Should the Royal family go barefoot in the park?

picture by Man in the Middle

It’s Valentine’s Day. I am gazing at a picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sitting on a lawn somewhere. Shoeless. Sockless. I am confused. Should the Royal family go barefoot in the park?

‘Megan and Harry have been at it again,’ I say to my wife.

‘What?’

‘She’s having a baby. It’s all over the papers.’

My wife is wearing a knitted beanie in bed

I pass my laptop to my wife, who’s sitting next to me in bed, wearing a knitted beanie, the colour of a pale raspberry. She puts aside the cup of tea she’s been staring at blankly and turns to the picture of Megan lying on Harry’s lap in a park somewhere. Seeing the picture, she starts to smile.  

‘Oh, sweet aren’t they.’

I’m not so sure. Something Republican inside me starts to revolt.

‘Why isn’t he wearing shoes. Should the Royal family go barefoot in the park?’

‘This picture is putting a smile on the face of half the planet and all you can do is criticize them for not wearing shoes?’

‘Standards matter especially if you’re a member of the Royal family. I think he’s been ill-advised to go barefoot on a photo-shoot on a lawn like that. Look at that grass it’s sharp as needles. He might have cut his feet on the photo-shoot.’

A Royal rant?

‘You’re not going to go off on one of your Royal rants, are you?’ says my wife, the smile slipping from her face.

My daughter walks into our bedroom.

‘Bickering already?’

‘Just discussing the symbolism of this picture of the bare foot Duke and Duchess of Sussex,’ says my wife.

‘Awful, isn’t it.’

A little sly smile creeps on my face.

‘How do you mean, darling?’ I ask.

‘Oh, you know. The paternalistic symbolism: the pregnant woman swooning on her manly Royal knight. The weak woman gazing adoringly up at the man. His patronising ruffle of her hair like she’s a pet pussycat.’

‘Good analysis,’ I say.

‘And what about all the subliminal Christian symbolism? Two innocent lovers alone in a lush landscape of palms and long grass. It’s clearly a reference to a prelapsarian Eden in which Megan represents Eve and Harry is Adam.’

Are Harry and Megan, Adam and Eve?

I am not sure what prelapsarian means. But I’m very happy to have her support for my irrational irritation.  

‘I noticed the long grass, too,’ I say.

‘I agree. The picture is totally heteronormative,’ says my son chipping in from the doorway.

‘I preferred her back in the day when she wrote articles attacking Trump,’ says my daughter.  

‘Enough. I preferred it when you two younger and less critical,’ says my wife. ‘Time for a nice family Valentine’s Day breakfast.’

‘I’ve already put some croissants in the oven,’ says my son. The look on his face suggests he should be awarded the Croix de Guerre.

After breakfast, we agree the house is a tip. All over the house, there are cardboard boxes stacked inside other cardboard boxes, like Russian dolls. Some are filled with household rubbish, others with newspapers.

We are entombed in our own rubbish

Shoes are scattered throughout the house, there are piles clothing in empty rooms, as if people have spontaneously combusted leaving their socks and shirts and underwear behind. There are four crates of empty beer bottles in the kitchen and, in the hallway, an electric piano, two golf clubs, four cardboard boxes of household rubbish and Lilly Allen’s autobiography. Fliers have coagulated at the foot of the letterbox like dry spetum. Getting to the front door without stepping over something is nearly impossible.

‘We’re entombed,’ I say as we survey the task ahead of us.

‘Lockdown has turned us into hoarders,’ says my son.

‘We’ve got sloppy,’ says my wife.

‘We’re facing a major health and safety issue,’ says daughter.

House cleaning on Valentine’s Day is great fun

We all agree that in a perfect world we wouldn’t want to clean the house on Valentine’s Day. It’s not romantic or fun. But this is an emergency. My wife quickly puts together a plan and assigns us tasks.

I am as fluffed as a randy peacock with the task she has assigned me, which is to get all the cardboard boxes around the house downstairs in the shortest time possible. Instead of carrying them downstairs. I drop kick them down the staircase and shout ‘goal’ every time one drops onto the landing below. Eventually the hallway is full of boxes, which my son breaks up and stacks outside near the bins.

Three strenuous hours later, we reconvene for a coffee break in the kitchen.

‘You should be proud of yourselves,’ says my wife.

‘We couldn’t have done it without you, boss,’ I say, imagining I’m still playing footie and my manager is giving me a half time peep talk.

Everyone turns away from me and looks at the floor. After a short while, my daughter breaks the silence and says: ‘It smells better in here.’

‘We must have been nose blind for a while,’ says my son.

