Chapter 20

Sunday 15th August

Parents up for their annual inspection. Dad heads directly for the living room and slumps in front of the television whilst mum heads for Tomoko to discuss babies. She has bought a catalogue of prams to show us, a collection of multi-purpose contraptions that look as if they were designed by the Ministry of Defence. The jargon spewed by the brochure is verisimilar to that of a car. For example the "Freestyler Travel System" offers independant suspension, all terrain wheels and is available in six material designs with pseudo-intellectual names such as "Lush" and "Metropolis". I can just picture myself struggling outside Safeways in the pouring rain, as my "Freestyler Travel System" with "Metropolis" interior suddenly malfunctions, collapses and refuses to open. Perhaps I should build a simpler one out of an orange carton?

Andy Dufresne

Tomoko has rustled up a delicious chicken marengo. Since dad is driving and mum refuses to drink anything unless it is sweet, Germanic and under £3.99, I proffer a bottle of Blue Nun, one-third of which has been stirred into the marengo. Since the wine nullifies the senses and the Nun, bless her soul, is devoid of discernable aroma or flavour, I desist penning a note. Mum eschews any recipe containing onion and garlic but fails to notice the two onions and two cloves of garlic deftly secreted into the sauce. What she does not know, won't kill her (well as far as I know she is still alive.) They toddle off home around six and I spend the evening watching the "Shawshank Redemption" on video for the umpteenth time. I always wonder what would have happened if the prison warders had forced Andy Dufresne (left) to move cell the day before he made his escape via the sewage tunnel?

My word of the day is spatulamancy: divination by examination of the shoulder-blade of a sheep. I wonder whether I can weave that into a title of a wine article?

Monday 16th August

Wake up nice and early for a clean, freshly pressed working week, yet Virgin Radio ruin it by playing Natasha Beddingfield's execrable new release entitled "These Words". She opens the song by reliably informing us that "These words are my own", which would be fine if she had the poetic dexterity of Dylan or Morrissey, but not if the best our Wildean Natasha can write is a chorus that consists entirely of: "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you."

I am glad I got that out of my system.

Brixton Ritzy

In the evening I head down to London's best cinema, the Brixton Ritzy to see Matt Damon's "The Bourne Supremacy." We circumvent the piazza outside, perpetually home to a posse of homeless lunatics and/or fanatical born-again Christians preaching to sparrows and blackbirds. The Ritzy is the apotheosis of a cinema, a perfect mixture of blockbusters and art-house, films with subtitles, films especially for mothers with babies (ingeniously titled "Knit & Bitch"), retrospectives and directors in attendance for Q&A sessions after the screening. We are in the main auditorium with its beautiful assymetrical proscenium arch and grand pilasters...I could sit and just watch the interior architecture and forget about the celluloid.

The film itself is highly recommended, a great storyline with lots of snappy, jolting cinematography, a healthy dose of realism and an adrenalin-pumping car chase. It makes you wish they could make Bond films as good as this. We catch the number 3 bus home, the bus-driver continuing where Matt Damon left off, driving like a complete maniac through Herne Hill and West Dulwich. I check out the rear window, just in case the bus driver is de facto an escaped convict who has hijacked the bus, but no, he just wants to get home in time for "The Bill".

Tuesday 17th August

Now completely absorbed in the Olympic Games, watching the swimming and so forth. I am thinking of buying an all-in-one, skin-tight body suit that Ian Thorpe and billions of trout currently wear, so that I will become more aerodynamic when I walk.

Both Tomoko and I are amused by the crown of laurels being presented to the winning athletes. You train for four years, you succeed in intense competition and then you're made to look a complete prat in front of three billion viewers. Tomoko comments that the laurel could be useful, picking off the bay leaf for seasoning.

Wednesday 18th August

It has come to my attention that an Olympic rower, who will remain anonymous, is actually the very first girl that I ever asked out. I remember nervously dialling her number and timidly asking her if she would like to go to London Zoo of all places? I didn't fancy her, I didn't even like her, but I felt that I had reached the age (14-ish) when courting was the thing to do.

She laughed pitifully and said "No." Since then I have avoided dating rowers.

Thursday 19th August

The girl who spurned my adolescent advances is doing admirably in the Olympic rowing. Secretly I am wishing that her boat will spring a link and that as she doggy-paddles to the shore she will consider it divine retribution for dismissing my advances a decade ago.

She reaches Saturday morning's final.

Friday 20th August

Switching on the goggle-box after a hard day's graft, I chance upon a reality documentary narrated by our beloved HRH Jancis. It concerns the daily chores of an aristocratic mansion in the wilderness of the English countryside, and features a Lord visiting a well-known London wine merchant to select champagnes for his "Champagne Dinner". I cannot stand the upper-class mentality which is associated with fine wine, too many silver spoons waffling on in Etonian accents about wine "x" (crap) and champagne "y" (dull). It compels me to work harder, to offer a sensible, rational voice on fine wine, rather than some mummy's boy bullshitting ad nauseum.

