I was standing in line at my local Bakers Delight on Tuesday waiting to be served when another customer roughly my age entered the shop. She edged herself away from the main entrance and into a corner where the cold outside air couldn't reach her. "I'll stand here," she said to no one in particular. "Apparently I'm inappropriately dressed."

I looked at her, noted her demure frock with long sleeves and must have had an expression of confusion on my face. "My mother just told me I'm inappropriately dressed," she explained.

Now the dress was below the knee and had a high neckline so she can't have meant inappropriate as far as showing too much skin was concerned. "Oh, she means you're not dressed warmly enough?" I asked. "Exactly," she replied with a look of disbelief.

"Don't worry. Mine's exactly the same," I reassured her. "I'm forty-seven and the first thing my mother always asks me is if I've got a spencer on." (For the sake of anyone under the age of 30, my computer's spell-check and even the 1992 edition of The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, a spencer is a cosy undergarment designed to ward off the cold. You can see one here.)


Anyway, me and my new best friend laughed ourselves silly at this random bonding moment in the most unlikely of places. Mere minutes earlier I'd held the door open for an older woman at the post office. "Aren't you cold?" she asked. It was 14-degrees and my arms were bare. "I know I ought to be," I replied.

So that post office incident in addition to my interaction with the woman in the bakery combined with my own mother - who doesn't seem to think I can dress myself successfully although I left home 29 years ago and have actually been doing quite well so far if I say so myself - made me wonder: what is this motherly obsession with dressing warmly all about?

My mother lives 436km away from me (according to Google Earth) and we can go many weeks without seeing each other yet the spencer question never fails to arise. I thought it was a bit odd but my encounter with a stranger in the bakery made me realise that my mother is not alone in sweating the small stuff when it comes to her grown-up offspring.

But maybe it's not about layers of suitably warm clothing at all. Maybe we should consider the subtext. Perhaps it's just a mother's way of reasserting her motherhood, a not-so-subtle reminder to her adult children that - while we may consider ourselves to be all grown-up now that, you know, we've left home and even had children of our own - we'll never manage to look after ourselves quite as well as she once did.

Are all mothers obsessed with whether their adult children wear enough layers of warm clothing? Does your mother still treat you like a child even though you've been a grown-up for, like, ages now?