We're almost there now. Anne guided her car expertly through the lanes of the sleepy Norfolk village where she'd grown up and learnt the joys of country life. Brian, sitting quietly in the passenger seat, felt distinctly nervous a fact betrayed by his sweaty palms. They'd met at university in Cambridge some weeks earlier and now he anticipated with quiet dread the fate of most boyfriends meeting the parents. They turned down a long driveway lined with majestic elm trees and Anne brought her car to a halt outside a well built Georgian house which looked as though it had been sympathetically altered at some point. Although not a country house in the 'stately home' sense of that term, it was still considerably larger than the average middle class village home, not that there was anything remotely middle class about Anne's family, despite her attempts to downplay the fact. Brian's nervousness hadn't escaped Anne's notice and she turned to him with what she hoped were words of reassurance but which, unfortunately phrased, were less reassuring than the intention behind them. Brian, I know you don't like dogs and I promise you there aren't any well not of the canine variety at least. Daddy's fine when he's at home but there's an odds-on chance he won't be. You will, however, have to meet the dragon so I hope you're feeling brave. A look of panic crossed Brian's face and a spurt of pee involuntarily escaped into his underpants. The dragon? Anne chuckled. My mother, silly. What did you think I meant? She may come across as a rather formidable lady and she is but, trust me, her bark's worse than her bite. Not altogether put at his ease by that statement, Brian timidly followed Anne as she got out of the car and made her way to the front door, opening it without even bothering to knock. It's me. I'm home! Brian half expected a butler to appear in the hallway but instead a middle aged woman with silver rimmed spectacles and greying hair, emerged from a side room. Gaunt and angular, she had a severe look about her, the sort of look that wouldn't seem out of place in an old fashioned headmistress. So you're here at last. You do know I was expecting you over an hour ago. It's just as well I've done salad for supper. Unflinching, and not one to be talked down to, Anne was ready with a response to match the severe sounding lady's words. Mother, when was the last time you drove through the Norwich rush hour on a Friday evening? The lady frowned and lowered her spectacles as she did so. Anne, how many times have I told you that you don't need to go through Norwich? There are quicker routes from Cambridge to here for goodness sake. Anne squared up to her mother. Perhaps there are but that's the one I know. I'm not risking getting lost, least of all when I've got someone with me. Anyhow, allow me to introduce you to Brian if you will. Brian, this is Elizabeth Glenning, my mother. Mother, this is Brian Timpson. Anne's mother extended a hand to Brian which felt every bit as cold as its owner. How do you do, Brian? Not quite sure of the protocol, Brian replied in kind. How do you do, Mrs Glenning? Shaking his hand, she gave him a somewhat strange smile. My daughter likes to downplay our family's status, but I am entitled to be styled the Lady Glenning. However you may call me Mrs Glenning. That is a privilege, young man, and one I hope you won't forget. Of course not, Mrs Glenning. Good. Just so long as we understand one another. Come in, the dining room's this way. Brian was led into a spacious, well-lit room, the centrepiece of which was a large oval table laden with salad, new potatoes, and a whole poached salmon. To one side a bottle of Chardonnay sat chilling in an ice bucket. Cream candles flickered in silver candlesticks which, in turn, gleamed in the evening sun. Imposing French windows afforded a view of immaculately trimmed lawns and formal gardens which stretched as far as the eye could see. Guiding Brian to a chair, Mrs Glenning continued speaking on what to him sounded like a slightly affected upper class accent, but which was no doubt genuine. It reminded him a little of how the Queen spoke during her Christmas broadcasts. My daughter's told me a little about you but we've not had the opportunity to discuss your dietary needs and I didn't know whether you were vegetarian or not, so I decided salmon would be a safe option. Taking his seat as he was bidden, Brian smiled at Mrs Glenning, hoping that a smile would help to thaw the iciness of her mood. Salmon will be fine. In fact it's my favourite fish. Rest assured I'm not vegetarian though. Unsmiling, Elizabeth Glenning proffered the salad to Brian. Well at least that's a small mercy for which I imagine I ought to be grateful. Young people are so strange nowadays. My daughter barely tells me anything and it was only by chance I even discovered that she'd even got a boyfriend. Turning to her mother, Anne interjected. Mother that's hardly fair. It's not as though you're even interested in what I'm doing or ever want to hold a proper conversation. Anyway, where's Daddy? Elizabeth took a deep breath before answering her daughter. Anne, I wish you wouldn't be so childish, particularly when we have a visitor. You know very well that I take a keen interest in your well-being. I also wish you wouldn't use that infantile expression to describe your father! If you must know your father's supposedly at a Law Society conference in London but I expect your guess as to his true whereabouts is probably as good as mine. You mean somewhere in Brewer Street? Elizabeth gave her daughter a black look. Anne! Do you have to be so indelicate? We have a guest in our midst, your guest in fact, and I'll thank you to remember that. Mother, I was only articulating what we were both thinking. You know very well Daddy.... Stop it right now young lady! This is most embarrassing. I'm quite sure your guest doesn't wish to know about your father's private life. Very well. Where's Julie? Your sister's out. Oh yes, and we all know what that means, don't we? She could at least have had the courtesy to grace us with her presence this evening. Still, I expect she's getting her meat and two veg off Keith at the Five Bells. Elizabeth glared at her daughter. Anne Glenning, I'm warning you. I've had quite enough of this innuendo for one evening. If you can't manage some pretence of keeping your conversation clean I shall be asking you to leave the table. Anne threw her napkin on the table and got up. Don't worry, Mother. I'm going for a shit if you must know. I've not had one since Tuesday so it's about due. Elizabeth gave Anne her blackest look yet. I don't want or need to know about your bowel habits and I'm quite sure your guest most certainly doesn't. I don't know what's got into you just lately but I would imagine it's down to having too much freedom at that university. I would be obliged if you didn't rejoin us until you're in a better frame of mind and have recovered a proper control of your tongue. Anne stormed out of the room, leaving Elizabeth and Brian to complete their meal. Elizabeth reached for the Chardonnay and topped up Brian's glass. I can only apologise for my daughter's behaviour. She can be so unbelievably childish at times and much though I love her as a daughter, she drives me to distraction sometimes. It's alright, Mrs Glenning. As a matter of fact Anne's shown me nothing but kindness since we first met.