Chapter 26

Monday 25th October

Meet Jamie Goode of and forthcoming pundit on Richard & Judy for their "Wine Club", which begins in two weeks. It's amazing that two daytime TV presenters will have a greater impact upon wine-sales in the UK than all the newspaper columnists put together. Of course, my name was never considered in the starting line-up for the show, since the Circle of Wine Writers rejected my application earlier this year (boo! hiss!)

Tuesday 26th October

Bordeaux tasting with London wine merchant Justerini & Brooks. I have a brief chat with Jonathan Malthus, "Mr. Le Dome" who contrary to his ursine build, is affable and friendly. I ask whether he has seen my site and he is the second chateau proprietor this month to inform me that not only has he read it, but has copied it for their own site. Denis Durantou of Chateau L`Eglise-Clinet is also in attendance and he waxes lyrical about my site to Alexandre Thienpont at the adjacent stand. Alexandre racks his brain but fails to recall my visiting last year. I obviously need to make more of an impression when I meet chateau owners, perhaps a song-and-dance routine to announce my arrival? Or dress as a clown maybe?

Wednesday 27th October

No antenatal class this week, so our group meets at the Escape Bar in Herne Hill. However, there is no escaping our destiny with all the buns in ovens. The girls sit on one side and talk babies whilst the men discuss computers and sport. On the return journey, Tomoko and I stop at a convenient Tesco Metro that has opened near our flat (have you noticed the outbreak of Metros across the metropolis recently?) I buy her some Green & Blacks organic ice-cream as she has been well behaved this week.

Thursday 28th October

Christmas Wine tasting at Berry Brothers & Rudd, down in the hallowed cellars, near the pricelss 19th century Tokaji Essecensia`s that have been incarcerated behind bars for their entire life. I grab some sandwiches before commencing with the whites, then manage to spill my glass of Cornas all over the table (it was not my fault, it was the table`s.) A delicious Graham 1966 port makes a fitting climax to the afternoon and I feel it is Xmas already. I spend the evening listening to the new album by Canadian group "The Dears". They would have received album of the month, had the great John Peel not died on Tuesday. He would have preferred "80`s Matchbox B-Line Disaster" and so in his honour, it shall be.

In the evening I partake in the annual Sopexa quiz night, which two years ago resulted in a certain wine-journal author rendered completely wasted on Vacqueras and attempting to abscond with an empty methusalum of champagne. Not this year: I intend to win and have assembled a crack squad of egg-heads to win the top prize of a trip to the Rhone (where else.) Apart from myself (specialist subject music, life) there is my colleague Phil (history, politics, Leeds Utd.), Kim Benjamin (ex-Blockbuster champion no less) and Alex Hunt (wine, philosophy and philanthropy.) It is fun, but sufficiently challenging and competitive.

After tasting a few modest Rhones including a dry Saint Peray that goes straight into the spittoon, we gather at our table and mentally prepare ourselves, massaging our brains so that they retrieve useless information with ease. We perform exceptionally well, each person pulling their mental weight, with only one or two questions answered incorrectly in each round.

Here are some examples of the questions:

Name four countries with the letter "J" in them?

How many villages in the Cote du Rhone can append their name to the appellation?

Which England international is Tony Adam`s son-in-law?

By the penultimate round we must be either leading or just a point or two behind and as an added bonus I am not even drunk. Then Charles Metcalfe announces in his booming tenor voice that the best eight teams will go through to a sudden-death buzzer round and so previous scores are null and void. We feel cheated, even more so when I fail to press my bell in time to answer any of the questions (although being ill-informed that I would be automatically disqualified if I answered incorrectly did lead to some hesitation.) We leave empty-handed, but pledge that the "Blue Nuns" will return victorious next year.

Friday 29th October

Rhodes tasting at Colonel Jaspers. I love these tastings: the wines are as mad as the people, and I mean that in an affectionate way, the food can be suspect, the chef always seems to have "upped spoons" since last time, but they are always joyous affairs and for every odd disappointing wine there is always one that proves a revelation. Tonight is no exception as out of nowhere the Chateau Dassault 1961 enchants us with its Burgundian grace and poise. Where else would you be afforded the opportunity to drink that in London, or indeed anywhere else in the world?

Saturday 30th October

Shopping in Croydon. We buy "women's essentials" in Mothercare for pregnant women (the details I will spare you), a winter coat and a bag of chestnuts. In the evening I take Tomoko for a Thai meal at "South-East" in Crystal Palace which hits the spot and return home in time to catch the results of "X Factor".

Sunday 31st October

Today I have the joy of regrouting the bathroom floor and plastering behind the toilet.

Monday 1st November

Lunch with a Bordeaux negotiant who is over in London. After discussing the current market, I opine that the Bordeaux negotiant system is screwed and there is nothing he can do about it and he had better start looking for a new vocation tout de suite. I feel guilty after he foots the bill, but it is best that he knows.

