Home Front Alice Pitman
Mr Home Front and I are now members of that ever-growing club of middle-aged parents whose adult children return to the nest as they cannot afford a place of their own.
In our case, it is Fred, aged 24, who recently moved back after living rent-free in foghorn-voiced BBC reporter John Sweeney’s spare room in London for eight months. Understandably, he was asked to move out when Sweeney’s own son boomeranged home after a spell working in Australia.
I admit to ambivalent feelings. When everyone is getting on, it can be lovely. When they are not, I feel like the narrator in Randy Newman’s song My Country, who reflects on the habit his grown up children have of constantly popping over: ‘Much as I love them, I’m always kind of glad when they go away.’
Life following Fred’s return was initially fraught. He had got used to his independence – and an en-suite bathroom – at Hotel Sweeney. And here he was plunged back into an adolescent limbo existence in ‘boring Bookham’, as though it was still 2012.
There were rows aplenty, with him behaving increasingly like Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager, to my Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street (circa 1966).
The most memorable fallout was when I accused him of being a middle-class layabout. Following a sweary tirade, I found myself pushing him out of the house and slamming the front door behind him. I believe I even shouted ‘And don’t bloody well come back!’ However, instead of storming off to the pub as Elsie’s wayward son, Dennis, might have done, Fred just waited on the doorstep
for five minutes before silently letting himself back in again.
Lupin trembled. While I, fearing I had exhausted all my Elsie Tanner powers, pretended not to have noticed. Fred eventually apologised (displaying more maturity than his mother who would have kept it up until 2020).
Another time, I made the mistake of siding with his sister in an argument about his inability to leave any room without it looking as if it had been ransacked by burglars. This moved on to his habit of eating all the eggs, and the mess in the bathroom.
Before we knew it, expletive-ridden grievances spat out from all our mouths as though we were all in the throws of a collective exorcism. I fell back into kitchen-sink-drama mode by calling him ‘a nasty piece of work’. The neighbours must have been thrilled.
I am relieved to report that there now appears to be a ceasefire. Fred is decidedly less volatile – Stockholm syndrome? – and we are the best of friends again.
He has a job now, albeit on a shortterm contract: a researcher at a TV company. His hours are strangely irregular, though. Not only does he still seem to rise much later than the rest of us, but he also invariably announces that he is working from home.
‘Are you allowed to just do that?’ I say, trying to inject friendly interest into my voice instead of despair.
To cope with the stressful commute on those days he does go to work, he has embarked on a course in transcendental meditation. It is not unusual these days to see Fred cross-legged on the lawn, eyes closed, head tilted heavenwards. The other night, he announced that his tutor, Trevor, had given him his own special mantra to help him get to sleep. ‘Can’t he give you a get-up-and-go-to-work mantra, too?’ asked Mr Home Front.
This would have triggered pretranscendental Fred. But the new Zen Fred merely gave an enigmatic smile.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Betty has dropped out of Goldsmiths after her first year. They tried to persuade her to stay, but the reasons they gave to make the place sound appealing – politically progressive; no beer-swilling rugby club men – were all the reasons why she wanted to leave.
She then tried for a paid internship at a magazine in London. They didn’t even acknowledge her application (Not good! – as Donald Trump might say). Future currently uncertain.
But the Aged P reckons old Betsky will be just fine. I do, too.