Chapter 15

Friday 18th June

Japanese curry for lunch with Phil and Kim at my favourite curry shop. Having meticulously extrictated the chunks of carrot into a little mound just behind the hillock of sticky rice, I am ready to devour my katsu curry. Years of being force-fed a variety of boiled vegetables was all in vain. I still perform my ritual of winnowing any vegatables that might offend or cause me irreparable harm. I estimate that one-third of my life has been wasted, prodding legumes.

Saturday 19th June
ZX Spectrum

I drive to Joel's for the day to work on the grand new design for wine-journal.com (relaunch later this summer.) He is a bit of a "techie", his home a menagerie of gadgets that confuse me. At one point, his friend calls while we are working on his laptop and the conversation suddenly appears on the screen, his voice from some other part of the room. I begin to hyper-ventilate from a telecommunication/21st century overload, my brain is melting from the surfeit of technology. It is not a new phenomenom. I spent years trying to learn the misleadingly titled BASIC computer language for my ZX Spectrum (pictured right) in the early 1980's and got as far as making it go "beep". Anything more complicated would stretch my brain cells to breaking point and give me a headache.

We have a break for lunch at a Japanese restaurant in Ealing. Joel drives me in a bright yellow open-top Fiat sports-car that only a twenty-something with a bit of spare dosh and a need for speed would buy. It is utterly impracticle for anything other than getting from "A" to "B" in the maximum amount of fun as possible.

Monday 21st June

The longest day of the year. Henceforth winter will descend upon us and it will soon be Xmas. In the afternoon I attend Justerini & Brooks annual Italian tasting at the Oriental Mandarin Hotel. I arrive early to taste the marvellous Barolos of Clerico, Scavino, Altare et al. and get home before kick-off for the England vs Croatia match tonight. It looks as if everyone has the same intention and no doubt the tasting suddenly becomes deserted around 6:30. I have a brief chat with Steven Spurrier and then notice HRH Jancis on the far side sporting an apron that looks as if it was bought from John Galliano's last haute-couture collection. Is this the new accoutrement that any aspiring wine-critic will be wearing this autumn? I resist asking her to bake me a cake if she is not too busy, but make a decision to wear my black smock that was gifted by a generous Bordeaux negotiant to my next tasting. Yes, it protects my suit from splashes of red vino, but on the other hand, I look like a villain from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. The Hooded Claw perchance?

Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!
Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!
Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!

Glad I got that out of my system. Having sampled around forty Italian wines, mostly Barolos from the 2000 vintage, I hurry home to watch 18-year maestro Wayne Rooney make mince-meat of the Croatian defence and propel himself into the Beckham stratosphere of popularity. Granted, he looks as if someone has taken his head to a lathe, but that won't stop "Heat" magazine plastering him over their front-cover for the next year.

Next stop: the home-team Portugal. Come on England!

Tuesday 22nd June

Today I am doing a "Phil Collins" (remember when he performed at both London and Philadelphia on the same day at Live Aid?) That is to say, I have three tastings on the same night and I will attempt to attend all three.

Firstly it is a short bus ride down to the Institute of Directors for the Chateau Climens vertical, organized by Linden Wilkie's Fine Wine Experiece.com. He has kindly let me perform a "pre-tasting" tasting. There was no way I wanted to miss gems such as the 1947 and 1949. An article will follow shortly.

Gulping down the remnants of the 1947 and 1949 (you don't really expect me to spit wines like those out do you?) I rush back up to Hanover Square on the number three bus to partake in the second tasting: Japanese saké. There are half a dozen top producers who have flown over from their homeland to show their wares, all resplendant in their happi (a loose cotton jacket decorated with Japanese writing on the lapels, often worn by shop-owners, and indeed saké producers.)

They enthusiastically explain the different styles of saké and I have to say that it really opened my eyes: barrel aged saké lighter styles with fresh acidity and heavier styles; even a sparkling saké that would make a fine aperitif. Similar to wine producers, saké is not merely a beverage, but a spiritual panacea. If the wines are as good and as interesting as these, then I can imagine more and more people discovering this somewhat enigmatic wine in the coming years. Alas, with so many wine-merchants in attendance and so many saké producers to speak to and so much delicious sushi to eat, I remain there until 9:45pm, too late to attend the final charity tasting organized by CECWINE. Still, two out of three is not bad.

Wednesday 23rd June

I would like to thank Sainsbury's for sending me a sanitary towel through the post. Which marketing buffoon thought this one up? Has marketing become so sophisticated that it can predict customers' precise time of the month and react accordingly? I ask Tomoko if she has need of it, but she turns down their kind offer. I am thinking of returning it to Sainsbury's with a note thanking them for their compassion.

