Much like Fanny’s mother in The Pursuit of Love, my mother, Jocasta Innes, “bolted”, says Daisy Goodwin in the Mail. She ditched my father, five-year-old me, my three-year-old brother and our lovely house in south London for a younger man and a bedsit in Islington. “I just woke up one morning and she wasn’t there.” We were sent to my grandmother’s in the New Forest for a while: when my mother left at the end of one visit, I remember her having to prise my brother’s fingers off her leg, “one by one”.
My father won custody of us and remarried, but my stepmother “didn’t drink, smoke, gossip or flirt”. Of course, it was my “clever and chic” mother I wanted to emulate. An interior designer and cookery author, she bought me a pair of red leather slingbacks with two-inch heels for my 12th birthday. I would leave the house for school wearing my Start-Rite sandals before getting changed into these “infinitely precious” shoes.
Then, after having my first child in my late twenties, I grew angry with my mother for abandoning us. “I had no choice, darling,” was her response. She grew up in the war, was evacuated for two years without her mother, then was sent to boarding school – perhaps it’s understandable that she “put her own happiness first”. Later, at her house in trendy east London, she wowed her grandchildren with “red wine and roll-ups”, sticking to her motto: “Never apologise, never explain.” Now I admire that attitude, and wonder whether my “Waitrose parenting” is coddling my children. My mother died in 2013: bolter she may have been, but I miss her every day. “She left me wanting more.”