I could tell that Matthew was distracted when I phoned him in London. I wanted to give him the news that I had been asked to be a steward at the flower show in the village in Dorset where we have our cottage.
But he was busy weeping and wailing "She's, she's...she's...I can hardly believe it. Christine Ohuruogu has gone and won the bloody gold medal."
Nearly a fortnight on from that golden Olympic moment Matthew was still playing and replaying – not just the race itself but the awarding of the medals. "Stand up, woman. Get to your feet this instant and show some respect for your country and your sovereign." I could hear the national anthem down the phone, so I waited a while.
"Well, now that's over," I said, raising my voice to drown the continued whimpering; "She mowed them all in the straight, bless her heart." he said, "Christine mowed them all down in the straight."
"Yes, of course she did," I said, 'but let's put Miss Ohuruogu behind us shall we?"
"But that's just it," interrupted Matthew again, "no-one can put Christine behind them. She mowed them all... oh why do I bother? You never show any interest."
"No," I said, undeterred, but I do have some news of my own."
"Aha, how intriguing," said Matthew in the tone he uses when he is humouring me while secretly beginning a crossword puzzle, "tell me my love, what is your news?"
"My news," I said, thinking he might be pleased to move on now from Britain's triumphs in Beijing, "is that I have been appointed steward to a judge at the village flower show."
"Well done," said Matthew, making a real effort to sound pleased and proud while still keeping the preoccupied with the crossword tone, "That's marvellous. A great honour for you, what with being such a newcomer to the area. A judge indeed. Must be an anagram, five down, six letters..."
"No not a judge, a steward to a judge..."
I gave up then but I did post him a flower show schedule, just in case.
To my surprise something of what I had said must have sunk in because later that day I received an email from a friend, who had obviously spoken to Matthew. The friend was congratulating me, while at the same time expressing some surprise and asking if I was affiliated at all to the Royal Horticultural Society. He said his mother had been a flower show judge for years and had copious relevant qualifications. He also said that while he knew I had been preoccupied lately with the garden of our Dorset cottage, he had no idea I had built up such a wealth of knowledge about flowers. I emailed back explaining Matthew's mistake, that I wasn't actually a judge and that I had simply been asked to steward a judge and then I phoned Matthew to put him right. The regular high pitched beeps throughout our conversation told me that he was in the middle of a game of internet poker.
"Yes, yes, you told me about the flower show," he said, "and I am very proud. I've told everyone..."Bloody hell, you half-wit! How could you call that with a pair of nines?"
He clearly wasn't listening and so I wasn't at all surprised when he phoned on the morning of the flower show asking what I was up to that day. "Yes, yes, of course," he said, when I reminded him, "You are a judge. You must live up to it – no Esther Rantzen sniggering at rudely shaped vegetables now."
"But I am not a...," I snapped, "Oh why do I bother? Matthew, you never show any interest in what I'm doing."
"And yet you show such a keen fascination with things that are important to me," he said ringing off, and it was then the foreboding came. This, I knew, wasn't the last I'd be hearing from him that day.
What I actually had to do at the flower show was accompany one of the judges and log points to the winners and runners up as we went along.
I was very keen on the clipboard I was given, which gave me a tremendous sense of purpose and import but which, however, did me no good at all when just as we were judging "Apples – dessert, one variety" Matthew phoned.
He clearly wished to avenge me for my snappiness by being ironic about the pom-pom dahlia class. He had looked through the schedule I had sent him and, predictably, it was the dahlias that had amused him. "Dahlias, pompom," he said, "Now it says here that the winning bloom must pass through a 2" ring. That is very important. Have you passed the dahlia entries through a 2" ring yet? It is your job as a judge to do this. I would also like to be kept informed on the progress of the Mixed Perennials in a Vase as well as the contents of the winning hanging basket. You will have important decisions to make and then you will be wanting to get up at three tomorrow morning so you can show some interest in the international sporting events I will be watching. Shall we speak then?"
I did phone him the following morning, just as he was dropping off after a sleepless night of Lithuanian darts. I told him the name of the winner of the Mixed Perennials in a Vase as well as itemising each and every flower in the winning hanging basket. And then, just as he was saying that I had made my point and he was quite keen to get some sleep, I gave him a detailed report of a cheeky aubergine that would have totally split the sides of Esther Rantzen.