“Hello, hello…oh hi Carol, it’s me. Paula. Yes, that’s right. Umm, yes just walked in. Five minutes ago. Yes, yes, no trouble. No, none at all. Rain of course, yes a lovely waterlogged view! We did…and Morna? How’s she been?”

The first thing I do on arriving home after an ecstatic welcome from dogs, beside themselves with excitement, is to pick up the phone to see how my mother’s been.

“Not too bad actually. Yes, she’s eaten a little better. No, not a lot but she seems to be enjoying what she’s had. Okay, yes…she’s been walking up for lunch. On the supervised table. Yes. No, she’s tucked up in bed now. Okay…look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

Ever since she caught Norwalk virus back in February she’s remained frail; suffering from persistent UTI’s and chronic anaemia. Her seemingly unstoppable delight and interest in food and eating has become virtually non existent, waning to tiny mouthfuls of once irresistible treats. Tempting titbits, cajoling and remembered stories of where we last enjoyed a dish together have no effect.

I’ve brought her back surprises and morsels from Marseilles and a famous market in Aix where tiny sweet local wild strawberries jostle with out of season nectarines and butt heads with tat, treasure, saucisson and cheese: I’d found her a bunched, tied bundle of pungent Provencal lavender; ‘biscuit artisanaux’ – local biscuits, shaped as shuttles, with flavours of orange-flower water, almond, citron and cinnamon; ‘olive’ chocolate covered almonds; famous Marseilles olive oil soap; and small sachets in vibrant colours and designs of the Provence.

Relieved and happy at the news I could now settle my mind down to unravelling the animals, farm and vaccination logistics.

I set off to see her yesterday lunch time, remembering at the last minute to throw in my laptop and camera with photos that she might understand and enjoy. I rang the bell…

“Oh hi Paula. We’re just taking Morna down to her room. She’s…well, not too good actually.”

My stomach lurches. I go to her.

“It’s me, mummy, Paula.”

“Oh, darling, is that you? How lovely. How lovely. It is you Paula, it is you?”

“Yes it is. I’m here right beside you”

My heart opens, swells and hurts. Her frail, bent, jack-knifed-twisted body isn’t coping too well anymore. Doubly incontinent and often unable to translate messages from her brain to her limbs we carry walk her to her room. Her bones crack and creak with the effort and her breath gasps in laboured rasps and wheezes. I carefully clean, wash and dress her before making her comfortable on her bed. She’s hot and rustling dry to touch; her thin blotched papery skin no longer disguising jutting bones and blue-black bruises. I encourage her to take small sips of water, but she falls asleep, exhausted. I sit on the bed, softly stroking her face gazing pathetically at her crooked twisted body still seeing the beautiful strong vibrant woman she was. My emotions are turbulent and potent. I kiss her. I leave carrying my untouched basket of surprises.