After 10 years of relentless, attritional nagging, Matthew has finally cracked, and we now have a cottage in the country. Why he caved in so suddenly, I do not know perhaps it was the whisky. But that would beg the question: why hasn't the whisky done it before?
We were having what we like to call our "evening drink". It was just after 5pm, just before the Weakest Link, and I sighed and said: "What a beautiful evening. How lovely it would be to have a country cottage." Normally Matthew would have ignored me, but this time he didn't. He looked me right in the eye the one with the episcleritis inflammation that he has been so jealous of all week, and he said: "You don't think you are being too opaque about this, do you? Only I'm struggling to penetrate the meaning of these constant mentions you make of a property in a rural setting."
And then he stood up, gathered the 37 pictures of a Dorset cottage which I'd printed from the internet that were spread over the sofa, and sighed.
Matthew's sighs fall into four distinct categories there is the sigh that is punctuated by the clicking of his teeth with irritation, then there is the air-sucked-through-the-mouth reverse sigh indicating outrage. But more common are the snorted sigh of derision and the rasping sigh of despair. On this occasion, however, he performed a sigh I had never heard from him before. It was the soft, indulgent sigh of resignation.
"Oh all right," he sighed, glancing at the photographs, "it is pretty, and I can fight no more. We can afford it if we live on wood lice and never turn the heating on again, so take the bleeding cottage."
Without saying a word, in case it provoked a change of mind, I sprinted up to my office and called the estate agent. We moved in four days later.
Matthew was not with us that first Friday evening. It was just Louis, the dogs and me. Matthew says he will move in when what he calls "the essential nutrients of human existence", are in place. By this he means Sky+ and wireless broadband. He has also requested that I compile a reliable list of the nearest bookmaker, casino, Indian takeaway, Chinese takeaway, pizza delivery firm, pub and, curiously, shoe shop. When I asked him about this last one, he replied gnomically, "Only a fool would underestimate the central importance of the well-made shoe to the self-respecting country gentleman."
Other than these few requirements, he promised not to interfere in any way. This was essential as Matthew takes after his late grandfather Stanley, a loveable man with a slightly pessimistic approach to matters of property. When we bought our house in Shepherd's Bush, Stanley inquired after the roof. "It's flat, Stanley," said Matthew. Stanley then sighed heavily (a pursed lip, nose-extending sigh of deep concern that is mysteriously missing from Matthew's own repertoire.) "Flat, eh?" he said. "Oh, no, hang on a minute, Stanley, it's not flat at all," said Matthew. "It's sloping." "Sloping eh?" sighed Stanley, "That's not so good. Not good at all."
So, I don't want Matthew doing a Stanley on me and muttering darkly about the decoration, the quality of the brickwork, every fixture, fitting, nook, cranny and the plumbing. He has already done some sighing over the kitchen furniture I picked up at a junk shop in the Shepherd's Bush Road. He ran his hand down a chair leg, like a vet inspecting a fetlock, and said he didn't much care for the carpentry.
The cottage, despite being empty and a bit chilly, felt very homely, and will feel even more so when Matthew does arrive and turns a television on in every room. Televisions give off a good heat. The village is picturesque no post office or shop, which is a shame, but a church and a village hall, a playing field, a tennis court and a boules ground. Unusually for the West Country, the mobile phone signal is perfect, and this is good news because I will be able to keep in touch with my brother, who lives a few miles away, and he can bring essential provisions. This strong phone signal, however, is also a disastrous thing, because it means Matthew can contact me at any time. And, of course, he does.
He was remarkably restrained that first evening, rationing his calls to just seven. The first was to ask if there was a Sky dish (there is), the second was to ask if there will be an problem installing broadband (there won't), then it was to ask how long it will take to install broadband (I told him I would get back to him) and then it was to inquire whether the Sky dish can be reactivated (yes). The fifth call concerned nearby pig farms (not that we've noticed) and the sixth was a double header, lacking originality, about Sky and broadband. The seventh and final one of that day was an inquiry about the roof (thatched). This news provoked a sigh that was hard to identify over the phone, but it might well have been a rasp of despair.
By 11am the following morning, Matthew had called a further five times, mostly about telecommunications, but also wanting to know if I had located either a bookmaker or a bowling alley. After the fifth call, Louis asked when I thought Matthew might be coming down to our new cottage to see it for himself, and I told him it would depend on our progress with Sky, broadband and the building of the new super-casino in nearby Melbury Bubb. "So," I said, "with any luck, we should have everything ready for you father's arrival by Christmas 2014."