Chapter 22

Wednesday 8th September

Today is our second and final scan for the baby, presently known as "B" since we are at loggerheads over a name. Returning to Kings College Hospital, we are met by an Israeli lady who is obviously learning the ropes from a young male doctor. Tomoko lies like a jellied eel on the couch with three gallons of coolant gel smeared over her bulbous belly whilst our young apprentice tries in vain to locate the baby.
Surely she can't have gone far?
Despite frantic wiggling the scanner, we appear to be giving birth to a black and white version of that inside-out alien from "The Thing". The exasperated male doctor grasps the scanner and with a few deft moves brings "B" into glorious view, caught unawares with his or her ickle hands shielding his or her ickle face thereby preventing any meaningful measurements to be made. This foetal misbehaviour...it begins in the womb. The anatomy is clear: the inter-linked vertebrae, the femur bones and two eyes that say: "Oi...I was just taking a nap." The medic asks whether we want to know the sex? Yes we do, lest my mother-in-law despatches a 40ft container of blue romper-suits from Japan for a girl, pink for a boy...

Intuition told us it was a girl, but me being one of four boys, well, surely the genes were preprogrammed and I convinced myself that the Martin tradition would prevail. "It's a girl," he announces and more importantly, a healthy girl. So that's it then. Henceforth I will outnumbered by the female sex two-to-one in an oestrogen dominated household and in fifteen years time, I will fret about the EMO-obsessed neanderthal she is introducing as her first boyfriend.

Status Quo

In the afternoon I attend an Haut-Médoc/Médoc tasting at the imaginatively titled "Imagination Gallery" in London. I am buttered up upon entry, the blond-haired PR girls escorting me to the loft-style gallery, opening the doors, guiding me from elevator to reception, beaming with delight to see me even though they haven't a clue who I am. It is the final two hours of the tasting so it is fairly empty, though I spot Andrew Jefford composing a sonnet about the futility of Mankind and interrupt him for a quick chat.
He insists on wearing drainpipe jeans that make his body look like an inverted triangle. I make a mental note to anonymously nominate him from one of those early-morning make-over shows after all, Britain's best wine writer should look the part and not like the lost member of Status Quo.

I finish at around 5.00pm, chat to the PR girls (cloned from the suburbs of West Hampstead) and return to the office. After work I have dinner with Sam Tan, president of CECWINE, who is due to return back to his homeland of Malaysia in a few weeks. His apartment is in one of those charismatic 1920s apartment block with wainscoted walls, plush Axminster carpets and a security doorman who insists we sign in and out, stating time and "purpose of visit".
Err...get drunk?
There are half a dozen of us dining tonight, including Barry Philips who I have met several times, although obviously never leaving a deep impression as he can never remember who I am, despite spending a whole week with him, cooped up in a minibus during en primeur. He is one of those garrulous, hyperactive, sagacious old-timers; sixty going on sixteen; a man who has tasted more fine wines than imaginable, someone whose moods swing between happy and joyous.

Sam serves us a feast of remixed Gordon Ramsay recipes without a Gordon Ramsay bill, accompanied by a selection of eclectic vinous fare all served blind. No, I did not guess the wine from Thailand, although perhaps pin-pointing Réné Engel's, Echezeaux 1999 as a claret is unforgiveable (although perhaps that reflects Engel's style as much as my own failing?).

On the way home a sozzled Antipodean filly tries to make a pass at me whilst waiting for the tube. Naturally I rebuff her advances but give her clear instructions on how to get to Victoria Station. She manages to get off at the correct inter-change but then staggers off in the wrong direction at Oxford Circus and onto a carriage before I can stop her. Oh well, I hope her homing-beacon has automatically kicked in and that she eventually finds her way back safely.

Thursday 9th September

Back to Southend to sort out some pressing private business involving a sham marriage except that it is not a sham, well at least I hope not. During the afternoon I walk down the main shopping street in central Southend-on-Sea and the beautiful autumn sky provokes a mothballed sentimentality that is somehow quite poetic and moving. Perhaps my previous criticisms of my beloved hometown have been too harsh - perhaps I should give it another chance?

