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.44: Will the pubs be open in the Brecon Beacons?
I am co-chairing with my wife a family meeting to discuss the battle plans for the week-long holiday we’re about to take in the Brecon Beacons.
I am co-chair in name only, of course, because my wife has already made all the decisions and my only job as co-chair is tell the children to shut up if they interrupt her while she explains what she’s decided we’re going to do.
Some men might find this family governance model troublesome and point to its democratic flaws. But I don’t. Nor do the kids because we’ve learnt that when things need to get done my wife has superpowers and the rest of us are just muggles. It’s not that I can’t organize things, but if I do they tend to end up half-cocked, like the time I bought plane tickets to the wrong country. The fact that I had booked us to land at Faro in Portugal which is not very far from Seville in Spain where we actually wanted to go didn’t make a bit of difference to the family’s scorn for me.
‘That Geography A level worked out really well for you, didn’t it, Dad?’ said my son.
Another time, my wife was nearly speechless when she discovered I had booked flights during school term time. Frankly, EasyJet’s customer service team were far more forgiving.
‘Did you just forget I work at a school? Didn’t you think to check with me?’
Back at the Brecon Beacons board meeting everything is running to schedule until my son interrupts as my wife is talking about hill walking options from the cottage.
‘Where exactly is the Brecon Beacons?’
‘Order, order. Questions at the end, please.’
‘It’s in Wales,’ says my daughter, ignoring my attempt as co-chair to prevent interruptions.
‘Where’s that?’ says my son, who didn’t do Geography GCSE, let alone an A level like me.
‘It doesn’t matter where it is. You should be grateful you’re getting a holiday after all this Covid stuff,’ I say.
‘That’s so typically Boomer. You just expect me to go along with whatever you decide.’
My wife says everyone is allowed to have questions.
‘What is it you really want to know?’ she asks.
‘Is there WIFI?’
‘Typical Gen Z attitude,’ I huff.
‘WIFI’s pretty important you know that’s why Boris Johnson talks about it all the time,’ he replies.
‘I’ve checked and the house does have WIFI. But I’m taking dongles just in case,’ says my wife.
As always, my wife has defused a potential problem. This is what great leaders do. She is our Xi Jinping and we are her devoted National People’s Congress. The children give her a spontaneous round of applause to show their admiration for her planning skills.
With WIFI off the table as a potential breaker, my wife guides the meeting onto the next agenda item: food. I suggest we buy everything from the local shops to support the local economy. My wife isn’t sure there are any local shops.
My son says English tourists in Wales are being kidnapped and ransomed by local shopkeepers because of Covid and centuries of unresolved grievances. My daughter thinks he’s confusing hard news with an episode of the League of Gentlemen.
My son insists there’s a rumour on Snapchat that Welsh shop keepers particularly dislike Londoners, which makes us prime targets. He thinks, therefore, we should stay away from the local shops altogether and get our food from an Ocado delivery, instead.
‘Does the risk of kidnapping mean we can’t go to the pub?’ I ask, wondering if there is any point to going on holiday if you can’t drink at the local pub.
‘Perhaps we could just have a holiday dedicated to walking and talking not drinking and eating,’ says my wife turning to my daughter, who winks back at her.
‘But isn’t it our national duty to ‘eat out to help out’?’ I say.
‘Not if the locals are anti-English kidnappers,’ says my son.
‘The eat out scheme doesn’t start till August so it’s not relevant,’ says my wife.
‘What’s Granny going to eat while we’re away?’ asks my daughter.
‘The cat,’ says my son.
‘All sorted, actually. As co-chair, I took it upon myself to sort this particular problem out. I’ve asked my brother to live here with her while we’re away. He’ll take care of the cooking and making sure she’s OK.’
There’s a soft intake of breath from the children. They are weighing up whether it would be better for Granny to risk the danger of being kidnapped in Wales than be driven mad by a week spent with my brother, her youngest son.
‘Are you sure about this,’ says my wife.
‘As sure as I have been about anything,’ I say.
‘That’s what’s worrying me.’
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Chapter 45: Mother and Jean Paul Sartre
Read the previous one – Chapter 43: Mirror in the bathroom
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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