“Hello!” she greeted me with a hug, “I’m Sally. Pleasure to meet you, Matt.”
She ushered us into the living room – it felt strange that I already knew my way around – and encouraged me to sit down. On the other side of the room, a dark ginger man with poor skin was sitting curled up in a chair, much like a cat, plugged into a music player. Hands were shaken and I was informed that Terry – Matts dad - was in the kitchen, cooking. I placed myself on the sofa and waited for the brief commotion to settle down. Before long, I actually felt a little at home. Mildly like I was at my Grandparents house… It may sound a little insulting, but it was a similar sort of set up. Bearing in mind the age difference, it was very similar. Terry – a large man with a beard like Father Christmas came in and sat down on the sofa next to me. As we had come in the living room, an ancient woman - who Matt had told me about on the way here – was sat waiting in a chair by the door. I had already been told that ‘Grandma’ as she was known, like to be touched as she was virtually blind. I remember holding her hands in mine as I greeted her before taking my seat on the sofa.
Before long, conversation was in full swing. Sally and Grandma were chatting away in the corner with Ben plugged in in the other corner. Terry had struck up a conversation with me, and seemed genuinely interested, which was nice, although I found it a little unnerving that he avoided eye contact for most of the time, choosing instead to look at the blank TV screen. I could sense Matt behind me, just sitting and watching the afternoon unfold… All of a sudden, Sally called across to Terry;
“Where’s that brochure, dear? For the thing…”
“Brochure?” Matt asked.
“Well, you’re father and I have gone a bit mad, dear,” Sally announced.
“Oh? Why, what have you done?” Matt replied, cautiously. It wasn’t every day your parents announced they had gone mad.
“Well, we’ve bought a sideboard for in the dining room. We’ve wanted one for a while, but your father and I can’t decide on one we both.”
“So we went to that furniture shop in Bristol. You know the one?”
“Gardiner Haskins, you mean?”
“No, the other one. Anyway, so we went there and found one we both liked, so we bought it.”
“Oh. Right. Well, what’s it made out of?”
It was here that Ben – Matt’s brother – decided he was going to unplug himself from his musical accessories and join in the conversation.
“Tell them about the package, though.”
“Yes, so, we didn’t just buy the sideboard, which has shelves and things on the top. We bought a table and six chairs, because we’ve only ever had that table and when you two were young and we did all the cutting and sticking and things on it, it was fine. But now there’s all marks on it, so I always use a tablecloth and I thought it would be nice to have a new one. So we bought that too.”
“Right, so what’s it made out of?”
“Oh, it’s oak. Solid oak. It’s beautiful. But we had a bit of trouble with the shape because I wanted the tablecloths to fit, but they were all a different shape.”
“Well, couldn’t you just buy a new tablecloth?”
“Well no. I like the tablecloths I have, but we went with it in the end.”
I couldn’t help but laugh and chuckle to myself. When it came to tablecloths, my mum wasexactlythe same.
“So we bought that and then with that we bought two EASY chairs to go against the radiator up that end of the room.”
“So, how much did it all cost?” he inquired, looking over the brochure which his mother had passed him.
“Well, how much do you think?” his mother asked quickly replied, a glint clearly in her eye.
“The whole package,” his brother reiterated, “Solid oak, six chairs, well, eight chairs, table and a side board.Solid oak.”
He sat there for a minute, guesstimating the value of all these items in his head, before deciding that he couldn’t bear to think about the gaping hole that had been left in his parents bank balance following their moment of madness.
“I don’t know,” he declared.
“Well,” his mother began, “The whole thing came to just under £3000.”
His mother nodded.
“I hope they threw in delivery.”
“Oh, yes, dear. Naturally,” his mother replied with a cheeky smile.
While Terry finished making the lunch – a traditional Sunday roast – I helped out by making up drinks and carrying them into the dining room. We sat and ate and it was all very civil and welcoming. Amazingly, due to my eating anxieties, I managed to eat all of the food that was provided. I decided this was a good thing and I felt comfortable here. I didn’t feel judged or scrutinised, just welcomed and wanted. It was a really nice feeling. We talked about what I did with my time and I mentioned that I was due to perform in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in March. Grandma interjected and said that she performed in the opera once and so she could relate to how extremely difficult it was. I smiled to myself. I just felt happy. We talked some more about music, about the past, present and future and everything I said they seemed interested in and glad to have me there.
Eventually, however, the time came to say goodbye and we all dressed ourselves to leave and piled into cars – Terry and Sally had to drop Grandma home – and we drove away from the house without a look back. When Matt dropped me back, we sat and talked for a while before I got out the car. The next time I would see him would – hopefully – be for Blood Brothers the following Saturday. I got in the house and collapsed. I was full to bursting and exhausted. The pudding which Terry had made under a recipe from a friend was delicious and I was beginning to wish I’d asked for the recipe. Although, on second thoughts, that may have been more than a little strange.
I sat at the computer and watched Rent, having been nagged about it for years by Emma and now discovering that it was also one of Matts favourite films, I figured I ought to put in the effort, so I bought it from the iTunes store and sat in the study on my lonesome and watched this epic musical masterpiece. I am not ashamed to say that I absolutely bawled my eyes out when Angel died. So much so that the sleeve of my cardigan was virtually dripping wet. Unsurprisingly, then, Rent quickly became one of my favourite films and I quickly went about acquiring the soundtrack.
The following week passed blindingly fast and before I had a chance to blink, it was Saturday once again. Matt had already informed me that his parents approved of me from out little visit on Sunday, although, as expected, they commented on my age;
“He’s very young, Matthew,” Matt squawked in a feeble attempt at mimicking his mother when he rang me on the telephone later in the evening, “But, no, they liked you a lot. They said you were very charming.”
“Well, that’s okay, then.”
There wasn’t much to the conversation, but I was satisfied with what I had been told, so I didn’t really mind…