Saturday 16th October
Off to Brighton to visit "Sven the hippy", a sobriquet earnt at school when he started growing his hair and talking to plants. Since our teenage years I doubt whether he has cut his hair, perhaps not even washed it; and his eco-youth blossomed into eco-adulthood. Every rodent, bird and weed knows Sven. They nest in his hair, they hibernate in his cosy denim flares. Naturally he only eats food that photosynthesizes, so I have ensured that I consume as many hamburgers as possible over the past few days in order to maintain my metabolic equilibrium.
Sven the hippy is also an emerging vintner, one of the exciting crop of biodynamic, cult producers waiting to make
Brighton the oenological epicentre of the world.
Chateau Sven is his boutique winery. This year's crop amounts to one plastic bucket that lies behind the sofa next to an out-of-control palm tree. He shows me his home brew, gives it a stir and the glutinous fermenting liquid bubbles in contentment. Since Michel Rolland was occupied elsewhere, Sven is referring to a second-hand, dog-eared paperback called "An Englishman's Vineyard" by Sid Biggins (or something like that.) Sid looks as if he has passively inhaled too much yeast in recent years and his guide is adorned with blonde-haired bimbos, straight from a Confessions of a Window Cleaner mover, adopting licentious poses with thermometers. No doubt these lewd images were taken with Sid behind the lens and you can imagine him instructing the models..."Unbutton your blouse a bit luv, and hold that packet of yeast a bit higher."
The afternoon is spent with my youngest brother John who is pretending to "study" something or other and spending my hard earned taxes on having fun. Today is a momentous occasion, for he is introducing his new "bit of skirt" to use the Essex vernacular. I like Rebecca, an aspiring, though slightly disillusioned photographer and of course, I interrogate her over a vege-curry and chips so that I can update my computer files. Tomoko and I notice that they hold hands on the way out, which means they are officially in love. She does not quite believe me when I say that a photo of these star-crossed lovers will appear in my diary. Oh well.
In the evening we go for a meal at an organic restaurant called "Coriander", one of those places that you intuitively know will be good before you step inside. A friendly, but not obsequious maitre d'; cosy dark interior, unhurried service; no qualms when I ask whether we could pay corkage for our own wine (a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003 from Chateau de Fines Roches) and most-importantly, some sublime cooking. My lamb cutlets were to die for and Tomoko's ostrich finally offered a practical use for that species of bird. The restaurant alone makes me want to live in Brighton. When we get home we discuss Sven's wardrobe, whereupon he nonchalantly admits that his sole sartorial purchase in recent years has been a pair of cheap trousers from Asda that he was coerced into buying for a wedding when someone told him he looked too scruffy. He said that the experience was so traumatic that he took the opportunity to buy a dozen identical pairs, thus keeping him in stock for life. I make a mental note to add him to my list of makeover program victims, along with Andrew Jefford.
Sunday 17th October
Spend the morning chilling at Sven's flat and discussing life. At lunchtime we venture out into the scenic South Downs for a pub lunch, after which we pop round to my cousin Katy's new flat, just a stone's throw from Sven's. She has been there a couple of weeks and is now looking to furnish it with a steady boyfriend. What a shame you cannot pick up a flat-pack partner at IKEA, needing just an allen key and a screwdriver to assemble? Life would be so much simpler.
By this time, Tomoko is tired from her exertions over the weekend and we head back to the soundtrack of Nick Cave (a Brightonian himself.) She slumbers while I consider upping sticks to the seaside town and bringing up a child amongst bohemian students and eco-warriers, a conurbation of dilettantes and alternative lifestyles. Seems O.K. to me.
Monday 18th October
Bur-luddy hell, it could only happen to me. I am taking my usual stroll around Soho in Central London when I spot a camera crew walking in my direction. Like a moth to a candle, I hover in the background trying to get in shot whilst attempting to discover exactly who is being interviewed and for which program. It is only after walking away that I recognize the interview as the Seinfeld lookalike who hosts Sky TV's "World of Sex Records" and that his interviewee is probably some dominatrix who runs a local dungeon. I will be vigilantly watching the next series to check whether I appear or not.
