Chapter 19

Monday 2nd August

Still ill, as Morrissey once moaned. I loathe being ill, it is waste of precious time and the ennui of recuperating in bed is worse than the physical illness itself. With Tomoko suffering the dual maladies of severe eczema and pregnancy, I decide to enact a self-imposed exile to Southend, lest I finish my fiance off with a bout of influenza. My parents are away on holiday, which means that I can treat the house as an isolation ward and wallow in self-pity without annoying anyone. It takes about an hour to drive home and I spend the afternoon desperately searching for something decent to watch on TV, whilst working my way through a whole box of tissues. Of course, daytime TV is unimaginably bland: every program either about buying property or flogging heirlooms to auction houses to make dosh from your precious grannies wedding ring. Daytime TV is all about greed.

Fortunately my family opted in for the full complementary package offered by Sky, all three million channels of it. You have to give credit for schedulers in filling every channel with the most banal pile of shite possible. About 90% consists of commercials for dodgy loans, UK Gold simply repeats episodes of "The Bill" ad nauseum, whilst UK Gold 2 does likewise although culls their episodes from 1994 instead of 1991. The film channels simply show one lame made for American TV movie after another and "Magic TV" insists on inflicting its viewer (not singular) with "The Best Power Ballads of All Time" featuring Jennifer Rush and Celine Dion. Midway through the latter's crushingly depressive ballad, I begin to consider euthanasia but fortunately my brother is not in the house to administer it.

In the end I watch a DVD of video director genius Michel Gondry after which my brother returns from work with his pal Ben. Ben has a new job digging holes in roads. He earns just slightly less than I do. I phone Tomoko in the evening to grizzle down the phone. My malady seems to be getting worse, not better and after downing half a packet of paracetamol with a Benalyn chaser, I flop lifeless into bed.

Tuesday 3rd August

A day convalescing. In the evening I analyse the bassline from Raze's house anthem "Break For Love." I have an import 12-inch with four versions, all in different languages: French, Spanish, Italian and English, which is of great use to my multi-lingual aspirations. Just a shame the lyrics consist of a repeated phrase that goes something like: "Love...Baby...Tonight". Still that is three words in three languages.

Wednesday 4th August
Stu - BB

Today I return to work in order to prevent infecting Tomoko with the 21st century's take on the Black Death: Manflu. I spend the whole day sniffing and blowing my nose so that the office bin overflows with tissues, a toxic depositary that you could reprocess into plutonium. It is debilitatingly hot and humid in our office that seems to act like an incubator for germs. It is like being a prisoner-of-war but having to do faxing instead of digging a trench.
In the evening I watch Stu's eviction from the Big Brother house and I experience the first pangs of loss as the series enters is denouement. How will I cope without my shot of reality TV?

Thursday 5th August

Andrew Jefford calls my home. He is the first semi-celebrity to leave a message on my answer-machine and fortunately he does not use any complicated words or Latin phases. I do not delete the message: I can sample it for a dance anthem. I consider asking his opinion about Stu's eviction from Big Brother last night but decide that he might lose the mote of respect he has for me.

Friday 6th August

No calls from famous wine-writers today. Parker, Broadbent, Robinson, Suckling, Saintsbury...none of them want to call me. Perhaps like myself they are contemplating life post-Big Brother? This has been the most entertaining series yet and as anyone can tell from this diary I have watched nearly every episode. Many see it as plumbing the depths of bad taste and lambast its contestants desperate for their 15-minutes of fame. But it does hold up a mirror to our society. Go to any bar or club and you will find hundreds of Big Brother clones, the extroverted camp man, the wannabe model, the tousled surf-dude etc. So what if they want to be famous? Almost everybody would grab the chance if it were offered to them.

But as usual I miss the final episode, as I have dinner with friends in a new restaurant in Southend called "Room 24". It is located in the butt-end of town next to a seafront pub crammed with pot-bellied men downing as much beer as possible before going outside for a fight. Sandwiched between the arcades, Room 24 looks quite incongruous with its designer interior and minimalist design. There are nine of us here, celebrating Carolyn's birthday and to my pleasant surprise the cuisine is actually commendable.

Towards the end of the meal an argument erupts, not over the Iraq crisis nor the future of Western civilization, but upon the more weighty subject of which was the first single released by The Cure (by the way, it was "Killing An Arab".) We leave around midnight, the car-park turned into a mini-Le Mans with souped-up Ford Fiestas burning rubber over a fifty-metre stretch of tarmac that lies next to the Crazy Golf course. Groups of bellicose teenagers are draped round their precious automobiles, demonstrating their prowess at the wheel of a 1.4 diesel turbo engine Escorts with fluroscent dashboard.
We do not hang around.

Sunday 8th August

No rest for the wicked. Today Joel comes round so that we can spend a sultry, tropical afternoon sweating over the redesign of the website. Whilst he fiddles about with some incomprehensible code, I play various CD's which invariably leads to 20 minutes discursions on the validity of "The Libertines" and the cultural contribution of "The Scissor Sisters". But progress is certainly being made: the site will run much better than a shoe-string Polish porn site...though my mugshot will definitely have to go.

Meanwhile Tomoko cooks dinner and we pass the early evening interrogating Joel about his mid-20's love life, a veritable playing-field rendered out of bounds by this father-to-be (physically, if not mentally.) I open a bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet Ruchottes 1996 from Domaine Ramonet which quel surprise, is oxidised so I open an Ornellaia to thank Joel for his sterling efforts apropos wine-journal. He departs around 8-ish, his yellow Fiat love-wagon parked outside amongst the Ford Fiesta's and no doubt by the time he arrived home he has a dusky maiden looking forward to Sunday nookie in the passenger seat.
I spend the evening in yellow marigolds, washing the dishes and clipping my toe-nails in the living room.