‘We’ve all earned our Valentine’s Dinner Day treat,’ says my wife.

Valentine Day’s dinner is on its way

Our Valentine Day’s treat is a slap-up dinner made by a local chef. The food is due for delivery in a few hours. My spirits lift and I start to recite the dishes on the menu, like a Gregorian chant. 

‘Truffled beef tartare with brioche cubes.’

The family join in.

‘Tempura vegetables with chimichurri sauce and saffron ailoi,’ says my son.

‘Halibut fillets with a champagne sauce,’ says my daughter. 

‘Passion fruit cheesecake,’ says my wife.

We all laugh.

‘We’ve had some great Valentine’s dinners over the years, haven’t we?’ I say looking at my wife.

‘Oh yes,’ replies my wife.

‘Any favourites?’ I ask.

‘Well, there was the one when you fainted into your bowl of stilton soup.’

‘Messy,’ I say.

‘And do you remember that restaurant where the dining tables were off the ground and built onto the wall like a bird’s nest?

‘Yes,’ I say.

One Valentine I spent in A&E

‘You had to climb a ladder to get to your table. But you fell off the ladder and we had to go to A&E instead?’

‘Those were the days,’ I say.

‘But my all-time favourite was when you set fire to me with the fondue set.’

‘The burner for the fondue exploded like a cannon didn’t it?’ I say, smiling.

‘Yes. And shot flames across the table.’

‘Which burnt your eyebrows off.’

‘And my fringe.’

‘And the tablecloth and carpet caught light,’ I sigh.   

I look out into the garden. There are three circles of purple crocuses blooming in the cold ground. The rain has stopped. Harry and Megan are having a baby. Dinner is on its way and the fondue set is out of harm’s way in the basement. Things are looking up.  

This article first appeared in the Chiswick Calender.

Oh, Boomer, how did this come to pass?

green mercedes benz amg
Photo by Mat Brown on Pexels.com

The New Year has retched up another miserable milestone. Today is my sixtieth birthday. Oh, Boomer, how did this come to pass?

Once I had hopes and dreams as fresh and frisky as Labrador puppies and a lime green sports car so sickeningly ostentatious that bystanders flicked V signs at me as I drove past them or spat on the car bonnet when I stopped at pedestrian crossings.

What Bliss was it in that dawn to be spat at, and to be young was very heaven!

Now, I don’t give a tinker’s cuss for cars, let alone sports cars, and I especially dislike anything lime green unless it’s a fruit sliced and lounging in my glass of gin and tonic.

I am nothing more than a non-vintage wine passing its drink-by date, pale and unnoticed.  From this day forth, the only things I can be certain of are that my prostrate will swell and the purchasing power of my pension will shrink.

A nine-course tasting menu

I can’t even go out tonight to drown my sorrows in a bath of wine and a nine-course tasting menu because no restaurants are properly open in this nowhere-to-go-or-anything-to-do-because-of-fucking-Covid-world.

I decide the only sensible thing to do now that I am sixty is to hide under my duvet for a fortnight. This will give me enough time to acclimatise to the fact that I now qualify for a free bus pass. 

It’s 09.00 on my birthday

I peak out from under the duvet feeling a little better from my inner whinging, like a monk after Matins. The bedside clock says it’s 09.00am.

‘Happy Birthday,’ says my wife, parking a birthday brew on the bedside table.

‘Whatever.’

‘Coming downstairs?

‘No. I’m staying in bed for a fortnight to think about my Freedom Bus Pass.’

‘But we’re waiting for you to come open your presents.’

‘I’m not worthy,’ I say.

‘I know,’ she replies.

I am not sure if she is serious. Her tone is bone dry and flat, like the Black Rock desert where they set land speed records.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she asks.

I want to become a piece of conceptual art

‘I’m turning my bed and me into a piece of conceptual art.’

‘Like Tracey Emin?’ 

‘Exactly.’

She shakes her head.

‘Tell me this is one of your man-child traumas quickly or I’m going to have you sectioned,’ she says.

‘You can’t know how tough it is being a sixty year old man. Just like that, overnight.’ I snap my fingers. ‘I’m having to face up to some serious existential questions.’

‘Like what to watch on Netflix tonight?’ 

‘Like ‘What am I Going to Do With Myself for the Next Ten Years?’’

I lean back onto the pillows and moan softly hoping to add a little manly pathos to the situation.

‘If you’re not downstairs in ten minutes, the mushrooms go into the bin,’ she threatens.

‘Mushrooms?’ I say, lifting the pillow from my face.

