Man in the Middle – Chapter 18: Kitchen Sink

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

No.18: Kitchen Sink

Mother is washing her clothes in the kitchen sink. She is kneading them slowly and methodically like a master baker with a new batch of dough. On the counter next to her, I can see her pink pyjamas and some other garments soaking in my favourite copper stock pot.

This stock pot is French and very expensive. It’s bronze sheen is beautiful and every time I use it, I feel it does something magical to my otherwise mediocre cooking. With it by my side, I can open any cookbook with hope and ambition.

Looking at it now, full of undergarments and washing powder suds, I feel my culinary aspirations slipping away as fast as the dark water Mother is tipping down the plughole. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think my emotions are close to what Parisians felt as they watched Notre Dame burn last year.

For a minute, I watch her from the doorway, while coming to terms with the violation of my stock pot. Why is she doing this? After all, we have a laundry room and the washing machine and drier are both working. Normally, she throws her dirty clothes into the communal laundry basket and they get washed along with everyone else’s. Is she unsatisfied with the way we have been washing her clothes? Or is this one of those seminal moments when I am going to realise that her mental health is beginning to crack?

‘What are you up to?’ I ask, gently.

‘Have you gone blind?’ she snaps back.

‘What I mean is, I was just wondering why are you washing your clothes down here? By hand? In the sink?’

‘To save your wife from having to do it for me, of course. What’s wrong with you this morning? You seem to have come downstairs without your brain.’

I’m a bit stung by this. To be fair to me, when it comes to doing the laundry, I’m pretty woke. I do my fair share alongside my wife. At least, that’s how I see it. But she’s missed my point. It’s not who’s doing it that I am worried about, but where and what it’s being done in. I ask again why she has chosen to do her laundry in the kitchen sink?

‘To save the planet, of course. Did you know, a single load of laundry in a washing machine creates 600g of CO2. If we wash our clothes less often and at a lower temperature, then we may be able to save the planet. Besides, it gives me something useful to do.’

I admire the fact that she has decided to try to save the planet at this stage of her life, even though it involves defiling my favourite stock pot. But I’m peeved because I can hear the voice of my Son speaking through her. I remember him ranting on about the ‘outrageous’ energy consumption of washing machines and, especially tumble driers a few weeks ago, when he tried to persuade us to recycle the tumble drier and use a washing line instead.

‘If you want to go to school in wet clothes for half the year, then be my guest,’ said my wife. ‘But if the tumble drier goes, so do I.’

For me, this was the decisive moment in the debate. No man in his right mind would ever consider trading his wife and a tumbler drier for a washing line. But, obviously, my son hadn’t given up on the argument and had continued his lobbying efforts with his grandmother, quietly and effectively.

‘There are lots of ways we can help fight climate change without washing our clothes in the kitchen sink,’ I say.

‘Of course, there are. The United Nations says we should wash our clothes less frequently, too. I’ve been wearing this lot for ten days, at least,’ she says proudly pointing at the garments in the stock pot.

My stomach tightens. I don’t want to know what clothes are in the stock pot. Or how long it is since they were last washed. Something beautiful has been desecrated and can never be the same.

Read the next in the series – Chapter 19: Reeling in the Years

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 19: Reeling in the Years

Read the previous one – Chapter 17: Resolutions

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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