My Godfather coined the phrase ‘Mid-Life Crisis’

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My Godfather, Elliott Jacques, was a psychoanalyst who coined the phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. The Economist obit labelled him a ‘guru’. I wish he was alive today because I am sure he would have been willing to listen to my laments about my mid-life crisis unlike my family. Who knows, he might even have found me a worthy case study for one of his psychoanalytical papers?

At the very least, he would have given me a family discount on his hourly consultation fee, which is more generous and sympathetic than my family are being at the moment. They don’t seem to want to listen to me at all, especially my midlife crisis, which they think is an act.

The family are tired of my Boomer laments

In fact, they’re so mightily bored by my ‘Boomer Laments’, as they call them, that they are evolving ways to avoid listening to me at all. Uncle Elliott would have probably called them ‘avoidance strategies. For example, they turn up the volume on the TV when I come into the sitting room as a signal to me not to open my mouth. At dinner, when I am about to speak, they all simultaneously plug in their Apple EarPods and dive into their podcasts, like a synchronized swimming team, disappearing under the water in a pre-planned move.   

Last night, I think I even heard my daughter suggest the family should introduce a traffic light system for me in which I have to give them a summary of what I want to talk to them about before I can actually say anything.

‘Like submitting a play to the censor for approval?’ asked my son. 

‘That’s right. If we think what he wants to say might be interesting or even new, we give him a green light. If it’s his usual old nonsense then we give him a red light,’ she explained, holding up some cardboard squares which she has painted red, yellow and green.

Are they trying to get rid of me?

I’ve started to wonder if the family are hatching a conspiracy to ostracise me completely. I worry that one day I will come home and they will have disappeared beyond even Matt Hancock’s worldclass track and trace system, leaving me behind in the house with Mother, who can’t hear well and, sadly, has far bigger problems of her own to deal with than listen to my whines.

My paranoia has got so bad I have started drinking the CBD oil, which I bought for Mother to ease her arthritis, but which she has rejected as being useless. I am not sure if it is effective but since I started sipping it three times a day I have begun to have recurring nightmares which involve Uncle Elliott.

In these nightmares, I am laid out on his old leather consultation couch in South Kensington and I am always asking him the same question: is it possible for a man to become so boring and self-obsessed that his own family no longer want to talk to him?

‘Yes,’ replies Elliott. ‘You’re very stale, pale and male. It’s surprising they’ve put up with you this long.’

‘How can I get better?’ I ask in the dream.

‘Read the Guardian,’ he says, at which point I wake up sweating.  

Must I become woke to keep their affections?

I don’t know what to do with this advice. Coincidentally, I am thinking of binning my subscription to The Times because it is getting quite right-wing, but I am not sure I am yet ready for a daily dose of wokeness from the Guardian.

More importantly, I am not sure I should be basing important life decisions on a series of bad dreams and the advice of a dead Godfather, even if he was a Jungian and, therefore, would have encouraged me to use my dreams as one way of coming to terms with life.

I decide the only way to know for sure if the family have finally given up on me is to speak to my wife. She is my Delphic Oracle and if she’s in a good mood she may give me up to two minutes of fee free top-quality life-style consultation which is normally more than enough time for her to sort out my trivial problems.  

I finish my pitch to her by saying: ‘Penn State research shows men of my age face 20% more stress than their parents. I am suffering a new type of generational squeeze and a new type of mid-life crisis. Is it any wonder that I may not be happy?’

I’m just not happy…  

My wife pauses and then says in an American accent: ‘You’re just not happy because your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would?’

Confused, I ask her why her she is mimicking an American accent.  

‘Don’t you remember the American comic Dennis Leary?’

‘One of my favourites,’ I say.

‘Remember the sketch where he talks about his harsh upbringing in a poor Irish family?’

‘Yes,’ I say.

‘Remember the name of the school of psychoanalysis he in the joke?’

My wife is telling me to shut the f**k up

A long-forgotten joke suddenly comes back to mind and I realise the oracle is telling me what to do in her own oblique style.

‘The School of Shut the f**k Up,’ I say under my breath.

‘That’s right. The School of Shut the F**k Up,’ says my wife.