Mushrooms for breakfast

She’s cooked me mushrooms. I adore mushrooms but the rest of the family would rather have a holiday in Chernobyl than eat or cook them. If my wife has cooked me mushrooms, she’s taking my sixtieth birthday very seriously. If so, who knows how much she’s spent on my presents. I begin to salivate.

‘In butter and chopped parsley?’ I ask, hesitatingly.  

Something flashes across her face and freezes into a momentary rictus.

‘No oil. Just parsley. Butter. Garlic.’

I leap out of bed and give her a hug. The smell of bacon and coffee floats into the bedroom. Things are looking up.

‘You’re a Goddess,’ I say, pulling on my trousers.

‘Ten minutes,’ she says, leaving.  

The pile of birthday presents is encouraging

Downstairs, the breakfast table has a small but encouragingly well wrapped pile of presents on it. There’s toast, sausages, bacon and a bowl of slowly scrambled eggs, pleats of egg folded like large, orange-coloured napkins. The children look bright as buttons. My God. They’ve actually gone and bathed for the occasion!

‘Happy birthday, Dad,’ say the kids and hand me a present.

‘What’s this?’ I say looking at a book shaped present.

‘A book obviously,’ says my daughter. ‘Are you dumb or something?’

I strip the wrapper away. Underneath it is a book is called OK Boomer: Let’s Talk’. The book is subtitled is ‘How My generation got left behind’.

‘What’s this about?’

‘You know how you’re always irritating us by calling us Snowflakes?’ says my daughter.

‘Sort of,’ I say.

‘Well, this book will tell you why you should stop.’ 

‘And why you are wrong about everything,’ says my son.

‘But it will also show you how you can still be a better person, if you really want to be,’ says my daughter.

‘Though we realise it will be hard for you to change your tune now that you are so old. You know, like an old dog learning new tricks,’ says my son. 

My anger rises like King Arthur

The Lime Green Sports Car Man within me that I thought was dead stirs to life, like King Arthur summoned to save his Kingdom.  

I’m about to tell them I am working on a book which also hopes to solve inter-generational conflict which is called: ‘Shut Up Snowflake’ and is subtitled ‘I’m Too Busy Playing Golf to Give a Toss’.

But just as I am about to open fire, my wife arrives at the table with a pan of finely sliced mushrooms, sizzling in garlic butter and sprinkled with chopped parsley.

As she pours them onto the brown toast next to my sausages and scrambled eggs, I realise that I must act my age. I’m too old to get suckered into an inter-generational scrap. (At this time of the morning, at any rate). I will ignore their taunts and embrace my inner Biden, not my inner Trump. I must build unity, not division. Most of all, I must eat the mushrooms quickly before they go cold and spongy.

I decide to embrace my inner Biden

‘Good?’ asks my wife, as I finish wiping specks of parsley and butter from my chin, three greedy minutes later.

‘Best breakfast in sixty years.’

The children groan.

‘Half an hour ago, I had nothing left to look forward to. Now, I’ve got a belly full of fungi and several sausages. Things are looking up. I think sixty could be the new fifty,’ I say.

‘Good,’ says my wife. ‘Because the kids have made you a birthday cake with a special message just for you.’

The kids put a cake on the table with an iced message on it.

The message says: ‘You’re 60. Get over it.’

This blog originally appeared in the Chiswick Calendar

Mother has gone into a nursing home

Mother is in a nursing home with a broken pelvis and vascular dementia. Her last fall has taken a big toll on her. She needs specialist care and I’m facing down the guilt which comes with accepting I can’t look after her anymore. This is more frustrating because covid means we can’t visit her in the care home.  

It’s like living in the Middle Ages, right now

At the moment, though, she is better off in her nursing home than staying here with us. The WIFI is down, the boiler is broken and the dishwasher is as dead as a dodo. Home may be where her heart is, but right now she’s better off somewhere with functioning central heating and clean crockery.

‘We’re actually living like people did in the 1950s,’ says my daughter.

‘More like the Ice Age,’ says my son. 

He’s got a point. The house is so cold my daughter’s boyfriend, who is ‘bubbling’ with us, hasn’t taken his overcoat off for three days and I am sleeping with my socks on for the first time since I was at University. Though not with the same socks, obviously.

And it’s not just our dressing habits which are get slap dash.

There’s a pyramid of unwashed dishes on the sideboard which will soon slide onto the kitchen floor unless the lamb fat which is gluing them together sticks or we can agree whose turn it is to hand wash them. We are all pretending it’s not our turn. Why? No one wants to go hand to hand with the congealed lamb fat without the help of hot water. I’d like to blame someone but can’t in all fairness.  

If only there was some light at the end of the tunnel. But the electrician, who’s come to fix everything, tells me I have a score of 38 on my electrical loop inhibitor. It should be under one.

