Chapter 7

Friday January 23rd

PAYDAY! At last I can afford to exist.

Saturday January 24th

Begin part deux of repainting the house virgin white. I am a little paranoid that my brilliant white exterior will attract burglars who may equate non-peeling window-frames with affluence. I end up painting my hair matt gloss which Tomoko has to cut out later on, lest I appear to have aged ten years overnight.

Monday January 26th

"I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" begins. Well, that's my social life sorted out for the next couple of weeks. I am particularly looking forward to the phlegmy rather than plegmatic John Lydon causing mayhem in the camp and desperately hope that he does not foresake his punk roots for the sake of camp unity. Peter Andre appears unchanged since he became a professional bicep, whilst lachrymous Kerry McFadden looks as if she is on the point of tears the whole time. Well I would be if I was married to a member of Westlife.

I cannot sleep because I am too excited about tomorrow's Chateau Petrus tasting. I wonder whether Jancis is also restless with anticipation?

Tuesday January 27th
christian moueix

Petrus tasting - hoorah! I wonder if Christian Moueix is glued to "I'm A Celebrity..." like me? Jordan is toying with the male fraternity in the jungle. I pray that she does not fall for Peter Andre's crude advances and chiselled torso and remembers the execrable "Mysterious Girl" from 1996. I should discuss it with Moueix but he is inundated with pretentious questions from Master of Wine under-grads.

Wednesday January 27th

What global warming? It's snowing and the whole transport system clanks to a grinding halt as one-inch of snow causes panic and mayhem. Jordan sleeps in Peter Andre's hammock but only gets to level 1. Resist Jordan, resist.

The Hutton Report is issued and I am sick to the teeth. Watching Alistair Campbell on Newsnight made me want to throw something at the TV screen. The BBC is castigated for a piece of sloppy journalism and foolishly defending it without verification, whilst the government is completely exonerated for its military invasion on the basis of false intelligence, which they also failed to verify. Of course, the only difference between the two is that the error on the BBC's part put a few duplicious politicians' noses out of joint, whereas the government's error resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. Of course, I support the deposition of a ruthless dictator and I trust our leaders exact similar actions against the dozens of other undesirable despots in non-oil producing countries. Tirade over.

Thursday January 29th

My computer has contracted the Mydoom virus and I am receiving countless messages designed to hamper my working day. What kind of person sits at home, watches Eastenders, eats a pizza and decides to write a cataclysmic computer virus that will render the world impotent within 48 hours? How would the world cope without www.wine-journal.com? If they had read my "Petrus" article I bet they would think twice about their actions.

Phone Vik who is being made redundant at the end of February. I am distraught as I will be losing my Burgerking comrade. Perhaps I will place an advert on my website to invite people to join me over a Rodeo-burger and fries? I suggest that Vik tries to get a job at BK in Oxford Street, but then I remember that you have to speak Spanish.

Emergency phone call at 6.30pm: Tomoko reports that two British Gas engineers hammered on the door and proceded to switch off the gas. How considerate, it's only minus four degrees outside, thank you so much. I hurry home to find her wrapped in heavy clothing, the radiators expending their remaining warmth. Faced with a night freezing to death like Scott of the Antartic, we decide to open a bottle of red wine even though my Scout education taught me that alcohol consumption is inadvisable for those suffering hypothermia. Fortunately the engineers return just before I begin to search for the hot-water bottle and warmth returns to our abode. I now appreciate gas and vow never to take it for granted again. Gas, I love you.

Friday January 30th

My youngest brother John's birthday but I forget. So John: "Happy Birthday". Even though I failed to buy you anything, I know that you will reciprocate when it is my birthday in two weeks time.

In the evening I venture to CECWINE tasting, an article will appear soon.

Sunday February 1st

At last God has spared us a day of precipitation and graced us with a morsal of sunshine to bless the earth. It lasts precisely three and a half hours before it pisses down again.

Today I am driving down to my parents' house, our first pilgrimage to Essex since Christmas (which reminds me, I still need to exchange that gay kite that mum bought for Xmas.) We have a voucher on the verge of expiring, so we drive to "Natural Age", one of those shops that is aesthetically perfect, surfeit with shiny, colourful designer products that seduce the eye and satisfy your feng shui aspirations whilst oozing middle-class chic. However when you are impelled to actually purchase something, you realize that
a) it is ridiculously priced (e.g. thirty quid for an alloy loo-brush) or
b) it is completely useless (e.g. designer cheese-graters the size of a thumb-nail.) Natural Age is the antithesis of IKEA: everything looks good but does nothing.
Having searched in vain for a utensil with at least an element of practicality we decide that the best option is to chose something completely superfluous to everyday life and spend our twenty pound voucher on a wooden owl.

We return home for Sunday roast. On the menu this week is lamb served with a demi-bouteille of Calvet Bordeaux Blanc which must have lain in the cupboard underneath the tropical fish-tank (population 104) for the last few years. As is customary, my family devour the meal before anyone has a chance to appreciate the six hours it took to prepare it. It is a perfect re-enactment of the pie-eating contest in "Stand By Me". In fact, if you asked my brother what he had just eaten he probably could not tell you. Even my frail, Alzeimer-ridden nan is lapping Tomoko towards the end of the dish. By the time dad has dumped most of the cream onto his apple crumble, my brother has shot upstairs to listen to a CD at ear-splitting decibels.

Now half-way through I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here and I am as addicted as George Best to his local brewery. I am now aware that it is causing strains in my relationship since Tomoko is not a convert and whilst I sit glued to the TV, she evacuates to the bedroom until the farce finishes at 10pm.

Wednesday 4th February

Drinks after work with a colleague in the wine trade. We patiently wait for two men who are obviously vacating their table, but for some reason one of them spends ten minutes drawing mysterious diagrams on shredded pieces of paper. Are they discussing some plot for world domination? If the world ends next week, you now know that the plot was hatched in Balls Brothers wine bar near Victoria train station.

