Man in the Middle 71: De Pfeffel’s Day of Freedom Just Went Wrong

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 obsolescence. 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 71: De Pfeffel’s Day of Freedom Just Went Wrong

July 19. Freedom Day. Mid-morning. I’m staring at our bedroom ceiling tracing the cracks in the plaster growing out from the overhead light like the emaciated arms of an octopus. I’ve been doing this for more than an hour, weighing up what to do with Freedom Day, Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s wonderful gift to the Nation.

I know I should be grateful Bojo has given me back the chance to exercise Personal Responsibility, but I’m not feeling very boosterish yet. Perhaps it’s the thought that it’s going to cost hundreds of pounds to fix the maze of cracks on the ceiling that’s dampening my spirits or maybe it’s because I’ve got a love hate relationship with personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility is great when there’s easy option to take but tricky when there isn’t. Which is why I outsourced the management of my Personal Responsibilities to my wife years ago. She makes the decisions while I enjoy the benefits. It’s similar to the Blind Trusts used by public figures to make money while they pretend they don’t know they are making money.

Other than personal responsibility, what exactly it is de Pfeiffel says I can do today that I couldn’t do yesterday? I make a mental list. Number one: I can go to a nightclub. But what’s the benefit in that?

I haven’t been to a disco since I met my wife on a small wooden dance floor in a basement nightclub in Chelsea at the end of the Age of The Bachelor (circa 1690 AD) where I bamboozled her with my (then) flexible hips and a full head of hair. Unfortunately, I also perjured myself by swearing I ‘loved to dance’ and owned the complete works of Abba. Going to a nightclub now would only stir up memories for her which might trigger a psychotic episode or a call to the divorce lawyers. Besides, I’ve got a groin strain from playing bowls too vigorously last week and wouldn’t be able to do myself justify under the strobes.

So, what else does Freedom Day actually do for me?

‘You can order your drinks at the bar,’ a friend while sipping a hipster lager called something like `Thyroid Balm’.

Is that freedom?

Compulsory table service could be the greatest legacy of Lock Down and should remain on the statute books along with face masks in public spaces. My rationale?

First, ordering at the bar is lost drinking time. Table orders mean punters can focus on what they’re good at: drinking. Two, men make more trips to the bar than women. Compulsory table service evens up the booze ordering burden between the sexes. Three, ordering at the bar causes high blood pressure, especially among male Boomers.

Why?Because young bar staff (which now is all bar staff) prefer to serve young people before Boomers, even if the Boomer has been standing at the bar since before breakfast and the young person has only just come into the pub. This is especially true if the young person is attractive e.g., has several ear piercings and false eyelashes. Keeping compulsory table service would reduce Ageism and the risk of strokes. Why can’t the Government see this?

I should be getting up, but my pyjamas whisper to me: ignore the siren calls of your shirts and shoes to get suited and booted. My duvet says: don’t rush away, it’s warm here. The pillow says: the pub won’t be open for another hour.

I snuggle a little flatter onto the mattress.

My wife is coming up the stairs, her flips flops clapping like a teacher calling a class to attention. I must get out of bed before she sees me. I should be doing something which requires me to be vertical, not horizontal, but I’m not sure what. Maybe it’s just a guilty conscience?

Luckily, like all experienced husbands and good-for-nothings, I know how to look busy faster than Superman can change his suit. I swing my legs out of bed and, in a flash, I’m pretending to do yoga, standing upright by the bed with my arms and fingers stretching up to the ceiling in an approximation of the tree position.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Yoga,’ I say.

I breathe out, bring my palms together at my chest and whisper ‘namaste’ to her, bowing slightly.

‘Are you packed yet?’


Oh, so that’s what what Freedom Day is for. I remember now. We’re off to Worcestershire for a holiday. Specifically, to stuff our faces in the eateries of Ludlow: ‘The Kettle & Limescale’; the infamous ‘Cream Crackered’, a novelty savoury biscuit shop, and the ‘French Lieutenant’s Pantry’, which is rumoured to be in the running for a Michelin star in 2035. My personal responsibility was to be packed for a noonish departure.

‘I’ve sorted my holiday reading.’

I point to a pile of paperbacks on the bedside table. It’s a lame distraction strategy and she sees through it.

‘They’ve been there for months. You haven’t done anything, have you?’

She looks me in the eye.

‘I don’t want a rerun of Menorca,’ she says, firmly.

‘Nobody wants another Menorca,’ I say, thinking of that blighted holiday and my pivotal role in it.

‘I could do with some help packing the car.’

‘Down in 15.’

‘Not in pyjamas.’

‘Battle fatigues, of course,’ I reply.

My son and daughter aren’t coming to Worcestershire. Despite that, the kitchen table is covered with cardboard boxes full of provisions. We’re taking enough to make a regiment of Doomsday Preppers happy to face the Apocalypse. I’m worried this will mean too much cooking at the holiday home and not enough out and about in Ludlow and the local pubs. My wife is even taking a bottle of Worcester sauce.

‘Coals to Newcastle,’ I say holding up the bottle of Worcester sauce.

‘Eh?’ she says.

‘Surely, they have Worcester sauce in Worcestershire?’ I ask.

‘Don’t get smart, get packing,’ says my wife.

After half an hour, the car is full. I’ve started to take responsibility. Not for much. But it’s a start. If I do the bulk of the driving, I may even recover the brownie points I lost lazing around this morning. Is that a little Boris Bounce I can feel surging through me or just the thought of lunch?

I walk into the sitting room. My son is standing in the window.

‘You’re up early,’ I say.

‘Don’t come near me,’ he says, sharply.

Now and again, he pretends he doesn’t like me. Sometimes, he really doesn’t like me. It’s a father and son thing. We both grit our teeth and hope it’ll pass.

‘Everything OK?’ I ask.

‘I’m positive,’ he says.

‘It’s so important at your age,’ I say. ‘With Brexit, Covid and climate change there’s so much for young people to feel down about.’

‘No, you idiot. I’ve tested positive for covid.’

My wife is in the doorway of the kitchen.

‘We can’t go,’ she says. ‘I’ve checked the web site.’

‘But we’re double jabbed?’

‘Even so, we have to isolate for ten days.’

‘Even though it’s Freedom Day?’ I ask.

‘It’s our responsibility to others,’ says my wife. ‘Let’s get on with it.’

‘On with what?’

‘Unpacking the car and claiming on the holiday insurance I asked you to buy.’

Holiday insurance?

Oh, cruel Lord of Catastrophic Holidays, why pick on me? It was my responsibility to buy holiday insurance. I didn’t. It’s Menorca, all over again.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 70: Father’s Day

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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