Chapter 23

Tuesday 14th September

Scan the red-tops for the headline "Nations Beloved Winewriter Goes Missing." Nothing.

The descent of man continues at Victoria Bus Station, when I am greeted with a new bendy bus courtesy of our enlightened Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has consigned the fleet of beloved Routemasters to the scrapyard (for my American cousins, they are the double-deckers with the open back.) Now instead of Londoners being able to hop on and off at leisure, a bit of dangerous sports for the meek and mild, the nanny state has deemed it naughty and dangerous and consequently now we are imprisoned in this elongated caterpillar, an apt description as they crawl along at a similar speed. Surely to reduce traffic congestion, the bus should be higher and not longer, thereby occupying double the length of the old buses? Still, one benefit is that the scanners to pay your fare are not operational, so you ride for free.

No sign of HRH Jancis. Have you seen her?

Wednesday 15th September

No trace of HRH. I feel queasy, liquid guilt swilling around the stomach like the hold of a sinking ship. In the morning I attend a tasting of wines from the Loire. Surely she will be present?
No Jancis.
The unexciting wines do not quell my sense of foreboding, so after a quick lunch I speed down to the Saint Emilion 2002 tasting. I am confident that I will find her waltzing around the Regency chambers of the ICA, but when I get there she is only notable by her absence. I might as well surrender myself to the police now, confess my lack of chivalry last Monday at the bus-stop. What is the punishment for that? Five years in Belmarsh, one week in the stocks outside Vintners Hall (still used apparently) or a lifetime purgatory as a taster for the Uzbekistan Pinot Noir Bureau?

I spend the evening planning how to escape from the country. The ports will already be staked out by MI5, so my only option is to swim the Channel. If Will Young can do it, so can I.

Thursday 16th September

Terrestrial television has become a minefield these days. I have to avoid Channel 5 after 10p.m. unless I want to catch a glimpse of "Cosmetic Surgery Live". How did we get here from "Cathy Come Home" or "Pets Win Prizes." Every now and then I forget, and catch some poor misfigured/misguided soul being sliced open with a scalpel and rebuilt with silicon. For the record, I have not gone under the knife.

Friday 17th September

Rhone tasting at the Institute of Civil Engineers courtesy of CECWINE. There is an impressive flight of Cote-Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, including a Parker 100-pointer that shows well. Alas, they finish the evening with some single malts from the Balvenie distillary. I am aware that as a self-appointed wine pro, I am supposed to be partial to any beverage involving alcohol, but though I find whisky intriguing in terms of its design, I find that its taste has the appeal of pureed Brussel sprouts.

Saturday 18th September

Chill out during the day. I watch "Under Capricorn" during the afternoon as part of my own personal "Hitchcock Season". It is a very unorthodox Hitchcock film that moves at a glacial pace, but at least I can tick it off the list. I then watch the first 20 minutes of "Black Narcissus"", but the sexually oppressed nuns induce sleep and I awake disorientated during the closing credits.

In the evening we go to sunny Lewisham for dinner at my brother's pad. We catch a taxi and the guy drives like a maniac through the South London Grand Prix circuit known as the A205. Tomoko is about to give birth by the time we reach our destination. Simon cooks an impressive meal of pan-fried salmon with green vegetables. But I am one of those people whose food ends up scattered everywhere, that oaf whose half of the table is littered with a veritable paddy field of rice at the Chinese, who spills half his Korma sauce all over the freshly cleaned table cloth, whose digestive biscuit disintegrates all over his new pullover. To be honest, I should wear a bib. Matters do not change here. I spear the first cherry tomato with my fork and it self-implodes, scatter-gunning my clean white t-shirt with juice. I turn it back-to-front and continue eating. We drink a bottle of Palmer 1973, my brother's birth year, which is surprisingly drinkable and return home around midnight.

Sunday 19th September

Drive into the country for our fix of verdure. We stop for tea and cake in the depths of the Sussex countryside, surrounded by bored sheep and ruminating cows. I take a wrong turning on the way back and end up imprisoned on the M25, travelling in completely the opposite direction and the detour puts me in a foul mood.

