Although Matthew is a man of the most unrelenting personal fastidiousness – spending anything up to three hours a day bathing – he has never actually cleaned anything else in the house other than himself (unless you count his meerschaum pipe, which he once suggested putting in the dishwasher).
It would be unfair, however, to accuse him of ignoring domestic matters entirely, because he does do some of the food shopping and cooking, and he makes me a gin and tonic of an evening. And it was this last small service that I requested at four o'clock in the afternoon the day before Louis, the dogs, Miles the tortoise and I set off for a half-term holiday in Devon.
"I'd like my gin and tonic now," I said. Matthew looked at me with concern. "Who are you, Betty Ford?" he asked.
"My nerves need steadying," I said, "please fetch me a drink immediately." As he wandered off to the fridge to fetch the ice, I took the opportunity to stare in bewilderment at the items that had disconcerted me so. It was an array of goods that, a few moments before, had been lifted out of a Budgens carrier bag. Lovingly arranged in a perfect circle around the fruit bowl on the kitchen table were a bottle of Fairy Liquid, three washing-up brushes, a bottle of Harpic, two packs of J-cloths, a yellow dustpan and brush, some Vim, a bottle of Flash, and some tea towels.
"Something is very, very wrong," I said, as Matthew handed me my G&T.
"My God, yes, you're right!" he shrieked. "Where the hell is my Pledge?" And picking up his car key, he leapt out of the front door, returning a minute later, clearly relieved, with the Pledge.
"As I'm always saying," he said (for the first time ever), "you never feel a room is really clean unless it has that welcoming aroma of furniture polish."
It was then that I decided to do what Matthew does when the disbelief is, as it were, on the other foot. I drained my glass. Then I asked for another one and drained that, put the glass down on the table and asked the reason for such a sudden proliferation of cleaning products. But before I could get the question fully out, Matthew grabbed the glass saying, "No, no, no. Not without a coaster! I'm in charge of housework for the next week and I don't need you messing things up before I've even started."
And then I understood. Because he can't cope with the melancholy of a small, dark (I call it cosy) Devon cottage in February, Matthew is staying in London, and because she has a bad back, our cleaning lady won't be coming. This has come as a blow to Matthew, who likes, indeed demands, a spotless house. But when I suggested he ring an agency and hire some temporary help, he went quiet and drained a tumbler of his own.
It turns out that we cannot actually afford to hire an agency cleaning lady, news that came as something of a shock to me, so much so that I helped myself to a third gin and tonic.
"You see, we are not so flush at the moment," said Matthew, and it is all because of Obama. In fact, it is entirely Obama's fault."
But of course, it wasn't Barack Obama's fault at all, it was Matthew's fault because, as he soon confessed, ever since Super Tuesday he has been operating a strange kind of insurance policy: he has been placing large bets on Hillary Clinton to win the primaries and caucuses because, as he explained, "If she beats Obama, at least I'll have lots of money to spend, which might lessen the pain of Obama losing. And if Obama wins, bless him, I'll be so relieved I won't care about the losses!"
"So, how many elections have there been since Super Tuesday?" I asked.
"Eight," said Matthew.
"And how many of those has Barack Obama won?"
"So that means Hillary has won..."
I could see that Matthew, even in his distress, was toying with the idea of making his traditional Carol Vorderman reference in relation to my astonishing maths skills, but in the end, the fight had gone out of him.
"But that's great news, isn't it?" I enthused, "that Hillary is losing?"
"Well, yes," said Matthew, "for Obama it is, and potentially, in a geopolitical sense, yes, you are right. But for us, purely in a financial sense then, no, not really. No, it is not great news at all."
And then he headed upstairs with the Vim, saying, "I think I'll give the bath a bit of a going over."
I bought him a broom in a cut-price shop in Tavistock as a belated Valentine, and when I phoned, I didn't tell him about the uninsured iPhone and purse that I left on the roof of the car before driving off from the service station on the M4. Later, when I called again, he said that Obama had won in Wisconsin and Hawaii, and this meant we had suffered heavy financial losses, so he was having to go easy on the Pledge.Reuse content