Letting myself in shortly after midnight, I was just seconds from a clean getaway when that pesky hall table crashed into me and sent two photo frames tumbling to the floor. A floorboard creaked ominously above my head, then the landing light snapped on.
“I gather…” Cue a dramatic pause to accentuate the opprobrium. “That you’ve been drinking?” She was out of my admittedly blurred vision, but I just knew that her right eyebrow would be raised in disapproval.
Right now, I’ll bet you’re musing whimsically about all the times your mother caught you sneaking in late at night as you tried your damnedest not to sound drunk. But this wasn’t my mother I had stirred from her slumber. It was my daughter.
Ellie, now 23, has always been the more measured, capable, sensible one in our relationship; ploughing a steady furrow through the often chaotic landscape of, at first, my early years as a single mother then, later, the challenges of becoming part of a ‘blended’ family, as the Americans refer to those of us who marry someone with children from another relationship. Her step-sister, Lauren, who’s six years older yet freely admits to being a lot less responsible, likened Ellie to Ab Fab’s Saffy when they first met back in 1998, and the moniker has stuck.
As a regular on ITV’s Loose Women every week, I frequently swap stories with my fellow panellists about troubling issues in our lives. But when it comes to any problems regarding Ellie, I have had nothing to impart.
The terrible twos didn’t materialise, the truculent tweens were conspicuous by their absence and, perhaps most incredibly of all, there wasn’t even a hint of trouble throughout the supposedly dreaded teenage years either.
At Ellie’s 21st birthday party, I drank far more than she did, a fact I’m not proud of. And me and my equally, ahem, merry friend Marion (who can add enthusiastic smoker to her portfolio of vices) ended up hogging the photo booth whilst Ellie and her considerably more sober, smoke-free friends queued patiently outside.
I have a tattoo, she doesn’t. She has seen me ‘merry’ from too much champagne on several occasions, but I have never seen her drunk; she’s a vegetarian, I love red meat; she plays in a netball league and attends yoga classes whilst, apart from taking part in the occasional charity bike ride, I hide from exercise and jokingly refer to myself as being in the Fitness Protection Programme.
In short, she’s a demographic oddity who has never given me a moment’s angst; but I’m not sure she would say the same about me.
When Ab Fab first hit our screens in 1992 (coincidentally, the year Ellie was born) it was a comedy based on the then far-fetched concept of an irresponsible, partying mother being policed daily by her clean-living, disapproving daughter. But on reflection, perhaps life has now imitated art.
Recent studies show that while the comfortably off baby boomers like me are splashing out more than ever on living the high life, the millennials – those born in the 80s or 90s, up to 2000 – are a far more abstemious bunch. In the early Eighties, three out of five schoolchildren had tried smoking, now it’s just one in five; and today’s 40-somethings spend 40 per cent more on alcohol than the same age group ten years ago, whilst the amount spent on it by the under 30s is falling. Perhaps it’s the mountain of national debt their generation is saddled with that makes them more cautious about spending their hard-earned cash on such fripperies.
Or perhaps it’s simply that the embarrassing excesses of their partying parents acts as a major deterrent. Either way, my “Saffy” is my pride and joy. Let’s hope she doesn’t follow her mother’s example and go off the rails in later life.
‘My family are a lively bunch so it’s hard not to seem a bit “Saffy” around them. It’s true that, generally speaking, I’m pretty sensible; I guess I was just born that way. But I take that as a compliment. Life is a lot easier when you’re organised and have a clear head. Having said that, Mum does have one other vice she’s failed to mention: Exaggeration. She thinks I disapprove when she lets her hair down, but I don’t really – just when I get woken up!’