'I expect now you'll be wanting a clothes allowance," Mrs Spilsby remarked, breezing into her daughter's bedroom a few days after her 13th birthday. "No thanks, Mum," Becky replied, putting down her copy of The Great Gatsby. "I think I've got quite enough clothes to be going on with."
"And Mrs Canning at the gym asked if you'd like to come to Charmian's party next week. They're having a roller disco and she said there'd be lots of boys."
"No thanks, Mum," Becky replied with, if anything, even greater politeness. "Why on earth not?" Mrs Spilsby demanded. "Well, you see," Becky explained, "I don't know Charmian very well and what I'd really like to do is watch Casualty."
All this – time spent in the bedroom, the lack of any interest in every fashionable teenage activity from shopping to mixed parties – is becoming a great disappointment to the bearer of Mrs Canning's kind invitation and others like it. Having given birth to three hulking sons, Mrs Spilsby had greeted the arrival of her only daughter with an unfeigned enthusiasm. She had planned a future of shared confidences and mutual interest. Mrs Spilsby's own adolescence – her father had been an RAF officer with rather strict views – had been tightly policed. But Becky… Becky should have, if not absolute licence, then as much liberty as she wanted.
The trouble, alas, is that Becky seems wholly indifferent to these amenities. She is a nice, quiet, friendly girl, but her friendships tend to be conducted with the kind of pallid wallflowers Mrs Spilsby remembers from her own childhood, and her chief interest, as far as her mother can make out, is keeping a voluminous diary. There was a sensation the other week when a boy – a real, live boy – appeared at the door, but it turned out to be that dreary Toby from two doors down come to ask about the physics homework.
Meanwhile, the starter make-up case left accusingly on Becky's bedside table has yet to be opened, and the Facebook page set up for her contains little other than a picture of her cat. To do Mrs Spilsby justice, her distress is completely sincere. She would have liked nothing better, aged 13, than to go to a roller disco and snog boys at the garden gate, and the thought that she might in some wholly ineluctable way have failed in her duty as a parent is beginning to torment her.