First I walk through the carbuncle that is the "Victoria Shopping Centre", a three tiered plaza that has been atrophied by "Everything For A Pound" shops; a paradigm of brutalist architecture and shoddy 1970s design, a denizen for wolverine packs of Adidas-clad teenagers smoking cheap tobacco, a moribund retail mall who cut costs by dispensing with a roof, thereby leaving shoppers completely exposed to the elements, traipsing through the wind and rain on a Saturday afternoon. The worthwhile outlets, the bookshop, haberdashery and the stationary shop have turned into ersatz golfing emporiums and ephemeral clothes shops. My favourite of these is "Billiondollarbabes", a shop whose window display consists of gaudy, napkin-sized, glittery, polyesther dresses made for 2p in a sweat-house in Western China; apparel for Essex girl, attire made to ensnare lagared-up, unemployed garage mechanics for a three-minute Kwikshag.

It takes about 180 seconds to walk down the high street before I am told to "f--k off" by teenage girl who is incapable of walking round me. We make it to the end of the street without being mugged and enter the Royals Shopping Centre, a mall so lifeless they could tear it down and no-one would notice.

I remember a council town-planner visiting my school in the mid-80s, promulgating a new shopping centre that would rejuvenate the town once they had demolished the elegant Victorian facade. The omens did not bode well once he started frothing about none other than Jason Donovan was pencilled in for for the opening ceremony. Since then, the fortunes of Royals and Mr. Donovan's career have gone hand in hand. His singing career evaporated, lost Kylie to Michael Hutchence, became an addict and is now appearing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Similarly, the Royals is plagued with otiose Chinese herbalist shops, "Retail Space To Let" signs and wolverine packs of Adidas-clad teenagers embroiled in a turf war with the "Victoria Shopping Centre" posse. Urban planning by a committee of dithering squirrels.

I make it back to London alive.

Friday 10th September

Today's word is hallux. Your hallux is your big toe.

Saturday 11th September

Yesterday I rejoined "Prime Time" video shop for the n'th time (since I have lost my wallet precisely "n" times.) I have become increasingly tired of frequenting my local video chain, where the evening's entertainment is reduced to "Star Trek", soft porn or Robin Williams execrable "Flubber". Prime Time is a film-buffs' emporium with racks of dog-eared VHS cassettes filed in order of director. Take your pick from Leone, Kurosawa, Lean or Truffaut. I chose three films which for some inexplicable reason I have never seen and would regret not seeing if I was run over and killed tomorrow.

1) Annie Hall - Woody Allens seminal tale of love and loss. For all his intellectual gags about philosophy and the burden of being both paranoid and Jewish; its the slapstick cocaine gag that provides the belly laughs. I manage to spot Sigourney Weaver waitressing in the penultimate scene: blink and you'll miss her. It is a miracle how she found herself cruising through space aboard the "Nostromo" just a couple of years later.

2) The Wicker Man - nothing that does not happen of Canvey Island every other Wednesday. An obvious 1970's movie because the high breast count.

3) Vertigo - somehow I have always managed to miss this Hitchcock classic when it is shown on terrestrial TV. The hallucinagenic animation must have freaked out movie-goers in the 1950s. I have fallen in love with Kim Novak by the end of the film, just as I always fall for the Hitchcock blonde (unless the film is in black and white; the "Hitchcock Grey" is less alluring, even if she is Ingrid Bergmann.)

Sunday 12th September

Julian Cope, erstwhile warbler with the mighty Teardrop Explodes, once said that people should explore their local area, rather than fields afar. Taking this to heart, this afternoon I drive to the local Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, one of those parochial, suburban tourist attractions that has been there since time immemorial, but is too distant from the heart of London to attract tourists, notwithstanding its location on the busy south circular that ensures most drivers speed obliviously past. It was founded by a philanthropic, Victorian anthropologist/ethnologist, who bequeathed his collection of artefacts for the public to enjoy in the late 19th century. So we set out to discover what our local museum has to offer, gratis of course.

In fact, quite a lot. Firstly it is a pleasure to visit somewhere without grazing herds of tourists, scanning their upside-down maps to find their way to the rip-off gift shop. No hyper-active teenage students running amok, nor Japanese families videoing the whole day in real time. The Horniman Museum attracts nuclear families seeking entertainment for their 2.4 children and the wee kiddies do not seem disappointed. I have a penchant for anything aquatic, so I am taken with the rainbow-coloured marine fish as much as the toddlers banging on the glass to attract Nemo's attention. This upper floor is a taxidermists delight, the walls adorned with the petrified heads of snarling foxes, families of rodents and the "Great Bustard", a gargantuan bird that once inhabited Salisbury Plain. There is a macabre annexe devoted to dissected animals, inner organs floating in formaldehyde, which causes young girls to shut their eyes and run past screaming. Well, there's another vegetarian for you.

