Man in the Middle – Chapter 29: Mother’s birthday

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. 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.29: Mother’s birthday

I’m wearing black leather driving gloves and carrying a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. It’s Mother’s birthday. I’m taking her breakfast in bed as a surprise treat. I knock on the door. There’s no answer.

‘Room service,’ I shout and knock again.

I don’t usually wear leather driving gloves because they make me feel like Alan Partridge. But we’ve run out of the blue disposable hygiene ones and her health trumps my self-esteem. I must do everything possible to reduce spreading the virus. Even wearing black leather driving gloves.

‘Actually, they’re not that embarrassing. Are they?’

I’m admiring my gloved right hand as I rotate it around in that way the Royal family do when waving from a carriage.

‘A bit Alvin Stardust,’ replies my wife, grimacing.

‘You should buy those police tactical ones, next time. They’ve got the best grip and they only cost £12,’ says my son.

My wife and son are behind me on the landing at a socially responsible distance. They’re wearing face masks and yellow washing up gloves. They’re primed to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ when Mother opens her bedroom door.

‘Jeeves here,’ I shout again, my lips almost kissing the door.

Once the breakfast tray is safely landed on her bedside table, I plan to pass over her three birthday cards. Giving her the cards by hand risks coming within two metres of her, so I’ve decided to slot the cards into the stiff bristles at the end of our long-handled yard broom. Then my son will feed the broom into her room and she can pick the cards from the broom without having to come too close to us. It’s a little Heath Robinson, I know. But, last night, I experimented with a spatula, barbecue tongs and the broom. The broom was the most effective, by far.

Mother opens her door with a sleepy look. We burst into Happy Birthday. She is bewildered. Perhaps she thinks we are the council’s deep cleaning squad come to give her bedroom the once over?

When the song ends there is a bemused silence. Embarrassed, I try to lighten the atmosphere.  Before I can help myself, I’ve slipped into the voice of the late Australian cricket commentator Richie Benaud.

‘Great innings. Ninety-six not out. The century’s there for the taking. Just need to be careful not to play any rash shots, now.’

‘Are you trying to impersonate an Indian or an Australian?’ asks Mother.

‘Happy Birthday, Gran. Your birthday cards are on the end of the broom,’ says my son, extending the broom towards her.

‘What a novel way of giving me a birthday card, darling. Are you training to work on a barge?’

‘Dad’s idea to keep you safe from Covid-19, Granny.’

Her eyebrows twitch upwards.

‘Do you know what I’d like to do after my breakfast,’ she says to my wife.


‘Ironing. If you could set the ironing board up, please.’

Since the mental health charity MIND said ironing is good exercise for old people locked down by covid-19, she has become obsessed by ironing. It’s her way of staying useful in the lockdown.

‘Ironing and friends,’ Mother says.

‘Friends? We can’t have friends around at the moment. It’s against the rules.’ says my wife.

‘The TV series, I mean. I love Phoebe and Joey reminds me of your husband: well-meaning but a little dumb.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 30: Has Covid made pants pointless?

Read the previous one – Chapter 28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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