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.34: The lure of yoga
I’m woken by a South African woman urging me to ‘keep going’ and the sound of panting in my right ear. Her voice is slightly muffled, but her message is clear.
‘Nearly there. Don’t stop now.’
I can’t remember starting, to be frank, and I’d much rather go back to sleep. It’s 8.30am, for Heaven’s sake.
‘Noooooh,’ I moan, two fifths awake. ‘Too tired.’
I only went to bed five hours ago after a marathon TV binge with my son: ‘Zombieland Double Tap’ followed by two back to back series of ‘Adventure Time’, the greatest work of art about pre-pubescent boyhood, an era which my family agree I’m an expert in.
Unfortunately, the woman’s has voice has latched onto me. Much as I’d like to, I can’t go back to sleep. I get out of bed and go to the window.
In the next door garden, the young family is exercising together on yoga mats while their South African female fitness instructor’s voice urges them onto new levels of well-being from out of a laptop.
‘And…Rest. Egg-cellent, you guys. Same time tomorrow?’ she asks.
‘OK,’ I mumble, staring at my bare feet and tired, grey pyjamas.
I shut the window and lie on the bed. I’m being left behind. Others are using the lock down to better themselves, whereas my only achievement has been to master the YouTube app’s new voice search function. And I only did that to save the energy required to press the buttons on the TV remote. I must take a lead from my neighbours and shake off my covid lassitude.
At breakfast, I take my first step to redemption by apologising to the family for failing to be a positive role model.
‘I should have done something constructive with the time but all I’ve done is wallow in Ground Hog Day,’ I confess.
‘You’ve been eating like a ground hog too,’ says my son.
‘But today, I’m putting that right. I’m adopting a new faith, a new mantra: ‘Carpe Diem’.’
‘Is he converting to Catholicism?’ asks Mother.
‘No, he’s going to stop being a slob,’ says my wife.
Mother releases what could be a hiccup or a truncated giggle.
‘How will we recognise this ‘Carpe Diem’ stuff, dad?’
‘I’m open to suggestions.’
‘Try to get a bit fitter,’ pleads my wife, who has taken up Italian, crocheting and bread making in the spare time around doing her full-time job.
Getting fit? I wonder if I could slip into our garden each morning and secretly work out alongside the neighbours? The instructor’s South African accent easily carries the fence.
‘Don’t even think about it,’ says my wife.
‘Think about what?’ I ask.
‘Joining in with the neighbours. They don’t want to hear you puffing away like an asthmatic sea lion and if you tried their workouts, you’d have a heart attack in five minutes.’
I don’t how she knew what I was thinking but she’s right. It would be unfair of me to disrupt my neighbours’ morning work out by having a heart attack. They’d be within their rights not to speak to us again, if I did.
‘What about yoga?’ says my wife.
‘Yoga sounds fun,’ I say, remembering yoga doesn’t involve running around or weights.
‘I once bought his father a yoga tape,’ Mother chips in. ‘Just after his first stroke.’
‘Tape means VHS video,’ I say to my son, not wanting him to be excluded from a piece of family memorabilia by old fashioned terminology. He shrugs his shoulders.
‘I’m not stupid you know.’
‘He often got very angry with the video player, didn’t he?’ I say to my mother.
‘I think the video player caused his second stroke, actually. I found a tape jammed stuck in the machine’s mouth and him puce on the floor alongside it,’ says Mother.
The possibility his second stroke was caused by a fight with a video player is highly plausible. My father believed inanimate objects had malicious souls and set out to frustrate human beings. His blood pressure would soar when they were disrespectful, as he saw it. He wasn’t an animist, though. This was just a prejudice he adopted after years of failing at simple household tasks and DIY.
My wife gets up because she has work zooming looming. She looks me in the eye.
‘What’s it going to be, then? ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ or ‘Carpe Diem’?’
‘Bring me the yoga mat, I’m going to start right now’ I say, grabbing the moment by the throat.
‘Ha. Dad’s going to attempt yoga,’ says my son to his sister via Facetime.
‘She wants to know if I can film it. This could be our chance to become YouTuber millionaires,’
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Chapter 35: Nachos
Read the previous one – Chapter 33: Hilary Mantel & the dead body
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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