Man in the Middle – Chapter 51: My teacup overfloweth

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.51: My teacup overfloweth

My teacup overfloweth with joy. Both my kids start work today.

I am happy for them because this is a landmark on their journey to adulthood. The rat race needs running and it’s their time to step onto the wheel of capitalism and keep it spinning. I hope they enjoy their turn. Really. The old toad work is not always too bad.

I am also happy for myself and my wife. This could be the beginning of the end of the one-way flow of cash which has poured, like the mighty Orinoco, between the generations of our family since their birth. From now on, the Bank of Mum and Dad may not have to issue as many gilts, loans and subsidies as in the past. It will be a slow change at first, for sure, but the Bank of Mum and Dad now has a chance to rebuild its balance sheet and turn its attention to funding its own pet projects. Rents might even be charged, tithes collected.

The more I think about it, the more my inner Boomer smiles at the thought of what today might mean. ‘Me Time’ is coming closer and, frankly, I’m shovel ready for it. I hear myself silently singing the theme tune for Euro ’96: ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, Me Time’s coming home.’

Me Time is my new creed. Selfish? Tick. Irresponsible? Tick. Self-indulgent? Tick, tick, tick. Right now, I’d happily sell our insanely overpriced London house and blow the cash gained from the sale on a ten-year blitzkrieg of booze cruises, spa treatments and fine dining. Oh, and fine wine, too. Gallons of it, preferably. It’s nearly time to test my liver to the max. I’m bored of Boris, Brexit, the pretensions of Global Britain and covid. I long to cut loose from responsibility in all its myriad forms, and retreat to a simply furnished Tuscan villa with a private chef.

My daughter is training as a teacher and my son has got a temporary job with a local manufacturer of spectacles. His role is to inspect the glasses for damage. If the glasses are scratched, it’s his job to stop them from leaving the warehouse.

As today is his first day, I have decided to give him a fatherly pep talk about the nature of work over the Cheerio’s. You know the sort of stuff: turn up on time, work hard, don’t be Bolshie. Simple homely truths which I am sure he knows already but work has historically been a concept he’s struggled with so I want him to get off on the right foot. Work is my least favourite four-letter word he told us once, aged eleven, staring at a pile of homework. That’s your side of his gene pool talking said my wife.

I also want him to feel good about work because if he feels good about it, he will stick at it and the longer he sticks at it, the more money he will earn. The more money he earns, the more I can successfully argue we should no longer finance his trips to the pub and I can divert the savings towards Operation Booze Cruise: Punish the Liver 2022, my vision for my future.

I’m not being entirely selfish. I remember the shock of my first job. How absurd it felt, how strange the rituals. How pointless much of it seemed. I don’t want him to come home tonight feeling like I did after my first day, confused and worthless.

‘Quality control is really important,’ I say. ‘Your role is vital to the company.’

‘It’s a job, Dad. Don’t get all parenty about it.’

‘It’s essential the glasses are up to scratch, not scratched,’ I say attempting humour. ‘Geddit?’

‘Sadly yes,’ he replies.

‘Just remember my golden rules: turn up on time, work hard and don’t be Bolshie,’ I say.

Mother looks up from her toast. I can tell she’s going to chip in a few words of wisdom but whether they’re going to be relevant to this conversation or relate to something we discussed last night I can’t be sure anymore. Her focus is not what it was.

‘I had to drag him out of bed to make sure he went to work. Terribly lazy when he was young. But his brother was worse.’

My son looks at me and raises his eyebrows. My moral authority is shot to pieces. Mother has handed him the Ace of Spades in the intergenerational game of Parental Poker.

‘Turn up on time, work hard eh?’ he says. ‘Sounds more like do as I say, not as I do. Or did, in this case.’

Mother’s carer, who has just put a cup of sweet tea in front of her, sits down at the kitchen table and looks around at us. She’s only been coming for a week, so she isn’t clear what the dynamics of the family are. She’s wondering what will happen next, observing. I feel like the subject in a socio-psychological experiment.

‘Have I said something wrong,’ says Mother.

‘Definitely, not,’ says my son getting up to go to work. ‘Not as far as I am concerned. What about you, Dad?’

I decide to keep my head down and hold my tongue. He’s going to work. Breakfast will get done. That’s all I can hope for right now. I must keep an eye on the big prize. Operation Booze Cruise: Punish the Liver 2022 is still on track, for the moment.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 52: My diet got stuck in the buffet car

Read the previous one – Chapter 50: An appointment with the Memory Clinic

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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