: Escape to the country?
As a child, I hated watching ‘Last of the Summer’s Wine’, the BBC sitcom about old men with nothing much to do with their lives but fool around. Now, I’m living it.
Once upon a time, I pitied poor old Compo, the clownish one of the three old boys. Wrapped in tweed and a cloth cap, his relentless joie de vivre was as tedious as a recurring hernia. Now, I wish he was here with me on this pub balcony overlooking the Thames along with the other old toads, who pass for friends, who have gathered to muse away this sunny afternoon.
This party needs pumping and Compo might have provided the spark to get it going. We’ve been sitting around for half an hour and barely a word has passed between us, let alone anything jovial or stimulating. It feels like we’re at an induction meeting for Trappist monks where everyone has had to leave their best gags in a locker outside.
‘Too old to rock and roll, too young to die,’ whispers one of my mates down into the froth at the top of his pint glass, breaking the silence.
‘Chin up,’ I say.
He lifts his eyes, smiles and says nothing.
‘Anyone got any good jokes,’ I ask.
‘Yes. Coventry’s the new capital of culture,’ says another.
This august body of ancient mariners and Compo wannabes is what my children would call ‘a friendship group.’ We call ourselves ‘Mischief Club’. The name is a self-conscious, ironic joke, of course. The most mischievous thing we’ve done in the five years since we incorporated was to return a corked bottle of wine to a snotty sommelier.
If we were honest or valued accuracy, we would rename ourselves ‘The Dull Men’s Club’. Or disband. We’re so wet we could extinguish the flame of fun at the Hell Fire Club’s Christmas bash if they were stupid enough to ask us.
‘Got stuck next to two Covid-idiots on the train here. They spent the entire journey without a mask, sitting next to a sign saying: ‘Wear a mask.’ Moaned on and on and on about their human rights being infringed to their friends on their bloody mobile phones,’ says one of the group.
‘Millennials,’ he replies.
A fizz of energy passes through the assembled members of Mischief Club as if Doctor Frankenstein has plugged us directly into the mains. Nothing is guaranteed to reanimate the lifeless conversation of a group of bored Boomers faster than the chance to whine about Millennials. Mischief Club is no exception.
‘Wouldn’t know their Human Rights if they bit them in the arse,’ says one.
‘Exactly,’ says another, with the triumphant air of a barrister concluding a case.
Excited by the positive reaction to his train story, the storyteller puffs on.
‘One was a dead-eyed, man child of about 18 with a scar on his cheek. The other a girl in a fake tan and furs. About the same age. Both ghastly.’
‘Just wanted to provoke you, I suspect.’
‘Did you report them to the ticket inspector?’
‘There wasn’t one.’
‘Typical,’ sighs everyone.
‘My father didn’t fight in the War so the young could travel on trains in fake tans and furs,’ I say.
The conversation halts. A few heads shake.
‘Is that your idea of a joke?’ says one.
‘We’d just started to get up a head of conversational steam,’ says another. ‘Now you’ve ruined it.’
‘Sorry,’ I say.
A man in a motorboat with a megaphone shouts at a rowing eight who have fluffed their strokes.
At the beginning, we set out with high aspirations for Mischief Club. It wasn’t just an excuse to meet pals for a boozy lunch. It was going to be a place to foster fellowship among a band of friends, to go boldly into our Third Age, full of an intellectual, questing spirit. Like the Fellowship of the Rings only with Museum cards, not swords.
‘Do you remember we used to go to galleries before we started drinking?’ says one. ‘Now we just start drinking.’
‘Do you remember we had £300 in the club kitty and until he blew it all on a duff tip at Newmarket,’ says another pointing at the club’s self-appointed Treasurer and Chief Investment officer.
Mischief Club is in danger of turning into the Salem Witch trials. Silence descends, again.
‘I’m going to be on ‘Escape to the Country’,’ says one.
‘The TV series?’ I ask.
‘Where are you planning to escape to?’ I ask.
‘I don’t advise that. Don’t like the English. Worse diet in Europe,’ says one of the club.
‘Nonsense. Friendly people. Beautiful countryside. Not like here.’
He points at the brown sludge passing for a river below the pub balcony and the overbuilt riverside next to us. Car horns bleat in the street.
Escape to the country.
Four simple words that capture the dream that nestles in the collective subconscious of so many Londoners, who have an equity nest egg built up over a couple of decades of undeserved inflation.
So many now, in their night sweats, longing to become Sarah Beeny or Jeremy Clarkson. So many, whose only remaining ambition is to stride around their newly acquired country estate in green wellies with a gun dog, shouting at their newly acquired estate manager: ‘Buy more owls for the barns’ and ‘Rewild everything’.
Escape to the Cotswolds or Cornwall. That makes sense. But escape to Scotland? That’s a different country, even if the Government wants to stop us saying so. He’s been a Londoner all his life. Will he understand a word they say? Will they understand him? What happens if Scottish independence happens? Will he start to wear kilts? This is a lot of unknowns to take on so late in life. Compo would never be so silly.
‘Tired of London, tired of life,’ says someone.
‘Nonsense. I’ve got my eyes on a trout farm with 10 acres and still have money over to pickle my liver.’
Ten acres and trout. Plus money over for pickling your entrails. Hmm. The cogs inside the greying minds of Mischief Club’s membership turn this over silently.
A young waitress hovers at the edge of our table with menus. She’s hesitant to interrupt. Perhaps she’s shy or new to the job? Or, perhaps, she’s never seen so many dinosaurs together outside of the Natural History Museum and isn’t sure if we are for real?
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Man in the Middle 69: Wrapping a present for my son’s birthday
Read the previous one – Man inthe Middle 67: Not all that’s said is clear
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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