Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'On either side of Matthew are two hoses, each taped to a shooting stick, blasting water at his head'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Matthew has issued instructions for me to activate the oscillating fan in his office at the bottom of the garden. On returning from his car where he has checked the digital thermometer and written down the result on a clipboard borrowed out of Louis' school bag, he barks: "32.5C has been confirmed. You know what you must do."

There are two mysteries here: the first is why Matthew will not brook any use of the oscillating fan until the temperature exceeds 30 degrees and the second is why he cannot activate the bloody thing himself. All that is required is some simple plugging in and a small amount of desktop rearrangement. Still, he insists that it is one of my duties and I am, I suppose, happy to perform it.

What I am less happy about is Matthew's very trying hot weather conversation. During the 100ft journey from the back door to the shed, he asks, for the 11th time in a single morning, "Have you ever?" I do not reply, knowing that this is just a preliminary to the rest and that it will be only a matter of seconds before he continues with: "Whatever you might be thinking about this weather, it's certainly not cold. I don't think you could say it is cold, could you? It is most definitely not cold." "No," I say, "it's not cold." Then there is a brief hiatus while he wipes his brow melodramatically, before concluding: "It's not even the heat that's doing me in. It's the airlessness I can't be doing with." Finally, he looks at the Labrador who is suffering even more than he is because she is black and absorbing heat, and says: "At least you can pant."

* I leave Matthew in his office with his fan oscillating, but it isn't long before he phones through to me in the house.

"The fan's no good," he says. "All it is doing is redistributing hot air." He asks if I would be prepared to be his punkah wallah and I say I would be happy to kneel down and waft a palm frond for him if I thought my own redistribution of hot air would be any more efficient than the fan's, and he says that in that case he is going out for provisions.

Matthew's mother rings shortly after this, and we have a conversation that goes as follows:

Matthew's Mother: "Have you ever?"

Me: Silence.

MM: "Well, whatever you might be thinking about this weather, it's certainly not cold. I don't think you could say it is cold, could you? It is most definitely not cold."

Me: "No, it's not cold."

MM: "It's the airlessness I can't be doing with."

Then the doorbell rings and I hang up. It is a delivery of six giant sacks of ice. Soon, I think to myself, they will be six giant sacks of water. We only have very limited freezer space.

* These are the things that Matthew returns from his shopping trip with:

One pink-and-white Barbie paddling pool, two cheval mirrors from the second-hand shop in the Shepherd's Bush Road (I have, in fact, been requesting these for the bedrooms), two hoses, two shooting sticks, 16 packs of frozen peas (petits pois, to be precise) and a roll of parcel tape. I ask him if the Barbie pool was the only one left in the shop and Matthew says: "No, there were many others but I opted for this one because it pleases my aesthetic sensibilities." The heat has clearly not affected his talent for sledgehammer sarcasm.

An hour-and-a-half later, an exciting tableau is visible from the house and, unfortunately, from many other houses, too. Matthew and the Labrador are sitting bolt upright in the Barbie paddling pool. On either side of Matthew are the two hoses, each taped to a shooting stick, each blasting jets of water at the sides of his head. On his scalp and ringing his torso, like the cocaine in Midnight Express, are packets of frozen peas held in place by parcel tape. The bags of ice have been emptied into the pool. It takes me a while to fathom the purpose of the mirrors but everything makes sense when Matthew shouts out the word "Goal!" They are angled to reflect the television in his office.

His mood has improved miraculously. When he phones the house to request a Solero ice lolly he sounds almost happy. He even invites me to join him for the second half.

* The weather has broken very dramatically and we are now in the middle of a heavy, extremely refreshing thunderstorm. The Labrador is back inside and cowering on her sofa and Louis and I have settled down to watch the extreme weather channel. Matthew, meanwhile, has retreated into his office. He phoned just now to complain that his Barbie paddling pool was flooding and he had no idea how to stop the fan from oscillating. In fact, he knows perfectly well that it requires no more than unplugging, but he needs an excuse to get me out there with an umbrella and some galoshes. He wants to start making his way back to the house.

Halfway up the path he stops and asks, "Have you ever?" I remain silent and wait for the follow-up. It takes a while to come, but then, wiping a raindrop from the end of his nose, he says: "Whatever you might be thinking about this weather, it's certainly not dry."

Comments