Man in the Middle – Chapter 31: Can you be Hygge without hugs?

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.31: Can you be Hygge without hugs?

‘Is the ‘Dutch Housewife’ a porn movie?’ asks my son, looking up from his phone.

‘Why would we watch a porn movie while Granny’s still up?’

Mother is sitting with us silently mouthing answers to University Challenge. Or doing a Mindfulness exercise.

‘Why would we watch a porn movie full stop?’ says my wife, horrified.

‘Dad said: ‘You’d like the ‘Dutch Housewife’?’ It sounds like a porno. Don’t get shirty with me,’ says my son.

We’re debating what movie to watch after University Challenge.

‘I said she’s LIKE a Dutch housewife. I was complimenting her for organising the deep clean we did on the house today,’ I say.

‘We?’ says my wife.

‘It’s a saying. In the 17th century, Dutch women were famous for their hygiene standards and their rigorous cleaning regimes. Just like Mum.’

I smile at the beloved.

‘Famous for my cleaning regime, am I? I guess you’ll be pimping me out on a neighbourhood website as a deep cleaner, next?’

Covid-19 cabin fever has set in. Nothing I say or do now can get me out of this deep and dangerous impasse. The situation is potentially so ugly that I may have to apologise and send myself to bed without supper.

‘Noel Coward!’ shouts Mother at the TV rocking forwards with excitement. For a moment, it looks like she is going to fall off her chair.

‘Noel Coward’ Jeremy Paxman repeats softly from the TV.

Mother has correctly answered a question which the mighty Trinity College Cambridge team have fluffed. And they don’t fluff many.

‘Goal!’ shouts my son and breaks into a strange jig, which he’s copied from a Jack Black Instagram video, to celebrate Mother’s one answer victory.

I don’t want to rain on her parade, but we are watching a repeat of last week’s show and she got the same question right then. But that’s Covid-19 for you: every day is Groundhog Day.

My son’s jig has broken the tense atmosphere. If I keep my head down, I may make it to bed fed and still married. But Covid-19 has got me thinking deeply about life. For example, while disinfecting the bannisters this morning, I wondered if it is possible to be hygge without hugs?

Hygge is fuzzy Danish word stands for homely conviviality and Nordic knitwear. I get that artisan woollen beanies, socks and jumpers can fill many gaps in a bourgeoise life. And I’ve often wished I were Scandinavian because of their superior social system and crime procedurals. But if you can’t hug or kiss your family because you have to stay two metres apart how long can you create a happy hygge household? I guess Gywneth Paltrow would know? I also want to know if the family agree with me that the Government should rename the ‘Nudge Unit’ because it is clearly inappropriate in current circumstances to be nudging anyone.

Should I risk these thoughts with them? Or call it quits now?

‘Chekov.’ My wife starts whistling and fist pumping. She’s got a question right on University Challenge.

‘Dad,’ my son whispers and showing me some no-name online dictionary on his phone.


‘It says here a Dutch housewife can mean a prostitute, a sex doll or a body length pillow.’

‘Let’s not go back over that now,’ I say. ‘At least, not till after dinner.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 32: Howard Hughes Stays Over

Read the previous one – Chapter 30: Has Covid made pants pointless?

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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