Rebecca Tyrrel: 'It's best to just say nothing'

Days Like Those: 'Matthew swore that he would never again board an aeroplane. So why did he insist we go to Greece?'

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Rarely had I ever dreaded anything as much. I look back wistfully now on root-canal dentist appointments, which seem like good behaviour treats in comparison to our proposed holiday in Greece with Matthew.

Usually I enjoy foreign travel, but then it usually involves just Louis and me minus Matthew, the husband/father figure in the foreground threatening to handcuff himself to a British Airways official rather than endure what he refers to as "this sheer unadulterated hell" a minute longer.

Five years ago, Matthew swore "on the life of Spurs" that he would never again board an aeroplane. "May Tottenham Hotspur vanish from the Earth if I break this solemn pledge," he said as he stood in the broiling mass of humanity at Palermo airport. "You are my witness," he told an all-too-knowing check-in operative, who smiled then said "OK!" and sent his suitcase for a two-week break in Lost Luggage.

Last October, Matthew didn't come with us to India, but he did insist on escorting us to Heathrow. "Your airline is a seeping, weeping, pustulating, gangrene-infested wound on the arse of humanity," he said to a member of the BA ground staff. And when the staff member insisted she was following procedures, he added, "That defence cut no ice with the judges at Nuremberg, madam, and it cuts none with me today."

So why, oh why did Matthew insist on a holiday in Greece this year? No answer was forthcoming other than the recital of the same passage of Greek that I have heard over and over again these last 17 years since we wed. I have often wondered if he really did have the classical education of which he boasts or whether he simply learnt just the one all-purpose passage.



****

We set off bright and early for our Aegean airways flight, driving to Stansted airport via Islington to pick up our two friends. Both Catherine, the mother, and Frances, the daughter, had been gently warned that Matthew is not an easy man to love in the vicinity of a luggage carousel and that they should temper their behaviour accordingly.

However, as they were in a sunny holiday mood that bright morning, I fretted I might have been too gentle with the warnings. I winced as they laughed in a "never mind, we are on holiday!" manner after Matthew announced through gritted teeth that he had left his computer in Shepherd's Bush and we would have to go back and fetch it.

Yet, oddly, their cheeriness seemed to have a happy effect as we bowled back home down the A40, because instead of questioning the point of his own existence and tearing wildly at his hair in anticipation of a missed flight, Matthew was using such upbeat phrases as "How foolish of me to be so absent minded. Oh well, we've still got loads of time."



****

Still, Louis and I clutched anxiously at each other as we walked through the automatic doors at Stansted, just behind Matthew who had come to a meaningful halt in order to utter his very first "I can't believe this!" of the day. "Say nothing," I whispered to Catherine and Frances. "It's always best to just say nothing. Treat all his questions as rhetorical and say nothing." But hard to take in as it was, Matthew was not banging his head against his trolley. Instead, his face was lifted heavenwards and across it was an alarmingly ecstatic grin.

He turned, raised his arms like Jesus and said, "This I cannot believe. It is simply beyond credulity."

It was, indeed. The airport was almost empty and, as we made our way to the Aegean check-in desk, there was a smiling operative asking for our passports. She only dropped the smile to look at Matthew as he clasped his hands, rubbed them with glee, raised them skywards, lowered them and then said, "But no, this cannot be. Where are the heaving masses? I know, the flight has been cancelled! Surely things cannot be going this smoothly? Mind you, it's not a British Airways flight, that could explain it. Perhaps I am not dreaming."

Once reassured that the flight would be leaving on time, Matthew continued to smile beatifically, so much so that I started to worry that people would think he was on drugs.



****

So revoltingly at one with the world was he, that Catherine and Frances began checking their boarding passes in the hope that they wouldn't be seated near him. Impossible though he may be while threatening to lie in front of a 747, he is so much worse when he is ostentatiously congratulating ground staff. He suffered moments of doubt, of course, and these were strangely welcome. At one point he predicted we would pay for the ease with which we had made it to the plane "with a corkscrew spin on to the peak of Mount Olympus".

But as Louis and I clamped on our headphones before take-off we could only pity the man the other side of Matthew who was getting the full "I don't believe it..." speech. Louis said it reminded him of the scene in the film Airplane!, when someone attempts to hang himself rather than listen to Ted Striker's life-story. And then he said, "You know, I think I preferred Dad when he was threatening to set fire to himself on a luggage carousel in Rome."

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