My mother no longer wants to take the 2 flights, 3 cars, one golf cart and a boat journey in order to spend Christmas with me, she says her 86 year old knees object. This makes me very sad, especially as we are both Christmassy people, who like to do Christmassy things together. So this year I flew to her, for a few festive days.
After a weekend at home in the countryside, with roaring fires, Sunday roast and a certain amount of family madness we set off for London.
Lunch at The Wolseley had been planned, and a funny little party consisting of a wise older cousin, my mother, brother and new American sister-in-law who dazzled the whole restaurant in her Louboutin heeled booties and haute couture cape.
Getting my mother out of the car and across two lanes of traffic and through the grand doors did not go as speedily as I had anticipated. Choosing between the walking stick or the umbrella for one thing and then the wind catching that formidable 1960’s bouffant which went whoosh up and away and in order for it to be reversed into place she had to walk backwards down Piccadilly.
We went across to Albany afterwards. This is London’s oldest private residence, a set of apartments built more than 200 years ago and home to Prime ministers, poets and film stars ever since. My parents had an apartment there for many years and we had to be smuggled in as neither children, dogs nor whistling were allowed.
My brother inherited it when my mother decided she wanted to live full time in Oxfordshire. Being an artist, architect, designer and aesthete my brother’s ‘set’ as the apartments are known, is ablaze with color and excitement, in stark contrast to some of his more monastic strait laced neighbors.
As we left my mother stopped to shake hands with the top-hatted tail-coated porters whom she had known so well, “Nice to see you M’lady,” they said just as the Fortnum and Mason clock across the street chimed three, and broke the calm of that rarefied world. It was also my prompt to join a conference call with our leader team back in the States, 18 of our extraordinary top Ambassadors, building strong businesses for themselves. “Where are you?” asked one of them, “Hard to explain,” I said, looking back down the Albany stone hallway, where women were only permitted after 1880, “but I feel I’ve come a long way.”
“Never let one meal interfere with another,” said my mother firmly as we sat down to tea and chocolate cake in The Beaumont. My mother read the newspaper as I Skyped into a tricky meeting discussing forecasting figures. My mother tapped my shoulder, I took off my head phones. “Very good cake, there is jam in the middle.”
That evening my niece Maddison May spent the night with us, three generations in one room between two beds. I sat in the bathroom catching up on emails and doing calls so as not to wake anyone. When I came out Maddison was waiting for me, recently having found God she had her bible open and wanted to share a special passage she had just read. We knelt on the floor peering at the bible in the dark with our torches as my mother gently snored beside us. My phone buzzed as an email from the CEO in our LA office came in. “Where are you?” he asked, I emailed back, “Hard to explain.”
The next day we drove back to the countryside, but not before my mother had met her 17 year old self, which is certainly another story for next time because that is hard to explain.