I don't think I will ever forget Matthew's animal yelp of distress as he read a two-day old English newspaper in a Greek taverna on the tiny, peaceful island of Poros. "Sweet Lord Jesus, no," he wailed. "What have they done? God damn them all to hell, what have they done?"
Looking back on it now from the calm vantage point of several weeks later, I see that, wittingly or otherwise, Matthew was imitating, or even aping, Charlton Heston's reaction to finding the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand at the end of Planet of the Apes. At the time, though, I did what everyone else in that taverna did; I stared at him in alarm and asked: "What is it, what is it? Please, tell me, what on earth has happened?"
Matthew lowered the paper and looked at me. His distress was palpable. He shook his head slowly from side to side and said: "It is not good news. Not good at all."
And then I started reading for myself and even in that instant I was aware that this would be a JFK/Princess Diana moment; that I would never be able to forget where I was or what I was doing when I learnt the truly shocking news...
Where were you when you heard that Carol Vorderman had left Countdown over a pay dispute? It is almost a month now since that media earthquake and the aftershocks continue to affect all of us. All of us, that is, in our particular household. How the rest of the nation is coping I have no idea, but we – Matthew, Louis and I – are not doing well. We suffer still on a daily basis and it doesn't look as if it's going to get better.
Louis and I would, I imagine, be doing fine if it weren't for the extraordinary effect that the announcement has had on Matthew and the knock-on effects of that effect. Why it has taken him this way I can't fathom, especially as he has not seen Countdown since the late Nineties. But, he says, that isn't the point. The crucial thing about Carol Vorderman, he maintains, is that she was one of the few surviving, immovable fixtures in British life, and that her absence "will affect us all in ways we won't understand. And one day in the not too distant future we will wake up feeling spiritually the poorer for her going."
As I have said to Matthew a number of times since that shocking afternoon in late July: "I can't quite see it myself." I can't quite see that her absence from our screens, especially as we never watched her anyway, will have such a resounding effect on our everyday lives. I admit I have never been a huge fan of Carol and I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for someone who was earning more than £1m a year for doing sums, although Matthew says this is a manifestation of my envy – and he could be right; I am what I like to call "numerically dyslexic". I can't add up, or multiply, or subtract, and I am not at all good at fractions. I must also be grateful that he has not suggested that I am jealous of her trim, size 10 figure.
Still, the fact that I am no great fan aside, I could accept her as a symbol of permanence in a fast-changing world. And I can admire her for the unflinching way she undertook her annual detox and promoted health-giving yogurt- based drinks. I must also commend her for her heroic efforts in helping the tragically indebted by advertising advantageous loan packages on the telly.
What I couldn't quite cope with was Matthew's startling announcement that I should be Carol's replacement on Countdown despite my failure to reach the mathematical standards expected of a pre-school child. A Professor Higgins glint came into his eye when he revealed his plan to transform me from innumerate dunce to genius mathematician and for three days he coached me until I was able to complete the famously tricky 11 times table, getting stuck only on 10 x 11; a confusing equation coming after the 77, 88, 99 pattern that I had brilliantly grasped quite early on.
Then one evening, as we watched The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson posed the question: "In mathematics, what is 58 plus 2?" and I, excited about my new-found skills, shouted out: "59!" Matthew looked morosely over at Louis, who had been drafted in to play the Wilfrid Hyde-White role in this version of "My Thick Lady", and they raised their eyebrows at one another, and Matthew said he was giving up on me.
What he has not given up, however, is his habit of relentlessly holding Carol up as a role model. Nothing I do is right these days. "Carol wouldn't roast a chicken like that," he will say, as I render the schmaltz, preparatory to putting it in the oven (as instructed by Nigella). Then, when I am driving, he says such things as: "No way would Carol still be in third gear on a gradient like this one."
Then, as I am relaxing in the evenings, he will ask me if I think Carol would be pouring herself a third gin and tonic. "Even out of detox season I don't believe she'd have finished the second, do you?" he queries. And out of desperation, I admit, I do pour myself a third gin and tonic.
So, in conclusion, no, I don't think that Matthew ever will let me forget where I was the day Carol Vorderman left Countdown.Reuse content