Book One: Chapter 21
Monday 23rd August
I look into the bathroom mirror to find my forehead resembling a Venusian rift valley: rib-eye pink, smooth and varnished from yesterday's high noon sun. My colleague at work is convinced that I had succumbed to a tropical disease over the weekend. I should have told him that was true in order to eke out sympathy from my co-workers, but unfortunately someone else knows that I was at a music festival so I have to endure the sniggers and stares all morning. By the end of the day, my forehead is a series of crenellations and I am peeling skin like a boa constrictor with severe psoriasis.
Tuesday 24th August
Meet up with Pip who is returning to Japan at the weekend. I only see him every couple of years, so it's a shame that we only had time for two brief rendezvous. Still we have a good chat over a capuccino during which he opens his lap-top to show me three million digital photographs of his summer excursion to Italy. Even the computer offers to exit half-way through, aggrieved at showing the n'th image of a Romanesque statue in Florence instead of performing some ingenious computation on Excel.
In the evening I attend the "Charity Shield" of the 2004/2005 tasting season, courtesy of Linden Wilkie's www.finewineexperience.com. I am the first to arrive for his Chateau Beaucastel vertical tasting (a report will follow next week), the doormen of the Institute of Directors having meted out a disapproving frown as I walked in sporting a denim jacket and white trainers. During the tasting, Linden informs me that there is a significant possibility of yours truly being sat next to HRH Jancis at a forthcoming tasting. My hands begin to tremble as soon as he tells me the news. Will I be unable to cope at the mere prospect? I resolve to brush up on my royal etiquette and my bowing technique on the way home. I may even re-read "Confessions of a Wine Lover", although I have always felt that such a titillating title deserved a higher quotient of lascivious prose.
The tasting is excellent, brilliantly organized by Mr Wilkie as usual and I cause a bit of a stir when I criticize the Hommage 1990. I arrive home about 10:30pm and watch Team GB pick up more medals at the Olympics. Hoorah!
Wednesday 25th August
Pay-day. At last I am less overdrawn the yesterday. Purchase my first Martin Amis book, Money, in the futile hope that it will give some ideas of making it.
Friday 27th August
This evening I attend a vertical of Chateau Lynch-Bages, courtesy of Paul Rhodes' tasting group at Colonel Jasper's wine bar. There are nineteen enthusiastic oenophiles present and I am seated next to my American friend with the most mellifluous voice imaginable, who this time does not arrange his glasses in circular fashion. As usual, a report will follow soon, suffice to say that the trio of 1982, 1985 and 1986 were top class, especially the almost Pomerol-like 1985. The steak that accompanies this trio is tender and succulent, although our table is somewhat mystified by the deep fried Camambert with cinnamon-loaded onion sauce. Seems like the chef experimented with fusion cuisine and ended up with "fission". Still, it is the best tasting I have attended so far with this relaxed, convivial tasting group. We finish with an unidentifiable port that obviously very old, but tastes exquisite on the palate. Intuition tells me it could be Cockburn 1927 but we will never know for sure.
Saturday 28th August
Wake up as soon as the cock crows (not that there are many cocks in West Norwood, at least not the plumed variety) to do the weekly shopping, my catharsis, to wash away the grit and tar of the working week. My nearest supermarket, Safeways, is currently undergoing gender realignment and morphing into its rival Morrisons who bought them out earlier this year, a decision I feel that they might be regretting. Each time I visit, one more vestige of the Safeways era is expunged: first the carrier bags, then the staff uniforms; soon the trolleys and then the facade itself. Then Safeways will become a footnote in supermarket history, gobbled up by the capitalist system. Farewell my old friend.
The supermarket is full of men, floating around the aisles like automatons on cruise-control, women failing to control recalcitrant offspring, splinter cells of kids nicking sweets and the local mad harpie who is midway through a one-way conversation with the broccoli. Men circuit the store with a sense of purpose..."I'll have that"..."That'll do." Women approach shopping with meticulous planning and patience; comparing prices, monitoring and analyzing special discounts, checking every sell-by date and squeezing every fruit to find the firmest. Although there is more alacrity in my shopping technique, the downside is that several products flirt with their sell-by date, squishy fruit turns moldy the next day and random "experimental items" are left to fester in the nether reachers of the larder.
After shopping I traipse up to Sadler's Wells theatre to watch "Singing In the Rain" musical starring ballet supremo Adam Cooper. I love the original movie, as much for the acrobatic Donald O'Connor as Gene Kelly. The musical itself is sharp, spritzy and unashamedly camp even if the jazz scene is self-indulgant and superfluous just as it was in the movie and Cooper doesn't quite have the voice to equal his dazzling dancing. My brother comments that half of the capital's gay community would do anything to sing in the rain with Mr. Cooper...anything.
