Matthew was four hours late arriving for his first "official" visit to our Dorset cottage and the result of this delay was a dramatic, barely tolerable heightening of suspense. The cause of his lateness was a frozen computer; he had to start a piece of work (finish an internet poker game) all over again and this cost him three hours. Then, having reached the M3, he had to turn round, drive all the way back to Shepherd's Bush and pick up the carton of live locusts he had forgotten; food for Louis's pet gecko.
It was all very tense for us because preparations for the official visit have been at full throttle for several weeks, and while I thought I had covered everything, I am never, ever complacent when it comes to Matthew's "needs".
Taking my checklist out for the umpteenth time, I put yet another re- affirming tick against Sky+ and broadband, installed for the purposes of watching sport and, it goes without saying, the playing of internet poker. Whisky, wine and Diet Coke had been stockpiled as if in readiness for a Troy-length siege. Mangoes, cherries and lemons (unwaxed; Matthew will not brook a waxed lemon) were in the fruit bowl. Gunpowder green tea, which he drinks in huge amounts for his "heart and his prostate", was in the cupboard. The chimney sweep had swept and the fire was laid in case of inclement weather. In case of clement conditions, the deck chairs had been bought and arrayed, some under a tree, in case shade was required, some in the open. Egyptian cotton bed-linen was pressed and aired, Matthew's favourite Badedas was by the bath. The cottage was immaculate. The sitting room even had the requisite "Queen's visit" smell of fresh paint after I touched up some scuffing on the skirting board.
Thank heavens Louis noticed the absence of Bendick's Bittermints in time for a last-minute dash into Sherborne. If it hadn't been for the frozen computer and the forgotten locusts, we would not have made it back before the great arrival. But we did, and he pulled up outside the cottage at 4pm precisely. Within one hour and 22 minutes, the tour of inspection was completed. Astonishingly, he failed to find a single fault.
There was one dicey moment over the placing of the deck chairs. Matthew couldn't understand why I had put them in the main garden to the side of the cottage rather than in the small garden in front. "How can any passing villagers welcome me if I am hidden away up there?" he asked. "No, I need to be in full view. When I have had my bath I would like to come and sit out here, read the papers and be available for general meeting and greeting."
So there he was, gently snoozing in his deck chair, when Tony, a local odd-job man, popped round. He had come to measure up for a fence to keep Steptoe, our West Highland terrier, from wandering up the road in search of a neighbouring spaniel bitch on heat. Matthew leapt to his feet, shook Tony's hand, introduced himself and seemed somewhat put out that Tony did not say anything at all along the lines of: "How lovely to meet you at last," or: "May we humbly hope that our little village meets with your approval." Instead, he appeared to be looking anxiously over Matthew's shoulder towards the porch. "Hang on, hang on!" he said. "Don't panic, but move very slowly back inside the cottage – there's a bloody great wasps' nest in the roof of your porch."
"I didn't know Dad could run," said Louis with detached interest as Matthew, who is phobic about wasps, reached, not the cottage as advised, but the car, and locked himself inside it. Matthew, who has never been stung in his life, believes he could well suffer a deadly anaphylactic shock if he ever was. In London, he wears a fencing mask throughout the summer months and he has to hand at all times an array of swats, primarily a horse-hair one left to him by my equally phobic father.
"Get my adrenalin! For God's sake, get my adrenalin!" shouted Matthew from inside the car. Louis and I looked at each other and shrugged. All those weeks of preparation, the lists, the workmen, the laying in of crucial supplies, and the one thing I failed to get was adrenalin, the one thing I failed to spot was a nest containing, so Tony said, about 10,000 wasps. "I knew there'd be something, Mum," said Louis, patting my arm consolingly. "There always is."
Louis and I have been coming to the cottage every weekend since we took it on, and for the past fortnight, since Louis broke up from school, we have been here constantly. And never had I seen so many villagers as passed by that early evening. I don't think they came specifically to meet Matthew, as he likes to imagine they did. I think it is simply that life is like that. If your husband has locked himself in a car while a pest-control operative in protective clothing wields a syringe containing deadly powder around your front garden, that is the time onlookers are likely to gather.
And gather they did, making inquiries about the location and nature of the wasps' nest, and asking politely if my husband would be coming down from London soon. "Oh," said one woman, "I do hope he does. You need a man to deal with this kind of thing; wasps' nests, fencing, electrics etc."
And so I decided not to draw attention to the red-faced male shouting inaudibly from inside the locked and sealed Audi parked up just behind her.