‘I’m not even allowed to touch anything with a score that high,’ he says.   

The electricity isn’t earthed properly and could blow any minute

‘You need to call your network supplier immediately,’ he says.

And leaves without fixing anything. 

‘I have a problem with my inhibitor,’ I say to the electricity network’s customer service team, who kindly don’t laugh. 

In fact, within an hour, two service engineers have rushed over and finished in the basement inhibiting our loop from any further excesses. 

‘How long has it been dangerous like that?’ I ask. 

‘Probably since you moved in,’ they say. 

The thought that we’ve been living in a tinder box for twenty years only adds to my sense that 2020 is a year best forgotten. 

‘You’re not normally emotionally sensitive enough to feel sad,’ says my wife. ‘Make a list of all the good things that have happened this year. That’ll cheer you up.’

Big Boy Pants are on my ‘happy list’

An hour later and I have quite a long list. It includes the scientists finding a Covid vaccine; Donald Trump being told to find his ‘big boy pants’; my son’s A levels; my daughter’s graduation and my wife’s continuing forbearance.

But top of the list is ‘Sock Amnesty’, which is a fun and inclusive game for all the family which I invented during the first lockdown. The goal of Sock Amnesty is for everyone to hunt out their old orphan socks, dump them into a laundry basket and then battle to match up as many orphan socks with their lost twins in an hour. The person with the most pairs at the end of the game is the winner. It’s like apple bobbing only with socks and you can’t use your teeth.   

‘Is ‘Sock Amnesty’ really the best thing that happened to you this year?’ asks my wife, looking at my list.

‘It’s not the sort of hard-core game they’d play at the Bullingdon Club, I admit. But anything that encourages us to recycle has to be a good thing don’t you think?’ 

My wife would rather play a drinking game

‘I think I prefer more traditional drinking games to ‘Sock Amnesty’,’ says my wife.

My son comes into the room and says he’s just heard that the government is going to ensure covid testing is available to everyone who wants to visit their relatives in a care home by Christmas. 

‘That’s really good news,’ says my wife.  

‘If it comes true,’ I say, stubbornly down beat.

A version of this article first appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.

The runway to Me Time is clear for take off.

white and black road sign on green grass field
Photo by Darli Donizete on Pexels.com

I unlock the door and breath a huge sigh of relief. Thought for the Day hasn’t even finished and all my tasks for the day are done. I hang the car keys up and let a smile hitch up the corners of mouth. The runway to ‘Me Time’ is clear for take off.

How come? Well, thanks to my world class project planning skills, I’ve done my day’s work almost before the day’s begun. Not even Dido Harding could match that. I wonder if I should call her office and offer to run a workshop for her track and trace team?

Everyone else can be very demanding

Of course, my success hasn’t come without grafting. I’ve been hard at it for at least an hour, selflessly making sure the day gets off to a flying start for everyone else. And, as every male Boomer knows, this is not easy. Everyone else can be very demanding.

I tot up the tasks so far. This morning’s selflessness has included driving my daughter to her college; laying the breakfast table with crockery and cutlery; filling the kettle; putting tea bags into mugs and neatly stacking three boxes of breakfast cereal next to each other, like sentinels, on the kitchen table. I’ve loaded the oven with frozen croissants and remembered to turn the oven on, too. Jeeves could not have done it better.

‘Hand brewed. I waited until it turned the dark brown colour you like and then whipped the bag out,’ I said, as I passed my wife her morning cuppa.

‘I’ve got to dash. Can you put it in my flask?’ she said.

‘Your word is my command,’ I replied.

Optimism sweeps over me

Now I have returned to an almost empty house a wave of optimism flows over me. I head to the kitchen for the Colombian speciality roast and my one cup cafetiere. The only ‘must do’ left on my listicle for today is a lunchtime appointment with my oldest friend to celebrate his birthday, which will mean the afternoon will be frittered away in a velouté of incoherent piffle.

The coffee grinder stops. The phone is ringing. It’s my friend to confirm details for lunchtime. 

‘Have you talked to your liver about lunchtime? Given it a heads up of what’s heading its way?’ I ask.

‘There is no lunchtime. I’ve checked. The pubs are shut,’ he says.

‘Even if we drink outside?’ I ask with a faint tremor in my voice.

‘There is no outside service.’

‘What about we pretend it’s a business lunch?’

‘That’d be a lie.’

‘Donald Trump lies for a living,’ I say. 

‘Do you really want to behave like Donald Trump?’ he asks.

No liquid lunchtime today

We postpone the lunch until another time and hear my liver breathe a sigh of relief.