Horniman Museum

I venture down to the library, just an inquisitive sortie to see what lurks within the basement. I must be the only person to have visited this forgotten department, their first customer since 1972. One woman leaps to her feet and asks what I am looking for?
The answer is I am nosing around disinterestedly, but I say the first thing that comes into my head which is "Corks." Leaping for joy, she types the word into her antediluvian computer, desperate to be of assistance and panic ensues when all trails lead to nothing. Her assistant joins the cause and I vainly try to conjure up some excuse to extricate myself since their solitary request in a lifetime had yielded a big, fat zero. They reluctantly throw in the towel as I edge towards the door, but hand me an e-mail address to contact during the week. I promise I will be in touch and exit the basement, the excitement over for another 20 years.
After a cup of tea and a walk round the splendid latticed Victorian conservatory, we head back home feeling enriched from an afternoon's education and feeling relief from escaping the librarians' lair.

Monday 13th September

This evening I am attending a Cos d'Estournel dinner organized by London fine wine merchants Farr Vintners. I catch the tube to Blackfriars so that I can walk over the Millennium Bridge and approach the imposing art-deco building from the front and soak in its ruthless architecture and imposing facade of infinite brickwork. There is a champagne reception on the third floor but the invitees inhabit a different social sphere to me. This is the monied, City set, jabbering about weekend breaks in Milan, ski-resorts and 4x4s. I scan the crowds, but fail to recognise a soul except my new acquaintance, HRH Jancis who wafts incongruously into the melée. Will she remember me? Christ, she must suspect that I am stalking her now?

Status Quo

So I spend the reception in solitude, admiring the surreal Magritte paintings, one of my favourite artists (Dali is just too studenty, I sold all my originals when I graduated.) I move into the next gallery which is exhibiting modern art by Cy Twombly. I have strong views on modern art, but to sum it up in a nutshell: 99% of its as crap. "Art wank" to bless it with my own charming sobriquet. I mean, this Cy chap seems to have spent years painting a mess and then conjured up some pretentious twaddle that him and his co-conspirators (art dealers, curators etc.) can dupe the proletariate with. Art used to be for the masses, now it is meaningless garbage from the self-appointed cultural élite. Art should express itself; not necessitate a manual to explain what the hell is going on. The four huge murals are supposed to represent the four seasons.
They don't.
They represent a waste of time.

Suitably enraged I return to the chattering classes and we troupe up to the splendid restaurant at the top of the gallery with a beathtaking vista down the winding Thames and the soothing presence Saint Paul's cathedral. Jancis acknowledges my presence and waves hello.
"Hello Jancis" I mouth back.
I exist.

Managing-director, Jean-Guillaume Prats takes to the microphone, his mien confident and assured, as it should be after the success of his 2003. He is witty and relaxed and guides as through the wines that were, lest we forget, made by his father Bruno. At my table I sit next to a theatre director whose artistic vocation is obvious by his sartorial insurgency; his suit preposterously oversize and baggy.
How very...David Byrne.
I inquire what he was last working on?
"Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang," he replies and when I pipe up that I have saw it at Christmas, I cannot tell whether he is pleased of embarrassed?

I expend a few words to his friend, a little smalltalk to accompany the starters. He tells me that he is a film producer and I ask which films?
"The Bond franchise" he answers nonchalantly.
"That's nice," I reply as the lamentable "Die Another Day" festers in my mind and I therefore neuter the conversertion dead and tuck into my panned scallops.

(Post-script: this gentlemen was obviously Michael Wilson, one of the most important producers in the business. Had I known that within three years he would have overseen the miraculous rejuvenation of Bond thanks to Casino Royale and enlightened choice of Daniel Craig, then he would not have been able to stop me conflabbing. Instead I snubbed him and prioritized the scallops.)

I leave around eleven, bid farewell to Jancis and then step outside into a howling gale courriered directly over from the Caribbean. I shelter in the designer taxi rank, which probably looks good but leaves us exposed to the driving rain and hurricane force winds. Then I notice HRH Jancis seeking shelter in the lee of a bush, looking forlorn as any famous MW would, stranded in a gale in South London. We have our first natter, she is friendly and chatty, whilst at the back of both our minds we are thinking how the hell we are going to get home, since the rain has washed the taxis down the drains? The rain eases and I take the opportunity to walk back to London Bridge, leaving Jancis alone at the taxi rank. By the time I reach Vinopolis I am already feeling guilty, abandoning royalty, leaving her to fend herself against the elements. If she is never heard of again, it will be all my fault.

Bugger.