Saturday 21st August

Awake, bleary eyed at the crack of dawn to watch the Olympic Rowing. Sir Steven Redgrave (currently advertising Admiral Insurance in cheapo adverts on the tube...that's what five consecutive golds get you) has the unique claim of being the only sportsman to move me to tears in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It was quite unexpected. The last event that prompted a lump in the throat was when E.T. was found lying in a babbling brook like a frozen pork chop. This time I do not shed a tear, but remain on tenterhooks during the nail-biting coxless fours, which we win by a whisker.
I also watch the woman who broke my heart all those years ago win a silver medal and she is interviewed immediately afterwards. She looks far too muscular for me. Must be all that testosterone. I console myself that had I been betrothed to an Olympic rower, I would have felt physically inadequate for the rest of my life.

Tomoko and I take a walk down a new café bar called "Blairs On the Hill" in West Norwood, which has been built on the same grounds as Hollyhocks, a vegetarian restaurant that gave half my friends stomach upsets after my birthday meal in 2002. Unfortunately, just four days after opening it is closed due to "Staffing Problems" i.e. someone has walked out. So we walk down to "Lancasters" wine bar that represents West Norwood's apex of poshness. It's anorexic tarte tatin and a cafe latte and we're outta there with no intention of returning.

I spend the evening with Tomoko until 10p.m. and then drive home to Leigh-on-Sea, for tomorrow is the V festival, where I will attempt to rediscover my youth and my penchant for standing in muddy fields listening to some unknown band bore me to tears. Whilst I am on music theme, please note that The Dears are NME's "Single of the Week" and that I had forwarned you of their impending greatness back in February.

Sunday 22nd August

07.00. I wake up ready for today's musical gorging at the "V" festival. I order a full-English from mum to line the stomach, a ritual that has not changed since my thinner youth (it is a well known fact that the cholesterol builds up a wall of fat to absorb alcohol...well, that is the excuse that I use.) The weather forecast is for sun in the morning with inevitable cloud and rain moving in from the west that will ensure you watch the final bands drenched to the skin, wearing a carrier bag on your head.

10.30. My brother Tom and I arrive at the perimeter of the site and walk along the verdant verge of the dual carriage-way, desperately searching for the entrance. En route we chance upon a lifeless body being char-grilled by the morning sun, lying in a crumpled heap in the bushes. An acoustic guitar straddles his chest like a one-night stand and no doubt if I inspected the scene of devastation closer, I would have found evidence of vomit and dew-sodden spliffs. However, we have an entrance to find, bands to see, people to meet and so we step over the body and leave it for the Essex vultures.

11.00. We enter through the V Festival caravan park. Twenty-somethings rough it in makeshift nylon tents that disintegrate at the mere thought of a raincloud. Thirty-somethings can afford a little luxury and end up booking a hotel, or buying a VW camper van so that you avoid suffering the stench of the portable loos. They treat the music festival as a mini-break rather than a chance to get off their heads. My friends are thirty-somethings roughing it in tents, which says a lot about my friends.

11.30. I queue up for thirty minutes for a bottle of water whilst others devour discus-sized hamburgers for breakfast. The sluice gates open and a swarm of festival-goers approach the entry gates. I make a brief demographic survey of punters: 60% students ensuring their debts will take a lifetime to repay, 20% trollopian Essex girls in short denim skirts and plastic jewellery from "Claire's Accessories", 3% goths shuffling morosely in from the 1980's pierced with a veritable junkyard of rings due to go septic in 2006, 10% Essex boys with military haircuts and diamonique ear-studs, come to down pills in the dance tent, 6% Dido fans who must have lost their hearing just prior to her first single and 0.0001% fine wine impressario's on a mission to see whether The Strokes deserve the kudos.

The Wine Bar

12.00. I spot a "Wine Bar" (see left), a gesture to the burgeoning middle-class clientele. Ten years ago this would have been burnt to the ground by anarchists and its embers used to light a giant spliff. But music festivals not only attract music fans, but festival goers with a more sophisticated palate. Possibly.

12.30. Thank God for mobile phones. They make it possible to find your friends among the herds of migrating crowds. When I went to Glastonbury in 1993 there was a discombobulating feeling of being cut off from reality. There was no exit, no means of communicating with the real world. Now you can phone your parents when someone has urinated in your tent, stolen your credit cards and eloped with your hallucinating girlfriend who thinks she is a pixie from Venus.

12:45. Meet Vik (Burgerking Vik to long-term readers of the diary) and her retinue. It is remarkable that Vik is here at a festival for having spent many years dancing like a chicken at all-night raves and eschewing anything less than 194 bpm, she has been reborn an indie-chick. I tell her that if she enjoys The Pixies later on today, I may possibly faint.