No sign of Jancis, but then again, nothing mentioned in the press either.

Monday 20th September

Today I assist CECWINE with their 1995 Bordeaux horizontal. They organize it very well, not an easy task for so many people. Steven Skeltern MW is presiding over the event, a congenial man, even mucking in to collect the glasses at the end rather than being chauffered away into the night. The tasting is completely blind (including all the First Growths) and utterly revealing with Le Pin voted least favourite.

Brian Blessed
Wednesday 22nd September

JANCIS IS ALIVE (read with over-the-top Brian Blessed voice.) At first I thought the e-mail was from the "undead ", but hoorah! HRH Jancis confirmed that she is alive and has not joined the army of the undead because I pitilessly abandoned her in the middle of a Force 9 gale. Now I will not feel guilty whenever I hear her dulcet tones narrating a documentary or log on to her tribute to Prince, the Purple Pages. I have cancelled plans to turn myself in at West Norwood police station (after I had plundered the wine cellar of course) and called off the bloodhounds.

What shall I do tomorrow? Oh, just remembered, I've got something on...

Thursday 23rd September

Nothing much today. Oh, but I did get married in the afternoon. That's all really

Friday 24th September - Wedding Day! Here Comes the Bride, All Dressed

I suppose I should furnish yesterday's entry with some details. Perhaps some of you disbelievers assumed that I fabricated a cliffhanger to enliven the diary, but yesterday's news was not fiction, although I can offer only four witnesses to the nuptials at Southend-on-Sea Registration Office. The wedding day went as follows...

Wake up early(ish) for our usual scrambled egg on toast. I am picking up one of the witnesses, Tomoko's friend Motoko from outside the Brixton Ritzy at 11:30, so leave the house at 11:00 to allow the blushing bride sufficient time to to beautify herself.
I loiter at the entrance of the cinema, just over the road from a dodgy square inhabited by South London's homeless, women smelling of wee and drug dealer who obviously picked the short straw and is working the early morning shift. He prowls around on a mountain bike that I assume was nicked from Halfords and hisses: "Skunk, weed, ganja". Never having been a dealer myself, I conjecture upon just who wakes up on a Thursday morning and thinks: "Oo, must nip out and get teabags and weed."?
Hmm...probably half of London.
Everything has an appropriate time of day. Cereal or KFC in the morning, sandwich or KFC at lunchtime, fish & chips or KFC in the evening. But weed does not belong in the morning unless you are at Glastonbury. I consider informing my freewheeling friend that most of his clients are still monged out in bed, but err on the side of caution. I don't want to get knifed three hours before my wedding.

Anyway, Motoko turns up on time, Tomoko has beautified herself in my absence in a dress that discretely hides her bump and we head down to Southend. Half my family are present, my brother Simon acting as second witness, my dad who has been persuded to wear his ill-fitting suit, shirt and tie purchased from Tesco in a £5.00 "combo" pack and of course my mum who is in her element. She has decked the house in glittery "Happy Wedding Day" banners and a heart-shaped silver, helium balloon, which at time of writing is still floating in the bedroom, gauging the state of our marital bliss. I will watch it deflate over the next few days.

Simon drives us into central Southend for the civil ceremony, held at the town hall, another monstrosity straight out of the 1970s. Are we going to get married, or are we here to pay last month's overdue council tax? We take a seat in reception and await our turn in the ersatz chapel and dad reminds me to finish the ceremony by 3:10pm, when his parking meter runs out.

Just before Tomoko and I enter, my brother, how shall I put this, releases a noxious gas from his bowels that pervades the entire reception area at the precise moment a newly-married bride exits the chapel. I am inured to my sibling's farts, but for this innocent, it must be like walking into a cloud of mustard gas. Doubtless she blamed her husband and had the marriage annulled before tonight's Eastenders. So thank you, Simon, for your romantic contribution.

