My mother had absolutely made up her mind she did not need to replace her expired passport. “I’m not going anywhere, ever again,” she said defiantly. I took no notice, renewed the passport and booked a secret trip to Paris to prove a point. She was very cross when she found out, “I have not packed properly.” She reminded me of her great Aunt, who went to the smartest fashion house in London to buy a wardrobe of clothes, in order to go Paris to buy clothes.
We arrived, just the two of us, and no pesky children. We stayed in La Réserve, which used to be Monsieur Pierre Cardin’s private home, recently refurbished into a small, discreet hotel. There was no reception, you were simply whisked directly to your room.
The hotel was certainly not 5 stars, it was more like 500 stars, every possible detail had been thought of, and the French windows opened seductively onto tiny terraces, and the whole of Paris spilled out below you.
I spent a lot of time on the loo. It was such fun. The seat cover silently sprung up invitingly whenever you approached and the seat was heated. There was a control panel worthy of a NASA spacecraft, with lots of options, some more alarming than others: Pulse, Massage, Position, Front, Rear. I had forgotten how seriously the French take this.
The library really was a library, bookcase after bookcase where elderly gentlemen would turn crossly in their emerald green brocade tufted armchairs, to stare pointedly at you when you gossiped too loudly with your mother.
In the bar I was surprised not to find James Bond dressed in black tie ordering a Martini, shaken not stirred. The Parisian women who sat there sophisticated and smoldering certainly looked like they were waiting for him.
My mother and I dined alone in the formal dinning room. “Alors!” said the maître d’ with a flourish, as a micro mushroom burger with a Foie gras filling was placed before us unannounced. The poor waiter was appalled when we tried to reorganize the menu, could we not have the fresh almonds on the lobster and could the white peaches just be on the side? We confirmed everything he suspected about the British abroad. “They’ve mucked up the soufflé,” my mother whispered, “why would they put cold sorbet in the middle of it?”
I swam in the mornings in their pool, it was surrounded by sand stone pillars, clever flickering candles that weren’t really candles and luxurious cream silk curtains that were pulled closed to give you complete privacy. Did I need privacy? Maybe they thought I was swimming naked. Maybe the French only swim naked?
On the day we left my telephone rang, waking me up. Annoyed, I answered it. “Zis is your wake up call,” the voice said. “What wake up call?” I asked, looking at my watch. “I don’t need to be awake for another hour.” “Oh paarrrrdon, but your mother wanted to make sure you would be ready to leave on time.”
On the train home I complained, “I really am a grown up now, I can manage my own time.”
“But darling, I can’t change my role just because you happen to be 48 years old,” she replied firmly, turning back to the window to watch the French countryside fly past.