Matthew, who is always gifting us with his entirely unsolicited, wholly inaccurate impersonation of James Mason, has unwittingly come up with a new, far more entertaining party trick. And, in all the ways that he gets Mason wrong, he gets this one absolutely right; it is Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame. The tone is spot on, the hunched, drag-footed walk is uncanny and it is only the actual words that are ever so slightly changed – instead of "The bells, the bells", what Matthew wails is "The polls, the polls".
The polls are of course taking place in America and Barack Obama is Matthew's Esmeralda, his object of unrequited love, (although I am sure that if they were ever to meet Barack could, in time, grow fond of his number one, weirdo fan.)
It is four years since the fixation began, since Matthew first heard his idol speak. For some time now he has woken each morning, reached for his laptop, danced his fingers lightly over the keyboard and called up the overnight news from the US. The only time the computer then leaves his lap is during his morning and evening baths (Matthew has always been a regular bather), and while he did ask a computer expert about a waterproof model, apparently the cost was prohibitive.
Many an evening, as Louis and I happily watch re-runs of Frasier, Matthew sits alongside, the computer on his lap. Every so often his head snaps forward into his hands and a low whine is emitted. "What now, Dad?" Louis asks. "Gallup again?" "No, not Gallup. Zogby. Bloody Zogby the pollster. Zogby has it tightening to a four-point race. Oh please I'm begging you, in all seriousness, find some way to put me out of my misery until this election is over."
"How many sleeping pills would it actually take," I ask hopefully, "to induce a controlled coma?" "Don't joke," wails Matthew. "It is not a joking matter. I honestly don't think I can take any more of this." "I wasn't joking," I say, and then I go and make him a nice, sweet cup of tea and tell him not to worry because a new poll will be along soon, and the chances are it will bring relief and reassurance.
But before the kettle has even boiled the mood has lifted. "Splendid! Splendid! Marvellous. Bless Virginia's heart!" he bellows at such volume that Steptoe, our profoundly deaf, aged Westie, scurries off to seek sanctuary behind the sofa. Another poll has superseded Zogby; someone called Rasmussen has managed to reverse Matthew's mood. He has now opened a bottle of champagne and is urging us to charge our glasses, or in Louis's case charge the eggcup in which he is allowed a few drops of Moët. "Raise 'em, please, lady and gentleboy. Now I give you the good people of the great commonwealth of Virginia." Louis and I repeat the toast and sip and Matthew takes Louis on his knee like Grandpa Walton and says: "Who'd have believed it, son? Who'd have thought a black man could be on the verge of entering the White House."
He wipes his eyes, blows his nose and embarks on a lecture, not too pompous or didactic by his standards, on how once there were more slaves in Virginia than any other state (or commonwealth). He talks of demographics and floating voters. Finally he picks up the computer, the fingers dance and the head smacks forward into his hands in despair. "That's it," he barks, "no more champagne. Bad news from Florida, except, hang on, hang on a minute..."
He leaps up and does a jerky little dance, muttering "Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, chuck in Iowa's seven electoral college votes... no, we're OK. He doesn't necessarily need Florida. In fact, if he can hold on in Pennsylvania, he doesn't even need Colorado." And then he slumps back into the chair and looks at me with pleading eyes. "Make it stop," he whimpers. "If you love me even an iota, will you not find a way to make it stop?"
"What can I possibly do?" I ask. "You just have to find a coping mechanism." "Yes, you are right," he says, "that is the only solution. A coping mechanism. Chanting perhaps, meditation. I could be cryogenically frozen. Or, or I could get totally plastered and spend from now until it is over in a drunken stupor. Fetch me the whisky. But not the Famous Grouse. I can't explain it, but I feel that the only thing that will do is The Bells. Get me The Bells. The bells, the bells."