I speculate upon just how they will recreate the famous downpour during its centrepiece? There is an audible intake of breath from the audience as water deluges that stage from above. Fortunately the trickle does not quite make it to the electrical appliances and send 20,000 volts up the arse of Adam Cooper, although I am sure there would have been a queue to give him the kiss of life from his male fans had it been necessary.
In the evening I watch Kelly Holmes and the British 4 x 100m relay team complete possibly the greatest night for British sport I have witnessed. I least Kelly Holmes never spurned my advances as a child and therefore deserves my whole-hearted congratulations. Well done, Kelly.
Sunday 29th August
Friends for dinner. We drink two superb, value for money 1990's: Chasse-Spleen and Lafon-Rochet. Their daughter is half-Japanese/half-English and serves as a taster for things to come. She is unerringly tactile and friendly, hyperactive and as cute as cherry pie. She runs riot around the kitchen and inexplicably takes an instant shine to me, something I take as a good omen. I learn my first lesson in childcare by discovering the hypnotic power of Nickelodeon, for as soon as the cartoon commences: thumb enters mouth, eyes glue to screen and she becomes as tranquil as a Norwegian fjord (apart from during the commercials when she comes running back into the kitchen.) Conclusion from the evening: better rest now, as there won't be much time next year.
Monday 30th August
Bank Holiday. Clear out some junk from the backroom that has been accumulating over the last few weeks. No Stig is found. In the afternoon I drive down to Brighton to have a break from the capital for a few hours and inhale the fresh sea breeze. In the evening I watch the concluding episode of "Messiah III" with Ken Stott. Most of the ninety minutes is spent cowering behind a cushion to avert my eyes from another gory murder. I have a knack of identifying the culprit as soon as he or she appears: you just follow the mind of the scriptwriter and not the murderer. Perhaps I should change career and become a detective? No, too many bloody corpses to examine.
Thursday 2nd September
Dinner at The Ivy restaurant: gastronomic home of theatreland luvvies, BBC execs, novelists and some dwarf-like prick with fake tan and a mobile phone that rings voluminously throughout the meal. His ringtone is that Mike Oldfield tune from The Exorcist, preset at 130 decibels. He bellows into the mouthpiece to ensure that every diner can hear how important he is. I make sure my calling him a "cock" is within audible range, but he refrains from inciting anything physical since The Ivy is not the most appropriate setting for a ruck. Next time I will bring some mace and a Tazer to stamp out such anti-social behaviour.
Friday 3rd September
Perhaps inadvisantly, I have arranged for my brother and his cohort of pals to visit Chateau Margaux next week. I have given them strict instructions to turn up on time, to do some background reading and be on their best behaviour. My brother asks whether he should mention my name? I think about it, and then say no as a precautionary measure.
Saturday 4th September
Spend the afternoon pissing off Doreen in the upstairs flat by playing Depeche Mode 12-inch remixes in chronological order. Joel comes round having played three hours of ultimate frisbee, a pastime so hip that my brain cannot begin to imagine what it actually involves. Joel is my saviour attempting to make the website look more professional, rather than a sixth former's project that spiralled out of control and took over his life. I reward Joel in the strongest currency I know: booze, since my financial situation is so severe that it would bankrupt a major high street bank.
I cook chicken chasseur (from a packet): easy, economical, looks good and if you do it slowly, tastes good. My work colleague joins us as we plough into a delicious white Burgundy (Puligny Truffieres 1994 from Colin-Deleger), then a pretty Chateau Beychevelle 1981, by which time we have already polished off the main course. At this point we should have wound the evening down, retired to the living room for polite conversation and an After Eight mint. However we open a disappointing, one-dimensional bottle of Cote-Rotie La Turque 1986 and we begin slipping down the slope that leads to a muddy swamp of drunkeness and tomfoolery.
By now we are building up a head of steam and as if by magic, a bottle of Fonseca 1970 appears. Probably the best vintage I have encountered of this renowned house, the three of us demolish it in minutes. Perhaps I should contact Fonseca since we appear to have set a new world record? At this point, time becomes a sine wave instead of a linear progression, the kitchen begins to sway and the ticker-tape of memory becomes sporadic. I offer our sincere apologies to the Guimaraens family who made this elixir, for treating it with such careless abandon, but you have yourselves to blame for making such delicious port.