The evening is spent in more salubrious surroundings at CECWINE's Chateau Palmer vertical tasting. I chat to the new technical-director Thomas Duroux and promise to visit soon although the evening is marred by news of Marc Almond's near-fatal motorbike crash. Get well soon Marc.
Tuesday 19th October
Word to Southern Trains who attempt to ferry me to work every morning. Please switch off the microwave system that is cooking your cattle/passengers on the 07:59 to Victoria Station.
Evening spent tasting vintage of Brunello Riserva from Biondi Santi back to an exquisite 1945. The tasting is hosted by the slightly scatty Nicolas Belfrage MW, who generously brought back the 1945 from the winery last week. If it were me, I would have kept the bottle myself or pretend I dropped it on the way back.
Wednesday 20th October
Second ante-natal class, which begins with the relaxation exercise. I find it nigh impossible to relax, my cerebral cortex is wired to the mains and I am constantly thinking of things to do on the website, what CD I should buy and what to do with my redundant porn collection. I consider donating it to the local charity shop, but alas they have no porn section. Then I hit on the idea of London's first charity porn shop, which would alleviate men's guilt by guaranteeing that their carnal desires will indirectly aid those less fortunate. However it may compromise my wine career so I put the idea on hold.
During the session, our baby guru Maria shows us graphic drawings of exactly what happens to a woman as she is giving birth. It looks messy. I make a mental note to acquire a second pair of extra-strong Marigold gloves, just in case the baby pops out at home. As much as I try to absorb the sapient details, I know that I will be running around like a headless chicken and about as useful as a headless chicken. Alas, not as tasty as a headless chicken.
Thursday 21st October
Big cheese over from head office in Tokyo. In the evening, my colleague Phil and I head over to Zuma, a Japanese restaurant so trendy it hurts, although Daniel Beddingfield standing in front of me takes the shine off its gloss. The waitresses are stick thin, easy on the eye and sport a variety of facial piercings. Is that a prerequisite for working the tables here? The Japanese cuisine is passable despite it costing ten times the amount in Japan and in a couple of hours we rack up a bill that would have infuriated me had it not been on company expenses. Zuma is not a place that I would frequent if I was daddy's boy frittering away his trust fund: the commotion and the constant pressure to be "cool" is draining. We leave around nine to down pints of cheap beer round the corner, where I get moderately drunk. I had vowed not to drink excessively on a school night but I, like most people, find succour in alcohol. I catch the last train home, aware that I will awake with a migraine the following morning.
Friday 22nd October
Awake with migraine and vow never to drink excessively on a school night. Tomorrow I head north of Hadrian's Wall for a wine-weekend in Glasgow. Here we go again.
Saturday 23rd October
I arise at the ungodly hour of five a.m. and semi-consciously prepare a simple breakfast. The spearmint toothpaste kickstarts my
basic metabolism and I kiss Tomoko goodbye. I observe her rapid eye movement to check she is not dreaming about naked men.
No, I am safe. She is fantasizing about the cakes she will make next week and the affection she will show to her husband to reassure him that he is still numero uno (not).
She mumbles something indecipherable before rolling over and making it clear that I am disturbing her sleep. Shuffling out into the hall I pick up my weekend baggage: a decommissioned record bag whose contents consist of one bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1987, one bottle of Clos du Marquis, one pair of socks, one pair of clean boxer shorts and one ticket for the Glasgow SuperBOWL.
Did you notice that I have forgot the essentials such as a toothbrush, flannel and hair-brush?
Well, I didn't.
It is amazing how many people travel by bus at 5.30 in the morning. Where are they all going? Surely they cannot be travelling up for the same bacchanal with a barmy army of wine-nerds like me? I doze off on the tube and wake up just before my stop at Heathrow, avoiding a careless return journey to the suburban wasteland of northeast London. I check in at one of those convenient self-service machines that alas has no key marked "Wangle free upgrade from check-in clerk" but it does grant me a window-seat. After years travelling by air I remain obsessed by little fluffy clouds and and the gravity defying act of flying. Indeed I have spent an eleven-hour journey from London to Tokyo with my face practically glued to the window, staring out at thousands of miles of featureless Russian Steppes.
