Man in the Middle 90: The Repair Cafe

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, you can read No. 1: The Letter here

No 90: The Repair Cafe

A friend is about to open a Repair Café. This is a place where you take along your broken memorabilia and while sipping a spiced persimmon smoothie or almond milk cortado watch your past being restored to working order by a handmade, locally grown artisan.

The idea is based on the BBC TV programme ‘The Repair Show’. It seems like a good idea to me because there’s so much all of us can repair, reuse, and recycle. I know from recent experience.

This month we’ve been voiding the loft, the basement, the chests of drawers and the boxes Which Hide on Top of Cupboards and the boxes which hide inside them like Russian dolls.

We’ve even cleared out the drawer which lies beneath our King Size bed, where we have not dared go since we heard strange noises coming out from it after the week that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

‘Do you think it’s a bunch of investment bankers fleeing from Justice,’ I asked.

‘No. It’s a mouse. Do something about it,’ said my wife.


The point of this month’s Purge of Purchases Past is that we’re preparing the house for a top to toe makeover in preparation for the Era of Empty Nesting. Everything which no longer has a purpose or has lost its meaning must go.

The Favourbrook waistcoat which I married in, which is now half a waistline too small: gone. The sofa so soft and low to the ground that the only way out of it is by a forward role: gone. And last, but by no means the least traumatically, my wife’s much-loved collection of Sainsbury’s till receipts from the late Nineties, which she has been saving in the hope that The National Archives would buy them from her one day.

Stalin would have quivered at the scale and ruthlessness of what we’ve done to our possessions this last four weeks.

Unfortunately, the Repair Café has come too late for most of our laissez faire letting go. But there must be some things which we could take along to café Repair. I wonder if there’s anything the new Repair Café won’t have a crack at. Sex toys? Boris Johnson’s lies? The Battleship Potemkin?

‘No problem, sir. But it may take a while. Someone brought in the Mary Rose last week and the dry dock is going to be busy with that till the autumn.’


‘Do you think they can repair jokes?’ I ask my wife. ‘Old Les Dawson gags. Sepia tinted Benny Hill sketches. Stuff that with a woke rework over could rejoin the comedy circuit.’

A gentle sigh escapes her lips, no more despairing than the final beat of an exhausted butterfly.

‘Isn’t that what ‘UK Gold’ is for? To let old men like you watch all the sexist, racist stuff which used to pass for a sense of humour again.’

‘I think it’s called ‘Dave’ now?’

‘I don’t care what it’s called. And there’s certainly no way I want to listen to any reupholstered Jimmy Carr jokes.’


I’m sitting in her old bedroom moving the last of my mother’s remaining possessions into two piles.

The pile beyond repair includes pictures of people I don’t recognise. There’s an old diary from five years ago where she’s made notes to herself commanding things: Go to Dentist. Call Doctor. Your birthday! In retrospect they all look like signals that she was coming to terms with dementia long before we realized it. The diary was a crutch as much as any walking stick.

In the other pile I’ve put aside three items to take to the Repair Café. An old oil painting of hers which shattered into 40 pieces one night, years ago, and which just might be repairable. Next to it is an old bent silver salt cellar and a box camera so ancient I think it might be the first object I remember from my childhood. It is now the only tangible thing left from that time. Everything else from then survives only as flash fiction.

I look at the repair café pile and wonder if even this is worth trying to repair. There’s not much that she loves that she doesn’t have with her in the Nursing Home already. A few happy photos and paintings, a green velvet jacket which she wore to our wedding and which she insists on wearing every day as if it helps remind her of a better day.

A book of Chekov short stories now unread. Will these repaired objects make any difference? Whom am I doing this for? Not her. Dementia is a form of minimalism and she, the only object of any value, is damaged beyond anything the Repair café can offer.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Man in the Middle 90: Merci Beaucoup

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 89: The Day of the Empty Nester

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.