I am used to coming home and finding Matthew in strange states and stances, so arriving back from my book club recently to find him apparently catatonic with bewilderment was not altogether troubling. He was in his usual chair in front of the telly, which was showing a mixed doubles match from Wimbledon. But even the presence of an impossibly long-legged Slavic girl wasn't grabbing his attention, because he was transfixed by the small plastic tub of marinated anchovies he was holding up in front of his face. "Zog mir", he was muttering to himself. "I mean zog mir... nothing more than zog mir."
Zog mir, so far as I am aware is a Yiddish phrase meaning something along the lines of "Go figure", or "what on earth is going on here?" I say so far as I am aware because, like all the Yiddish that Matthew has picked up from his mother, there is a high chance that it is made up. Anyway, zog mir is what he was muttering, and after the 15th or 16th repetition I thought it only polite to let him know that I was listening.
"Zog mir what?" I asked and he turned in his chair in surprise. "Oh, you're back," he said, stroking his anchovies.
"Zog mir what?" I asked again. "Zog mir Waitrose," said Matthew, raising the tub and holding it out as if about to effect a formal introduction between me and it. "I just can't get my head around Waitrose. It is an entirely new world to me – a paradise on earth."
Then he looked at the clock and said, "My God, it's almost 8pm." And hauling himself to his feet he continued, "I must get to Waitrose before closing time. Text me if there is anything you need."
It was after 9pm when Matthew returned with what was, even by his standards of inexplicable panic buying, a remarkable haul. From the look on his face when he opened a letter from the accountant earlier this week, I knew there must be worrying developments on the forthcoming income tax bill front, so I had braced myself for the wave of spending that always accompanies bad fiscal news. In the past, this splurging has tended to involve deliveries of just about everything you could buy in Majestic Wine, including Cointreau, Tia Maria, tangerine-flavoured liqueurs from Spanish monasteries and egg nog.
What it has never meant, until now, is the arrival of 25 "bags for life" filled to overflowing with groceries from Waitrose. But then, never before, as Matthew explained when I questioned him, has he had such easy access to a branch of his new favourite store.
"I told you they'd opened up on the site of what was Budgens in Bayswater," he said irritably, as if it was all much too obvious to state, "opposite the Turkish baths." Matthew spends much of his time in the steam room at the baths, on the grounds that the steam is the only thing that gives him relief from his sinus trouble. He calls his sinuses his "mounts" after what he considers to be the plural of sinus, sinai. Sinai equals Mount Sinai. I am just about getting the hang of it after nearly two decades. "Honestly," he continues, "this new Waitrose is the best thing that's happened to me since Louis was born. It has completely changed my perspective on life."
Matthew has since been expanding on his obsession, and he has been doing it from Waitrose. He has called me at least once during each of his visits and once it was with a live report from the fruit and veg. "You won't believe this," he said, "but I just asked a member of staff if there were any ripe avocados, rather than the ones that are suitable for use as murder weapons, and she smiled at me. She smiled at me, as if she wanted to help! If they do that in other supermarkets they get a disciplinary letter from head office. Worse! They get the sack! On the spot! And then she led me straight up the aisle to two of the ripest, most princely Hass avocados you've ever had the privilege to squeeze."
I wanted to sound interested but couldn't find the words, so I left it to Matthew to say: "I'll call again if there are any major developments." And then he was gone. For four minutes. The next update began with a quavery tone. He sounded as if he was welling up.
"You'll never guess," he said. "When I got to the checkout a woman in a burka said that she was supposed to be going for her break, but that since I didn't have all that much in my basket she'd stay open just for me. Unbelievable." I said what was unbelievable was that he didn't have much in his basket.
For a few days we saw little of Matthew. When he was around, the conversation took place while he unloaded carrier bags. (If he carries on like this we will have to build an extension.) "What I can't understand," he said, unpacking some marinated seafood, is that Waitrose is the same firm as Peter Jones, and while the Waitrose staff are so obliging, the Peter Jones lot are apparently happy to leave you to die in white electricals. How can this be?
I didn't answer, because I have given up attempting to feign fascination. All I could do was pretend we needed some tarragon, a pineapple, and some Flash. Off he went, sprinting. Now all I need to do is find 50 nifty ways with anchovies.Reuse content