‘So I’m just ten minutes away,’ I say, sitting in a bleak, rainy Sainsbury’s car park in The North of England. ‘And hoping to pay you a surprise visit.’
'Right,’ says my mother.
'You don't seem very pleased,' I say.
'It's fine,' she replies, sounding uncertain.
Armed with a bunch of white roses and blue hydrangeas and a bottle of Bordeaux for my father, I return to the house where I grew up - although any evidence that I lived here has long been eradicated. My mother threw out my old school reports and my prized record collection many years ago. (The latter included a 12 inch version of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that I am convinced would have been a collector’s item by now.)
My former bedroom, meanwhile, has been reworked to appeal to my three small nieces, all of whom live thousands of miles away. The bed features a pink patchwork quilt embroidered with sequins, topped with a mound of embroidered pink butterfly cushions fit for a princess; while the corner that once housed my beloved collection of Enid Blyton books and a small, much-loved doll’s house is now home to a sugar pink doll's palace, the size of a small shed.
All that remains of my possessions is a large, battered, silver trunk, left here more years ago than I care to remember, while I was temporarily between flats in London. My mother asks if I could take it back to France.
‘I don’t think it will fit in my car,’ I say.
‘I’m sure it will,’ she cajoles.
‘Well, possibly if I leave the boot open,’ I reply. ‘But it’s probably a little dangerous to drive 800 miles along five different motorways with an enormous trunk poking out of the back of my car.’
‘Could you at least try?’ she persists.
In the end, we reach a compromise and I offer to take the contents back to France with me, and have the trunk shipped over at a later date. I spend a melancholy hour unpacking long forgotten possessions, which date back to an era when my idea of suitable office attire was a pair of tiny Jasper Conran shorts, staggeringly high heels and a transparent chiffon top. I find back copies of old fashion magazines, presents from past boyfriends (including a musical jewellery box and a Japanese-style painted egg) and a huge bag stuffed with tinsel, Christmas decorations and reindeer bells bought on a press trip to Finland. I also find a pair of old, battered-looking ballet shoes, from the days when I attended classes three times a week and a cache of clothes acquired at a John Galliano sample sale: an asymmetric dusty pink chiffon top, a green-grey fitted funnel neck jacket and a pair of purple culottes.
I drive back down the M1 with it all the next day. Most of it, including the musical box and the painted egg, I have already ear marked for Medecins Sans Frontieres. And although she doesn’t know it yet, Mathilde is about to become the owner of a pair of prune-coloured John Galliano culottes, which I am sure will fit her perfectly. But I can't bear to part with my old pink ballet shoes. En plus, as I board the ferry to Le Havre, I ask myself if there is any occasion when I could successfully wear a trailing, transparent chiffon top in rural France?