Covid-19 versus Mother’s Day

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The Sun and our cat are celebrating Mother’s Day together in the garden. The Sun is dry combing the grass and the cat is trampolining on it while shadow boxing with clouds of insects. He’s happy the months of muddy lawn are past, and the magnolia is flowering.

This side of the patio doors, Mother’s Day isn’t quite so carefree. We’re having a Family Emergency General Meeting to decide if we can salvage anything cheery out of Mother’s Day without breaking Government medical guidelines. This is proving harder than we thought. In many ways.

One of them is the Mother’s not been able to follow the cut and thrust of family chit-chat as clearly since she gave back her hearing aid, last week. She believes her decision is an historic act of self-liberation and calls it her Unilateral Declaration of Hearing Independence. We think it’s the equivalent of ‘Sakoku’ the Japanese trade policy which isolated the country from foreigners for 200 years. The fact we now have to stand six foot away from her because of social distancing rules hasn’t helped, either. Which is why my wife is having problems trying to explain to Mother the difference between a lock-in and a lock-down.

‘Why do they want us to go to the pub?’ asks Mother.

‘Lock-down. Not lock-in,’ says my wife, slightly ruffled.

‘His father enjoyed lock-ins. They had them at our local pub in the Seventies.’ replies Mother.

As I wait for my wife to work her way through this Gordian knot of semantic confusion, I gaze out at the cat. He reminds me of my father’s favourite Edward Lear’s poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. I start whispering:  

‘The Sun and the Pussycat went to play,

On a beautiful pea green lawn’.

‘What?’ says my wife, in a voice like weed killer.

‘Dad’s favourite poem,’ I turn to my Mother hoping the memory will kick start her reminiscing and distract my wife from the lawn mowing coming my way.

‘Did you behave like this in business meetings when you were a grown up?’ asks my son. Actually, I did spend one business meeting pretending to be a mouse for a bet. But I’m not going to admit it, now.  

‘Let’s just focus on the issue at hand,’ says wife, calmly.

‘Don’t worry. Social distancing is something that happens to you inevitably as you get older. Your friends die, the phone stops ringing, you can’t go out much. I’ve been living with it for years. Today’s no different,’ she says, staring out at the garden where the cat has just done the most extraordinary somersault from the fence into the middle of the lawn. He thinks he’s caught something but it’s only the shadow of a passing cloud. 

Only a sociopath wouldn’t be worried right now. We’re scared that being locked down at home with Mother for the next three months means one of us may expose her to Covid-19 with fatal consequences. It’s the unavoidable irony of our situation: she moved in to have a safer, more sociable life in her last years but now it could be a death sentence.  

‘How about making today ‘Mothering Day Movies’? Granny binges on her favourite movies this afternoon. This evening, it’s your turn, mum.’ 

I almost tear up with admiration for my son. My favourite embodiment of XY chromosomes has smashed it. We’ve just installed a new, super powered Wi-Fi system, TV, speakers and super-woofer which could blow the roof off Wembley stadium. She’ll be able to watch and hear some old classics all day long. What better way to spend Mothering Sunday?  

‘Brilliant. Better than spending the rest of the day, wiping down the bannisters and washing the floors like a Dutch housewife,’ says my wife.

Covid-19 is sulphuric acid to social bonds and rituals. It forbids hugs and handshakes. It separates marriage beds and turns families into disconnected passengers stuck in the same railway carriage. It scowls at fun and laughter. But it can’t control the TV remote. Covid-19 hasn’t cancelled our Mother’s Day!

Mother installs herself in front of the outstretched TV, a plate of Belgium chocolates nearby. The BBC ‘I Player’ is loading up Noel Coward’s war time classic ‘In Which We Serve’. 

‘I worked on that,’ she says, a smile wrinkling her cheeks. ‘This is much better than going to that noisy pub you normally take me to.’

Gwyneth Paltrow helps Mother

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It’s dawning on me that Mother and I are trapped in a psychodrama neither of us remembers auditioning for. Day by day, our roles as parent and child are reversing. But we’re not sure of our new lines and are actors in the hands of a director who isn’t sure if they are directing a tragedy or a farce.

‘Like the ‘Play that Went Wrong’?’ asks my Son.  

‘Or ‘One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’?’ says my Wife.  I’m trying to get them to understand how I feel but they don’t get it. Whoever coined the phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ couldn’t do basic Maths.

Our psychodrama plays out across daily life. Food, for example. Once, I was the fussy eater, now she is. Once, she complained I must eat greens, now I find myself lecturing her about her diet. Am I wrong to be frustrated by her refusal to acknowledge that a daily packet of Bahlsen Choco Leibniz Biscuits and twelve cups of heavily sugared tea isn’t a balanced diet? 

I wonder if Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘modern lifestyle brand’ Goop has a solution to Mother’s dietary problem? I plug in the phrase – ’diets for seniors’ – into the site’s search bar but it returns nothing. Clearly, Goop isn’t geared to the challenges of the older generation, but I bookmark an article there about someone called Wim Hof, who is a specialist in Breathwork, a new way of relaxing from the daily grind, in the belief I need to investigate anything which may help me battle my middle aged anxieties. 

Although Mother’s weight is stable, it is a constant worry that Mother doesn’t eat more.  I’ve looked at the NHS guidance and wonder if I can persuade her to eat more of the foodstuffs they recommend.

‘How about porridge?’

‘Only for Scots.”

‘Peanut butter?”

‘For American children.’

 ‘Avocado on toast.’

 ‘Too water intensive.’

‘I just want you to stay healthy,’ I despair.

‘I just want you to mind your own business.’