‘That’s your advice?’ I say.

She looks me solemnly in the eye for a moment and then brightens a little and asks ‘What shall we have for dinner?’

I guess I will have to let go of my mid life crisis for a little while.

This article originally appeared in the Chiswick Calendar

My diet got stuck in the buffet car

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I am standing naked on the bathroom scales my eyes shut tight. I am bowing my head like a criminal in court, waiting for the judge to pass sentence on me.

I already know the verdict: guilty. The only question is how severe the sentence will be. My crime? I have broken all the dietary vows I made to myself and my family so recently. I have gone off the rails and my diet got stuck in the buffet car. Again.

Fasting not feasting is my plan

My diet had been going so well. I had shed a lot of tummy tonnage thanks to a home-made puritanical regime under which I basically stopped eating and drinking. Fasting not feasting, I said to myself every morning, like a monk reciting a litany. And for a while it worked, kilograms folded away like salami slices at a deli counter.

Unfortunately, the last four days have been a dietary disaster. I have put back on all the weight I had lost in a Bacchanal of liquid lunches, saucy dinners, cheesy snacks and takeaways. This morning I have to face up to the fact that my Götterdämmerung against my gut is heading towards defeat.

I went on a Boomer bender

It started to go wrong when I ate Mother’s half eaten bacon sandwich which her carer had left on a plate next to the recycling bin. I picked it up and seconds later it was gone. After that, I went on one long Fresher’s week with a few other like-minded, ‘getting-to-be-old-timers’. In short, I have been on a four-day Boomer bender of stupendous self-indulgence.

I have drunk stouts, ales, beers, lagers, wines and even a quarter of a bottle of Madeira, sometimes at the same sitting and from the same glass. I have eaten out at lunch time and dinner and filled my face excessively with a complete disregard for portion control or carbo-counting.

If we all ate cicchetti there’d be no war

I stuffed my face with platefuls of pleasure from France, Italy, Spain and India and, best of all, I have discovered cicchetti, those small Venetian snacks, which would bring about World Peace instantly if they were made compulsory at every diplomatic shin-dig across the globe or wherever else people with power gather.  

Mae West said: ‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough’ and, in the last few days, I have done my very best to live up to her epicurean philosophy, in a social distanced way, of course.  

Frankly, I don’t think I have had so much fun since I stayed up all night with a bottle of brandy replaying the news footage of Teresa May holding Donald Trump’s tiny hand so he could make it down a staircase without tipping over.

My family will be disappointed…

Of course, I realise I have let my family down. I feel guilty. This isn’t the first time I have made them promises about my beer gut and ended up on the losing side in the Battle of the Bulge.

But this time, I feel more guilty than usual. They are genuinely worried my bulk makes me more vulnerable if I catch Covid19 so they’ve have been gently nagging at me for a while to do something about it.

‘Lose you love handles before the next wave,’ said my daughter, who is a marathon running, yoga loving girl whose idea of a blow-out is a Caesar’s Salad without the croutons or mayo dressing.  

‘I can’t help it if I am a gourmand,’ I replied.

Gourmand is French for greedy pig

‘Gourmand is French for greedy pig. You mean gourmet,’ she said. ‘But whatever you want to call yourself, it’s time for a change.’   

Faced with this caring onslaught what father would not try to do something to reassure his family that he really does want to carry on living? The question was how to lose weight? Every diet I had ever followed has been a failure. What could I do? 

‘How about some gentle fasting?’ said my wife.

‘At the siege of Stalingrad, the Russians gave their citizens only 250 grams of food a day. If you copied that you’d lose the pounds pretty quick,’ said my son. 

‘That’s inappropriate in so many ways,’ said my wife. 

A light breeze comes in through the bathroom window and I realised I am getting cold standing naked on the scales. I lift one eyelid open a millimetre at a time, like a weightlifter slowly raising a heavy barbell which may be too much for him. My wife calls from the bedroom.

‘What do the scales of justice say today?’

I’m not sure my scales work

‘Are you sure these scales work?’ I reply, having spied the number staring back up at me from the bathroom scales. 

