Louis hates being around when there is bickering going on. He says that ill-disciplined adults render him unable to cope with complicated multiplication or French verbs, which, handily, is very often what his homework comprises.
Here is an example of what he has to put up with on the bickering front – a piece of fractious social interaction that took place in our house last week:
"For God's sake!" bellowed Matthew. "How many times... no, don't interrupt. For once in your life will you please, please listen, because what I am telling you is that it cannot conceivably have been my fault that the wireless connection on the computer has disappeared, I did NOTHING. It has to be your fault. Will you please accept that even you can make the very occasional, very tiny mistake?"
"No, because it is, actually, your fault. You are like a lunatic, pressing all the buttons at once. Are you ever going to learn patience?"
Louis's gripe on this occasion was that it wasn't even Matthew and I bickering. It was Matthew and Farzan, and Farzan is very important in our lives.
"Oh, never mind," I said, "They'll soon make up. They never go to bed on a row."
Which is true. They never do. Farzan, a skinny, funny, warm Iranian in his mid-forties, has been a regular visitor to our house for 10 years now, ever since he overheard me asking the owner of a hardware store if he happened to know anyone who could fix computers.
He is highly neurotic and forever fussing over the most unlikely threats to our safety: he is adamant that we have a smoke detector in the front garden, presumably in case Matthew's logs spontaneously combust; he strongly believes that we should wear protective masks when cooking over an open flame – that is, the gas burners on our cooker. He is in the same hypochondriacal league as Matthew, and they both welled up when Farzan opened his Christmas present from us this year, a new edition of Black's Medical Dictionary.
For reasons we have never fathomed, Farzan moved a while ago to the gin-and-Jag stockbroker town of Oxshott. But he spends most of his life here with us in Shepherd's Bush. We get Iranian takeaways or have outings (on us) to an Iranian restaurant nearby, where Farzan tries to chat up the younger waitresses, just as he once tried to do with Louis's Slovakian former nanny.
Although the frequency of his visits is mostly down to the uncanny ability of our laptop computers to malfunction, it is also because Matthew feels that indulging in even the simplest form of DIY is a betrayal of his cultural identity. ("DIY is not for Jewish gentlemen," is a mantra of his.) Thus, whenever a fuse or light bulb goes, he calls Farzan, who arrives, replaces it and charges a £30 fee which, considering he is a highly skilled electrician, seems fair enough.
While we all love to see Farzan, Matthew loves his visits especially because he loves the bickering that will invariably ensue – he loves it as much as he loves Tottenham Hotspur, Glenlivet and PG Wodehouse. Barely 36 hours after the last row – they made up on the doorstep with a series of hugs and mutual protestations of affection and respect – Farzan was back to fix the wireless connection.
"He's done something dodgy," said Matthew, minutes before Farzan was due to arrive. "Less than two days ago he was here fixing the bloody thing, and now it's gone again. He's installed some bug so he can pick up his call-out fee for two minutes' work each time and get a free supper."
I told Matthew he was being paranoid and that he was not to mention the word "sabotage" to Farzan. "You know how sensitive he can be." And then we heard the familiar, precise triple knock on the front door signalling Farzan's arrival and Matthew greeted him with the words: "Ah, the saboteur! I suppose you think you will be paid for fixing these computers that you have rigged. Well, you can think again."
Farzan sighed in an oddly Matthew-esque manner, and asked wearily: "What have you done this time? Show me."
They sat down beside each other on the sofa and immediately Matthew started with the maniacal keyboard-tapping, like a concert pianist showing off.
"There you go again, like a maniac. How many times must I tell you that computers don't like it? Show some patience." A brief struggle for control of the computer ensued, which Farzan won. Slowly, so slowly, in fact, that he can only have been doing it to irritate Matthew, he clicked on a few boxes, then, also very slowly, he went over to the wall, removed the wireless internet plug, replaced it again and wandered back to the computer wailing: "Nooo, Matthew, don't touch it. Wait. Give it a few seconds. There, see, it is working again."
"And for that," said Matthew, "you expect a call-out fee?"
"Well, you called me, didn't you, and I came out."
We went to the Iranian restaurant for supper. Matthew paid the bill and the call-out fee, and at 7.23am the following morning he called Farzan again to say that he had no internet connection.
"What did you do to it?" asked Farzan.
"What do you mean, what did I do to it? I've been asleep since you left. No, no, no, no, you listen. For two seconds of your life you just listen..."
Louis and I debated whether to go for the chicken kebab or the Iranian lamb stew with pickled limes for dinner.Reuse content