I knew the World Cup couldn't be far off when I found Matthew in his leather recliner chair, in his shed, gazing blankly into space. His television was off, Radio Five Live had been switched off (something that never happens) and his computer was in sleep mode - there was not even an internet Party Poker site up on the screen. I knew I should say something, but nursing a deep rooted hatred of football that goes back to early childhood, when my stuffed, ball-shaped hessian mouse was requisitioned by some uncaring school boys, I am always loath to trespass on the part of Matthew's consciousness exclusively reserved for the World Cup.
Still, he did look particularly lost, and while the championship preamble will often feature some depressed phases, these are usually quickly followed by outbreaks of embarrassing euphoria. But not this time. After an hour or two I ventured to ask him if there was a specific problem. I even offered to call the doctor, which is a prospect that always cheers. But Matthew either couldn't or wouldn't tell me what was wrong.
Later that night I mentioned the possibility of an ambulance, thinking that this would surely break the reverie. It did, but it wasn't a happy re-awakening because that was when Matthew first told me, in a chin-wobbling, head-in-hands, rocking-to-and-fro sort of way, about Wayne Rooney's broken foot. He said the World Cup was over before it had started.
* The second harbinger arrived two days ago. Matthew by this time had clearly decided that life and football will go on and had bought a new television. He does this every four years despite the fact that there is already a set in all the rooms in the house that could reasonably expect to have one. The model from the 1994 World Cup is in his shed, the 1998 version is in the sitting room, and the 2002 plasma screen is in our bedroom. There is a very old portable which is stored in the outbuilding adjacent to our holiday cottage in Devon and the set in the kitchen at home predated our marriage, so presumably it goes back to 1990. Added to these there are other ancient models stashed away in cupboards throughout the house that could well take us back to 1966.
The new television, the 2006 one, is still in its cardboard box and he was circling it, stroking his chin like a pretentious, bow-tied art lover pacing round a Tate Modern installation. Then he said in an irritating Jesus-y voice: "This television may not actually be for you, it is in fact for me, but I want you to know that I bought it with you in mind. It represents my love for you, and my deep respect for your sensibilities." I sat down then and composed myself fully before saying that I was deeply touched but I couldn't quite see how the purchase of an electronic, high-definition gift for himself could possibly benefit me.
Matthew then explained that knowing how much I hate listening to him shouting at the football on the telly, he intends to remain in his shed for the duration of the championship. This is only possible, he went on, if he replaces his 1994 set with this new, state-of-the-art model. I gain, because so long as I stay in the house, I should be out of earshot.
* In fact I am quite pleased at this new development. It means that I will have the sitting room and the 1998 model to myself. I am reminded of the episode of Steptoe and Son in which Harold installs turnstiles and partitions in the house in order to get away from Albert. The arrangement fails because they only have one telly. They sit either side of a partition to watch one half of it each and bicker as they switch between ballet and sport. Matthew and I are lucky. We have 10 tellies.
Later that day, as Matthew supervised the installation of the latest by a fully qualified electrician, I went to the sitting room to watch All About Eve with Bette Davis. And it was as Bette said: "There goes Eve. Eve evil, Little Miss Evil..." that I suspected there might be a flaw in the new television-watching arrangements. "But the evil that men do..." she continued, "how does it go groom? Something about... Game, shot and the leg. Phil Taylor. Fourth leg, Raymond Barneveld to throw first." Suddenly I was no longer watching All About Eve. I was watching darts on Sky Sports 117 instead. I grabbed the remote control. "You know why I forgive Eve? Because... Phil, you require 161." Clearly something was seriously wrong.
* Matthew says he has just spent a vast amount of money on a new television set and he is not about to spend even more having another Sky box installed in his shed. So for now, and for the foreseeable future, the shed television will be linked up to the Sky box underneath the 1998 television in the sitting room, which in turn is linked to the 2002 screen in our bedroom. It would seem, therefore, that the only way I can watch old movies in peace is to either dig out a circa 1970 portable from the cupboard under the stairs, or drive to Devon.
At the moment Devon is looking like the better option.