What do you give your mother for her 85th birthday? I decided the one thing she might like was a bit of me, without five children, or a meeting to go to, or my head sellotaped to the front of my computer, or being separated by an ocean.
How could we make this happen? Without taking a flight, because I had just got off one of those, or having to drive on a motorway where I would fall asleep or anywhere that might involve walking, because one of us was over the walking bit of life.
And then it came to me. A train journey. Better yet The Orient Express and a day trip around southern England.
To get to Victoria train station we decided to take the bus. I don’t think my mother had been on a bus for a very long time. She kept trying to clean the windows with her Kleenex, and was then thrilled to discover seat belts and insisted I wear one.
Neither my mother nor I accepted the invitation to dress 1920’s for the day trip, but many other passengers did. Embarked on our journey, we sat in our coupé, watching in amazement as ladies and gents dressed up to the nines sauntered past towards their carriages, each carriage with its own unique look, feel and story to tell.
Although no one has more stories than my mother “I am reminded of Gandhiji” she said, as only my mother could, when talking about Mahatma Gandhi, “he gave away all his worldly possessions, except for his watch, which got stolen from him on a train”. Warming to the theme she reminisced about Gandhi’s plain clothed police men, who were always pick pocketed by the crowds.
A menu was brought mid-reminisce. Horrified by the mention of caviar but delighted by the reassuring site of chocolate fool for pudding, she went on; remembering the old days, when trains were run by steam and everyone had to rush to shut the windows before being covered in soot.
Chilled mint soup arrived just as we hurtled through a built-up Ashford station “Close your eyes, too depressing”, but soon we were deep into the garden of England. “If you are born on one side of the river Wye you are a man of Kent, if born on the other, you are a Kentish man. Or is it the other way round?” she worried.
The main course was brought. Fish wrapped in ham. I anticipated a comment “First one must remove the Parma Ham from around the Hake. I like both, but certainly not together”.
On we went, towards Canterbury “I remember returning from India and yearning for all things Indian, to such a degree my frustrated grandmother said “‘My dear child, we do have some quite nice things here too you know, perhaps you should visit Canterbury Cathedral’”.
By the time cheese was served we were on the coast. We could smell the salt air. The cheese assortment was met with pleasure “Cornish Yarg. Excellent” said my mother “Cornish Yarg was made by Mr. Gray who could not think what to name his cheese. So turned his name backwards”.
We disembarked in Whitstable, for oysters and white wine, although of course being my mother’s daughter I looked longingly around for a Mars Bar rather than an oyster. A jazz band played and enthusiastic guests danced down the platform in the warm English sunshine.
Back on the train and on through Essex we went “The Weald country” said my mother, looking out of the window “Very good for sheep”.
Arriving back in London we staggered out, under the weight of our five course lunch and day of uninterrupted happiness.