‘That bad?’ she says.

‘It’s a small set back,’ I say. 

‘Sounds more like Dunkirk,’ she says.

She’s right. The number staring up at me from the bathroom scales represents a full-scale retreat. As Joe Strummer might have said if he had made it to middle age: I fought the gut and the gut won.

‘Today’s a new beginning,’ I say. ‘I’ll soon be back on track.’

Behind me, I hear something that sounds like ‘hah’.  

This article originally appeared in the Chiswick Calendar

Let Operation Booze Cruise begin….

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My kids start work today

My teacup overfloweth with joy. Both my kids start work today. 

I am happy for them because this is a landmark on their journey to adulthood. The rat race needs running and it’s their time to step onto the wheel of capitalism and keep it spinning. I hope they enjoy their turn. Really. The old toad work is not always too bad. 

I am also happy for myself and my wife. This could be the beginning of the end of the one-way flow of cash which has poured, like the mighty Orinoco, between the generations of our family since their birth.

Maybe the Bank of Mum and Dad can stop lending money?

From now on, the Bank of Mum and Dad may not have to issue as many gilts, loans and subsidies as in the past. It will be a slow change at first, for sure, but the Bank of Mum and Dad now has a chance to rebuild its balance sheet and turn its attention to funding its own pet projects. Rents might even be charged, tithes collected.  

The more I think about it, the more my inner Boomer smiles at the thought of what today might mean. ‘Me Time’ is coming closer and, frankly, I’m shovel ready for it. I hear myself silently singing the theme tune for Euro ’96: ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, Me Time’s coming home.’

Me Time is my new creed. Selfish? Tick. Irresponsible? Tick. Self-indulgent? Tick, tick, tick. Right now, I’d happily sell our insanely overpriced London house and blow the cash gained from the sale on a ten-year blitzkrieg of booze cruises, spa treatments and fine dining. Oh, and fine wine, too. Gallons of it, preferably. It’s nearly time to test my liver to the max. I’m bored of Boris, Brexit and the pretensions of Global Britain and lock down. I long to cut loose from responsibility in all its myriad forms, preferably in a simply furnished Tuscan villa with a private chef.  

My daughter is training as a teacher and my son has got a temporary gap year job with a local manufacturer of spectacles. His role is to inspect the glasses for damage. If the glasses are scratched it’s his job to stop them from leaving the warehouse. 

My son’s job is in quality control

As today is his first day, I have decided to give him a fatherly pep talk about the nature of work over the Cheerio’s. You know the sort of stuff: turn up on time, work hard, don’t be Bolshie. Simple homely truths which I am sure he knows already but work has historically been a concept he’s struggled with, so I want him to get off on the right foot. Work is my least favourite four-letter word, he told us aged eleven, staring at a pile of homework. That’s your side of his gene pool talking said my wife.

I also want him to feel good about work because if he feels good about it, he will stick at it and the longer he sticks at it, the more money he will earn. The more money he earns, the more I can successfully argue we should no longer finance his trips to the pub and I can divert the savings towards Operation Booze Cruise: Punish the Liver 2022, which is my vision for my future.

I’m not being entirely selfish. I remember the shock of my first job. How absurd it felt, how strange the rituals. How pointless much of it seemed. I don’t want him to come home tonight feeling like I did after my first day, confused and worthless.

‘Quality control is really important,’ I say. ‘Your role is vital to the company.’  

‘It’s a job, Dad. Don’t get all parenty about it.’ 

‘It’s essential the glasses are up to scratch, not scratched,’ I say. ‘Geddit?’ 

‘Sadly yes,’ he replies. 

‘Just remember my golden rules: turn up on time, work hard and don’t be Bolshie,’ I say.

Mother is about to share her wisdom

Mother looks up from her toast. I can tell she’s going to offer a few words of wisdom but whether they’re going to be relevant to this conversation or relate to something we discussed last night I can’t be sure anymore. Her focus is not what it was.   

‘I had to drag him out of bed to make sure he went to work. He was terribly lazy when he was young. Though his brother was worse.’

My son looks at me and raises his eyebrows. My moral authority is shot to pieces. Mother has handed him the Ace of Spades in the intergenerational game of Parental Poker. 

