Faced with the realisation that she can no longer live on her own, the decision to move the old lady in with himself and his wife and teenage children has a seismic impact on their lives, with riotous consequences. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first installment, you can read No. 1: The Letter here.
No. 3: The Tardis
Mother is a Time Lord, like Dr Who. She has a Tardis, which she uses frequently to travel back to the past and other familiar places. Like Dr Who, she doesn’t like to travel alone, so she usually recruits fellow travellers from friends and family. But, sometimes, she press gangs complete strangers on board like a nonagenarian pirate.
These press-gangings happen randomly and without warning. Though if I hear her asking someone a question (such as ‘Everything is so expensive now, don’t you think?’) I know a kidnap attempt is imminent and I have to choose to flee the scene or risk her wrath by intervening to save the potential victim. She is most successful at the chemist, Sainsbury’s, the bus stop and the doctor’s waiting room. But she’s also ruthless with people who sit next to her. If they’re stationery for more than two minutes, they’re fair game. The children have realised this and will only allow their most socially robust friends to sit next to her.
‘She hasn’t had her pills yet,’ I say, hoping they will take my weak joke as a chance to escape.
‘My son’s embarrassed by his Mother,’ she says, turning her victim to stone like Medusa. ‘Has been since the 70s. Do you treat your Mother the same way?’
Each time I intervene, I end up having to agree that she has every right to speak to whom she pleases about whatever she wants, wherever she wants to. It is, after all, a free country. I also have to agree it is ‘high time’ that I ‘loosened up’.
Though they worry about their friends, the children are willing and frequent flyers in the Tardis. In fact, they have collected so many miles they have reached platinum card status, which gives them privileges to go where others are not invited. They return, like big game hunters, with trophies. The biggest prize is to come back with a tale I’ve never heard before.
‘Did you know Granny modelled with Roger Moore?’
‘Yes, seen the photos.’
‘Did you know Granny’s mother was imprisoned for stealing from a blind woman in the war?’.
‘Standards were different then. So, let’s keep that under our hats.’
‘What about the American she was engaged to, after the war? If she hadn’t dumped him, none of us would be alive,’ says Daughter.
This is news to me.
‘Even if she had married him, 25% of our DNA would still exist, just elsewhere. It could be worse,’ says Son, combining dubious biology and maths.
My imagination becomes a tumble dryer. Why is Mother reminiscing about an old fiancé? Does she regret marrying my father? After all, she has taken me back through time to Denham Studios, where she worked on wartime films. I have been in the Tardis to a 1930’s Peabody Estate in Covent Garden, where she lived with eight siblings, trapped between a weak father and an alcoholic mother. Why has she never trusted me with this story?
I speculate that most places the Tardis goes are sepia-tinted and sweet. But sometimes it crash lands into a bog of remorse or returns to scenes of unresolved dilemmas, which should be forgotten, but can’t be. Perhaps the American fiancé is one of these?
‘It doesn’t matter,’ says Wife. ‘This is oral family history in the making. Embrace it.’
‘So, Granny is like Homer and she’s recounting her Odyssey?’ says Daughter.
‘Exactly,’ I respond. ‘One day, I plan to do the same with your children.’
‘Only your story will be more Homer Simpson than Ulysses,’ says Son.
First published in Age Space
Read the next in the series here