I land at Glasgow Airport and since I am doing this weekend on the cheap, I take a bus into town rather than a taxi, which naturally takes ten times longer than if I had sensibly hopped into a taxi. I seek out my hotel, where I am sharing a room with a fellow SuperBOWL attendee that Tomoko has been ribbing me about all week, suggesting emergency procedures in the case of my cohabitant dressed in a gimp-suit brandishing a feather-duster. Having corresponded with him on numerous occasions, I have informed Tomoko that it is most unlikely but even so, I scan the room when I arrive to ensure there is no copy of "Men in Leather" on the bedside table. I chill out with Cat Deely on CD:UK rather than the adult channel, then walk to the Corinthian Hotel for the SuperBOWL 2004, ostensibly a grand off-line tasting organized by Tom Cannavan of www.wine-pages.com with copious flagons of interesting wine, unmissable seminars and a splendid, raucous dinner in the evening. It is always a pleasure to meet old friends, some of whom I only encounter either here in situ or in cyberspace.
The seminars are interesting, particularly one that sheds the spotlight upon Austrian producer FX Pichler, conducted with fumes sherry hovering in the ether from the previous tasting. After the afternoon session finishes, I hurry back to the hotel to catch the first part of "X Factor". (I am sure that most wine-critics sneak reality TV into their hectic schedules) then return back to the hotel for the evening dinner.
I have a good chat with Bill Nanson of the excellent www.burgundy-report.com and with hunger contractions increasing in frequency, we venture upstairs to the dining room. We are a tad premature and are requested to wait outside, but unfortunately the minions followed like sheep and are forced to decamp onto the stairs to the chagrin of the stressed-out restaurant manager. Naturally, I let everyone know it is Bill`s fault.
I am sharing a table with my roommate Paul Redfern (no Tomoko, he did not pack a gimp-suit), Toby Bailey of www.finewinediary.com (this year without tie festooned with Bordeaux labels), Linden Wilkie of www.finewineexperience.com and assorted wine-junkies. I am sitting next to Philip Vaughn's Swedish beau, who must be bored senseless sharing a table with ten nerds wittering on about tannins, brett and TCA ad nauseum. We do discuss such weighty matters during starters, but as the alcohol flows the conversation degenerates into the usual inane bollocks that accompanies most bibulous evenings. Linden proclaims to be drunk at around 9.30pm, which means he will be requiring a stomach pump by midnight.
Naturally we are the last table to leave. The banquetting room has become a giant bottle-bank that I would hate to clear up at one in the morning. Just before we are forcibly ejected we make a quick circuit of the room and like a pair of vultures circling the tables, we finish off the dregs of anything interesting we find (and I still manage to compose a tasting note.) We leave around 1a.m. through the partying foyer of the Corinthian with Paul and a very worse-for-wear Linden, definitely a man who has had a fine wine experience tonight. He is vainly trying to persuade us to join him for cocktails, but we leave him in a chippie with a herd of semi-clad Glaswegian lassies, loading up on fries to line the stomach for the remaining evening. Perhaps Linden will vanish off the face of the Earth and www.finewineexperience.com will come to an abrupt demise, only to turn up years later running a mobile chip-van in Paisley, renowned for special "Sassicaia Vinegar"? Who knows?
Sunday 24th October
Paul leaves early, leaving his Clos de la Roche 1991 from Ponsot in the cupboard. I do not notice it, though he later contacts someone to recover the precious bottle. My hangover is not too bad, but even so I traipse down to the breakfast room, load up on grease and browse the Scottish Sunday papers that read as if England is non-existent. My flight is not until the afternoon so I spend the day traipsing round drizzly Glasgow, spending a couple of hours in a bookshop reading an article about Live Aid, undoubtedly a seismic event in mine and many others life. Who can forget Nik Kershaw's epic rendition of "Wouldn`t It Be Good" or Howard Jones ripping up Wembley with "Like to Get To Know You Well."
I find a jaded Linden Wilkie boarding the same flight home as me. He seemed to have escaped from the chippie and www.finewineexperience.com looks set to continue. I spend the evening with Tomoko and watching the "UK Music Hall of Fame" on Channel 4, which has some decent retrospective profiles on the candidates (although I cannot see the point of such an award.) To my dismay, Showaddywaddy are overlooked in the 1970s category and I make a mental note to complain tomorrow.