Matthew didn't come down to Dorset with Louis and me the weekend of the big pole-dancing scandal. He stayed in London owing to a psychosomatic reaction to having had his car broken into. Generally he takes a laissez-faire attitude to the monthly assaults on his vehicle, seeing them as legitimate attempts at wealth redistribution. So long as the thief causes no damage, it's not a problem. But this time a wing mirror was smashed, presumably in frustration at the lack of satnavs or iPods in the glove compartment. Worse, a mat was urinated upon. Matthew's distress at this lack of etiquette had what he described as "a grievous impact on my immune system", hence the fever and thumping eyes that kept him in London.
I rang him that Saturday morning at 6am, knowing he'd be awake because he wakes every day at 5.30am and reaches immediately for his laptop. Before his eyes are fully open he has the Drudge Report or some other US website up to check developments in the US presidential campaign.
I asked him if a good night had been passed. "Yup," he said sleepily. "Obama's opened a clear lead in Colorado, and it's looking hopeful in Florida. There is a national poll from ABC that shows McCain narrowing the lead, but I reckon it's an outlier."
"No," I said, "I meant, did you pass a good night?"
"Me? Don't ask. Barely a wink. And there's a Quinnipiac poll showing the race tightening in Missouri. How was your night?"
My night, I told him, was filled with anxiety. A friend had regaled me over the phone with details about a pole-dancing, swingers club that had, according to a local paper, been uncovered in our village. She said it wasn't clear from the report where exactly the club was, but the scandal definitely involved podiums, pole dancers and private booths and the people were newcomers to the area. "Oh," she said, "I've had a thought. Perhaps it's you!" And, with the happy thought that we were suspects in a sex scandal preying on my mind, I retired to bed and barely slept.
I told Matthew all this, and then asked him what he knew about swingers. But he clearly hadn't been listening or at least only enough to correct me on the plural of podiums, which is, apparently podii, because he answered: "Well, obviously swingers are the key to everything. I mean, take Virginia. According to Pew Research, some 22 per cent of the electorate there are swing voters and..."
"No, swingers," I said. "You know, car keys in the middle of the carpet." And that was when Matthew Googled the story.
He was silent for a while and then came sinister gasping, followed by: "Oh bloody hell, it seems that villagers were first alerted to the existence of the swinging and pole dancing by nocturnal activity outside the cottage in question. Visitors would apparently arrive under cover of darkness and hurriedly rush inside before they could be identified."
This was worrying, because for no fathomable reason it is how Matthew generally arrives whenever he comes to the cottage. We were, it would seem, likely suspects and the only thing to do was go forth into the village with my head held high and brazen it out.
So Louis and I took the dogs for a walk, and the first person we met told me about her spanking new car and repeated the word spanking a little too often for comfort. The second person stopped me solely to tell me of the scandal and made a point of repeating the fact that the swingers were definitely newcomers to the village. "Newcomers," she said darkly, with a decidedly arched eyebrow. "They're from London, apparently."
Before walking home we called in on a couple who had promised a box of fossils from their attic to Louis, and there the nightmare ended as they reassured us that the property in question was definitely not ours, it was in a remote area of the village known as Fanny's Bottom.
On the way home, Louis and I encountered some ramblers all carrying tall wooden walking sticks. "Oh look," said Louis, who at age 11 is not terrifically au fait with the accessories of a sex-club dancer, "there they are, and they've got their poles with them."
Matthew then proceeded to make himself even more ill with infantile chortling at the Carry On-esque Fanny's Bottom detail.