My brother Noel, who lives in Dorset, is a gentle and peaceable fellow, as befits Diddy David Hamilton's most committed fan. But last week he gave me a rather sharp and irascible-sounding warning apropos a lunch we had arranged to celebrate my niece's second birthday, and my 47th. What he said was: "I would thank you to leave your big city ways behind and not terrorise the well-meaning staff at the hotel restaurant on Sunday."
He was quite right to mention it because there is a very definite town-versus-country culture clash when it comes to eating out. By the standards of many London restaurant-goers (let alone by the standards of Matthew) I am angelically patient. But by the standards of my family, who refuse to show any sign of irritability after waiting 40 minutes for a cup of tea, I have been known to make Michael Winner look like Mother Teresa. And my brother, quite understandably perhaps, has had enough.
However, Louis and I got to the hotel early and ahead of everyone else, (Matthew had remained in Londonto complete some urgent business in his shed) and I am afraid that within 20 minutes of turning-up I had already displayed those "city ways" that Noel referred to, over a cup of quite undrinkable hot chocolate, so that when he did arrive there was already atangible atmosphere.
"Don't worry, it's all fine," I said, "there was a slight contretemps over some toxic chemicals masquerading as a hot beverage but it is over now and I promise that from here on in there will be nothing but loveliness."
Except that 40 minutes later, despite having confirmed and reconfirmed our table with the relevant members of restaurant staff, we were still sitting in the bar, and no one had brought us any menus.
Even Noel, who likes things to be slow-paced and remembered this hotel from the gentle days of his youth when we came here with our late Great Aunt Mary, had begun to show signs of tension. "Isn't this pleasant," he said meaningfully, "to be able to sit and talk like this without being rushed?"
Half-hearted murmurs of assent were made and I was proud of my family's Englishness – all of them inwardly seething but too polite to complain. It was my normally placid sister-in-law who cracked first, sitting forward in her seat and saying loudly: "If they don't get a bloody move on we'll still be here tomorrow bloody morning and I have got horses to feed!"
It was then that I decided to excuse myself for a minute so I could phone Matthew for advice.
"What?! How long? How long did you say you have been there? This is lunacy!" He is livid. "Why on earth didn't you call me before?!"
"Because you are 100 miles away and I wasn't too sure what you could do about it."
"Do about it? Do about it? There is plenty I can do about it. But first you need to put your hands-free earpiece in and return to the bar. Then you will ask for a word with the manager. I'll stay on the line and direct you from there."
I know what he is planning to do, he is planning to re-enact the scene from the film Roxanne, which he watched the other night for the 32nd time, where Steve Martin feeds romantic lines to the firefighter who is wooing Daryl Hannah. Except instead of poetry Matthew is going to feed vitriol down the line and I will be expected to repeat it to the manager.
"I can't do that," I say, "Noel would be horrified."
"Do you want me to hire a helicopter?" barked Matthew, "Do you want me to spend £15,000 on a helicopter from Battersea to Bournemouth? Is that what you want? Because unless you do as I say, I will be there in two hours, and you will still be sitting in the bloody bar waiting for the menu when I land and Noel won't like that a bit."
The manager asks if there's anything he can do to help. I reply, as instructed by Matthew through the earpiece, in a thermonuclear sarcastic tone: "Ah, you are very kind and I am so sorry to trouble you when you're obviously so frantic making sure that everything is running smoothly, but... but.."
But I can't continue because what Matthew is now saying is: "For Christ's sake you moron, how could you call that with a pair of nines?" He's been distracted by the internet poker that is permanently up on his computer screen.
"I'm sorry?" says the manager,looking at me quizzically. But I can do nothing but look back at him vacantly until Matthew returns and instructs me to point at Louis, while saying: "You see that 10-year-old boy ? He was just a babe in arms when we arrived."
The problem is that Louis has wandered off and is nowhere to be seen, so I blush and stutter and can only pick up again when Matthew gets to a bit about the hotel doubling up as a care home for the elderly if we don't get some decent service soon and Tolstoy having written War and Peace in half the time it has taken us to be delivered of a menu.
Matthew is thrilled when, now on speaker-phone at his own insistence, he hears there is a complimentary bottle of wine on our table.
He would like, however, to have a word with the waitress about the vegetables, saying: "If you don't keep an eye on these people they'll cook a cauliflower until it resembles Polyfilla."
And it is at this point that Noel takes control and switches off my phone, saying: "While we are grateful for your city wisdom, the Polyfilla texture is actually much sought after in the country."Reuse content