I might not be very well informed when it comes to tennis but I am extremely well up on the behavioural characteristics of Matthew. This morning he is in his shed watching Andy Murray play Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open, and I can be very sure of this, not because that is what he has told me he is going to do, but because even from where I stand, 100ft away at the back door of the house, I can see, in silhouette, sticking out from the lower portion of his face, a Churchwarden pipe.
The Churchwarden is the only one of Matthew's pipes he would ever smoke while watching an important tennis match. It is, if you will, his "lucky tennis pipe". And so I do not need to be Sherlock Holmes - who, incidentally, inspired this particular pipe - to deduce what my husband is doing.
Matthew has a meerschaum for football, a briar for cricket, a Dunhill for golf and the aforementioned Churchwarden for moments of utmost tennis importance. I can only remember seeing it a few times before - always when Tim Henman was in the semi-final of a Grand Slam tournament. But since Henman, so Matthew informs me, never went on to reach the actual final of a Grand Slam tournament, I can't quite see that the Churchwarden is doing its "lucky" stuff. Still, out it has come for today's thrilling Murray/Nadal match. I think I shall join it and its owner in the shed.
"You're not coming in," said Matthew, springing to his feet and charging towards the door to bar my entrance, underestimating the length of the Churchwarden and painfully bashing his teeth in the process. "If I have to hire a nightclub bouncer to stand outside and use whatever force he deems appropriate, you are not coming in," he says, rubbing his mouth. I know the reason for this: it's because, just as he regards the pipe as being "lucky", so he insists that I am "unlucky". I am, he says, a jinx on all major sporting events and it's only because the neighbour is in her garden witnessing the goings-on that he relents and lets me into his shed. I settle down to watch the match. Murray is about to serve, but before play begins Matthew removes his pipe from his mouth, blows out an incredible amount of smoke and says "Jewish fella lying on his deathbed..."
Cryptic as this may seem, I do, for once, know what he is talking about. It is a very clear rebuke he has given me in the form of the first line of his favourite joke about a Jewish fella lying on his deathbed who asks weakly if his wife, Becky, is with him, by his side. On learning that indeed she is by his side, he goes on to review his life, recounting all the other traumatic moments when she, Becky, was always there; during the pogroms in Russia, for instance, when his business went bust after the war and so on. And now, finally, here he is dying and once again she is by his side. "Becky," he says, "you are a fucking jinx!"
I, like my fellow Rebecca, am also a fucking jinx. Only four times during our 15 years of wedlock have I watched football with Matthew, and each time I have inadvertently contrived to enter the room at the start of a penalty shoot-out, which England went on to lose. Matthew also blames me for the timing of my return to our honeymoon motel room during the closing moments of the 1991 Ryder Cup. I'd been sent off to walk across an eight-lane highway to fetch bourbon and McDonald's and reappeared just as Bernhard Langer missed the putt that gave victory to America.
Reconciled to my presence in the Shepherds Bush shed at this delicate time, Matthew brings me up to date with the match so far. "It's magnificent," he says, puffing furiously on the Churchwarden. "Murray is two sets to one up and he's 3-2 up in the fourth. He's playing so brilliantly that even you may not be able to turn it round for Nadal. Now be silent please and watch our Scottish genius establish himself as one of the greatest tennis players of all time."
Murray took neither of the break points and within a minute of my arrival the score was 3-3. Ten minutes later Nadal took the fourth set 6-3 and Murray had barely won a single point. Matthew asked me sardonically, in between refilling the Churchwarden, if I was "happy now?"
"Don't worry," I reassured him, "he can still win the fifth set."
Matthew blew out another incredible amount of smoke and said, "No he can't. No, you've done him in. He's gone. Gone, gone, gone. He's gone."
Playing resumed and suddenly Matthew leapt from his chair and screamed, "No, no, no, not the topspin cross-court pass! No, no no!"
And then he slumped back down, threw his pipe on to his desk and put his head in his hands. "You see," he wailed, "he knows you're watching and he's lost every ounce of willpower and self-belief. Nadal will win this set 6-0 and you, 'Becky', will be a hero in Spain."
Matthew was wrong with his prediction. Nadal didn't win the last set 6-0. He won it 6-1. I left the shed in disgrace and with a ban on my head, which I felt was unreasonable given that the still "lucky" Churchwarden was then swilled out with expensive whisky and put away in its cotton wool-filled case.Reuse content