My grandmother told me about Mothering Sunday. She used to say it was the one day off a year that servant girls were allowed off – imagine that! – and that they would return home to their families, going to church in the morning, and then picking flowers for their mothers on the way home.
I've always envisaged it thus and to this day have in my mind a vision of young girls in hats and long skirts stopping in fields of wild flowers to gather posies of primroses or violets, or whatever was in season. All dependent on whether Easter was early or late – for this was a festival bound up with the Christian year and Mothering Sunday was, and still is in this country, on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
But how things have changed otherwise! No more servant girls, thank heavens; no one day off a year for anybody, thank goodness. But also how much more commercial is the festival today. It's not even called Mothering Sunday any more; the card companies have taken it under their wing and re-christened it Mother's Day and along with the new name, a lot of the sentiment has disappeared to.
Now everyone feels obliged to send cards and give chocolate and flowers at the very least.
Yet I'm sure most mothers, like me, would far rather have the presence of our children – a big family get-together, perhaps, where we eat and chat, recall happy times past and plan more for the future.
I really object to the commercialisation of our lives and am always far happier to receive an unexpected phone-call, or hug, than some grotty piece of paper on which someone else has designed a picture and wirtten words. My children know this and have learned that they don't have to make a fuss of me on this particular day. No guilt trips allowed.
Far more pleasurable are those odd unexpected moments when suddenly they'll give me a box of chocolates, saying it's 'for all the baby-sitting' I do, perhaps. Of course I always say – 'Oh you shouldn't have' but I remember how my mother used to love it when I spontaneously brought her home a bunch of violets from the local florist - and I go along with that sentiment and take great pleasure in such gestures too.