Tim and I chat over dinner, often for quite a long time. It’s a two-person dinner party and occasionally we disagree, even more occasionally quite strongly, but usually it’s a stimulating discussion and we laugh rather a lot. Tonight, for reasons I don’t quite remember, we got on to swearing and blasphemy, both in English and Italian and, at some point, Tim remarked that my mother (then aged about 25) must have led a sheltered life.

Yes, she had, actually. When, aged 23, she and my father got married, she didn’t drink tea or coffee and she didn’t drink alcohol. She certainly didn’t smoke – I’m not sure how I’d cope with no vices at all, but she was a perfect example of those virtues – if virtues they are.

It doesn’t mean she never slipped, however. When she was in the Land Army, she was friendly with an old man and used to visit him with a small gift once in a while. Nothing less than completely innocent, obviously. He was a farm worker who should have been long retired, but carried on working because there was a war on and most young men were in the Forces. He used to give her his clothes coupons in return for – well, I’m not sure what was couponed. Tobacco? If it was, that would have been it.

One evening, she called round and he offered her a glass of his homemade cowslip wine. She didn’t drink at all, she had probably never tasted alcohol. Still, it was quite innocuous, or so she thought, and delicious, so she accepted another glass or more. And when she got up, she found her legs didn’t work. She was fine as long as she sat down, but her legs let her down quite badly. The moral of that story, of course, is never to accept a glass of cowslip wine from a nice old man.

I had a similar comeuppance once, though no old men were involved. We had dinner with friends – she’s not the best cook but she’s the most brilliant hostess. Her brother had brought a bottle of Irish whiskey and we polished it off after the meal. I felt fine and we sailed home, Russell and me, chatting merrily. R hadn’t drunk much, being The Sage, obviously, so was fit to drive under the limit. It was a Saturday night and my mother was invited to lunch the next day. This was one of the most embarrassing Sundays ever. I was legless. I felt fine when I was lying down and I felt awful standing up, I wobbled and was dizzy. I managed to get whatever we were eating into the oven, and then I lay on the sofa. My mother arrived and I had to apologise. She and Russell finished cooking and then brought me a plate of food, which I ate with good appetite. All I couldn’t do was be upright. It was peculiar, because I felt fine until I tried to use my legs.

My mum was very understanding. I expect she remembered the cowslip wine.

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