Accommodationally challenged after a disastrous foreign trip in 2007, CJ Stone was forced to take refuge with his parents. It was the first time he’d lived with them since his teens, and he was surprised to find himself in a war zone. Following are CJ’s bulletins from the front line in the eternal war of age and sex.
- The Empire of Things by C J Stone
All these stories appear in my new book, the Empire of Things. Buy it here.
1. Bangers ‘n’ Mash
It was bangers ‘n mash night. Bangers ‘n’ mash and the six o’clock news. Mum said, “What did you used to do before there was telly?”
“Are you getting at me again?” Dad squeaked in an offended tone, almost banging his knife and fork on the table. “I used to read and listen to the radio if you’d like to know.”
“Well I’m fed up with looking down your ear’ole,” she said.
There’s three of us at the kitchen table: Mum on one side, with her back to the telly, Dad on the other – even now craning his head around again to catch some local news item about a mother-of-two who’s won a modeling competition, giving Mum a glorious view down the hairy funnel into his inner ear – and me, opposite, trying not to laugh.
“So what did YOU do before there was telly Mum?” I asked. “You’re always watching the telly too.”
“I used to talk,” she said. “He never had anything to say even back then. Always just sitting there like a great big fat lump.”
Well it’s true… or partly true. Dad watches a lot of TV. He’d turned it on in the kitchen even as his dinner was being laid on the table. He does the same thing every night, making a great to-do about the process, turning it on, picking the channel, adjusting the volume, even as Mum and I are tucking into ours. Until then he’d been watching a program in the other room. Mum said, loud enough for him to hear, “He hangs around like a schoolboy waiting for me to call him in for his dinner.”
He doesn’t like silence our Dad. He always likes to fill the empty spaces with something glaring and noisy. Generally that thing is the TV. If he’s not catching the news, or watching an afternoon movie on Channel 5, then he’s playing something he recorded last night or the night before or something he recorded while he was watching something else. But then, what else is he supposed to do? Sometimes he just looks very tired. Tired to his bones.
They are both in their late seventies now. Still squabbling after all of these years. It’s the squabbling that keeps them alive. But it’s the rule of the house: Mum is always right.
She has a certain tone. A certain way of looking at the world. For years I used to think it was me. I’d lived in fear of that withering look, that note of scorn. Even when I was a grown-up that look would have me quaking like a schoolboy before the headmistress’ office. It’s only in the last couple of months that it’s struck me. She can’t help it. It’s just the way she was made.
I’m a 55-year-old-man living at home with his parents.
I’m thinking of joining one of those on-line dating websites. I’d put it up as my personal ad: “55-year-old-bachelor living at home with his Mum.”
The women will be queuing up in anticipation.
She even does my washing for me. I try to stop her but she’s always rifling through my drawers when I‘m out, fiddling with my underwear.
If you ask me she has an unhealthy interest in the state of my underwear.
She’s also always asking me if I’ve got a woman in my life yet. Once she asked me it in Tesco in a very loud voice. Everybody turned round to look. I must have flushed a healthy state of scarlet, shushing her as I did.
“Please, Mum, not here.”
I’ve refused to go to Tesco with her since.
I say, “No Mum, there’s no woman as yet. Who would want me? You’d be standing outside the bedroom listening in.”
“Well I have to know what’s going on in your life. It’s my duty.”
You’re probably wondering how I got here. I won’t go into all that now. Life has so many twists and turns, so many ups and downs, it’s like a roller-coaster ride at times. The roller-coaster of mundane middle-age. Even six months ago I had no idea that this is where I would end up: that very soon I would be living back at home with my Mum and Dad.
I also had no idea that it was a war-zone. So I’m a war-correspondent now. These are my domestic bulletins from the home front.
It’s a kind of trench warfare rather than an all-out attack. Dad is usually sniping from a fox-hole. The big guns are all on her side. He keeps his head down mainly, defending himself with hobbies and with routine. He has a lot of hobbies and a lot of routines.
Turning the TV on as he’s sitting down to dinner is one of them. Is it a hobby or is it a routine? It’s hard to tell with our Dad. Both have the same quality about them, a kind of dogged persistence, a head-down, measured, unswerving sense of purpose, an unwillingness to adapt to change. Everything he does he always does it in the same way, at the same time, in the same order.
After dinner is over Mum gets up and starts putting the dishes away. Dad says, “You go and sit down love, I’ll do this,” but she carries on anyway, just long enough to annoy him. This is also part of the daily ritual.
Dad likes to have control over the washing up machine. So Mum sticks a few plates and cups in, rattling them about, and then he very pointedly takes them out again, one by one, unloading it completely before reloading it again. There are certain places for certain dishes and no one else knows where they’re supposed to go. Only him. This is his territory.
So Mum gives up and goes into the living room and I make her a cup of tea while Dad fills the washing up machine. The cup of tea is my contribution to the routine.
After that I go upstairs to play with my computer.
Can you see how undignified all of this is? Not only am I living at home with my Mum and Dad, but I’m turning into a bored teenager at the same time.
Read more here.