Man in the Middle – Chapter 4: The Kettle

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. 4: The Kettle

Somewhere in the world, there is always a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition about to open. Which means somewhere, someone is always blathering on about Da Vinci’s genius for imagining scuba gear, the helicopter or whatever, years before they actually became a reality. Mother is listening to one such review and she is not impressed. Mother values domestic things more highly than scuba gear or helicopters. She can see – theoretically – their value, but they’re not-of-her-world anymore.

‘If he was that smart he’d have invented the electric kettle.’

If the British Museum asked Mother to curate an exhibition, it would be about kettles and items which make life easier for older people. Scuba gear wouldn’t make her longlist and helicopters would only be considered if they were air ambulances because she can imagine a use for them. An electric kettle would be in her top ten because it delivers two quotidian essentials – Tea and Hot Water Bottles. It would rank a close third in her League of Useful Things close behind her Bed and the BBC.

Hot water bottles are important because she claims to be constantly cold, despite the fact her central heating is always full on. She wears a faded brown flannel dressing gown over her clothes and hugs a hot water bottle to her chest whenever we go round to make sure we get the point.

‘It’s like Siberia in here,’ she says. ‘I don’t think the boiler works properly. Can you get someone to fix it?’

There’s nothing wrong with the boiler. Its lights are green and its flame is lit.

Son, who is thinking of joining Extinction Rebellion, asks if she realizes how many polar bears she is killing with her selfish desire to avoid hypothermia while drinking flagons of tea. He suggests I tell her to put on more clothes and install a smart meter.

‘You can’t smart meter a person, darling,’ Wife says, only half listening. ‘Even if you could, I am not sure it would reduce her energy usage.’

‘And if she put on more clothes, she’d keel over,’ says Daughter. ‘She’s barely seven stone.’

‘Is she on a renewable energy tariff?’ says Son.

‘Of course,’ I say.

It’s a lie. She isn’t. But the next morning I change the utility contract to a renewable tariff scared that Son or Extinction Rebellion may single me out for accelerating the climate apocalypse. Unfortunately, the changeover will take a month. I wonder if Son will discover my lie before the contract changes.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ says wife. ‘He can’t find his shoes and socks most mornings. How is he going to find out what energy contract your mother has? All the same, let’s steer clear of David Attenborough programmes for a while in case it reminds him.’

Ultimately, I am more worried about Mother scalding herself than her kettle’s contribution to climate change. Every time she makes a cup of tea, I hold my breath. Her hand trembles like a gambler shaking dice. Her wrist is frail, her arms thin. Older people have the most fatal injuries from burns and scalds and boiling water is a big factor in this. Her kettle is a threat as well as a comfort.

Mother turns off the radio and goes to fill the kettle.

‘Do you need a hand with that?’ I ask.

‘No. I may not be Leonardo Da Vinci but I am perfectly capable of making a cup of tea,’ she says.

First published in Age Space

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 5: The Will

Read the previous one – Chapter 3: The Tardis

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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