Man in the Middle – Chapter 43: Mirror in the Bathroom

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.43: Mirror in the Bathroom

The balding man in the bathroom mirror has a double chin and jowls which droop like the sails of a yacht on a windless sea. His blue eyes have faded to grey. The skin under his eye sockets sags like an airbag which should have been packed away after a collision years ago but has been left hanging from the car dashboard instead.

His eyebrows are unruly bushes and tendrils of grey hair sprout out over the top of a black T-shirt, like knotweed. The hair in his ears is knitting itself into a black, thicket fence and his nasal hairs are bolting from his nose like madcap runner beans.

But it’s the contrast between the bald pate where his hair is in retreat and the rest of his body where the hair seems to be positively blooming, which is so horribly fascinating. He looks like a garden that’s rewilding chaotically. He urgently needs a flying visit from Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force team to restore order.

I lean closer towards the mirror.  My God. It really is me in the mirror, not someone else. Reality sinks in.  I have evolved into the thing every young man fears he will never become: a hairy eared, bushy eyebrowed, nasal clipping old man. I have become part man, part yeti.

And there’s no point pretending this abominable thing is the result of one night’s heavy drinking or that I can restore myself to some former glory with a single, vigorous cold shower.  This hideous hairiness is the result of years of grooming indolence. I have connived in my own shaggy downfall. Look upon my ear lobes ye mighty and despair.

I look again in the mirror. A song emerges from my subconscious:

‘Mirror in the bathroom
Please Talk Free
The Door is locked
Just you and me.’*

My mind is flagging this song because it wants me to pull myself together. It wants me to set myself grooming goals which will stop me drifting further down the mountainside to full yeti. The plan forms itself immediately: follow David Beckham on Instagram, start reading the weekend fashion supplements and buy new nasal clippers. Simples.

Later that day, I explain my thinking to the family.

‘People say we shouldn’t go back to the old normal after Covid. This is a chance for society to do things differently. This is one thing I could do,’ I conclude.

‘Trimming your ear lobes is going to be your contribution to a new post Covid society?’ asks my daughter.

‘And my nose and eyebrows, too,’ I say.

‘It’s not exactly revolutionary, is it?’ she says.

‘Nor is it the sort of radical covid job creation scheme I’m hoping for,’ says my son, who is on the job market for the first time as he decides whether to go to university.

‘This is about your father’s sense of self-worth. And mine, too. If it means he stops looking like he’s given up on life, that’s good enough for me,’ says my wife.

‘Fair point. He looks a constant mess at the moment,’ says my son.

‘Diet and exercise are what you really need,’ says my daughter.

‘Surgery, too. Eye tucks. Chin tucks.’

‘Bariatrics,’ says my daughter, stretching the word out.

‘Hair transplants.’

They fall about laughing. It’s clear my vulpine children have no interest or understanding in the trauma of become part yeti in later life.  I guess it’s too much to ask for some sympathy?

My wife puts a little package in front of me. Inside is a sleek black electric nasal shaver with a ceramic snap-in blade.

‘It’s called the Lawn Mower. I was going to give it to you for Father’s Day, but I forgot. All this chat about you being a yeti reminded me where I’d put it.’

I’m chuffed to bits. This is the crutch which will help me meet my first grooming goal – no nasal hair.

‘The hairdressers are open now,’ says my wife. ‘I think you should book yourself in for a proper trim. That haircut I gave you with the other clippers isn’t very flattering, frankly.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 44: Will the pubs be open in the Brecon Beacons?

Read the previous one – Chapter 42: Cannabis Gravy

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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