Matthew wound the grandfather clock. This may not sound like an especially important or exciting development, even for a household like ours in which the thudding of a new pizza-delivery menu on the doormat qualifies as major news. But it is, because Matthew has not wound that clock for at least five years, citing the catch-all excuse: "I'm much too busy," on each of the 739 occasions he's been asked to do so.
However, he couldn't claim to be much too busy for anything that night when he did finally wind the clock. None of us was remotely busy.
"It's very hard, isn't it, trying to fill this sudden void at the centre of our lives," said Matthew. "I think I'll spend some time reorganising my logs." And then he shuffled morosely upstairs, and for the next 15 minutes, we heard the sound of scratching and thumping on floorboards as log baskets were rotated.
Louis and I were in the kitchen playing chess. I can't play chess and Louis had the clear edge (as Matthew so kindly pointed out, my tortoise Miles would have had the clear edge), and he had checkmated me seven times in 20 minutes. It was not an exciting way to play the game, and eventually we lapsed into an uneasy silence broken only by the scratching on the floorboards above and the unfamiliar ticking and occasional chiming of the grandfather clock.
The void to which Matthew was referring, before he set off on his log re-arrangement project, was a dark one indeed. Those displacement activities were barely beginning to fill the empty hole in our lives since the end of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!.
We were fixated and obsessed by that programme. Quite how obsessed and fixated we were I only realised two-and- a-half weeks in when, last Wednesday night at 9pm, I heard myself yelling up the stairs: "Louis! It's about to start. Get in here at once!"
Louis yelled back at me that he hadn't quite finished his maths homework. "Oh, for heaven's sake! Leave it!" I replied. "Dad and I are waiting! Come on, or we'll start without you!"
"Yes, everyone hurry!" said Matthew. "The Iceland sponsorship ad is just beginning, Kerry Katona is offering Jason Donovan a tempura-prawn canap, because apparently, celebrities all go to Iceland. So, come on, Ant and Dec will be with us in 20 seconds." He had his finger poised over the Sky+ pause button in case Louis should delay his arrival any longer, and as we sat and waited, he looked at me and said: "In the name of all the saints, woman, what kind of parents are we? If social services ever got hold of this..."
"You're right," I said, "we're not fit to be in charge of a goldfish. I'll phone Esther Rantzen myself, but not till after the programme. Loueeee! COME ON!"
Not for the first time that week, I noticed the dark rings under our son's eyes as he settled in between the two of us. He was tired. But there were only two more nights left.
And then it was all over. Soon after the grandfather clock struck seven that first empty evening, after Louis and I had packed up the chess game, Matthew said he was popping over to see his parents another displacement activity. Then, 40 minutes later, his mother rang me, saying that Matthew was on his way home and that she had been quite offended by his reaction to her red cabbage a new recipe she was trying. "I couldn't believe it," she said, "he not only spat it out, grimacing and gagging, but he then proceeded to gargle in the sink, splashing his mouth with water."
I can understand her dismay. Matthew's mother is a marvellous cook, and her chopped liver has won awards. From Michael Winner, no less.
"But I promise you, it was revolting," said Matthew, when he got home. "There's no one who appreciates her chicken soup more than I do, but this was inedible and, as I told her, she must be careful not to serve it to any visiting delegation from a foreign power, because it would be interpreted as an act of aggression, and she would be tried, and justly convicted, of war crimes."
I had begun to ask under what circumstances Matthew thought his mother might find herself serving red cabbage to foreign delegations when Louis, who had spent the previous hour compiling an I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! quiz, dashed to the phone. "Grandma!" he cried, "whatever you do, don't throw away your cabbage. We need it!"
And so it was that we sat down to our very own I'm a Celebrity-themed evening. We began with Louis's quiz: "Who was on the receiving end of Rhona Cameron's 'Sometimes Speech' in series one? What did Wayne Sleep have strapped to his head during a bush-tucker trial in series two? Who bit Scot Henshall in series six? Sing the first verse of Peter Andre's 'Insania', from series three..."
Then a row broke out over whether Toyah Willcox (series two) ever would turn suburbia upside down, as she promised to do in 1981, and I was voted off for being perverse (I said she would). The evening ended with a bush-tucker trial, which Louis won because Matthew had already sampled "the indescribable horror" of his mother's red cabbage.Reuse content