Monday 9th August

Perusing recent entries I am aghast that I must come across as a complete hypochondriac, wilting at the merest scent of an ailment, a veritable Dot Cotton of the wine world (though apparantly now she actually has contracted a serious illness...I wouldn't know...I stopped watching Eastenders when they misguidedly exhumed Dirty Den.) One of the victims of my protracted convalescence has been August's Album of the Month, which remains in limbo. I composed a full review of "The Roots" new offering but scrapped it at the last minute when I realized it was slightly crap. So after a fretful hour in Soho's "Sister Ray" record emporium, I elected Felix da Housecat. These are the trials and tribulations that I endure monthly, fretting about recommending something that I will not regret in a year's time. Why do I bother? To stop the spread of Westlife's endemic popularity by alerting you to something less repellent.

Tuesday 10th August

Message to Mr Wasp.

Dear Mr Wasp,
I write with regard to your persistent invasions into our kitchen, a provocation that regularly sends Ms. M screaming into the bedroom and ruining our dinner. Whilst I appreciate that you have not stung us (yet), your audacity to circle the light-bulb is testing my patience to the limit. It is not my fault that you were born a wasp and doomed to die as soon as summer ends. Please leave us alone. There is a nice rosebush at the end of the garden for you to play in.

Best regards,

Neal & Tomoko

Wednesday 11th August
The Killers

Momentous moment...first communication between father and foetus. I am pleased that he/she decided to kick my hand in response to "The Killers" excellent new single "All The Things I've Done" that was playing on MTV2 at the time. I interpret this as a signal of his or her musical appreciation. Thank God it was not during Westlife, or something equally pants.

Thursday 12th August

Day off work in order to redecorate the bedroom, presently sporting luminescent turquoise walls and white ceiling blemished by brown stains that serve as a constant reminder that I could not be bothered to paint a second coat four years ago. For the last week I have convinced myself that repainting the room is a menial task that can be completed in a morning with a fifteen minute mid-morning break.

The size of the task dawns on me after three hours of moving furniture, dismantling the bed and plastering the walls with Polyfilla, turning the room into a Monet-like tapestry of cumulo-nimbus bubbling up from the skirting-board. I venture out to West Norwood's B&Q to buy paint, rollers, brushes etc. I am one of these indolent people who cannot be bothered to spend hours cleaning the brushes and elect the "buy the cheapest tools and chuck it" option. By mid-afternoon the room will plainly not be finished by the evening and Tomoko, who has succumbed to my cold, becomes depressed since she is now a refugee camped on the sofa, along with 300 Snoopy's and a platoon of stuffed toys rescued from Bagpuss in 1975.

I promise Tomoko that the room will be habitable by tomorrow and gather my strength by downing a delicious bottle of Chateau Soussans 1985.

Friday 13th August

Painting, painting, painting. We chose "Mineral Mist", a hue that is neither minerally nor misty. I begin with the neck-breaking task of repainting the ceiling and after a couple of hours I feel as if I have run the marathon. But I am determined to finish the job by dusk, so paint relentlessly though the afternoon. I am an interminably impatient DiY-er, consistantly failing to cover the floor properly and consequently spending half the time on my hands and knees trying to remove constellations of white paint with white spirit before it dries. By the time I finish, every muscle is begging for mercy and I collapse in front of the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics. It all looks spectacular, although I would swap the parade of Greek philosophers for Kylie Minogue belting out Abba any day.

The hours recuperation means that I can venture up to Brixton for a pizza with Jude. We have to walk down Coldharbour Lane to reach the restaurant, an infamous street lined with dealers and shifty looking men desperate to punish you for looking at them the wrong way. Brixton seems a bit edgy tonight but we make it to pizza parlour without resorting to the AK-47 or deploying my "rent-a-ninja-death-squad" (they are in the Yellow Pages under "N".)
The restaurant is empty when we arrive, perhaps because of the tropical storms that persistantly drown London every hour or so. Jude is in good form; we discuss life, the forthcoming Neal Junior and how we are coping with life without Big Brother.

Saturday 14th August

My flat is filled with the noxious fumes of drying "Mineral Mist", which sounds like some exotic crack cocaine. The effects are similar so I open all the windows lest Tomoko starts hallucinating. Unfortunately I have to wait a few days before the new bed arrives, so at the moment the spare room has been turned into a junk-yard and I am forced to write one of the world's foremost fine wine websites next to a pile of freshly pressed boxer shorts whilst trying to envisage just how this will turn into a nursery.

Today, Tomoko is wearing a hara-obi, which roughly translates as a "maternity belt". It is an intricate white length in linen that girdles her waist, which Japanese tradition dictates should be worn after five months with child. I inquire about the origin of the hara-obi? I am informed it is worn on "Dogs' Day" because according to the Japanese, mans' best friend enjoys an easy labour. Our adherence to custom guarantees that the child will be born with minimum pain and fuss: one push and out he or she comes, preferably not a poodle or a labrador.

In the afternoon we meet up with Pip, my friend from my halcyon teenage days who migrated to Japan but unlike myself, never came back. Peripatetic Pip has spent the last decade teaching English to excitable young Japanese schoolgirls and journeying to all four corners of the world. This afternoon Pip has to accompany us to Croydon as Tomoko is looking for some maternity wear, which is virtually impossible to find in Tomoko's extra-petite size. Whilst she tries on oddly-shaped dresses, Pip and I catch up on recent events and arrange to visit a few friends during his stay. He has to return home around six, so Tomoko and I just stay in and I become engrossed in the synchronized diving event where Great Britain wins Olympic silver. I am one of those people that end up watching hours of clay-pigeon shooting or women's weight-lifting, I am rendered a lifelong dilettante of any sport for the two hours it is televised.