Chapter 6

Thursday January 1st

"Another year over and what have I done? All my aspirations have shrivelled in the sun." sang Matt Johnson in 1983. That is the refrain that runs through my mind in a bout of morbid self-pity every New Year's day, but this year my karma is imbued with optimism and a healthy dose of self-belief. So roll on 2004, let's see what you are made of!

I cannot quite believe it is 2004, which is about 10.50am in my life assuming that I am still breathing by midnight. We depart the idyllic Welsh mountains and head back along the M4 towards London, the overcast skies failing to dampen my spirits. By the time we reach home I have decided to postpone middle age for a while and maintain my mental age of twenty-one: the age at which you have to start worrying about the future. This year will be twelve months of achieving goals, realizing unfulfilled dreams and making bold moves, it will be a year of expanded horizons and cultural enrichment.

I spend the evening slobbing in front of the T.V. watching Will Young fail to wine World Idol. Good start.

Friday January 2nd

Ecclesiasticus: "Foresake not an old friend; for the new is not comparable to him; a new friend is as new wine; when it is old; thou shalt drink it with pleasure." Not only did the apocryphal book, ostensibly a book of proverbs, predict the phenomenon of FriendsReunited.com but also suggests that the benefits of cellaring wine was acknowledged in the 2nd century B.C.

You are reading the results of my cultural enrichment that commenced yesterday.

On TV: nasty Janine chucks Barry off a cliff in Eastenders.

Friday January 3rd
Yosser Hughes
Bernard Hill

Tonight we are multiplex cinema-bound to witness the final part of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy: "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." Unfortunately we arrive with minutes to spare and have no choice but to sit in the very front row, mere inches away from hordes of disfigured orcs wielding their axes against Yosser Hughes, who seems to have done well since his headbutting "gissa' job" days in Thatcher's unemployment-ridden Liverpool.

The film is a thrilling ride although perhaps "The Two Towers"" is best of the three. Certainly the creepy scene with the giant arachnid, Jackson's homage to "Alien", is cinematic genius and is accompanied by an audible gasp as the equally bug-eyed Frodo falls into its snare. Reminds of many a wanton harlot ensnaring their male victim in the darkest recesses of Penthouse nightclub circa 1988. The battle scenes are jaw dropping in scope and pace, although the nauseating denouement carries on forever and drips with excessive sentimentality. Fortunately throughout, I manage to put Ricky Gervais comment that watching Lord of the Rings is like watching a three-hour Enya video to the back of my mind.

Whilst on the subject of films, allow to explain why the derided 1980 James Bond flick "Moonraker" is superior to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Oddity" having watched both last weekend. As a 9 or 10-year old "Moonraker" was the ultimate film: an unbeatable combination of 007 and Star Wars, a reprisal of the best Bond baddie ever in the form of "Jaws" (Richard Kiel with the pneumatic brace) topped off with a sprinkling of Roger Moore's deadpan humour. Perfect! Later that evening Tomoko and I sit down to watch Kubrick's so-called "masterpiece". By the first commercial break we have sat through twenty minutes of screeching apes mooching around doing naff all.

We may as well have gone to the zoo. Is that better than Bond commandeering a space shuttle to prevent Armageddon? I rest my case, though I doubt whether "Moonraker" will be appearing alongside Citizen Kane or Battleship Potemkin when film-critics re-evaluate the top ten movies of all time.

Thursday January 8th

First big tasting of the season in the resplendent surroundings of the hallowed Vintners Hall near the banks for the Thames. Today it is a first look at the lauded 2002 Burgundy vintage from Berry, Brothers and Rudd. A report will follow, but let me say that the style was different to what I expected. It is a well-organised event i.e. there is a free lunch, where I join two fellow website authors: Tom Cannavan and Jamie Goode with a sarnie (or two). I taste around sixty wines and discuss the vintage with growers such as Jean Grivot and Guillaume Tardy. Having been esconced within the less convivial, more formal world of Bordeaux it is a joy to meet winegrowers who you could invite down the pub afterwards.

