Man in the Middle – Chapter 8: Cakeism

A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. 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. 8: Cakeism

Mother thinks Boris Johnson is right about cake. She supports having it and eating it, wholeheartedly. She’s just watched the Daily Politics discussing the impact of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit on our food supplies and she tells me no politician is stupid enough to let Brexit damage the cake supply chain.

‘Cake shortages caused the French revolution. They won’t repeat that mistake. And, if they did, we’d just go back to baking our own cakes. We survived the War without panettone, and we will survive again.’

I wonder when my Remain voting Mother morphed into a cross between Mary Antionette and Geoffrey Boycott? Where did she learn French history? And why doesn’t she know that panettone is a breaded loaf, not a cake? I am about to discuss all this with her when I remember I came round only to check she’s OK and not to waste time debating the impact of Brexit on the global cake supply chain.

I offer to make her a cup of tea, instead. Her fridge is almost empty. A pint of milk sits next to a lemon drizzle cake, a Bakewell tart and four jam donuts. There’s a tin of tomato soup on the top shelf. Unless she is auditioning for an extreme episode of ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ it’s clear her obsession for cake is more than just political. I decide it’s time for me to talk to her about getting some balance into her diet.

‘I worried you’re not eating enough. Or not eating the right things,’ I say. ‘When did you start this cake thing?’

‘When did you start being a nosey parker?’ she replies.

Undaunted, I suggest she needs to include whole grains, proteins and more fat in her diet. I say that cakes are not bad per se but should eaten in moderation.

‘We need to make your diet less Willy Wonka and more Yotam Ottolenghi.’

Mother falls silent during my sermon. In fact, she has turned off her hearing aid and jacked up the volume on the TV. It’s so loud the dead could be walking all over West London.

‘You’re becoming a cake addict,’ I shout, irritated at being stonewalled. ‘Don’t you realise the sugar in all those cakes is like having crack cocaine.’

‘If crack cocaine is as good as lemon drizzle cake could I try some?’ she replies.

Fretting over dinner, I explain to the family why they should also feel aggrieved by Mother’s reaction.

‘It was all for her own good,’ I end.

There is an embarrassed silence. They’re like ambassadors at a diplomatic reception, where Donald Trump has misread the autocue. After a while, Son speaks.

‘Supermarket cakes come in lots of packaging. If she cuts back on that it has to be a good thing for the environment,’ says Son, showing he values Gaia more than Granny.

There’s another short pause.

‘This incident is a political metaphor. It illustrates the conflict between the individual’s right to live the way they want and the desire of the State to prevent harmful behaviours. She sees it as her right to eat as much cake as she wants. You chose to be Mr Nanny State. Given that Granny doesn’t like being told what to do, I don’t understand why you are surprised at her reaction?’ says Daughter.

This is not the support I was after. I turn, hopefully, to Wife, who is clearing up the plates.

‘The moral of the story is: ‘Don’t teach your Grandmother to suck eggs’,’ she says. ‘Now, who’d like some pudding?’

First published in Age Space

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 9: Mother Moves in

Read the previous one – Chapter 7: No Respite

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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