New Statesman 2009
14 May 2009My parents have always been slightly absurd. But now they have taken that absurdity to a whole new level. With old age, they are becoming increasingly deranged, distracted, foolhardy and preposterous. What is more worrying is that they are in denial about their behaviour. Their word for it is "normal". Sometimes when my dad is feeling trendy, he calls himself "eccentric".
The crisis they are currently having has spanned 20 years. It reached a high point last week, however, when my mum called a psychic astrologer on the Pakistani Channel, live on air, to ask him why none of her five children was married. She was in one room talking on the phone to the man on TV, while my dad was in the other room watching the programme to see what reply he would give and writing down all the points.
Later, my mum called me to tell me what he had said. Of course I went crazy; I couldn't believe she had done something so ridiculous. I said, "Mum, have you gone mad? What's the point of calling a psychic - on TV?"
She said, "I can't believe you are so ungrateful! Me and your dad are old. We only want to know if you're going to get married before we die, and it was£1 a minute. We spent nearly £30 - we had five kids to get through!"
Apparently, people call this man from all over the world. Equipped only with your date of birth, he can read the stars and tell you immediately what you want to hear. He's like the Mystic Meg of the Pakistani world. I think they call him Mystic Mo (short for Mohammed).
My parents are quite specific about what they want to hear. They ask very poignant questions, like: "Will my daughters marry doctors? Have some little doctors? And then will we be entitled to free health care? Will my sons all be millionaires very soon?"
On the Tube the other day, I overheard a woman saying to her friend: "I'm off to see my psychic on Tuesday." Like he was a doctor, or a priest. I thought: "At least she's going in private." My mother went on to an international TV show, gave my date of birth, and demanded to know whether I was ever going to be Salman Rushdie's fifth wife. My dad told me that my mum had also said to the poor psychic, "I am 63 years old now. How long have I got left?"
What's worse is that the man attempted to answer the question.
On Saturday night, I went to do a show at Warwick Arts Centre as part of my tour. I wish I'd had a psychic to tell me how that was going to pan out; I might have been better prepared.
Sometimes comedy is like a blind date. They turn up, I turn up, we all wear our best underwear, everyone's excited, everyone wants it to go well - and for some reason we just jar. And no one gets to see anyone else's underwear.
The harder I tried to make them laugh, the more bemused they looked. I tried alternatives. I chatted to them; they just stared at me. I asked them questions; they looked angry. Then they tried, too, but seemed too nervous and scared to laugh at anything. It turned from a comedy show to a hostage situation. Then I felt guilty that I wasn't giving them what they wanted, so I did more time than I needed to.
I didn't know what they were thinking, so I tried to guess and got it wrong, then I got angry and blamed them, then I felt them blaming me. If it had been a blind date it would have ended in sex or a fight, but this being gentle, politically correct Britain, it ended in polite applause and drinks at the bar.
The only thing is that they'd actually paid to be there, and I felt like I'd used them. It felt more like prostitution than comedy. In which case I owe them some change.