Tomoko and I are asked to confirm our details with a tousled, long-haired guy who is vaguely familiar, perhaps someone who used to frequent my local? I think about asking him, but now is an inopportune moment for reminiscing about alcoholic exploits. With everything signed we walk into the chapel to the sound of local lass Alison Moyet singing "That Old Devil Called Love" on the CD player, but this is as good as our nuptial soundtrack gets because it soon descends into pure cheese. I blank it out, but whilst taking my vows I do recall Bryan Adams's saccharine "Everything I Do (I Do It For You"). Still, it has kitsch value and I prefer it to a choir of pre-pubescents singing Ave Maria.

Wedding Ice-Cream

At this point let me give a big thumbs up and thank you to the Southend Registry office and particularly the registrar, who made the most innocuous, unpretentious wedding, somehow very touching and moving, despite Mick Hucknall warbling in the background. The ceremony takes approximately 146.7 seconds, gracing dad with plenty of time on the parking meter. As I exit the building and walk straight into the car-park, the sigh of disappointment from millions of single women is audible over the traffic tearing down the dual-carriageway. Mum's car is hemmed in by a lorry, so she cannot leave for another twenty minutes. Meanwhile we do what every married couple should do after getting hitched and drive down to Rossi's ice-cream parlour for vanilla cones all round. The sun comes out to congratulate us and we are all happy as Larry.

Nan's Alzeimers is not too bad and she is wheeled round in the early evening to say hello and then in the evening we head to a restaurant in Leigh for a modest meal. I had always imagined drinking a bottle of Richebourg or Pétrus on my wedding day, but since I am driving, I opt for a half bottle of cheap Muscadet and depart around 8:30pm so that I can drop Motoko back in London. Plus of course I don't want to be too late. I have work tomorrow.

That's it. I am now a married man (again). Of course, the proper full-on ceremony or blessing as it will be, with friends, family and a tacky disco will be next year you, yes you, all my diary devotees, will be invited.

(Post-script. Tomoko and I were forced into marrying earlier than we would have liked, thanks to convuluted laws of the Home Office, which meant there was a risk of my pregnant fiance being ejected from the country, despite having lived and worked here for ten years and myself being a national. Even the guy at the Home Office confessed that the laws were arcane. Anyway, marriage was our only option and at least our baby was born within wedlock.)

Saturday 25th September

Wedding balloon: no loss in altitude, interior pressure same.

My marriage has now lasted longer than Janet Jackson's first, which I think lasted 24 hours being being anulled. The next milestone is Britney Spears' 48-hour Las Vegas shotgun wedding to her childhood friend. Will we make it? Will we?

Sunday 26th September

Wedding balloon: no loss in altitude, signs of deflation though.

Today we venture to Kew Gardens, for me, my first visit. As a child, at a time when beyond Benfleet was deemed "abroad", I spent hours absorbed in a Ladybird book about London, marvelling at the grandiose Regency buildings and the remarkable absence of litter on the streets. I am unsure how the book would be illustrated now. Dope-pushers in Brixton? A traffic-jam of bendy buses down Oxford Street? Piss-stained streets of Saturday night Soho? Anyway, one of the pages was devoted to Kew Gardens with a water-colour illustration of its pagoda and I dreamt of visiting it when I was an adult.

That was 1976. Twenty-eight years later and I've finally got off my arse to actually go to Kew Gardens and even though it is £8.50 per person, you certainly get £8.50 worth of manicured gardens, Victorian conservatories and diaphanous ponds. Being a duck at Kew must be an idyllic life. We come prepared with a bag of stale bread so that we can bond with my favourite accompaniment to plum sauce. The first few are just your bog standard mallards and moorhens, your run-of-the-mill birds. But just as we are giving up hope, we turn the corner and are confronted by two adult swans with their extended family of fluffly, teenage cygnets.


Now, whenever a man sees a swan, there is one thought that immediately comes to mind...
A swan can break a man's leg...even through nobody has ever reported such an incident. Of course, the second thought is: "Swans cannot be consumed unless you are the Queen." I wonder whether HRH Jancis has ever feasted upon one?

