Four months ago my alarm clock was broken in an incident involving a sherbert fountain (Matthew's) and an excited Labrador (Louis's). It doesn't matter, however, because, and this is a relatively new thing, at 6am every morning Matthew wakes up and makes a loud pronouncement on the day ahead that is impossible for me to sleep through.
Invariably he will immediately go back to sleep, but for the second that it takes to say "Oh, bloody hell!" he is like a rooster with Tourette's. The precise nature of the pronouncement will depend on what the day holds. If Matthew has a tremendous amount of work to do he will simply shout: "I can't bear it!". If it is a work-free day he will shout: "You must be bloody joking!". Sometimes "Brickwork!" is all he will shout and I have no idea what this means, but on the mornings when he asks wearily: "What would you give?" I know what lies ahead.
* The unsaid second part of the question "What would you give?" is... "not to go out to dinner tonight?" We both hate going out to dinner but Matthew is more vocal about it than I am. By 6pm on the evenings when we are due at someone's house, things culminate as he marches around the bedroom in a dressing gown, expecting some sort of an answer from me to his no longer rhetorical question.
My reply will vary depending on who the dinner is with, how hellish the drive to their house with Matthew in the driving seat will be, and the likelihood of us getting away before midnight. Sometimes I say that I would give £50 not to go out to dinner, sometimes it might be £100. If the venue is the other side of the river I will say my eyeteeth - and if there is the remotest chance of us having to meet new people, I will proffer a kidney.
This evening I am wavering between £50 and £100 as Matthew progresses to the next stage. This is the bit where he reiterates his old argument that everybody hates us. I then ask why, if everybody hates us so much, we are always being asked out to dinner and Matthew says that is precisely his point. It is because these people hate us that, fully aware of how much we loathe going out, they keep asking us. The very fact that they have asked us proves, says Matthew, how very much they hate us.
Then he goes and stares at the phone for a while, willing it to ring. "What would you give," he asks, "for them to ring and cancel. I hate to wish anyone any ill but please God give someone a migraine or a gastric bug right now. Go on... Now... Please." And then when the phone doesn't ring and God doesn't oblige by sacrificing the good health of an innocent party, just so that Matthew can spend another evening in watching Celebrity Poker, he puts his head in his hands where it stays, pretty much until we are in the car when, as I set up the sat-nav, it is repeatedly banged against the steering wheel.
* I thought the sat-nav would help on such outings as this but it doesn't. Matthew derives just as much pleasure bickering with a machine as he ever did with me. He has a bigger problem with authority figures than he has with what he calls his cartographical dyslexia - or inability to read maps, and the sat-nav, because it has an imperious, demanding tone, is, as far as Matthew is concerned, an authority figure.
This evening the big fall-out between the two of them happens at Elephant and Castle, after she orders him to go down a one-way street. Within seconds Matthew has ripped her from the windscreen and, really quite violently, rammed her into the glove compartment and locked it behind her. After pulling over into a bus lane and breathing deeply for a few minutes, he then says: "This little incident puts me in mind of a joke: there was this Irish bloke who went for a job as a lollipop man. But he only had one eye so they put him in charge of a one-way street. I think I'll tell that over dinner this evening." "Please don't," I plead, "because not only is it a terrible joke but, if you remember, our hostess is Irish."
"I don't care if she's Bertie Ahern," says Matthew, "I'm telling it. That'll teach them to ask us to dinner."
* When we arrive barely a quarter of an hour late, we are at least in agreement with each other about something. We both insist that we will be back in the car and heading home by 11.15. No later. And then we cheer up as through the window of a basement kitchen we spot a table laid for just four and deduce from this that it's just us. There will be no new people to meet and instantly take an irrational dislike to. Matthew takes things a bit too far and sinks to his knees on the pavement in silent prayer.
* "There was this Irish man..." says Matthew, as we sat down to dinner. He's in a different mood now after a few drinks and has mentioned more than once how lovely the Elephant and Castle is looking at this time of year. We don't leave until well after midnight. I drive home while Matthew sleeps, occasionally waking to bark the words: "Bloody good night out. Should do it more often." But it won't last. Tomorrow morning my alarm clock will stir all too briefly to tell me and the rest of the world that we "must be bloody joking".
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