The other week, celebrating her 89th birthday, we were staying at a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. Preparing for a trip to the theatre, Mum – Jane – was looking for the soap.
Unable to find it, she squeezed some shower gel into her palm and rubbed it into her face with the vigour most of us reserve for scouring a sink.
Then she dried it, equally strenuously, with a towel.
This has been her cleansing routine for the best part of nine decades: a squirt of the first cleaning agent that comes to hand, a splash of water and a jolly good scrub.
She ought to have a face that looks like a grated turnip. Actually, and unaccountably, her skin looks youthful.
Yet Mum wouldn’t know Creme de la Mer from horse liniment. She’s never had a facial – she’d consider it a self-indulgence akin to bathing in asses’ milk.
And she certainly wouldn’t know what dermabrasion was, though her twice-daily face sanding with a rough towel could count as a DIY version.
I suspect her cosmetics and make-up budget barely tops £10 (about R200) a year.
When she was 40, she briefly used Oil of Olay – until she discovered that its primary ingredient was water.
There was no point, she reasoned, in moisturising your skin with something you could get free from a tap, so since then she’s never used moisturiser.
I have a theory, based on no scientific knowledge whatsoever, that if you cease to apply unguents to your skin, eventually it just gets on with the job it was doing perfectly well for millennia before cosmetics were invented, and hydrates itself.
She’s never used a cleanser and adheres to the belief that soap does a perfectly good job. And in Mum’s case, the soap is antique.
People who have spent a lifetime being sour, mean-spirited and bitter tend to look like the old bags they are once they’ve reached pensionable age.
While Mum has endured more than her share of hardship, privation and sadness, she is convinced that the world is a wonderful place, that people are inherently good and that life is worth living.
When I ask her “What’s the best thing about being nearly 90?” she says: “That I’m still here.
Youthfulness is an attitude of mind. I suppose that’s the truth of it.