There is one aspect to living with my parents that I certainly haven’t missed, and to be fair to them it was an activity that they never did much of anyway. What I’m talking about is those times when I became a trophy to display to people who aren’t interested in me at all.
Mother is leaving the UK again. Her work up in Coventry didn’t work out, and so she has looked to get back into a research position in Sweden. I don’t think Britain is particularly well adapted to women in the hard sciences, and Mum has expressed exasperation about ‘herding cats’ who don’t really respect her knowledge in her job here. Rather than grit her teeth and bear it until resistance fades away and she is allowed to prove her real competence, she has decided to go back to Sweden.
Because she’s interviewing for new positions, she brings people over to London. It’s always a favourite with Swedes, because Swedes tend to be quite fond of the England. Of course, ‘England’ encompasses all the UK. Going to Glasgow or Cardiff, to a Swede, is ‘going to England’. And, since she has seniority enough, the companies come to her. No doffed cap in hand here. She has published a lot, and she has a name, and research labs want her on their staff enough to take a detour to London. What a sacrifice, eh?
In the process of those interviews, there are dinners in the evening after everyone has done the official bit and people are sitting around bored in hotel rooms. This is where she can turn on her professional charm at the people who want to hire her. My job is to sit there and radiate ‘well behaved son’ to the guests. Their job is to care and not wonder what the hell I’m doing there. I’m just a token of respectability, and my behaviour is all about my mother. Not me. Nobody expects me to contribute much to these things, of course. Nobody will, except from a sense of politeness, ask me about anything. I have to sit for a couple of hours mostly silent and eat in an agreeable way that doesn’t offend anyone.
I haven’t had to do these things for years now. And even then, I only had to do it like once or twice a year when they invited people to the house. This time, she asked me to come along, and since it meant a free trip into London for just me and mum, I agreed. Now that it’s over, it feels a bit manipulative and contrived. Of course, there’s the excuse that mum and I can meet in London, just the two of us and talk about things. But it feels like we could do that without involving these absolute strangers who probably don’t care one way or the other that I even exist.
It is also a funny contrast between my family and Mark’s. With Mark’s lot, we come together to meet each other, and don’t have an ulterior purpose to things. A bunch of people sit down at a dinner because they want to be together for that dinner. It’s simpler, more direct, more authentic. Unlike us, where we have these meetings that have this unspoken and unmentioned agenda to it. Where the unmentioned and unspoken agenda is the important thing, but where we pretend that we’re really only doing what Mark’s people do.
I did get a new phone out of it. A phone I have absolutely no need for. First, it’s too huge to keep in my pocket. Second, I already have two phones – one regular with a contract and another pay-as-you-go phone that I bring with me when I do my running or anything which might see my things take a beating. And now this phone. I’m thinking of selling it. But then mum will ask about it, and I’d have to lie.