Jancis Robinson makes an entrance and the cogs of my resolution fall off as her presence overwhelms me. She is dressed like a 20-year old and as usual, gets away with it. Surely there must be a job for her as Cosmopolitan's fashion correspondant should she ever tire of wine? Tomoko arrives later and naturally we maintain a high degree of professionalism, just a nod of acknowledgment when she enters the hall but make a mental note of nameless individuals flirting outrageously with her.

Saturday January 10th

Tomoko's Gallic friend Xavier comes for dinner and I select three Burgundy wines from Confuron and Engel, after which we move on to the Baileys, which I regret the following morning. However, the virtue of great Pinot is that it leaves you with less of a hangover, which HRH Jancis fails to mention in her "Vine, Wine & Grapes" tome. I think the subject of grape varietal vs. hangover deserves a book in itself.

Sunday January 11th

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. That is the weather forecast for this sodden month that should be renamed "31 Days of Gloom". All your money has been spent on Christmas presents, presents were immediately returned to M&S by their ungrateful recipients. You are penniless, nobody releases any good music, summer is too distant to contemplate and the weather is shite. Tortoises have the right idea by shutting up shop during their period of hibernation. Humans should do likewise.

Anyway, enough moaning. Today is my colleague Phil's birthday and represents the first social outing of the year and we flit across the metropolis to "The Engineer", a respected gastropub blossoming with affluent thirty-somethings from Primrose Hill, basking in their intelligence and good fortune. The food is satisfactory although I maintain that its rival gastropub down the road, "The Lansdowne" has the edge. By the time we depart, the leaden sky is so dark that it looks as if God tired of watching "Last Of the Summer Wine" and decided to switch off life on Earth instead. Then again, I would feel the same if I had to watch Sunday's sorry excuse for comedy.

Monday January 12th

This week is "Burgundy Week", although that is no excuse not to squeeze in a tasting of forty delicious Brunellos before lunch. I head off to the "Landmark Hotel", one of those salubrious five-stars unafforable to 99.9% of Humankind. The tasting is well organised and by that, I mean that the organizers lay on wholesome lunch, even though they forget to provide tables to eat at. I defer "Diet 2004" for a day and opt for the wild boar and potato, then return later since the salami looks so tempting. Jancis is here, in fact I anticipate seeing her a few times this week although I doubt whether we will converse. I am a useless networker and constantly feel as if I am disturbing people by notifying them of my existence. I habitually garble inanely before scampering away like a frightened mouse.

After the Brunello tasting I head back onto the South Bank for an intimate tasting of some Burgundies at Morris & Verdin before tubing back to the office. This evening we watch "Wall of Silence", a horrific true-life account of the unmotivated murder of a teenager in 1997. After two-hours of compelling, intelligent drama I vow never to live on a council-estate.

Tuesday January 13th

Burgundy Part II and it's a seventy-five Pinothon down Saint James Street courtesy of Howard Ripley. The wine journalist posse is out in force this afternoon, an indication that they have some serious wines to offer: Armand Rousseau, La Pousse d'Or, de L'Arlot and so on. Whilst most of us scribble indecipherable squiggles on a sheet of paper that we try and unscramble later, Robert Joseph, one of the UK's most respected critics proudly opens his gleaming laptop to type his notes directly onto cutting edge technology. This would be fine save for the fact that he can only type with one finger. His expensive looking machine is opened precariously close to the spitoon and no doubt a few drops of Volnay/saliva seep into his CPU unit at some point. HRH Jancis is here though she seems to have finished all the wines just as we arrive, an unfair headstart in my opinion, but then again she is royalty.

I maintain a steady pace throughout the tasting, all the time keeping one eye on the level of Chambertin from Rousseau. My palate begins to fatigue by the 70th wine and I contemplate exactly how long it is going to take to write all these notes up? Perhaps I will give them to Robert Joseph. He should complete them by 2010.

Wednesday January 14th

Burgundy Week continues unabated with the annual tasting at London wine-merchant Justerini & Brooks. For several years this has been held in Pall Mall at the Institute of Directors, basically a chill-out zone for CEOs to convene and diarize their next round of golf, while the workers sweat away in the factory. However, upon entering the building for a prompt four o'clock start, I have an unerring feeling that something is amiss and my doubts are confirmed when the door attendant answers: "What tasting???"