‘Turn up on time, work hard eh?’ he says. ‘Sounds more like do as I say, not as I do. Or did, in this case.’

Mother’s carer, who has just put a cup of sweet tea in front of her, sits down at the kitchen table and looks around at us. She’s only been coming for a week so she isn’t clear what the dynamics of the family are. She’s wondering what will happen next, observing. I feel like the subject in a psychological experiment.   

‘Have I said something wrong,’ says Mother. 

‘Definitely, not,’ says my son getting up to go to work. ‘Not as far as I am concerned. What do you think, Dad?’ 

I decide to keep my head down and hold my tongue. He’s going to work. Breakfast will get done. That’s all I can hope for right now. I must keep an eye on the big prize. Operation Booze Cruise: Punish the Liver 2022 is still on track, for the moment.  

Mother may have dementia says the consultant

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Mother is back home after ten days in the hospital. She is the centre of a lot of attention and not just from us, her family.

She’s on the care list of the NHS integrated community response service team, which includes a nurse, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a social care assistant, a social worker and her GP. Even a handyman. All have been in attendance as the Court Circular might say.

‘I’ve got more flunkies than the Queen,’ Mother says.

Does she have more flunkies than the Queen?

She’s wrong. The Queen has over 1,000 people in the Royal Household. But I see why she thinks that. There is a large number of people going in and out of her room asking her if she needs anything. I am certain of one thing – that not even the Knights and Ladies of the Garter could be more dedicated than Mother’s band of NHS helpers.

It’s not just their practical help that’s impressive. It’s the way they speak to her. The tone in their voices sounds almost like love. I wonder if I sound as considerate when I speak to her? I am not sure I do.

I’ve nicknamed Mother’s helpers theA-Team. It’s my homage to the soldiers of fortune in the 1980s TV series, who specialised in getting people out of dodgy situations, which the legal authorities couldn’t handle. Which is exactly what this team have done for Mother: got her out of hospital, where she didn’t want to be, and got her back home with us, where she did.

Her carers are like the A-Team without the guns

The only difference between the A-Team and Mother’s care team is that the NHS team is armed only with blood pressure monitors, pills and PPE; not tanks, rifles and grenades. That said, if Mother asked them to get her a tank to go shopping, I’m sure they’d sort it out and quickly.

‘Our mission is to do anything we can to stop her going back into hospital,’ said the unit’s head honcho, reminding me of the pipe puffing Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, leader of the fictitious A-Team.

Mother was taken to hospital after a fall. My daughter discovered her at seven in the morning on her back on the sisal carpet outside her bathroom, staring up at the skylight. Distressed and confused, she kept saying she didn’t want to disturb anyone. Could someone help her back to bed? I’ll be alright after a cup of tea, she said.  Of course, she wasn’t.

The ambulance crew put Mother back into bed. Her condition got worse quickly despite a lakeful of sweet tea. She became delusional: she saw a man knitting flowers in the trees outside her window. She thought I was her husband and our house was a hotel. After a few days, the ambulance came again.

In hospital they think she may have dementia

In hospital, they diagnosed an attack of acute delirium. But there were no broken bones. A CTI scan suggested her brain had shrunk, though. They said this wasn’t unusual in someone her age but to do a proper diagnosis her acute delirium had to be finished. She needed an appointment at the Memory Clinic.

‘Your Mother may have dementia,’ says the consultant. The word exploded shock waves through the family. What does this mean for her? For us?   

The day she returned home, she and I sat on the patio next to a wilting tomato plant in a terracotta vase. She talked for over an hour in the sun without pausing. A dam broke inside her and a rag bag of memories, questions and thoughts came flooding out. Is this the dementia? Is this how it’s going to be now, I thought?

A week later she is weaker, but seems to be recovering. It seems her her old sociable self has returned and when the community team come, she turns on the charm. It’s darling this, darling that. Lazarus walks again. The only strange thing is that she is speaking a weird Franglais to her carer who isn’t French. This is both bizarre and comic. Is it a sign that Mother may have dementia?

Why is she talking french to the carer?

