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Reeling in the years – The Man in the Middle

There is a black and white picture of Mother on our sitting room wall. She’s in an editing suite. It is 1941. She is working at Denham Studios as a third assistant editor on a film called ‘One of Our Aircraft is Missing’.

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In her left hand she is gently pinching a length of film tape and with her right hand she is reeling the tape into a wheel. Her dark black hair is long and combed back from her forehead and she is smiling at the photographer, as if the War did not exist. In the background, there is an Emergency Exit sign.

Our Wonder Wall

The picture hangs alongside a cluster of other family photographs on the wall next to the entrance to our kitchen. The children have nicknamed it the ‘Wonder Wall’. This is not a reference to the Oasis song but to the fact that when they look at the old pictures of me, they wonder how I ever got so badly out of shape.

‘You actually have hair all over your head in this one,’ says my son, slightly shocked, looking at a picture of me at university.

‘You’ve only got one chin in this one,’ says my daughter, pointing at me at an industry awards ceremony. ‘It must have been just after this that you started to let yourself go.’

‘That wall is meant to be a Museum celebrating our family, not a reason for body shaming me,’ I say.

‘More like a mausoleum in your case,’ says my son.

My wife tells me I should not be offended by their disparaging comments about my current body shape. She thinks the comments are meant affectionately.

‘Anyway, they can’t help it. They’re at an age when they’re hormonally programmed to be body conscious. On top of that, they’re bombarded every day by social media images of young people with perfect hair and well-toned torsos. Is it surprising they find old pictures of you disappointing in comparison?’

You can’t blame Love Island

This is not the reassurance I was hoping for. But I agree that social media and ‘Love Island’ have got a lot to answer for. 

‘You can’t blame ‘Love Island’ for your lack of exercise or the second portions of spaghetti carbonara you’ve longingly wound around your fork all these years,’ says my wife.

In the picture, Mother is not the rice paper thin person she is now. She is a seventeen-year-old with puppy fat cheeks. I wonder if there is a genetic excuse for my ever-growing jowls?

Don’t you remember at school they named you Wobbler?

‘Not really, darling. You were always a pig when it came to food,’ says Mother. ‘Don’t you remember at school they nicknamed you ‘wobbler’?’’

I do now. Wobbler. When I tried to run, I looked like a Telly Tuby chasing Usain Bolt.

‘Your father wasn’t very sporty, unless you count golf as a sport, which would be ridiculous. But he loved cooking. He was very proud of you because you cooked your first souffle aged ten.’

Out of her bag, Mother pulls a black and white photograph of me on the balcony of the flat where I was born. I am about six. I am staring intently at a large plate of food and have a white dishcloth tied around my neck as a bib. My elbows are level with my shoulders and I have speared my knife and fork into the food like a surgeon. The photo is too faded now to identify the food on the plate but whatever it is, I am looking forward to eating it. A lot. 

Stowin’ away the time…

‘Why don’t you hang this picture up on the wall with the other family photos?’ asks Mother.

‘Stowin’ away the time?’

I find myself mouthing the line from the Steely Dan song ‘Reeling in the Years’. 

‘I don’t understand,’ she says.

‘Hanging it up there is a way of stowing away the past. Only in full view.’

‘If you want to be pretentious that’s up to you. I just thought it would be nice to see how sweet you were as a young child.’

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

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