In March, Matthew instigates the "Why haven't you done anything about the garden?" row. In the middle of July, he asks, "How do you know I'm not anaphylactic if I've never actually been stung by a wasp?"; and in December we embark on the "We have no friends" debate. I knew this particularly festive discussion was imminent from the look on Matthew's face as he sat on the sofa, the twinkling tree lights reflected so prettily in his whisky tumbler. He was staring forlornly at the mantelpiece.
"Six cards," he muttered. "Just the six. Six, six, six. No more, no less. Just six."
"But that is a 50 per cent improvement on last year," I console. "No, it's not!" he snaps back. "It's bloody not. Last year we had four. And this year we only hung on to those two," he inclines his head towards a brace of cards on a side table, "because we happen to know that it's 12 years since the people they were actually meant for lived at this address."
He then points out that the card in the middle of the mantelpiece is from a local Indian restaurant, and we were lucky to get that since the last time he had any dealings with them, it was to complain about a "cataclysmically oversalted king-prawn dhansak", which he suggested they might like to force-feed to the chef with the aid of a plunger. I say nothing about any of this, I am biding my time until I am obliged to offer the ritual denial of the proposal about to be made: that we have no friends.
"You know what the problem is, don't you?" says Matthew, taking a swig of whisky to ready himself. "The problem is that we have no friends. Everybody hates us. Everybody-Hates-Us." The familiar phrase is said in the style of Sidney Pollack as he tells Dustin Hoffman, "No-One-Will-Hire-You" – Matthew's favourite scene from Tootsie. What I then say is, "Don't be ridiculous. We have loads of friends. It's just that people are so busy these days, and anyway we like to retire by 9pm. It's the stress of modern life combined with middle age".
"No," says Matthew, "it is none of those things. You are wrong. It is because everybody hates us. And with good reason. If we met ourselves at a party we would hate us, too. I wouldn't send us a Christmas card, and if I received one from us I'd pick it up with a pair of tongs and drop it in the fire."
This, traditionally, is the bit of the debate where I go over to the mantelpiece and point out that we do actually have a card from someone who isn't a tradesman or an old friend of the previous owners of our house. This year, however, the procedure is altered because, despite Matthew's gloom, we have two cards from people we really know. The first one I read out is from Michael Winner, although who can possibly really know Michael Winner, except Michael Winner himself. Still, he always sends us a card and, generally, it is the first to arrive. This Christmas, excitingly, he was beaten to the doormat by Diddy David Hamilton, the former Radio 1 DJ whom my brother Noel used to stalk. That Noel and Diddy are now close friends is, insists Matthew, a showbiz form of Stockholm syndrome.
"Look at this," I say, brandishing Diddy's card. "Look, and it arrived before Winner's. I must tell Noel, he'll be so pleased." And it was then, at the mention of that festive word, "Noel", that Matthew leapt up and shouted, "But of course! What am I thinking? We do have another card we can put out! Noel 'Nolly' Edmonds sent me one in 1995 after I insulted him in print. I'm sure I kept it."
It takes him half an hour to find the card, rifling furiously through the chest of drawers. Out fly his chest X-rays; out fly the rejection letters from doctors who won't give him a phial of adrenaline just in case he does suffer from anaphylactic shock; and finally, there it is: an old M&S pop-up Santa card, dulled by time from holly berry-red to limp pink. Matthew reads it to himself, chuckling merrily, a bit like Santa. "Ah, bless Nolly, and look, he says I must put hatred from my heart and wishes me and mine peace and good will."
Matthew then walks in a ceremonial fashion to the mantelpiece and places the card between Winner's and Diddy's before sitting back down with his whisky and beaming broadly. For the first time in my life, I have warm feelings for Noel Edmonds. Peace and good will to him and his.Reuse content