My mother was 93 on Wednesday. She still lives on her own, does the Telegraph crossword without breaking sweat and makes a raspberry pie that reduces a noisy family dinner to silent, absorbed wonderment.
She is 5ft 2 ins, with piercing blue eyes, and not all the dark has gone from her hair. In 1939, aged 19, she was called up by the Army, where she became a truck driver and the best mechanic in her platoon. Later, as a mem sahib in colonial Malaya, during the Emergency when British ex pats were being murdered by desperate rebels, she was once asked what she would do if a gang attacked her house while my dad, a civil engineer, was up country. She replied, ‘I’d take David’s service revolver and lock myself in the bathroom with the boys (my brothers, then toddlers) and shoot the first person who came through the door.’
So, there she is, 60 or so years later, in her flat, with me and my daughter Rose, aged 16, playing Scrabble. She is winning, of course.
Rose discovers she hasn’t got quite the right set of letters for the word she wants, and says, ‘Bugger.’
My mother looks at her in shock. ‘Rose! That’s a terrible word to use. I don’t like to hear young girls swearing, Or anybody swearing for that matter. It’s not nice. It’s really not nice. Don’t let me hear you say that again.’
Rose looks down at her tiles. ‘Sorry, grandma.’
I look in amazement at my mother. For once, I have to speak up. ‘How can you possibly complain about Rose saying “bugger”, when you told me just now you could put “wank” on the triple word?’
My mother looks at me with a mixture of shock, confusion and embarrassment. ‘That’s quite different,’ she says at last, recovering her hauteur. ‘I would have got a very good score with wank.’
One last thing. Please don’t tell her I’ve written this. She may never make me raspberry pie ever again.