13:00. First band Kasabian come on-stage. They are excellent although they should have been given a slot later in the day. The sun is shining. That's not what the weathermen predicted - where is the rain?

13:10. For Christ sake, I am already sunburnt! My shoulder is the colour of a over-ripe merlot. I think I am suffering hydric stress.

13:30. Crap band whose name I cannot remember amble on stage and assume that retro-Moog bleeps constitute entertainment. It doesn't and so we vacate the field with throngs of the miffed.

13:45. My other brother has failed to materialize. Rumour has it he is trying to smuggle three tons of class A into the festival with his dodgy mates.

13:50. Other brother finally arrives. The rumours are false.

Wine Tasting at

(Right; sampling the vin rouge with Vik BK and Martin)

14:00. During the nauseous set from aforementioned band, Vik, Martin and I undertake the first wine-tasting at the "V" festival (pictured right). The wine comes in a plastic bottle, deep red in colour with an aroma of industrialised fermented grapes sold in bulk in an underhand deal involving Chechen revels, then fermented in a disused swimming pool on the outskirts of Budapest and sold to an unscrupulous Albanian distributor who sells undrinkable alcohol to festivals and makes a fortune. I taste the wine: its not completely unpalatable, but it has the intellectual capacity of Cheeky Girl, whichever twin is thicker. For the record, I taste the "Vin Blanc" during Snow Patol's set. It tastes like rhino's wee.

14:15. Hooray! It's Welsh hip-hop piss-takers "Goldie Lookin' Chain" and they are hilarious, the first rap to name check the "Elizabeth Duke"" from Argos. The crowd are up for it and they go down a storm, especially during "Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do."

14:30. We walk over to the main stage to see Snow Patrol although I am over-familiar with their songs thanks to Virgin Radio having played them 3,000 times per hour. But there is nothing more spine-tingling than a crowd sing-along, and 30,000 people singing the chorus to "Run" is certainly one of those magic moments that conspicuously moves the lead singer. Carolyn C lends me her suntan lotion but it's all too late. I am a lobster. To follow Snow Patrol we need someone to continue the uplifting theme.

15:00. Badly Drawn Boy saunters on-stage like he has just run over his cat. "This song was written by my goldfish, just before he committed suicide" or words to that effect, he mumbles disconsolately before singing his maudlin paean to misery. I think BDB is a genius songwriter, his tunes are crystalline and beautiful, but they don't suit a big festival like this. We abandon the tetchy BDB mid-way through his set.

15:30. Back to the NME field for Liverpool's "The Zutons" who are attired in lurid, yellow boilersuits and include a foxy female saxophonist that should be made mandatory for all bands. They are excellent in a psychedelic way and the crowd show their appreciation.

17:00. I am finally witnessing the camp-attack spectacle of New York's Scissor Sisters, whose debut album I consider one of the greatest of all-time. They are glittery, smutty, ostentatious and brilliant, though Martin boycotts them in protest at their Pink Floyd cover of "Comfortably Numb". But we love them.

17:30. Part ways with Vik, Carolyn & Co. I meet up with Tom and we walk back over to the main stage, during which we encounter the splendid sight of an obese, middle-aged woman defecating into a hole, her husband vainly trying to conceal his wife's ablutions with a pallet. See, you just don't get this graphic detail on other fine-wine websites. Tom and I rest for a while at the top of the hill, while N.E.R.D. feign rock music below.

19:30. It is the legendary Pixies who I saw at Brixton Academy back in June. I have tutored my younger brother since an early age, guiding him away from plastic teeny-bopper pap into more worthwhile groups such as Nirvana or Blur. The Pixies represent his final lecture, to witness the perfect indie-band in the flesh. I take him down the front so that he can absorb what a real guitar sounds like. We are surrounded by students completely off their heads (not I, no, not ever) who are enraptured even though they patently haven't a inkling who they are. The laconic quartet blast their way through an hour of sheet-metal guitar, backed by a perfect late summer sunset. Tom is impressed, but Vik texts me her lukewarm review. She has fallen at the last fence and I text her back, to say that she should go back to mindless happy house with immediate effect.

21:30. The Strokes, the most hyped band ever, saunter on stage completely several sheets to the wind. Messiah Julian Casablancas looks worse for wear but hey, he's oh-so-cool with his second-hand suit, dark shades and New York drawl. The natural amphitheatre that inclines down to the main stage makes a wonderful outdoor setting and as they storm into "Reptilia", I must confess that they encompass everything exciting about new music. There is an electric atmosphere, the songs sound better live than on record and I have to give them their due: they are magnificent. But they are still over-hyped and we leave before the end of the set to catch the bus home.

12:30. Arrive back in London. Tomoko gives me zero sympathy for my blow-torched face and arms. Evicted onto the sofa.