Dom Joly: Tackling the age gap

My 86-year-old mother has left her London flat for the last time and moved in with us near Cheltenha

My 86-year-old mother has left her London flat for the last time and moved in with us near Cheltenham - Credit: Archant

Driving through the hole in the hill at Stokenchurch used to mean the horrors of boarding school. But now it’s to bring my Mother to live in the Cotswolds

The gap in the hill near Stokenchurch as you drive from London towards Oxford on the A40 has always held a peculiar power over me. As a boy I’d feel a terrible sense of dread start to rise up within me as either my mother or father would drive me through it. I would be back off to boarding school- The Dragon- and our passing through the gap would mean that I was only twenty minutes away from being flung back into prison for another term. It was an establishment full of rather unpleasant children, sadistic teachers and (fortunately for me, I only found out after I left) an unhealthy pedophile problem. My mood would instantly drop as we cleared the gap- freedom, home and love was all about to be jettisoned. Conversely, driving through the gap towards London meant escape and at least a month of undiluted happiness.

Twenty-five years or so later the gap represented far happier feelings. I’d now moved down to the Cotswolds and driving through it represented a physical shift of gears down from city to country mode, work to home. It meant that I was forty-five minutes or so from family, dogs and peace and quiet. Every time my car cleaved the steep rock sides, I could feel my heart rate slowing, my happiness meter rising.

Sadly, that forty-five minutes has recently been extended to about an hour and half after Oxfordshire County Council decided to “improve” the roundabout system on the outskirts of the city. This improvement was to take two years and appears to be finally coming to an end with very little visible signs of improvement…but I digress.

I had yet another “gap moment” a couple of weeks ago when I found myself driving my 86 year old mother away from her London flat for the last time as she is moving in with us near Cheltenham. Talk about feelings of mortality, life coming round etc…sometimes we are so busy growing up ourselves that we forget that our parents are also getting older. Now I was driving my mother to her new home- leaving her old life behind her. I could only hope that she would not feel the same way about living with us as I did about the Dragon?

Coming to live with us cannot be an easy thing for her (losing her independence, starting again in an unfamiliar environment, being invited to “old lady things” when she doesn’t accept that she is an “old lady”) but there are some real dangers for her living on a farm. For a start there is the Wilbur problem. Wilbur, as regular readers will know, is our “miniature” pig who is now bloody enormous and, according to our vet, “at least half wild boar.” Wilbur does not take kindly to anybody roaming his grounds and is prone to lower his head and charge before asking questions (as our poor postman discovered.) Then there are the three dogs that like to move in a pack and have already knocked over my wife and put her knee out of action for six months. Finally, there is Roo, our one-eyed Cheltenham Gangsta’ cat who like nothing more than to slalom in and out of human legs while hinting heavily that it is food time.

So moving around our place will be problematic. Another problem is that she has to downsize. She has to fit a flat’s worth of possessions into a room (which she can’t). This means going through every single box of stuff, asking “keep, store or throw?” You will not be surprised to hear that the “throw” pile is miniscule. I’m actually very good at throwing. I have a strong rule that if you haven’t used or done anything with something for more than a year then it’s expendable. My mother is very different. She has incredibly strong attachments to tiny bits of broken blue china, purchased in a Damascus souk fifty years ago, weird clay figurines from Turkey and, of course, her beloved books- there are forty eight boxes of them. It’s a tough job- but it will all get sorted in the end. I might however, have to head up to London, back through the Stokenchurch Gap, for a couple of restorative jars of something alcoholic before long.

All New Trigger Happy is to be found on All4 – check it out.

Follow Dom on Twitter! Find him @domjoly

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