Man in the Middle 80: New Year Dreams

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 80: New Year Dreams

My dead father visits me now and again. And always at Christmas. He stands at the side of my bed and whispers ‘I forgive you.’ Just that.

Then he vanishes before I can ask him what the Hell he thinks he’s forgiving me for? It should be the other way round. He should be asking me for my forgiveness.

‘The cheek of it,’ I say to my wife. ‘Didn’t even have the courage to hang around long enough to listen to my side of the story.’

‘He was never much of one for a long intimate chat,’ she says.

‘Just buggered off, like the ghost in Hamlet, just when I was about to tell him what I thought,’ I say.

‘How long did you go on drinking after I went to bed?’

‘Couldn’t we just consider for a moment the possibility that something special, magical even happened? Like in a Christmas Carol when what’s-his-face…’

‘Jacob Marley.’

‘Visits the miserable one…’

‘You mean Scrooge.’

‘Yes, Scrooge and tells him to loosen up?’

‘So, your father came back from beyond the grave to tell you to loosen up?’ she concludes.

‘It’s not impossible.’

*

An emotionless Mother, Eton, the army, Jonny Walker Red Label and a late life business failure turned my father whiskey sour by the time he reached his second marriage. When my brother and I arrived in his late middle age his joie de vie was the local pub, not us.

On Saturday’s, in Richmond Park, my brother and I would plead with him to play hide and seek or play football with us, like other fathers seemed to do with their kids. But he didn’t see games as part of his parental package.

‘I’m terribly tired, boys,’ he would say as he stretched himself out on the grass, legs together.

‘Why don’t you run around for a bit, like good little puppies.’

‘What will you do, Daddy?’ we’d ask.

‘Imagine that I’m dead,’ he would answer, as he folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes.

‘Off you go, now.’

*

‘How funny,’ says my wife. ‘He slept like that, too.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like he was laid out in a coffin. I’d walk past your parents’ bedroom door and see him there motionless and think he’s dead. But then he’d start talking to you but without opening his eyes.’

‘Like a corpse in a horror movie,’ I say.

I can’t help but laugh. He had a gallows sense of humour. As kids, he told us he slept on his back with his arms folded because it would be easier for the undertaker to roll him off the bed straight into his coffin if he died in the night. On other occasions, he’d tell us he didn’t want us to fuss about his funeral and we should save on the funeral expenses by dumping him in a motorway lay-by in a black refuse bag.

‘One of the sturdy garden ones, though’ he’d say. ‘And after dark, of course. Or you’ll be charged with tipping.’

Sometimes, it was hard to tell if he was serious. He had a Tyburn sense of humour, a delivery like hardtack biscuit and a mouth as thin and straight as a pencil line which neither scowled nor smiled.

‘Perhaps that’s what he wants to forgive me for,’ I say.

‘I don’t get it?’ says my wife.

‘For not burying him on the motorway in a bin bag.’

*

During the week, Dad was the President of the Cynics & Sceptics Club. No motive was too low for him not to believe someone somewhere was capable of embracing it and his conversation turned into a caustic soda fountain if politics or the ‘blood sucking’ royal family were mentioned.

In 1977, when the BBC banned God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols he was so furious he bought a ‘Boogie Box’ from Woolworth’s so my brother and I could play the song over and over again at full volume to annoy my mother, who half admired the royal family and thought it was right to ban the song out of respect to the Queen and her Silver Jubilee.

‘She can’t help it boys,’ he’d say. ‘It’s in her blood. Centuries of being told to tug your forelock and curtesy in front of them takes its toll. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome,’ he’d rage as his head pogoed off-beat to the sound of the Sex Pistols complaining about the fascist regime.

(Strangely, Dad didn’t like Anarchy in the UK as much. He was a Tory who wanted to see the monarchy dismantled, not the rule of law destroyed.)

At weekends, cut loose from the drudgery of work and the daily commute, he would cheer up occasionally for an hour or so, and we would laugh.

He played us The Goon Show, worshipped Spike Milligan and laughed with us as we listened to Derek & Clive Live, the drunken, foul-mouthed ramblings of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, which most other parents were trying to ban.

‘I’ve had worse jobs than shoving lobsters up Joan Crawford’s arsehole,’ he told us referring to the most infamous sketch on the record. But he never told us exactly what that job was.

*

My son is back from university where he is studying Italian and French. My wife, who’s studying Italian, too, thinks he speaks the language beautifully.

‘How do you know?’ I ask.

‘He’s been reading to me,’ she says.

‘Umberto Eco?’ I ask.

‘the panettone box,’ she says.

‘Wow. He can read the whole box including the ingredients and E numbers?’

‘I’m just saying he has a beautiful accent given he’s only been studying Italian for a term.’

When my daughter was one years old, my mother told my wife that her granddaughter had ‘good hair’. Morally good? Better than others? The comment symbolised the blind admiration that grand parents can have for their offspring. My father would never have said such a thing. He didn’t believe in any form of compliment.

I pick up the panettone box and study it for a while. Time to be a supportive father.

‘There’s a lot more text on here than I thought. The lad must be doing really well to read all this,’ I say to my wife.

‘Why don’t I go to the Italian deli and get him some more packets to practice on.’

*

After three days at my mother-in-law’s house, my son tells me that when our cat dies, he and his sister are going to get tattoos of it. I wonder if Christmas, Covid or the close proximity of all his relatives for so long has driven him mad.

‘Where are you going to put it?’ I ask.

‘Under the arm or on my back,’ he replies.

‘Will you get a tattoo of me or your mum when we die, too?’

‘Are you nuts,’ he says. ‘If we did that, you’d be with us forever.’

‘When you die where just going to put you in a black bin liner and dump you in a motorway lay-by,’ says my daughter.

‘That sounds familiar,’ I say.

‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Grandpa told us it was a family tradition that all the men should be buried that way.’

‘Nice,’ says my son. ‘What’s your favourite motorway, dad?’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 79: My Covid Diary

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

Read more on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

See also: Chiswick Calendar Blogs & Podcasts

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.