Man in the Middle – Chapter 39: A cure for baldness

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 39 A cure for baldness

Scientists have successfully grown patches of human hair on mice. The Times says this is a big step towards curing baldness and will allow scientists to generate ‘a limitless supply of hair follicles’.

It doesn’t seem fair to treat mice as unpaid toupee surrogates, but baldness is the second most popular male neurosis after the Oedipus complex, so perhaps it is reasonable for corporations to spend so much time and money trying to solve it?

As I sip my morning tea, I wonder what a limitless supply of hair follicles looks like? The wheat belt of North America? The paddy fields of Asia? One day, will we see fields of auburn hair follicles sprouting along the motorway, as if the English countryside had become an outdoor experiment for L’Oréal hair products? Perhaps hair follicle science will be a big winner in a post Brexit Britain? Cut loose from European red tape, our scientists will make Global Britain the number one destination for balding men.

I am trying to decide if I would ever shop at a ‘Pick Your Own’ hair follicle farm, if one existed, when Mother perks up.

‘You look like a strawberry,’ she says.

I put the paper down. It might sound like she’s been lurking inside my imagination listening to my follicle farming fantasy, but actually she’s been telling me I look like a strawberry for a couple of days.

‘I don’t like you looking that ugly,’ she says. ‘Your haircut makes you look like a criminal.’

I don’t know how to reply. Unfortunately, I can’t write this off as her dementing. Or poor eyesight. It’s an accurate observation. My wife has cropped my hair so close I look like a Victorian prisoner and the scattered clumps of close-cropped grey hair could pass for the seeds on the outside of a strawberry.

My head is sunburnt as red as a ripe strawberry and the underlying shape of my exposed head is very like a strawberry. I have come to terms with this, she has not.

Does that mean she has the right to bring this up over breakfast? Will her comments help me face the working day with confidence? Would the Scots have won at Bannockburn if Robert the Bruce had told his troops they all had shit haircuts on the morning of the battle? Of course, not. My wife understands male psychology much better and would never criticize me at least until I had finished my Rice Crispies and loaded the dishwasher.

There’s a Moorish proverb which says: ‘Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its Mother.’ This has passed my Mother by, obviously. But I forgive her. Alongside her frustration is a hint of sadness, which tells me her comments came from a place in her heart where she still cares what I look like, which is a kind of love. I shouldn’t take this badly, even if comparing me now to an idealized version of me from yesteryear isn’t helpful to either of us.

Unanswered, Mother steps out of the kitchen. The dishwasher fills up.

‘It’s good she feels empowered to speak out,’ says my wife, consolingly.

‘You said one of the joys of leaving home was your parents couldn’t tell you what to wear or how to look anymore. This morning proves all you’ve done in thirty years is recreate the exact situation you wanted to get away,’ says my son.

‘Your father is simply encouraging free speech, more fool him,’ says my wife, supportively.

‘Don’t you think it’s slightly ironic, though? Doesn’t it make you a bit of a loser,’ says my son, gently twisting the knife.

‘I like to think we’ve created a family environment where everyone is free to speak their mind openly. Like a Speakeasy,’ I say.

‘In which case, can I submit a photo of your burnt head to a website I like?’ says my son.

‘Which one?’ asks my wife.

‘One where they post pictures of fruit and veg which look like human beings. It’s really funny and they might take one of Dad’s head looking like a strawberry.’

Read the next in the series – Chapter 40: Would you ever eat your cat?