Somewhere in the world there’s always a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition open, or about to open. Which means someone, somewhere is always blathering on about Da Vinci’s genius for designing scuba gear centuries before it became a reality.
Mother is listening to someone doing exactly this and she is not impressed. Mother values domestic appliances more highly than scuba gear.
‘If he was that smart he’d have invented the electric kettle or the hot water bottle,’ she says.
If the British Museum asked Mother to curate an exhibition, scuba gear wouldn’t make her long list. Her prize exhibit would be the electric kettle followed by the hot water bottle and she would campaign for their inventors to be canonized because they deliver two quotidian essentials to old people – tea and warmth. A bed and the BBC, preferably free, would come third and fourth in her League of Useful Things for Old Age.
Hot water bottles are important because they are an antidote to the cold she constantly feels despite the fact her central heating is always full on. During the winter months, which is every month except July, she wears a faded brown flannel dressing gown over her clothes. She claims to sleep in her raincoat and hugs a hot water bottle to her chest whenever we go round to make sure we get the point.
‘It’s a Siberian gulag 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. The pressure is fine; its lights are green and steady. But I have set up an account with a direct debit with the local plumber so she can call him round whenever she thinks it’s on the blink.
My Son, who is thinking of joining Extinction Rebellion, finds this difficult. He asks me if she understands how many polar bears she is killing with her selfish desire to avoid hypothermia and the gallons of tea she brews everyday. He suggests I tell her to wear more clothes and install a smart meter instead of whining about the boiler.
‘You can’t smart meter a person, darling,’ my Wife says, only half listening.
‘If she put on more clothes, she’d never be able to stand up,’ says my Daughter. ‘She’s a bag of bones as it is.’
‘Is she on a renewable energy tariff?’ says my Son, suspiciously.
‘Of course,’ I say, faintly flushing. I am lying. She isn’t though he has asked me several times to switch her to a renewable tariff.
The next morning I change her utility contract to a renewable tariff. Unfortunately, the changeover will take a month. I wonder if my Son will discover my lie before the contract changes? I am scared he that might phone the nearest branch of Extinction Rebellion and organize an occupation of Mother’s flat, if he does.
‘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? Let alone organize an occupation?’
‘She brings her bills here for me,’ I remind her. ‘He could see them then.’
‘You’ll just have to live with the risk. But let’s steer clear of any David Attenborough programmes for awhile in case it reminds him.’
I am more worried about Mother scalding herself than her flat’s contribution to climate change. Every time she makes a cup of tea her hand trembles like a gambler shaking dice. Her wrists are frail and she spills tea from her cup as she walks. Everytime I see her making tea I wait for an accident to happen. Does she realize that her kettle is a threat as well as a favoured appliance?
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 myself a cup of tea,’ she barks.