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 72: The right to make eccentric decisions
My wife has finished painting the garden furniture pink. The paint has a fancy name like Boris’ Bubblegum or Flirty Flamingo and I’m worried. Not by the fancy name of the paint. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss if Boris chews bubblegum or if flamingoes are flirty or not. But why has my wife chosen the colour pink?
Pink is a showy, attention seeking colour. It’s just not her. I can see why an egotist like Boris or a lonely flamingo looking for a no-strings-attached fun night out would choose pink. But my wife is not a politician or a long-necked wading bird. What the Dulux is going on?
It’s not as if there’s a lick of pink paint anywhere else in the house or in her wardrobe to suggest she has any previous passion for pink. Quite the opposite, in fact. When my daughter was born, we banned buying anything pink for her to avoid imposing a culturally driven gender stereotype on her. My wife’s choice of pink, therefore is, err, truly a bolt from the blue.
This is one of those champagne and oyster moments in a marriage when you are delighted and surprised to find out something new about your partner, even though you’ve been living with them since the Flood receded and Noah traded in the Ark for a family bungalow. Marriage tires in beige. Variety is the jalapeño in the chilli con carne of life. If painting the garden furniture pink makes my wife happy, then I’m happy, too.
‘It’s great mum,’ says my daughter, looking at her mother’s garden handiwork.
‘Not too bold?’
‘Not at all,’ says my daughter.
‘It needed a make-over,’ I say.
‘You’re next, dad,’ says my daughter.
‘Your father’s pink enough already,’ says my wife, referring to my face, which is sun burnt and the mottled colour of a cooked crayfish.
‘You’ve made the garden look like a Manet,’ I say, slipping into the fifth gear of hyperbole.
‘I think you mean Monet? Monet was the one famous for gardens,’ says my daughter.
‘Manet or Monet, it’s a nice thought,’ says my wife.
The cat sniffs the wet, pink table and decides to settle down for a kip elsewhere.
We stand around looking at the new glowing furniture. We’re all a bit off the pace. We’ve been isolating since my son tested positive for covid ten days ago and accidentally kiboshed our plan to holiday in Worcestershire. Perhaps the pressure of this latest isolation is what provoked my wife to paint in pink? Perhaps, two years of this oppression has finally driven us all mad? It’s certainly provoking some unusual isolation behaviours.
Besides my wife painting the garden pink, I’ve wasted two days pointlessly rearranging my books alphabetically by author. I’m also building a mountain of old underwear and socks which I plan to take to the dump soon. I’m unnaturally excited about this and have nicknamed the plan my ‘Bonfire of the Panties’, which my wife says is the sort of thing only a ten-year old would say and think. She’s right. But I remind her we live in strange times and must cut each other some slack.
Which is why I’m relaxed about the fact my son has become bewitched by ‘Love Island’. In normal times, I would do anything in my power to stop him (or anyone) from watching that programme. It’s everything I hate about modern TV and everything else. As far as I am concerned, it’s evidence that the Apocalypse is nigh, unvaxed and unmasked travelling around London on the Circle Line with a bunch of loons from the Covid Recovery Group and other pro disease spreading nutters.
But he’s been stuck in his room for 20 out of the last 24 days, waiting patiently for two back to back covid enforced isolations to end. He’s obeyed every ping and pong the Government has thrown at him and been ‘doing his bit’ by sticking religiously to the rules. I was not as altruistic or as disciplined when I was his age. So, if he needs a fix of ‘Love Island’ to get through it, so be it. I’m willing to put up with the strange screams and cackles, which drift down from his room at night as he watches, even if it feels like we’re living in `a mad house or ‘Wuthering Heights’, sometimes.
I look at my phone. There’s an email from the local authority saying the care home has requested an extension to my mother’s deprivation of liberty order, which is about to run out. When am I available to discuss the matter with them?
Her dementia means she no longer has the capacity to make complex decisions herself. The care home needs a deprivation of liberty order so they can legally keep her there and make certain decisions for her. As her next of kin, I need to be involved. It’s a standard procedure. It isn’t time consuming and the justification for the request is clear.
But I am uncomfortable with the responsibility. Not just signing off a deprivation of liberty order, but the whole duty of being responsible for my parent. I don’t resent it. But it would be a lie to say the responsibility lies lightly on me. Someone says of Macbeth, as his kingdom collapses, that his crown ‘hang[s] loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.’ That’s how this feels to me. I feel like I’m play acting the role of guardian, just as Macbeth play acts the role of King. I wonder if it will get easier before the time comes when I may have to make to other, harder decisions?
I read the Age UK leaflet which comes with the email. It spells out what a deprivation of liberty order is and what it is not. British citizens can’t be deprived of our liberty just because we might make bad decisions. We all have a legal right to make ‘eccentric or unwise decisions’, apparently.
My thoughts turn from my mother to my son upstairs unwisely watching ‘Love Island’ and to my wife’s eccentric decision to paint the garden furniture pink. Our lock down is coming to an end. Tomorrow, we can continue to make unwise and eccentric decisions by the dozen. We should be grateful for that, while we can.
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 71: De Pfeffel’s Day of Freedom Just Went Wrong
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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