‘I haven’t even sent you a card, I’m sorry.’

‘I’d rather you bought me a pint when this Covid business is finished,’ he replies.

I sip my coffee, wondering what else I can do now with the day. Then, I hear a faint sound like a whisper. It repeats itself a few times. It could be from next door or it could be Mother upstairs. She’s left her newspaper on the breakfast table, so I guess she’s after that. I pick up my coffee and put her newspaper under my arm and head upstairs.

Mother is lying on the floor

As I reach the top of the stairs, I see she is on the floor, her back to the door. She is propped up on her arms and calling for help, softly. Next to her right hand is a pool of blood and an old red leather glove. One of her clothes drawers is upturned on the floor at her feet. There’s a black space where the drawer should be. It’s as though the chest of drawers has lost a tooth in a fight.

As I bend down towards her, I realise that ever since she was first diagnosed with dementia, I knew this moment would come. Her age and condition made this inevitable. There was always going to be another fall which would trigger a new chapter in her life and ours. I’m not glad it’s happened, but I am glad it’s me here now, not someone else in the family, especially the kids or her carer. Suddenly, birthday lunchtimes are a lifetime away. Me Time has hidden itself away in shame. Only one thing and one person matters right now.

I reach for the phone and call 999.

Mixed emotions about the day ahead

I often wake up with mixed emotions about the day ahead. I’m not sure why. Mornings weren’t always like this and I used to be at my best before lunch.

Carpe diem was my usual morning battle cry. I was like a young Bertie Wooster, pumped on Highballs for Breakfast. Now, I start most days with my heart and my teacup half full.  

‘I’ve lost my mojo,’ I say to my wife, as a chunk of marmalade falls from my multi-seed toast onto my PJs.

‘With Covid and our wedding anniversary coming up are you surprised?’ asks my wife.

I avoid a cock-up

Before I can agree, my subconscious applies an emergency hand brake and no words come out from my marmaladed mouth. I just chew on my toast slowly, silently.

That was a close shave, I think. If I had agreed with her, I would have been blaming my lost mojo on the length of our marriage which, effectively, means I would be blaming my wife for my woes. This would have been ablunder to rival the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Titanic playing chicken with an iceberg. Any Fule Kno That.

Serious chat is not allowed at British breakfasts

More importantly, I would have breached ancient British common law, which states ‘Serious Conversations are not allowed at breakfast, except in unusual circumstances, like war.’ A little voice mocks me. ‘Britain didn’t build an Empire by its men discussing their mojos over the eggs and B, you idiot.’

Thankfully, I have a tiny lawyer who lives inside my head. They work tirelessly to prevent me from incriminating myself and fouling things up with my ‘foot in mouth’ tendency. My inner lawyer advises me to reject the suggestion our anniversary is a cause for my depression. If I do not, my silence may be taken as an admission of guilt.

Words make history

‘Our marriage is one thing that keeps me positive,’ I find myself saying.

‘Can’t you keep that stuff for your bedroom?,’ says my son.

‘When mum still thought you were fun, she used to say you were half man, half Labrador puppy,’ says my daughter.

‘Now you’re more half man, half hobo,’ says my son.

‘Dad’s just trying to be sweet,’ says my wife.

‘It’s sad watching him struggle with something so alien,’ says my son. ‘Like a child on its first bike ride.’

Before my daughter can chip in, my wife reminds her I am driving with her to her teaching college this morning. As she is still a learner driver, she needs me to go with her.  

‘Let’s all agree to let this conversation die. That way, no one will get offended or huffy and change their minds,’ she says.

I finish up a second piece of toast and turn to my daughter.

‘Time to go?’

‘Yup’ she says.

Is my anniversary a source of depression?

As I pass my wife on the way to the front door, she says she didn’t mean to imply our wedding anniversary might be a source of depression to me or her. Nor does she think our wedding anniversary is as deadly or oppressive as Covid.

‘It was my fault for even mentioning my mojo at breakfast. That was a breach of British breakfast tradition. Nothing emotional gets said until the kedgeree is cleared away.’

In the hall, my daughter is scrabbling around in the key box. The sound of angry key rattling fills the house. Her irritation is adding to the anxiety I already feel at having to drive with her in a car without a second set of brakes. This is why my mojo is gone.

‘I can’t find the bloody car keys,’ she says. ‘Who had them last?’

‘Nothing to do with me,’ I shout.

‘Nor me,’ echoes my son.

‘Oh for heaven’s sake! Do I have to do everything around here?’ asks my wife. It’s a question to which we all know the answer and therefore requires no reply.

This blog originally appeared in the Chiswick Calendar