‘I’ve seen a lot of change — but not as much as my grandmother. She lived through horsepower to seeing a man on the moon.’

Lucy Baring reports back from her mother's 90th birthday party, but not before negotiating a phone shop with no phone signal.

My mother has just been bunched in the supermarket by a lovely member of staff who lives in the same village. He knows that she celebrated her 90th birthday last weekend, not least because of the wobbly signs we made saying ‘parking’ to which my brother added ‘90th’ in case another party was being held, which, it turns out, there was.

Having repeatedly told us she may not make it to this landmark, my mother had also decreed that, in that scenario, we mustn’t cancel in case we lost the deposit on a tent and a caterer, but should turn the party into a wake because ‘there’s no sense in making people travel twice’. She has always been a practical woman.

A couple of days earlier, Alfie and I had looked at each other and nodded ‘we can do this’ before taking a deep breath and entering the mobile phone shop. We are determined and we are well prepared. At the very back of my mind, I am considering getting a phone for my mother, although she doesn’t want one because the last mobile she tried to use was when you still had to punch numbers repeatedly to spell the letters, which put her off. She has my sympathy there. But, first things first.

‘Can I help you?’ ‘We are both out of contract and my son would like an upgrade. I have a PAC code because I’m leaving you.’ I have learnt over the years that you need to be very firm from the off. Alf describes the contract he has found. ‘Did you find that on the internet?’ ‘Well, yes.’

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‘I’m afraid that’s not an option.’ The man begins to explain why as Alf and I exchange glances. Here we go.

We sit down with his colleague, who begins tapping away. Many taps later, all is not as it should be: I appear to have been paying for a phone I do not have, he can’t understand what he’s seeing and I can’t understand much of what he’s saying. I try to access emails, contracts, online banking. ‘Afraid there’s no signal in here.’ I stare at him. ‘It’s a listed building,’ he shrugs apologetically. I lay my head on his desk as they discuss the mysterious third phone until, after about an hour, I suggest that we simply sort Alfie’s phone contract for now. The man says that it’s closing time, he’s going on holiday tomorrow and could we leave everything until the morning?

At home, I ring customer services and put the phone on loudspeaker so that I can cook supper as I listen to Dua Lipa hold music. We’re eating pasta with carbonara by the time I am put through to someone who is very sympathetic, but understandably muddled by my third-phone story — because it is a muddle. The bit that’s clear is that I’m off to another provider, which prompts a lot of phone calls and texts the following day from people trying to persuade me to stay. The more I say no, the more they want me. I could, I think, probably get a free phone for my mother at this rate.

At her birthday party, cousins sit around asking my mother about family history and suggest that she really has seen a lot of change over 90 years. ‘But not as much as my grandmother,’ she muses. ‘She lived through horsepower to seeing a man on the moon.’ That evening, she is surrounded by children and grandchildren in our poorly lit army tent. We drink wine and eat chicken pie and discuss the excellent theatre production we took her to earlier in the week. Eventually, we say our goodnights. That deposit, my sister and I laugh, was never in doubt. And she really doesn’t want a phone.