Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'I told him that the last thing I cooked was a table mat ... and I managed to burn that'
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The Independent Online

In the early hours of the morning I did something I have never done before: I woke Matthew up. I wanted him to hear the shouting and screaming going on in the road outside. I was very surprised, in fact that Matthew was managing to sleep through it.

"Oh thank you so much," he said with whiplash sarcasm after 40 seconds of concentrated shaking, "thank you so much for considering my debilitating insomnia in this way. The only possible excuse you could come up with for contributing further to my already troubled night is that the house is on fire. If the house isn't on fire I shall be bloody livid. Tell me the house is on fire."

So I told him that I would happily set the house on fire, but that first I wanted his advice on what to do about the five teenage boys and one teenage girl who were chasing each other up and down the road brandishing wooden planks with integral nails. "Do you think I should call the police?" I said.

"No," said Matthew, "No, not police. No, not when psychotic, crack-addled youths are trying to kill each other outside our front door? No, call the Cones Hotline."

So I called the police and a little while later a squad car appeared, which might well have scared the crack-addled ones off if Matthew hadn't done so already. It had happened during a Eureka moment when he slapped his forehead and yelled: "Yes, of course! That's the answer! That's the solution to the beef crisis!" Then he opened the window and said: "Excuse me, gentlemen and madam, please don't think me impertinent, but could you tell me where you bought your hoodies?" Then they started running.

Crisis, what crisis?

Although initially discouraged by the lack of answer to his enquiry, Matthew soon rallied, refused to answer my questions along the lines of: "Beef crisis, what beef crisis?" and "Hoodies?", but did succeed in fashioning a still life on the kitchen table: a black baseball cap bearing the name of an internet poker site, a scarf, a canary yellow cagoule and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. He said these things would render him unidentifiable later when he was buying the beef and then he told me the story of what happened a few weeks ago when he went into the most staggeringly expensive butcher in the world for some sausages.

He said that an American woman in front of him in the queue was being told that her two pieces of chicken came to £24.50 and that he, Matthew, on hearing this, had snapped. "No, no, no, no," he reports himself saying to the woman, "you simply cannot pay that much. It's not decent." Miraculously the woman, instead of calling for Matthew's care in the community nurse, concurred.

"Well hand them back then," said Matthew. "Go on, hand them back." Then, he claims to have added: "Your late president Franklin D Roosevelt didn't join us in the fight against Hitler so you could pay £25 for two pieces of chicken." I don't believe for one minute that he did say this last bit, but the woman was sufficiently roused to hand the chicken back, at which point Matthew walked out in triumph. And it was then that he realised he wouldn't be able to go back, ever.

Now he wants some beef and the most expensive butcher in the world does the very best beef. It costs well over £80 for a 5lb joint, but Matthew only cooks it two or three times a year. His cousin and his cousin's wife are coming to supper and they have been promised beef. So beef is what he will give them, even if he has to kit himself out to look like one of Michael Jackson's bouncers to get it.

Kagoule capers

I offered, after seeing Matthew in his kagoule-based ensemble, to go to the butcher's for him but he said that if I did it would "represent evidence of the ritualistic emasculation currently plaguing the modern marriage". So, after putting the finishing touches to his look by adding a dramatic scar to his left cheek with a lipstick, he left, only to return an hour later with the beef. His mood, however, was not triumphant. It seems he thought he'd got away with it until the butcher handed him the carrier bag containing the 5lb contre filet with the words: "We haven't seen you in here for a few weeks. How are Spurs doing? Do you think there is any chance they could cling onto fourth place in the league?"

Matthew was so deflated by this recognition that he started complaining of "a nasty virus brought on by his troubled night". He said I would have to cook the beef and when I pointed out that the last thing I cooked was a table mat - it caught fire in the microwave having slipped in unseen under a bowl of chilli - he said that, while it takes ability to get tablemats absolutely right, there's nothing at all to beef.

"Just 15 minutes at gas mark seven, another hour at gas mark ... blah, blah, blah." I tend to go into a trance when Matthew gives cooking instructions, besides which everything I needed was on the kitchen table, except the oven-ready Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire puddings which are in the freezer.

A hit from a joint

The one saving grace, according to Matthew, was that after 15 minutes at gas mark four and an hour at gas mark seven, the beef was already ruined. So leaving it to crisp for 30 minutes instead of five didn't make a tremendous amount of difference, except perhaps on the financial front. It is almost midnight, and we have finished our pizzas, which have brought the cost of the meal to £143. The youths with nail-studded sticks have started up again outside in the street and Matthew is putting on the yellow cagoule and the scarf. He says he is going out to confront them. He is going to whack them over the head with the beef.