Friday 6th February

Stay in and chill out to some music. This evening I juxtapose last year's "Black Cherry" by "Goldfrapp" with 1984s masterpiece "A Secret Wish" by German art-terrorists " Propaganda".

Saturday 7th February

One of those days where you decide to do a small household chore, in this case to move the uncomfortable futon approximately ten inches towards the window, and it snowballs into a gargantuan project that swallows the whole day. Three hours later it is a full-scale feng shui-dictated assault on the whole flat.

We are both knackered by early evening and decide to eat at a local restaurant rather than head into town. We venture down to "Still Luigi's" in Gypsy Hill, named accordingly after its proprietors failed to conjure up anything more imaginative when the original "Luigi's" was revamped. Unfortunately some berk, you know the type, muscular hardman with shaved head; brain of a small marsupial with learning difficulties, has decided that he will demonstrate his masculinity by remonstrating with the waitor right in the middle of the restaurant.

Pray tell, what piqued his ire? Well, he is unable to get his preferred table and comes over all "Goodfellas". After haranguing the helpless waiters for twenty minutes, he leaves in a huff and marches away, his girlfriend trailing behind wishing she had chosen someone with brains cells that worked simultaneously instead of one at a time. The rest of the meal passes without incident apart from them over-charging us on the bill, hence the two pound deduction on the tip.

Sunday 8th February

It is sunny at last and having worked so hard yesterday we embark on a drive into the countryside to inhale some unpolluted air.

I ask Tomoko to find a destination on the map, forgetting that girls and maps have an on/off relationship (I should have learnt my lesson after an ex- attempted to drive down a river in the Norfolk Broads, mistaking the wavy blue line for a meandering motorway.) We find ourselves in Brighton and so I call my youngest brother John to see if he wants to meet up. To my surprise he agrees. I assumed students were nocturnal creatures and he joins us at the ingeniously named "Wai Kiki Moo Kau", one those trendy cafes that forms the lifeblood of Brighton, managed by a Stalinist communr of vegan feminists sporting multi-coloured braids, midway through a philosophy/Mongolian Lit. degree (number of lectures attended per year: two and a half.) Even though my taxes are funding my brother's hedonistic life-style, he coerces me into buying him vegetarian curry and a coke. We drop him back to his student hovel: a two storey ash-tray with a leaky roof and complementary spaced out hippy, whose current thesis on the alphabet of drugs is progressing well. He is up to class C.

I love Brighton. I would live here if I could afford its London prices. But we must depart back home because it is the penultimate "I'm A Celebrity" and the tension is almost unbearable.

Monday 9th February

Sometimes this country makes me want to throw up. Today I spend hours trying to get through to "Parcelforce" customer service since they have kindly lost a parcel coming from Japan that contains an expensive gift from my girlfriend. It seems to have disappeared off their radar at the Camden depot, the Bermuda Triangle of North London. It takes countless attempts to get through to the wrong person, one of whom is inaudible as he has the radio on too loud in the background. When I request him to turn it down he replies "what?" in a tone that suggests he has more concern for the plight of pygmies in New Guinea than my inquiry. By the end of the day no progress has been made and I have an unerring desire to blitz the Camden depot like the police station massacre in "The Terminator". Perhaps Cyberdine Systems pre-programmed the Terminator to locate missing parcels as well as destroying all human life?

Tuesday 10th February

An early 9am kick-off at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti tasting at Corney & Barrow. After a brief chat with fellow wine-scribe Jamie Goode (who seems astonished at my sartorial flair), I spend two hours in the company of Bill Nanson working our way through the DRC 2001 vintage. From here it's a quick stop-over in the office to check the e-mails and then down to Knightsbridge for a tasting courtesy of Maison Sichel. I taste all the flights of Chateau Palmer and Chateau d'Angludet, though I somehow manage to spill half a glass of Palmer 1995 over my notes. I woof down a delicious beef stew, converse with a young lad who went to the same university as me and then back to the office.

After work it is off to lock swords with Parcelforce who are still shrugging their shoulders about the lost parcel. At the Camden depot I have to wait about 40 minutes for somebody to deign me with an appearance, during which time I witness an employee give a wrong parcel to one of dozens of complainants. Thank God this guy is not Father Christmas.

Meanwhile there is the peel of unanswered telephones and a workforce who have the urgency of a sloth on a slow day. Eventually somebody who genuinely does appear to have some concern over the lost parcel explains that it has vanished somewhere in the depot (i.e. it was nicked.) It is futile. The manager cannot even be bothered to speak to me and I leave vowing never to use Parcelforce again. If you are considering their services, check out alternative services unless you enjoy taking a risk.

Thursday 12th February

Today is my birthday, an event whose magnitude remains undaunted by the passing years. Mum sends a cheque and a millennium falcon Lego set, nan sends me a tenner, brother Tom a Blur CD. When I arrive at work I e-mail Vik to meet for lunch and in keeping with tradition we walk down Oxford Street to the KFC. We realise that we been friends for over half our lives, although at our age we should have been dining at the Ivy rather than deliberating whether to have a Zinger Burger of the regular set meal.

In the evening, Tomoko takes me to a mystery restaurant, the first time anyone has taken me to dinner since my lunatic girlfriend in September 1989. Our destination is "Lola's" in Islington (great decor, food a little fussy, wine-list top-notch, no warm water in the men's toilet.) Tomoko is upset because she had specifically requested them to write my name on the pudding to celebrate my special day, as Georgio Locatelli did last year (well, the photographic evidence shows that he did although I was completely drunk at the time.) She writes several chapters of complaint on a questionnaire card before leaving.