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Man in the Middle – The Kettle

The Man in the Middle writes our new blog series. Musings from a middle-aged man living with his aged Mother and the Family.

There is a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition always about to open somewhere in the world. Which means someone, somewhere is always going on about his foresight in inventing scuba gear and the helicopter.

Mother is listening to the radio about a new Da Vinci show. She is not impressed. ‘If he was really smart he’d have invented the electric kettle.’

The source of tea and hot-water bottles

As she gets older, she values practical things highly. It’s not that she can’t see the value of a helicopter, but its not-of-her-world anymore. So why should she get excited about it? The electric kettle, on the other hand, delivers quotidian benefits. It is the source of Tea and Hot Water Bottles. It is both iconic and useful, a close third in her league of useful things behind her bed and the BBC. If Mother were to curate an exhibition at the V&A, it would be about kettles.

Mother says she is constantly cold, despite the fact her central heating is always on. Sometimes, she wears an old, faded brown flannel dressing gown over her clothes and hugs a hot water bottle to her chest to make sure we get the point.

‘It’s like Siberia in here,’ she says. ‘I don’t think the boiler works properly. Can you get someone to fix it?’

There’s nothing wrong with the boiler, though. Its lights are green and its flame is lit. Son, who worries about climate change, wonders if she realizes how many polar bears she is killing with her selfish desire to avoid hypothermia and drink flagons of tea. He suggests I tell her to put on more clothes and install a smart meter.

You can’t smart-meter a person

‘You can’t smart meter a person, darling,’ Wife says, only half listening.  Even if you could, I am not sure it would encourage her to reduce her energy usage. In any case, she’s barely seven stone. If she put on more clothes she might keel over.

‘Is she on a renewable energy tariff?’ says Son.

‘Of course,’ I lie.

The next morning I change the utility contract to a renewable tariff. The changeover will take a month. I wonder if Son might discover my lie.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ says wife. ‘He can’t find his shoes most mornings. He wouldn’t know where to begin. But let’s avoid David Attenborough programmes for awhile in case it reminds him.’

I am more worried about her scalding herself than her kettle’s contribution to climate change. Older people have the most fatal injuries from burns and scalds. Boiling water is a big factor in this.

Do you need a hand with that?

Mother turns off the radio and goes to fill the kettle. Her hand trembles like a gambler shaking dice. Her wrist is frail, her arms thin. Every time she does this, I hold my breath.

‘Do you need a hand with that?’

‘No. I am perfectly capable of making myself a cup of tea,’ she says.

So far, I think. So far.


© The Man in the Middle

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