A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
It’s New Year’s Day and everyone is slouching in front of the TV. Only the TV is off, because one of Wife’s New Year resolutions is that the family should watch less TV. She hasn’t quantified exactly how many hours of TV that means we can watch this year or how it’s going to be monitored. Nor are we clear if we each get our own allocation of hours or if there is just one giant family budget to draw down on.
Son suggests we use a model like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme with each of us getting a fixed number of TV hours at the start of the year which we can use up or trade with each other. ‘Think of it as a sort of carbon offsetting scheme with TV hours instead of carbon units. It will create a more flexible model better suited to the TV viewing needs of each individual member of the family while keeping a lid on the total TV consumption of the household.’
Daughter asks if she can sell all her TV units in one go because she is heading back to university next week and so shouldn’t be expected to participate in the scheme. She could also do with the money.
‘I don’t think the trade would be financial,’ I say, remembering the trauma when the children tried to trade stamps with each other.
‘On the contrary, I’d be happy to act as an exchange for the trading house. Though you’d all need to make a small deposit to underwrite the initial start-up costs,’ says Son.
Mother hasn’t said anything yet. But she’s tuned in. I think she is trying to understand if the proposed cap on TV might actually be serious. If so, we can expect a fight. Clearly, her TV consumption can’t be included under our family’s TV Viewing Cap even if she is the largest consumer in the house. Asking her to cut back her TV consumption is as pointless as asking the Chinese to stop building coal powered generators.
‘Shall we discuss it all over a beer down the pub?’ I say trying to break the conversation up before things get tricky.
‘I thought you were doing Dry January?’ says Wife.
Eleven hours into the New Year and I’ve already forgotten my one and only New Year’s resolution. The first sign of family difficulty and my sub-conscious is ordering a session IPA.
‘You’re right. But I’ll have something non-alcoholic.’
‘Let’s stay here, put the fire on and do something together. The Quiz of the Year or a puzzle.’
The children groan.
‘Like the old days,’ she appeals to us all.
‘In the old days, we’d have watched a movie together. Now we can never find something we all want to watch,’ says Son.
‘No TV. Until tonight. That’s that,’ says Wife, picking up the TV remote with a fierce grip. It’s clear it will be a fight to the death were anyone to try to take it off her.
‘Quite right,’ says Mother, in the stern voice she uses whenever she’s signalling that she wants to be taken seriously. ‘All of you. No TV till tonight.’
Mother admires decisive parenting even though she herself was laissez faire as a parent. Quite why she’s so keen on backing Wife’s ‘No TV’ policy is not immediately obvious.
‘If only I’d been as strong willed with you and your brother about the TV. You both watched far too much of it. Planet of the Apes and all that other rubbish. I blame your father he was never firm enough with you.’
It seems our New Year resolution has reminded Mother of an identical one of her own years ago to curb my excessive youthful TV habits.
Wife quickly lifts the newspaper up so we can’t see her face. Daughter leaps for the kitchen her eyes crinkled up. I think she’s crying. Or laughing. Son is googling something.
‘Nice one, Granny. Planet of the Apes. 1968. We can watch the original with Charlton Heston tonight. How about it, everyone? We’ve finally found something even Dad will like.’
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Chapter 18: Kitchen Sink
Read the previous one – Chapter 16: Rorke’s Drift
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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