Thursday 24th June

Today is dominated by the England vs Portugal quarter-final, an encounter even more eagerly awaited than Southend United playing Gillingham FC. The papers have been deifying Wayne Rooney for the past few days, comparing him with Pele; interviewing people that met him for thirty seconds at school in order to obtain in depth interviews. The day is simply a precursor for this evening's showdown, though my nerves are not helped by my computer contracting some incurable disease and going into a coma. Unable to receive e-mail is debilitating, I feel helpless, useless. A long lost friend could be inviting me to an unmissable party or Kylie could be contacting me for a hot date. I sit here completely mute, cut off from the rest of the world.

I dash off a quick dinner before the match: under-cooked chicken with watery mushroom sauce is on the menu ce soir. The match is like compressing the emotion of every Shakespearian romance (England and Wayne Rooney), tragedy (Rooney breaking his metatarsal) and comedy (the referee's dismissal of Sol Campbell's perfectly legitimate last-minute goal) in three hours. I feel deflated after we lose. Life is not fair. Still Germany 2006 - here we come.

Friday 25th June

The nation awakes in mourning for millions of dreams have been shattered along with Wayne Rooney's bloody toe and a million comparisons with Pele have been hastily rescinded by the tabloids. England: perpetual runners-up yet again. Watching sport reminds me why I love music so much. It is the one field of endeavour, one artistic arena where we are unquestionably the best in the world, an island that gave birth to the Beatles, The Clash, The Smiths and Radiohead. The French gave us Johnny Halliday, the Dutch: Venga Boys. Need I say more?

This evening I attend a tasting at "Colonel Jasper's" wine bar near Old Street, courtesy of a tasting circle organized by John D Rhodes. For the first time in my short life I seem to be treated as a special guest, but to my disappointment nobody requests my autograph and demands a lock of my hair. Everyone is congenial, enjoying the wines whilst keeping one eye on France getting knocked out of the European Cup on the giant TV screen. The food is regular wine-bar cuisine though the venison a bit tough. But the fermented grape juice is top-notch, a horizontal of 1991's from Bordeaux, Australia and Portugal (article in the "in-tray".)

Of course conversation centres around wine, although Linden Wilkie confesses his secret life as a KFC chef, which immediately sends him several rungs up in my estmation. I interrogate him about his experiences at the greatest fast food chain in the world and he divulges their secret recipe. I would tell you, but it would result in my immediate assassination.

When I return home I am still buzzing from a Quinta do Noval 1991, so I stay up to watch Glastonbury on BBC2, which evokes sentimental memories of my own pilgrimage to the greatest music festival in 1993: bombing down the M4 in my little red mini and then spending 4 hours stuck in a country lane trying to actually get in. The whole weekend is a sun-kissed blur of images, four days of complete hedonism interspersed with the odd hour of sleep. Similar to Vinexpo really.

Saturday 26th June

Wake up at the crack of dawn, which unfortunately for anyone sharing a bed with me, is about four in the morning at this time of year. I find it impossible to lie in bed. I feel stale. There is a brand new day to explore. It is futile trying to recapture my sleep. I end up fidgeting and annoying the slumbering body next to me by trying to extort conversation whilst they doze. It usually results in a terse "piss off" and I vacate the cradle to watch banal early morning TV.

Sunday 27th June

Today is the continuation the rainy season a.k.a. "the British summer". We drive back down to chichi shopping centre Bluewater since it is under cover and we can shelter from the spontaneous showers that have plagued the country over last few weeks. Although I can usually cope with this triangular mall that occupies a chalk quarry in Kent, today it has been besieged by an army of teenagers whose braggadocio is in my face whereever I turn. The whole afternoon is exhausting and by the time we depart I am threatening to flatten the next person that barges their way in front of me.

In the evening we opt for a night in. I pop up to Blockbuster to hire a DVD so that Tomoko can watch Shreck and be familiar with the plot before the sequel comes out. I am considerate like that. Alas all four copies have been rented out and I am left fuming at a whole tier devoted to bloody Star Trek.
Who rents this intergalactic pseudo-philosophical drivel when it is repeated ad nauseum on cable every day?
Why do Blockbuster insist on having a sixty Star Trek DVD's but only one Woody Allen classic and nothing by Roman Polanski, Sergei Eisenstein or Andrei Tarkovsky?
Are subtitles banned?
Is Steven Segal's presence a pre-requisite for every film?
I spot a DVD of last year's "Big Brother 4 Highlights". Who would choose to sit down and watch that on a Saturday night? Which berk at Blockbuster HQ sat at his desk and wrote down a list of films...Citizen Kane...The Bicycle Thieves...Chinatown...Solaris...Big Brother 4: The Best Bits...and selected the last? I return home empty-handed and watch the Glastonbury Festival until two in the morning after polishing off a bottle of Clos du Marquis.