Home Front Alice Pit­man

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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.

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