I’ve always known that one day – all being well – the tables would turn and I would have to take charge of my mother. I just hadn’t counted on it happening so soon, or that it would involve trying to get her a boyfriend. Still, I suppose this is a definite improvement on what I had imagined looking after her would entail: nappy changing, feeding, that kind of thing.
Anyway, you may be thinking, ‘Why do you have to get involved? Can’t she just go internet dating like everybody else?’ But she is: a) hopelessly out of date; and b) a hopeless snob when it comes to these things. She thinks it is still the ’70s and she is working in Biba being handed roses by Jimi Hendrix (apparently, this actually happened), and that internet dating is beneath her. Honestly, in her head she is 21 – maybe 25, tops.
'She thinks it’s still the ’70s and she’s being handed roses by Jimi Hendrix'
Take, for example, this conversation we had the other day:
Mum: ‘Do you know, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I saw a man I actually found attractive.’
Me, perking up: ‘Really? Did you engage him in conversation, swap numbers perhaps? Was it at the theatre?’
Mum: ‘No, don’t be so ridiculous! It was the man who lives next door to you. You know. Six-foot four. Dark hair, dark eyes. Strong looking.’
Me, deflating: ‘Oh, right. The man who lives next door who also happens to be, um, my age.’
Mum: ‘Details, darling, details.’
I know I sound like a killjoy, but really, the woman needs guidance. And when I say ‘woman’, what I really mean is ‘woman-child’.
Then again, can I blame her for her giddy antics? After goodness-knows-how-long in the doldrums after the disintegration of a decade-long relationship, perhaps I should give her a break. Perhaps I should just be relieved that she’s finally remembering how to have fun again.
It’s quite a relief when I finally find a way to take up Bryony’s insistent advice to ‘get out more’ (her adult twist on her teenage entreaties that I should ‘get a life’). Suddenly I have so many social engagements that I have to buy a diary.
This is chiefly due to Annie – the undisputed queen of Henley society – who has become the kind of best friend I haven’t had since I was about 10. Within a couple of weeks of our first impromptu coffee, we have bought matching vintage bicycles and are terrorising the pathways of the town wearing black velvet peaked equestrian riding hats (so much more flattering than helmets).
'Suddenly I have so many social engagements, I have to buy a diary '
We have nicknames (right now I call her ‘Bluebell’ after her baby-blue bicycle), we play practical jokes on each other, we laugh till we cry and generally behave like silly schoolgirls. Best of all, Bluebell signs me up as one of her volunteer barmaids at a theatre where her husband, ‘Super Ted’, is chairman of the board of trustees.
Bluebell is so commanding behind the bar that for my third stint as her lowly assistant, I give her a surprise present during the lull before the interval. She screams with laughter and tries on the ‘Bet Lynch’ outfit I found online – a polyester leopard-print dress, beehive wig and a pair of big plastic earrings – and doesn’t have time to change into her black bar staff uniform before we are back pouring interval pints.
We break the record for bar takings (Bluebell manages to look beautiful dressed as ‘blousy’ Bet), but we are both reported for ‘bad behaviour’ and end up in the pub over the road with Super Ted (who is clearly very taken by his wife’s racy outfit). Back home – a little tipsy – I ring Bryony to tell her about Bluebell dressing up as Bet Lynch, what larks we have on our bikes and how taking her advice and ‘getting out more’ is so much fun. Her reply is rather sharp.
‘Mum, it’s 1am and when I told you to “get out more”, I was hoping you would find a second husband, not a second childhood. Goodnight.’