A recent study has shown that those who eat at least half of their daily calories in the morning are healthier. I suggest she adopts it as a breakfast regime for a week and in return I’ll stop my nagging.

“A regime’s is something you find at Butlin’s or a concentration camp. I’m not keen on either,’ she says. “However, how about sausages? We haven’t had them in a while?”

The reason she hasn’t had a sausage for a while is because they became a banned substance in our house under the new Heathy Foods Regulations written by my Wife and passed with the support of my children at the start of the year by a clear majority of three to one.

Not only are sausages a processed meat, they have nitrates, sodium and fat in them, which I am told are bad for you. I eat them whenever I can, especially in a sandwich, but only when alone and at cafes more than two tube stops from home in case anyone I know sees me. 

Asking me to bring home sausages is no different to asking me to smuggle in an illegal substance. Nevertheless, a few days later, I am grilling sausages for lunch. I have interrogated the butcher about additives and the meat’s provenance, and I am convinced these sausages are about as healthy and ethical as a sausage can be.  

‘Do you remember you godfather John, ‘asks my Mother from the dining table, shaking tomato sauce onto two slices of bread and casting aside the real tomatoes and lettuce which I had draped over the bread.

‘Yes.’

Divorce left my god father bereft of the love of his life and any culinary interests apart from bangers, as he called sausages. He was found dead of a heart attack outside the door of his flat gripping a shopping bag with three packets of them in it.    

‘Wouldn’t have approved of you grilling those sausages. Always fried them.’

Mother has no sense of the risks I have taken bringing sausages into the house. But rather than take umbrage, I take a big Wim Hoff style ‘Breathwork’ and console myself that by criticising my cooking she’s returning to one of her traditional Motherly roles in the family psychodrama – the Critical Cook – and that is good enough for now and, somehow, reassuring.

Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

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I’m waiting, shamefacedly, for my appointment with the audiologist at a leading high street retailer where Mother bought her hearing aid. The staff eye me furtively because this is my sixth appointment in a fortnight which they know can only mean one thing: Mother still refuses to believe her hearing aid works. They’re right.

I suspect the appointment is running late because most of the staff are out back drawing straws to decide which unfortunate has to talk to me. They’re probably muttering under their breath ‘Wish He’d Gone to Boots’ and cursing their successful TV advertising campaign.

Mother has issued me my battle orders. Either they fix it, or she gets a refund. The shop consistently says there is nothing wrong with the hearing aid but she says it hasn’t improved her hearing. It’s a common complaint among seniors, apparently, but a weak case for a refund. However, the staff, whom I have come to regard almost as family over the last fortnight, are caring and considerate. They may take pity on me and give me a refund if only to shift a relentlessly unsatisfiable customer to a competitor. 

I’m not unsympathetic with Mother, though. Alexa can hear me order pot noodles from six foot, but her hearing aids can’t pick up me asking if she wants a cup of tea from two. Why can’t Alexa make hearing aids? Perhaps there’s a demographic injustice here waiting for the right person to champion it. ‘Ear Rights’?

I am sure that if Dario Fo, the Italian playwright were still alive, he’d be writing a new version of his Marxist farce ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, only it would be renamed ‘Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear’. Mother would be his co-author and lead actor.

The original play featured the looting of a supermarket as workers protested at the soaring cost of living. ‘Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear!’ would climax with an angry mob of nonagenarians requisitioning stocks of capitalist hearing aids and stamping them to pieces under the furious heels of their walking sticks and zimmer frames.

Set in a coastal town filled with retirees attracted by the sea air and a network of soft tarmac motability scooter friendly lanes, the new version would star Mother as the leader of a group of OAPs no longer willing to suffer overpriced and underperforming hearing aids.

The focus for their anger would be ‘Hear Here’, the town’s largest retailer of hearing aids, owned by a careless capitalist known as the ‘Audiologist’ who owns the local hearing aid cartel. He has a perma-tan and a yellow comb-over, which suspiciously never flutters even during the towns’ stormy winter gales.

In the penultimate scene of the play, he would get his comeuppance. Members of the Bowls, Bridge and Golf clubs have gathered as one on the promenade, walking sticks bristling like spears, dentures chattering with anger. Mother rouses her troops to revolt.

‘The hegemony of the Audiologist must end. We reject batteries, which barely last an episode of the ‘Antique Roadshow’ and pink ear moulds which embarrass us. Today, we will set our hearing free.’

Some of the mob chant in agreement ‘Here Here’, others point at the Audiologist’ shop and shout ‘No. There.

There.’

The shop is their Bastille. They shuffle towards it singing a croaky version of ‘Do you hear the people singing’ from the musical ‘Les Misérables’ and from the side streets, their sons and daughters join them to stand shoulder to shoulder in their fight for aural liberation.

In the last scene, the mob of seniors standing around a pyre of plastic hearing aids. On top of the pyre is the Audiologist, bound. He begs them to let him down. Mother stands with a flaming torch in her hands next to the moulded mound.

‘Do we hear his plea?’

As one, the revolutionaries take their hearing aids out of their ears and toss them on them onto the pyre and turn their faces to the sea as Mother leans her flame towards the pyre. Curtain falls. 

I am wondering if I have accidentally invented a new theatrical genre Third Age Agitprop, when one of the staff comes up to me.

‘Come through, please. Sorry to have kept you waiting.’

The senior audiologist looks up from her PC, as I come into the room.

‘Good morning, Mr -. We’ve had another look at the device. It is working according to our tests. However, I wonder if it would be better all-round if we just took this on the chin and gave your Mother a full refund? What do you say?’

‘Here, here,’ I say.