I was visiting my family when the new chest freezer arrived. I soon worked it out. No longer was the original icebox big enough to contain my brother Michael's ready-cooked meals. Now that my parents spend a few weeks at a time in warmer climes (Dad has bad arthritis, which is made worse in cold weather), Mom has up to a month's worth of sausage casserole, steak and kidney pie and chicken curry to label and freeze.
That's right; my younger brother, Michael, 41, has rarely cooked himself a meal and never operated a washing machine, because he still lives at home with our mom and dad.
Currently in Britain, 58 percent of men between the age of 20 and 24 still live with their parents, the numbers having doubled in the past 15 years. There are far fewer fortysomethings, however, living with their parents. My brother is a rare breed.
Michael is no social misfit. Handsome, bright, popular and hard-working, he prefers living with Mom and Dad to branching out and living independently. I interviewed Michael and our mom, Maureen, a fit, healthy 70-year-old, at the family home in Darlington in the northeast of England. I have long been curious about Michael's choice to stay at home, but in all these years we had never had a proper conversation about it.
As a feminist who is critical of any man "freeloading" from women, I have managed occasionally to get the odd dig in at Michael, asking if he knew where the cooker was or if he could boil an egg. He would take it good-humoredly, and has never been defensive. Our family is a close one, but we are more likely to sit and laugh together than have deep and meaningful conversations.
Our older brother, Paul, 46, and I left home in our teens. I moved away at 16 to look for work and adventure (anyone familiar with Darlington in the 1970s would know why), and Paul married his childhood sweetheart at 18. As children, Paul and I were remarkably similar: boisterous, talkative, naughty and generally high-maintenance.
Michael, who is much quieter and more reflective, was unplanned.
"I had just got a job in an office, which was perfect," Mom says, "and then found out I was pregnant. I wanted the baby, but was in a real turmoil."
As a baby, Michael was clingy and whinging. My earliest memory of him is Mom holding him under one arm while peeling potatoes with the other.
"He cried every time I put him down, right up until he was five," Mom says. "But after that he was the most self-sufficient of all of you."
So one theory -- that Michael has never moved away because he is still not ready to cut the umbilical cord -- does not stand up.
Michael maintains that his choice to stay at home is motivated by circumstances. Working on a short-term contract as a fork-lift truck driver, he is badly paid. His hours are long, with him leaving the house at 6am and returning at 6.30pm.
"I'm so shattered at the end of the day it is great coming home and having everything done for you," he tells me. "I have all the privacy I need, all the company I want. It is a bit like a hotel but at home."
The main reason for not leaving, Michael tells me, is money. He is not alone. Recent research by the Halifax Bank found that first-time buyers cannot afford to get a mortgage on a semi-detached house in 92 percent of towns in Britain. For Michael, it is particularly important to have decent housing as he has legal joint custody of his 13-year- old son, Jake.