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Gyles Brewer-Mead called in to see his mother, Ginevra, just before her bedtime.  She was ninety-three, but managed fairly well with the help of her carer.  Lately they had had to contact another agency, as her previous live-in assistant, Ola, had gone to live in Normandy with Jean-Paul, a widower whom she had met during Suttonford’s twinning exchange.  Jean-Paul had been billeted with the ladies. Gyles thought he’d drop by unannounced, to see how Magda, the new helpmate, was coping.

Gyles!  Help yourself to a ‘Dewlap’, his mother said.

No thanks, Mother.  I’ve got to go home and help to check the boys’ prep.  Have you had a good day?  How is the new carer doing?

Oh, Magda?  She’s all right.  Pretty strong.  This afternoon she carried two cases of ‘Dewlap’ and a couple of bottles of ‘Jane Austen’s Secret Tipple’ all the way from ‘Pop My Cork!’ and she didn’t even need the shopping trolley.  Mind you, she didn’t know who Jane Austen was!  I read her ‘Northanger Abbey’- just to put her in the picture with a bit of Gothic before Hallowe’en.  It took all afternoon. Actually, she didn’t know what Hallowe’en was either.  She asked if it was like Walpurgis Night.  Wrong time of year, I told her.

English: First edition of Jane Austen's Northa...

Maybe that’s a bit stretching for her, Mother.  She’s only been in England a couple of weeks and the form said that her English was basic, or foundation level. 

Well, that’s why she’s here: to learn! said his mother, draining her glass and looking around for a re-fill.  At any rate, she knows how little tonic I take, so I’ve no complaints as yet. Oh, by the way, I have had two letters today- both from France- and a package.

Oh, from whom?  (Gyles always was somewhat pedantic, his mother thought).

One was from your sister, Victoria.  She complains about having to use escargot mail.  But I’m not getting Skype at my age.

How is she?  (His sister lived with her partner in the Charente and sold cloudy mirrors and rusty garden furniture to make ends meet.)

In Cloud Cuckoo Land, comme d’habitude, said Ginevra.

And the other one?  From anyone I know?

Yes, from Ola.  She’s moved into Jean-Paul’s converted bakehouse.  They sent me a lovely bottle of ‘Calvados’.  We drank it while we were studying ‘Northanger Abbey.’  Ola says Jean-Paul loves line dancing, vide greniers-apparently that’s French for car boots- and they adore Monster Truck races.  It’s so cultural out there.  I’ve seen those Monster Trucks on that programme with Jeremy Clarkson.

I didn’t know you were a fan of ‘Top Gear’, mother.

Well, I really only like Richard Hammond, she pronounced.  You know how one shrinks with age, so he’s more my size.  They call him the Hamster, you know!

Really?  Gyles was always amazed at his mother’s undiminished mental capacities.

Anyway, she continued, they’ve asked me over in the New Year when it’s their turn to offer hospitality to us.  They say the oysters are aphro…I was going to say Caribbean, but that’s not the word I want.

..disiacs, supplied Magda who now entered the television room.

You see!  I thought that ‘Northanger’ would improve her vocabulary! Ginevra crowed.  Magda, you’re going to help me on the ferry and with the steps up to the coach, aren’t you?

Simples, said Magda.

Well, that’s a few months from now. There might be a lot of water under the bridge by then, cautioned Gyles.

They don’t have a bridge over the Channel, silly.  Oh, stop being such a spoilsport, said his mother.  You and your sister are provided for in the will, so I intend to go out on a high and, if I spend it all, that’s my prerog..

..ative, supplied Magda.

Right.  I want to regret rien. 

Indeed, said Gyles, rather taken aback.  We wouldn’t want you to stint yourself or to have to take equity release on your property in order to live comfortably.

But Gyles, that’s just what I’ve done!  What do you think has been paying for my drinkies and carers?

Gyles was shocked.  He would have to break it to Carrie.  If anything happened to the old girl they might have to send the boys to one of the perfectly respectable academic comprehensives in the area and Tiger-Lily would have to leave St Vitus’ School for the Academically Gifted- not that she seemed to value her opportunities.  She was more interested in fake tan as far as he could see.

I think I’ll have a ‘Dewlap’ after all, he said, sinking into the pouffe.

Bottoms up! said Magda.