CJ Stone’s Columns: The Home Front

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.

2. A Surprise Attack

It was about 8.00 in the morning when Mum came down the stairs. Dad was late. But there was an extra twinkle in her eye. You could see she was relishing the morning’s adventures.

She said, “He’s in for a surprise when he gets up this morning. I’m going to make him change his own bed,” and she let out a throaty chuckle, rubbing her hands with glee.

She’d obviously been planning it.

“I’m going to say, ‘When I made those marriage vows I don’t remember promising to make your bed for you.’ He’ll hate it. No matter how many times I show him how to change the duvet cover he always gets himself into a knot.”

This must have been a Tuesday or a Sunday. All the other days are already occupied by Dad’s impenetrable defensive routines.

Monday and Friday it’s golf. Wednesday it’s bowls. Thursday he makes his wine. Saturday it’s the shopping. Monday afternoon he goes to the bank to collect cash from his account. Always from the bank, never from a cash-machine. Always the same amount.

The night before golf he goes to bed early – at ten o’clock rather than his customary 10.15 – but not before he’s made all his preparations. The car has to be loaded with his electric trolley and his golf bag, and the car put away. This is usually done in the afternoon, which puts the car out off commission for the rest of the day. He doesn’t like to leave the car on the drive or go anywhere in case someone notices the clubs glinting temptingly in the back, so he tucks it up neatly in the garage instead.

Then, just before he goes to bed, he lays out his flask, his gloves, his mobile phone, and a banana. I always know it’s golf day when I see this enigmatic assemblage in a little bundle on the kitchen table, like some sort of a surrealistic commentary on the meaning of existence.

Why a banana? Why anything?

It’s a kind of warning to the rest of us, like one of those triangular road signs indicating hazards ahead. “Warning!” it says. “Routine in Progress. Move Carefully. Do Not Distract Golfer From His Arrangements.”

In the morning, he gets up at precisely 7.15, gets dressed, comes downstairs and makes himself a cup of coffee while filling the flask with boiling water; after which he goes back upstairs to clean his teeth and collect his e-mails.

I think this is what describes my Dad best. Not the routines. We all have our routines. It’s that hot water in the flask while he gets on with the rest of his business – not wasting a moment of his precious morning – so that the coffee later in the day, on the green, or wherever it is he drinks it, will be at the optimum temperature when required.

This is both my Dad’s genius and his weakness. He plans everything like a military campaign. Meticulous down to the last detail, calculated and precise, you know that he’s worked this all out in his head years ago, each move being timed and slotted in with an exact formula, like forward planning in a battle strategy.

The problem is that once he’s set these plans in motion it takes an almost supernatural effort to break him out of them again.

Take breakfast for instance. Breakfast on non-golf days takes place at 9.15. It consists of cornflakes, tomato juice, and a handful of pills, both medical and dietary. It’s at this point that he’ll watch one of his tapes: a cowboy movie with John Wayne, say, with lots of shooting and shouting, the volume turned up to some unbearable level (he’s quite deaf these days) or some creaking 1950s stop-gap animation movie which Dad still thinks is the height of cinematic sophistication.

This takes place in the kitchen. But you have to be very careful if you walk in on him. He’s in such a state of concentrated abandon – completely lost in this other world – that he physically jumps with surprise, like he’s forgotten your very existence. He IS John Wayne at this moment, the tough guy with the heart of gold, growling out some laconic, pithy commentary while he shoots down all the bad guys in a blaze of guns and glory.

This is where Mum can launch a surprise attack. She has her own routines, of course, but she’s much more adaptable, much more open to change. So while Dad plans his day like a military campaign, she uses guerilla tactics to undermine him, ambushing him in the midst of his drill like a rebel army sweeping down from the hills.

Hence the bed-changing arrangements today. Hence the look of mischief on her face.

“Eddy,” she says, walking in on him even while John Wayne is engaged in a standing battle with the man with the scarred face, “I want you to change your bedding this morning.” And she goes into the well practised routine about what she did and didn’t promise in her wedding vows.

Dad, meanwhile, is completely surprised, completely flummoxed, unable to resist or argue or even to think of anything to reply.

What would John Wayne have said?

Something strong and clever, no doubt, something menacing, grinding his jaw and looking the other guy straight in the eye while he goes for his gun. But that tough guy has nothing on our Mum.

The best our Dad can come up with is, “can’t I watch my movie first?”

But, of course, she’s completely ruined it for him now.

Later on I see him, red-in-the-face and flushed to his roots, his hair all awry, after struggling with the duvet cover for half-an-hour, a look of defeat in his eye.

“Mary,” he squeaks despairingly, “I can’t get the cover over. Can you help me?”

And she tuts and takes it off him, bundling on the duvet-cover with quick efficiency while casting me a glance that speaks of triumph.

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