Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'My mistake was to suggest to Matthew that it might be time for him to prune his video collection'
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The Independent Online

The war of the videos has lasted 10 years, an anniversary celebrated earlier this week with the most encouraging sign so far of a truce - we had one mighty row to end all rows. I am able to be so precise about the length of the VHS tape war because, in the middle of that row, I picked up a copy of the film Troy, featuring Brad Pitt, in order to throw it back down again in a blind rage. So hard was it thrown that it bounced up and caught Matthew on the knee.

Then, once the barely blemished patella had undergone a full inspection, Matthew said: "Troy was a very apt missile, you know, because we have now been fighting over these bloody videos for as long as the Greeks fought the Trojans." He said he knew that it was pretty much 10 years to the day, because he remembered the date that war (video, not Trojan) broke out. It was the night England beat Holland 4-1 in Euro96, and when Matthew had finished running around with his hands aloft in celebration of England's victory, he lovingly ejected the tape which had been recording the match and added it to the already steep, Pisa-esque tower of home-made sporting videos.

Then he walked to the sofa, picked up his whisky and was ideally placed to witness the the tower toppling, a sight akin to slow-motion footage of the blowing up of a 1970s eyesore tower block. This was a smaller but equally bothersome eyesore in our sitting room and I could not have been more pleased. My mistake was to suggest it might be time for Matthew to prune his video collection and reclaim the bedroom floor.

From here on, I am able to remember clearly what happened that night 10 years ago. Matthew said, in reply to my suggestion, that he couldn't possibly jettison any videos; it was unthinkable on sentimental grounds. So then I suggested that he might perhaps reorganise them into safer, less intrusive piles, or even perhaps put up some shelves. We failed to reach agreement on the shelves but he did promise to do some reorganising. It was, I knew, as much as I could hope for.

The next day, when I returned from the podiatrist, however, I found that Matthew had arrayed the videos around the perimeter of the bed so that anyone lying in it would feel besieged - very like the Trojans in fact.

Since then the tapes, all of them, including "Banging with Manning" as in Bernard (I try not to think about the sentimental associations with this one), have travelled with us to a new home. They have made several journeys through the house in the past nine years, sometimes in black bin liners, sometimes in plastic crates, as I move them from room to room, making pointless attempts at arranging them attractively: table centre pieces, novelty coffee tables, footstools. But finally they have ended up in carrier bags in the front hall looking like a Turner Prize entry, waiting patiently to trap and kill us the moment fire breaks out.

Finally, a year ago, after I enlisted a passing fireman (a resident at the bail hostel opposite had set his girlfriend's handbag alight) to give Matthew a lecture on the extreme flammability of videotape and the suicidal madness of blocking an exit with so much of it, he agreed to go through the tapes. But he never did. So the mother of all rows, during which I hurled Brad Pitt, was an anniversary row, and the following day I started loading the bags of video tapes into the car to take them to the dump, until Matthew broke, and said: "OK, OK, you win. I will go through them."

"No, not that one," he said, snatching On the Buses from me. This was the first tape up for discussion from the first carrier bag and the omens were not good. I reminded Matthew, employing the voice nurses use, that he had always hated On the Buses, that he had always maintained that, with the arguable exception of Mind Your Language and possibly Love Thy Neighbour, On the Buses represented the lowest point in the history of British sitcom. He had always described it as "a riot of formulaic writing, lazy characterisation and brazenly telegraphed punch lines".

"Exactly," said Matthew, in a rather lazy and formulaic manner I thought. "On the Buses has historical importance. Besides which, I am very fond of Olive. She reminds me of you." He went on to say that there was no way he was getting rid of the next video I had selected either; a shop-bought one called Eddie Waring's Rugby League.

Next up was a home-made tape of a 1994 Panorama programme about antibiotic-resistant infections. Apparently this must be retained because it was the first time Matthew ever heard the acronym MRSA and a hypochondriac of his mettle hangs on to these things.

After two and a half hours and 95 tapes, he agreed to the removal of one, single tape: the work of a Cornish comic called Jethro - Jethro Says Bollocks to Europe. I eventually persuaded him that because he had three copies he could afford to dispense with one and still have back-up in case of disaster.