‘Le toast est beaux,’ she says gratefully waving the half-eaten piece of toast the carer’s given her. ‘Tres bons, les eggs’

The carer smiles, patiently. I hope it doesn’t sound patronising.

‘She thinks the carer is French. She’s trying to be friendly by talking to her in her own language,’ says my wife. ‘It’s harmless.’

‘As long as she doesn’t start talking in tongues, we’re fine,’ says my son.

The doorbell goes. The delivery driver hands over a large box of books about dementia. The first one I pick up is called ‘Breakfast with the Centenarians’. Is this book a prophecy? A sign that she will be breakfasting with us in three years? I make a note to call the GP to see if Mother’s appointment at the Memory Clinic has been fixed yet.  

This blog first appeared in the Chiswick Calendar

Mother suffered an attack of acute delirium

Acute Delirium

The first time Mother suffered an attack of acute delirium I thought she was playing up.

It happened a month or more ago. She was in the sitting room watching Good Morning Britain on the TV and I was in the kitchen loading a large sausage sandwich into my mouth.

I could barely hear her calling with all the churning and jawing noises as the first bite of my sandwich did a gentle tour around my molars.

She’s just forgotten how to use the TV remote again, I thought. I’ve got a minute or two before she starts cursing more loudly. I’ll finish the sandwich and then pop through.

My sausage sandwich is as large as Stonehenge

After all, I said to myself, the pure pork sausage was from my favourite farmer Richard Vaughan, doyen of rare breeds, and deserved to be slowly savoured and respected.

Plus, I had garnished this Stonehenge of a sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, gherkins and tomatoes, which meant it was packing upwards of 2,500 calories. This was more than double the number of daily calories I had pledged myself to eat under my new Bojo inspired ‘Calorie Cuts against Covid’ regime.

I decided that if I was going to blow the overdraft on my daily diet with one gob-filling breakfast sandwich I would at least eat it slowly, so I could enjoy the full flavour of my guilt in all its sausageness.

TV sets were better in the 1950s

There was another faint noise from the sitting room. I put the sausage sandwich in my mouth, like a harmonica, and walked into the sitting room.

I was ready for a tirade from her for not having come sooner or a rehash of the lecture she gave my son the last time she lost the TV remote. It’s one in which she says TV’s were better for you in the Fifties and Sixties because you had to walk over to them and press a button on the set if you wanted to switch channels.

‘You mean you had to get off the sofa to choose what you wanted to watch?’ asked my son, incredulous.

‘Yes,’ said Granny. ‘You had to make a choice and stick with it. Or get off your behind and change it. There was none of this channel surfing nonsense in those days.’

‘My God,’ said my son. ‘It must have been savage.’  

Mother is shaking uncontrollably

Instead of a lecture, I found Mother shaking uncontrollably at the ironing board. She was holding her hands out in front of her own. They were trembling uncontrollably. She was staring at them as if they were foreign part of her own body.

‘What’s happening to me,’ she asked, without anxiety, very softly.

Her feet and legs were jittering up and down, uncontrollably, and her head shook gently. It looked like she was in the process of being possessed.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Why can’t I stop shaking.’

‘I don’t know,’ I said. 

At first, I thought this is a heart attack or a stroke. But she was still alive. And we were talking to each other, even if some of what she said was feverish and non-sensical. So, it can’t be that bad I thought, calming down.

I call NHS 111

I resisted the urge to call 999 and spoke to NHS 111. When i got through they asked if she was taking anti-biotic pills for a urinary tract infection. These infections are common in old people but not lethal by themselves.

When I dug out her box of pills box it was clear she had not been taking her tablets. After a little persuasion, I managed to get her to take the antibiotics and got her into bed. She fell asleep quickly. I went downstairs and slumped onto the sofa.

The window cleaner appeared from nowhere and leant his ladder against the house. Hello, he bellowed. Windows, today. Why not I thought and went to pick up the sausage sandwich which lay on the carpet in two pieces like an open book. 

‘Can it happen, again,’ asked my wife, later that evening.

‘I hope not. It’s not a great experience,’ I said. 

First published in the Chiswick Calendar