MY OLDER sister’s not long back from a ‘silent retreat’ in South Africa. Paying several thousand pounds, she spent 10 days not speaking to anyone as part of a ‘mindfulness’ course.

If she had told me before she booked, I could have told her our new shed’s sitting there doing nothing.

I’m trying to be supportive, but you’ll notice I’m still putting inverted commas around things she does to subtly undermine them.

I get this habit from our mam, who remarked: “What does she need to find herself for? She knows she lives in Penrith?”

Mother likes to scoff at all ‘these fancy modern fads’– like ancient Buddhism.

She comes from that hardy, born-in-the war generation which didn’t really do empathy. Her preferred approach to things she doesn’t understand is to rip the absolute living mick out of them.

Big Sis had hardly been out of the country for more than a day when I got a text from mam, fretting that she’d not been in touch for a while.

“She’s on a silent retreat,” I texted back. “Isn’t that the idea?”

She didn’t get it.

Mother has never stepped foot out of this country. She didn’t learn to drive either.

She always stated quite equivocally: “If I get behind the wheel of a car I’ll run somebody over.”

She didn’t mean it in a threatening way of course. At least I hope not.

None of this has held her back, even though the furthest she’s been is London and the Scottish Highlands.

London was immediately considered as ‘too far and too busy’.

Scotland was a completely different matter. It was ‘too far and too quiet’.

So her days of travel are pretty much over until such time as the continental plates shift again and the Leaning Tower of Pisa is nothing more than a short bus ride from the Furness peninsula. Eventually, I got a text from the sister in South Africa.

It read: “Not found myself, but I’ve managed to find a signal.”