The consequences are severe and by now self-discipline and self-preservation are out the window thanks to two more bottles of vino, the second of which I cannot remember opening. Remarkably, though my cognitive process are undergoing a Three-Mile Island meltdown, I still managed to write a tasting note, albeit one in spidery handwriting that ends up in morse code. Actually, when I piece together the incomplete mosaic of images from the last two hours of this bacchanal, I realize that the note took around an hour to write. Joel and I have a blazing row over whether Rubber Soul is superior to Revolver (never, ever get into a music debate with me, I'm like a dog that won't let go of his rubber bone). Phil stumbles off into the night, Doreen upstairs is banging the floor, I throw Joel two small cushions as a bed and then crawl under the duvet with Tomoko like Gollum after a night out with the lads. My body switches off and I snore through the night, much to Tomoko's delight.
Sunday 5th September
Wake up at around 10a.m. You know those first five seconds when you open your eyes and lie there thinking "Yes! God has spared his little angel of a hangover!" and then BANG, the trigger is pulled on that point-blank migraine revolver and you realize it is payback time. Last night you abused your body, poisoned it with alcohol and narcotics; you had your fun. Then you wake up after a fathomless sleep to spend the rest of the day in the penitentiary, vowing never to touch alcohol again. The difference in age is obvious between Joel and I. Whilst roadworks begin on the underside of my skull and the shakes traverse my shattered body, Joel is bright and perky and has spent the last hour working on the website. The sad thing is, when I was in my twenties, my hangovers were as devastating as they are now. Why cannot I experience the pleasure of libation without the retribution of acute pain the following day? Am I suffering on Joel's behalf, for the whole of South London perhaps?
I spend most of the day comatose on the sofa, a jumble of stale clothes with a lifeless body buried inside like a doleful dog. In the afternoon I feel well enough to venture into Crystal Palace to try out a new ice-cream parlour that has recently opened. My theory is that ice-cream will cleanse the metabolism, but the headache reacts by increasing the intensity on a dial that goes up to 11 not 10. Bugger.
I will never drink again. Henceforth my name is "Abstemious Martin". If you see me drinking on this website - stop me.
Tuesday 7th September
My vow of abstinance is on temporary hold...but I have a good excuse, possibly the best in the world.
Today is the Chateau Lafleur vertical: ten vintages of this iconic Pomerol wine back to 1945 and despite my headache persisting into day three (what is this...a mini-break?) I would not miss this for the world.
That machiavelli Linden Wilkie has seated me next to HRH Jancis and I am dead nervous. I get so shy meeting people, I am an abysmal networker, in fact I end up unravelling the net and leaving small, tidy heap of useless twine. Everybody has told me how nice HRH Jancis is but I have never been so close to royalty before. Actually I lie, I met the Duke of Edinburgh when I was in the cubs, but I failed to realize whose wrinkled hand I had shaken until someone informed me years later. I should have known that anyone landing in a field in a helicopter on a Sunday morning held some position of responsibility but I was oblivious to the whole event. The Duke and I never met again until 2001, when his chauffered Bentley almost ran me over as I was walking to work outside Buckingham Palace.
Where was I?
Oh yes, hot date with JR.
I specifically time my walk so that I would arrive later than my date...sorry, Jancis...after all, I don't want to seem too
keen. But I completely mistime that walk down Regent Street and my dulcinea arrives two minutes after
me. Linden revels in my introduction, a pivotal moment in this soap opera diary, like Romeo meeting Juliette, like Heloise
meeting Abelard, like Scott meeting Charlene.
I fear that she is slightly disappointed that the antithesis of Michael Broadbent is to be seated to her. My hair is scruffy and in need of shearing, I am wearing a second-hand shirt with flared collars and trousers too tight around the waste. Broadbent is always sartorially immaculate despite having cycled from the Pennines to get here. Perhaps HRH is fearful being seated next to that oddball who has been stalking her for the last few months?
I need worry not. I am greeted in that gravely, authoritative voice, the one that urged me to drink Nescafé in my teenage years. I use the few minutes before the tasting adumbrating my CV and yes, she is an absolute pleasure to talk to, seemingly without any airs or graces. She writes her notes directly onto a laptop, the same model that I am considering buying, so that means I will have to revise my choice lest she concludes that I am a freak copying her every move.
The tasting is superb, a series of legendary wines that will form an article in a matter of hours. Jancis disappears into the night with most of her glasses still full of Lafleur (which I happily finish off - there are children starving in Africa.) I have now spoken to Jancis and await the writ that will inevitably ensue once she reads this diary.