It is essential Mother doesn’t feel like a lodger in our home, according to my Wife. If this experiment in family life is to work, she must have full citizenship, not just settled status.
‘She has to feel this home is as much hers as ours. We must encourage her to have her friends around. Have parties. Be herself’
‘What about sleep overs?’ says my Son.
‘Them, too,’ says Wife refusing to rise to his bait, while I imagine half a dozen elderly people here for a sleep over. Would they wrapped argue over which Cary Grant movie to watch and stay up all night wrapped in their sleeping bags like teenagers?
‘We need an online booking system to manage this new situation. I’ve got a few parties booked over Christmas and we don’t want diary conflicts,’ says my Daughter, who’s on a flying visit from University.’
‘Which parties? Where?’ I ask.
‘Here. Why else would I be suggesting a family booking system?’ says my Daughter, looking at me as if I’m an inferior species.
‘Try to keep up,’ says my Son.
Later that week, Mother tells me that two of her former neighbours, who now live in South Africa, are coming at the weekend to see her.
‘Are they staying with us?’ I ask hesitantly.
‘If they were staying, I would have asked your wife first. Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my manners,’ she snaps. ‘It’s just lunch.’
‘Would you like me to do anything to help?’
‘Yes. Make sure everyone’s out by 12.30. I don’t want you fussing around me or the boy slumming in front of the TV playing one of his ghastly video games. Just buy me some lemons and makes sure there’s a full bottle of gin in the cupboard.’
It is clear Mother has embraced Wife’s philosophy of ‘Mi casa, su casa’. In fact, it feels like she’s taking it one step further. Not only has she asked friends into our home, but she’s throwing us out, which feels more ‘Mid Witch Cuckoo’ than ‘Su Casa’. I wonder how this will go down with Wife.
‘Perfect,’ she says. ‘This is just how it should be. She wants to be in control of her party and to have some privacy. You can take me out for lunch.’
‘What about me?’ says my Son. His usual Saturday morning routine of slobbing around on the games console is in tatters.
‘You’ll have to be up and dressed before mid-day for once. It’s nothing to be scared of,’ replies my Wife. I can’t resist chipping in.
‘Daddy will be there for you through this trauma. Just like we were when the internet went down for two hours last week and those other big turning points in your life.’
‘Boomers,’ he sneers and walks out.
Wife and I come back at about teatime to find Mother triumphant from her lunch party. Three hours of uninterrupted, old fashioned gossip about the old days, the old neighbours and my old man. What’s not to like?
‘They loved your house, by the way. They think you’ve got marvelous taste and soft furnishings.’
I don’t need to turn around to know Mother is talking to my Wife not me.
‘They loved the new wood fire, especially. In South Africa they only need fires to barbecue on,’ she laughs.
‘Wood fire?’ says Wife alarmed.
‘Yes. I put some logs on the fire in case it went out. Such a wonderful, woody smell, isn’t it?’
The fire she’s referring to isn’t a real fire. It’s a ‘Wood Burner Gas Fire with Realistic Flame Effect’. Unfortunately, it looks so real Mother has been laying wood logs onto it. The smell is smouldering plastic. God knows what might have happened if the fire plastic wasn’t fire retardant.
Later, with Mother upstairs exhausted with fun, Wife sweeps up the ashes.
‘Thank God for EU safety standards. They could have been burnt alive. You must warn her about not doing it again.’
Mother’s sister died of severe burns after candles set her night gown alight. Telling her she’s almost burnt our house down will remind her of that. It’s going to make her feel foolish, too. Is that helpful? Will that stop her making the same mistake again or just humiliate her? My Son, who has changed back into his pyjamas and is booting up the PS4, pipes up.
‘Shall I have a chat with her instead of Dad? It’s easier for me to tell her she’s a silly old bat than him and I won’t make it sound like a lecture.’
There are few moments when you realise how good your child rearing skills are. This is one of them.
‘Perfect, ‘I say. ‘Deal.’
‘Coward,’ says Wife, as I rush upstairs.
‘Just going to check if the insurance policy,’ I say. ‘Want to see if we’re covered for arson by elderly relatives.’