Whoops. Wrong venue and I am wasting precious tasting-minutes traipsing across Saint James Park to the correct destination. I had intended to get a head start before the masses arrive but alas the place is already thronging with Joe Public before I have even collected by tasting glass. The wines are generally top-notch: the only problem is that there are simply too many to taste, particularly as there are fine German and Alsace wines on show. Still, I manage around seventy wines and Tomoko turns gofer in bringing the samples over, thereby avoiding the crush of pin-stripes around the tables. HRH Jancis graces us with her presence again as do numerous notable wine-scribes, including Robert Joseph who appears to have already fired his laptop.

Thursday January 15th

Today is the final lap of Burgundy Week at the Sopexa tasting in Pimlico. The wines are less auspicious than those encountered over the last week but there are still some interesting wines such as Chateau de Fuissé. I visited them about six years ago, an occasion that my ex-manager would rather forget as he spent the entire visit in the little boys room after over-indulging in French gastronomy.
Never follow frogs legs by snails and chocolate pudding...never.

Lunch is served next door at the cookery school where a young Jamie Oliver learnt his trade. It resembles school-dinners as we patiently queue up for 20 minutes to be served, whilst a histrionic wine educator has an apoplectic fit over the salad bar. I do not have pleasant memories of school-dinners, just vague recollections of a 7-year old weeping over a pile of over-boiled carrots. At that time I abhorred all vegetables save for potatoes and peas and the mere thought being force-fed carrots, cauliflower and God forbid, cabbage, filled me with abject horror. Matters have improved to a degree though my dietary regimen still forbids the aforementioned legumes. At the top of the toxic list is the heinous Brussel sprout, a vegetable that provokes a similar reaction in me as Superman and kryptonite, an abomination that even Saddam Hussein refused to stock pile. It is a vegetable that manages to concentrate all the nauseous features of cabbage into a small bud of evil. Even at La Gavroche the rejected veg have found themselves shovelled into a tidy pile at the side of my plate for Michel Roux to mull over on its return.

Friday January 16th
sergei eisenstein

Every day I am sucked into Oxford Tube station with the thousands of fellow communters whose brains shut down simutaneously with their computers. Inside the station I must walk past a disturbing poster of smug film director Michael Winner dressed as a fairy in a vain attempt to sell insurance. I am sure that Sergei Eisenstein would have refused to stoop so low. I have two options returning home: to catch the train from Victoria Station that always leaves bang-on 10 to 20 minutes late, or remain on the tube down to Brixton which entails waiting at a bus-stop surrounded by dealers selling narcotics and pirate DVD's. If the bus fails to turn up then you can always venture down to the KFC where you will never feel so nervous as you ponder whether to have extra large fries or not.

Tonight, I buy the new and fantastic Kelis CD and listen to it ad nauseum.

Saturday January 17th

At the beginning of the year, the Evening Standard printed a list of "50 Things You Have To Do In 2004" and one of their more intelligent suggestions is to visit Borough Market near London Bridge, the capital's stock exchange for fresh produce untainted by chemicals or supermarkets' greed. Borough is one of the few areas to have retained an element of Victorian London, before it became an identi-kit metropolis of chrome, glass 'n Starbucks. The area is traversed by a network of train lines and the Victorian brick buildings encrusted with decades of fumes that resonate Dicken's London. It is where Brigitte Jones runs after Mark in the snow (not that it ever snows like that in London.)

The market is crammed and it is a little more touristy that I would have liked. There is an bustling array of shoppers: affluent dual-income couples purchasing unobtainable ingredients for their weekend supplement recipe, young Japanese students, loyal regulars who must lament the day when it was simply their local veg market rather than a mecca for foodies. Undoubtedly the produce is more natural, more organic than your supermarket fare although I suspect one or two of the more unscrupulous vendors are making a handsome return on their £5.00 "Ms. Miggins Devonshire Cookies" that were micro-waved at their Peckham council flat the previous night. We call into truly marvellous fromagerie: "Neal's Yard" which is filled to the rafters with rounds of oozing cheese. After sampling what seems to be most of their ware we buy some Caerphilly for dinner.

Stay in tonight due to financial restrictions and because it is January. Nobody ventures out in January.