I rip off a morsel of bread and throw it into the throng of preening cygnets.
Nothing...just a quick sniff but little interest. Then one of the swans takes a nibble and without warning I am besieged by pyschotic flock of ravenous cygnets, determined to finish off the Hovis, before breaking my leg and ripping the flesh of my bones. What are their bloody parents doing? Can't they control their kids? They just sit their preening their snowy white feathers while their crazed offspring devour Britain's emerging winewriting star. Still it is a good way to go.
Death by cygnet.
The faster I feed the 5,000, the more excitable they become until they entertain the option of just ripping off my arm. I take cover behind Tomoko and offer her as a sacrifice, but in her first marital betrayal she scarpers, leaving me to fend for myself. In the end I just lob them the entire loaf and they allow me to live for another day.

Swans. They can break a man's leg, you know?

Monday 27th September

Wedding balloon: no loss in altitude, interior pressure constant.

Tomoko and I debate whether to buy a baby gear or blow all our savings on a slap-up meal while we still can. It's a tough call, but I am sure our daughter will understand her second hand clothes and the Austin Allegro equivalent of a push-chair when she is older and wiser.

Tuesday 28th September

Wedding balloon: no loss in altitude, further deflation at bottom.

Daytime is spent at Waitrose HQ tasting their new wines (report due sometime next decade). Andrew Jefford, the laureate of all things fermented (or distilled when his new book comes out) is present, but still insists on wearing trousers that are too tight and too 80s.

I take lunch with him and enter a debate about Chateau Cheval-Blanc opining that it has not hit top gear since 1998 whilst Jefford has faith in the wine ameliorating with bottle age. Midway through the conversation, I ask myself what right I have disagreeing with the author of the epochal "The New France". I might as well go up to Einstein and berate him about the Laws of Relativity.

In the evening, ten vintages of Chateau Montrose back to 1955. There is a palpable atmosphere of menace during the tasting between a clique of chattering and giggling Frenchman at one end of the table, and one of the regulars who tells them to "Fermez la bouche." If this was the school playground we would have encircled them by now, hollering "Fight! Fight!" until one claimed victory. Alas, this is the Institute of Directors, where fighting and running in the corridor is forbidden.

Thursday 30th September

Wedding balloon: slight loss in altitude, worrying deflation.

Tonight I venture down to Vintners Hall courtesy of London uber-merchant Farr Vintners, who are hosting a fascinating 1989 vs. 1990 Bordeaux tasting with American wine-critic James Suckling and a herd of paying guests. I will not go into the details of the wines themselves, that will be reported in an article soon. Suffice to say that we raced through the tasting at a speed, which is fine if you are a stockbroker impatient to ascertain which 1990 First Growth to pop this weekend, but less conducive to those trying to write detailed notes and juxtapose wines against each other.

Following the 90-minute excursion through two-dozen vinos, including all the First Growths, we bustle upstairs for canapés and lashings of Krug 1990. By this time, I have worked up a mean appetite, so focus me efforts upon devouring everything that comes my way, namely a dozen salmon squares and pigs-worth of chipolatas that soak up all that claret refermenting in my stomach. Unbeknown to me, I have been invited to dinner at Ransom's Dock restaurant and so we jump in a taxi that speeds away for...ooh...about 5-metres until it becomes lodged in a traffic jam on Blackfriars Bridge.

At the dinner, James Suckling sits just behind me and Christian Seely from Pichon-Baron is to my right. Now this is a potentially dangerous situation, since the wines being proferred are the remnants of the evenings tasting. Comments like "Neck that's the next one" are commonplace tonight, but when you are talking about wines the pedigree of Haut-Brion 1989 and Latour 1990, well, you ain't gonna spit, are you.

I recite Tomoko's mantra: to drink an equivalent amount of water to avoid that week-long hangover. It kind of works for a while, however by 1:30am (and this is a school night remember), I am ever so slightly tipsy, have interrogated Seely about his penchant for bow ties and no doubt talked gobbledigook to anyone who cared to listen. Suckling takes out his humidor of ridiculously expensive cigars. I guess that as you progress and become more feted you exchange your Marlboro Lights for larynx-asphyxiating Cohibas. I manage to catch a taxi back at around two, mumble something incomprehensible to a somnolent Tomoko and snore myself to sleep.