Man in the Middle Chapter 62: Melvyn Bragg is in my bathroom

1 March, 2020 / by James Thellusson

This is the diary of a middle aged man. A man who walks the tightrope between the demands of his Mother, wife and kids when all he wants is more ‘me time’. Post Crash, Post Covid, Post Libido, Past Caring. Ecce homo. Ecce Boomer. Ecce Man in the Middle.

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No. 62: Melvyn Bragg is in my bathroom

Melvyn Bragg, two academics and an oceanographer are in my bathroom chatting away about the late Devonian Extinction when 70 percent of life on earth died, while I lie in my broiling hot bath.

They are debating if the trilobites were wiped out by a single catastrophic event or passed away due to changes in the climate, while I am wondering how cold I will get when I have to get out of the bath and dash naked for my bath towel, which I’ve stupidly left on the bench under the bedroom window, on the far side of the ensuite bathroom’s folding doors.

I am incandescent with myself. I am sixty years old, yet I am still making schoolboy bath-time errors. Everyone knows the first rule in the ‘Book of Basic Bathing Techniques’ is to check before you get in the bath that there is a dry towel hanging on the radiator, preferably within an arm’s reach. Rule number two is to make sure the radiator is on.

Gloomily, I conclude the cat is more efficient at cleaning itself than I am. All those years gone by and I am less capable than a quadruped. If I can’t manage self-help tasks like this, what chance is there I can successfully organising my wife’s birthday next week? The words piss up and brewery spring to mind.

I submerge my chins below the waterline and stew things over. If it were summer, the fact the towel is draped over a bench in another room wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem because the ambient air temperature would be bearable. But it’s March and I’ve left the bedroom window open.

Worse, the curtains are drawn back exposing the bedroom to the world’s gaze. If I were to make a nude dash to the towel lying on the bench in front of the open window and get seen, I could accidentally spark a rumour on the street’s WhatsApp group that Mr. Blobby is alive and well or that Hollywood is secretly rehearsing a new version of the sci-fi movie ‘The Blob’, in which a giant pink blancmange takes over the world, in our road. It’s a risk I’m not prepared to take.

As the heat evaporates from my bald head like steam from a dim sum dumpling, I wonder if the solution is to call my wife or, perhaps, the kids and ask them to bring me the bath towel? After mulling this idea over, I decide it has many upsides for me but none for them. It would be about as welcome as the Poll Tax or the England rugby team at Murrayfield.

I drop the idea. Instead, I wonder if there is enough loo paper and cotton buds in the bathroom to dry me or if I could get dry just by rolling back and forth on the bathroom mat like a dog drying itself, after a long, wet walk.

The ‘In Our Time’ team are winding down their discussion of the Devonian Extinction, but I am still lurking in the bath unable to decide when I’m going to get out, my eyes just above the waterline staring at the plug chain.

Slowly, I’m coming to the view the real reason I’m stuck in the bath is not the lack of an easily accessible bath towel but that I’m scared of visiting Mother.

I am scheduled to meet her later today in flesh and blood for the first time in months and it’s making me nervous, like a cold current. Will she be happy or sad? Will her dementia be worse? How will I react?

Since she went into the nursing home, there has been a carer on all our video calls because she is unable to manage the weight of the I-Pad herself. This time we will be face to face and alone. No one to act up for, no one to pretend to. Just the two of us, figuring out how to face up to this new reality, without wanting to look at it closely, too soon, in case it is too ugly and unbearable.

Throughout lockdown, I’ve been listening to people on the radio or TV say they are desperate to meet again family members who have been isolated in care homes. They’re sincere and unambiguous about it. But now my time has come, it feels like the relationship between us has shifted again and I’m feeling like an actor heading off to the first reading for a part in a new play, unsure of my lines.

Suddenly, I jump out of the bath, put back on my pyjamas, which are crumpled at the side of the bath, and pat myself dry, furiously. The bath towel problem is solved.

Later, I explain to the family that I am grateful the nursing home is only allowing visitors 20 minutes slots with its residents. This ought not to be enough time to spend together after being separated for so long. But to me it’s a manageable first step into a new, more open routine. If Mother isn’t in a talkative mood, I won’t be stuck peddling pointless small talk with her for long.

‘Which is just as well because you’re as useless at small talk as a legless man in a Maypole dancing competition,’ says my wife, as I prepare to set off for the visit.

‘I’ve made a list of things to ask her in case the conversation dries up,’ I say.

My wife hands me a box of brownies she’s made for Mother.

‘It’s more likely she won’t let you get a word in edgeways. She hasn’t seen you for months.’

‘Possibly but as her Designated Visitor I have to prepare for all situations,’ I say.

‘Don’t make a drama out of this. Just be yourself.’

‘Isn’t that contradictory advice?’ asks my son, putting a postcard he’s written to Mother on top of the box of brownies.

‘You’re getting good at being sarcastic,’ I say to him as I head for the door.

‘Spent my life learning at the foot of a master,’ he replies.

‘Have you got that large print book she wanted?’ asks my wife.

I tap my coat pocket where a copy of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories is tucked away and head for the car. My bathroom dilemma behind me.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next one – Man in the Middle Chapter 63: The scent of despair

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle Chapter 61: Moonpig, Mother and me

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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