Chateau d'Yquem in ice

The evening is spent helping CECWINE with their glorious Chateau d`Yquem vertical tasting. The golden bottles of Refulgent bottles of Sauternes chilling in a tub of ice is enough to melt the heart of any botrytis-affected oenophile. In fact the bottles of 1967, 1971 and 1975 look too perfect to open. The Duke and Duchess of Bordeaux (David and Serena) have arranged the order in terms of ascending greatness, culminating in the 1967, thereby complicating the logistics of pouring dozens of glasses. Halfway through pouring the 1973, I panic when I convince myself that I have poured it into the 1977 glasses. It is a few minutes before I realise that I have not cocked the whole thing up.

Pouring exact measures of wine for a large number of people demands military precision, but we make excellent sommeliers, the only complaint coming from an odious buffoon who complains about his measure of 1969. try pouring over three hundred measures of wine in a matter or minutes. I make it clear that I do not have time for his quibbles and by the time I have purloined the remnants of the 1969 he has managed to mix up all his glasses of Yquem. My admonishing glare lets him know my opinion.

The tasting is awesome, undoubtedly one of my vinous highlights of 2004 and I look forward to Part II in three weeks time.

Tuesday 2nd November

Check out the new "Which Wine" guide that mentions wine-journal. I get a good write-up that includes the word quixotic. I look it up in the dictionary later.

Wednesday 3rd November

Antenatal class. Today: birth positions. Maria, our Hungarian baby-guru, keeps using the phrase " doing a big poo" which does little to enhance the romance and spirituality of childbirth. Her other favourite phrase is "...when you make love to your man/your woman" whereupon couples look at each other and think "...and look where we ended up." Everyone apart from us seems to be learning the ins and outs (mostly outs) of childbirth by means of self-help videos and books, practicing breathing exercises and preparing themselves for one of life's epochal moments. We still do not know what the hell we are in for, but I feel that the more we discover, the more there is to worry about.

Thursday 4th November

Master of Wine Bordeaux 2000 tasting at the Vintners Hall: 80-odd wines including all the First Growths although surprisingly no Cheval Blanc. At these kind of tastings I roam alone, prefer not to be disturbed. You have to maintain a clinical approach, not to waver on wines that call your attention loudly. One must remain sang-froid, make the assessment, reflect, scribble and move on.

These MW events can be a bit cliquey, I have a mere Diploma. "Neal Martin MW" - hmmm, I don`t think so. I am terrible at exams, I tend to get flustered and write reams of unintended bilge. I am like my cousin, who spent her three hour English Lit. exam composing a letter of apology to the examiner for wasting their time. I remember my Wine Diploma, drawing childish diagrams of terracing in the Douro Valley, looking back and thinking "Well, that's looks as if it was scrawled by a five-year old with the mental capacity of a three-year old." My port essay was a sham but I have Robert Parker to thank for getting an "A" in the Bordeaux section. A question turned up on the omnipotent Maryland critic and with my in-depth knowledge, I probably quoted his inside leg-measurement during my treatise. However, the consequence of verbose epic dissection of Parker meant that I had about three and half minutes to draw diagrams of the terracing in the Douro Valley.

The afternoon is spent lunching the Oxo Restaurant with a colleague in the wine-trade and suddenly it is 4.00pm with dusk descending upon London town. It is dark by the time I reach the office and soon time to clock out. The evening is spent relaxing at home, contemplating the 2000 Bordeaux vintage whilst listening to "The Dears" new album: "No Cities Left."

Friday 5th November

Every overcast morning, I have the joy of passing a large advertising poster of an anonymous crack-addict; five portraits of a woman's face becoming withered and pallid as she succumbs to the "Big H". Even the first photo depicts a woman with "heroin-eyes": two deep quarries with still, fathomless lakes at the bottom. I am trying to work out whether she is actually showing signs of recovery between photos four and five? If so, I sincerely hope she gets a new haircut as that mid-80s look is way out of fashion.

Evening spent surrounded by an incendiary of fireworks that sends Doreen upstairs mental. Every explosion of phosphate met with ululation and expletives.

Saturday 6th November

Dad round in the morning to fix a rose to the ceiling. I think he blusters his way through any DiY job like me, except he knows what he is doing and I don't. My role is to pass him the screwdrivers and his payment is a piece of pumpkin pie. A brief rest and then Joel comes round to work on the final leg of the website redesign. He loses me in a miasma of computer jargon so I merely observe what he is doing a keep him fuelled on strong tea. The evening is spent eating my special slow-cooked beef bougignon with some splendid vinous fare. I offer Joel some misogynistic advice on women that horrifies Tomoko, even though she knows every word is true.

Sunday 7th November

After a breakfast of delicious chipolattas from a newly discovered butchers, Joel and I continue work on the website. A headache is encroaching, so after he leaves in the afternoon I take a rest. Tonight there is no Sopranos, the greatest TV drama ever, but I can indulge myself in "Music Hall of Fame: The 50s" which has some stunning archive footage of Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry and the like. Reminds me to start compiling my own singles and albums of the year soon. The worst single is a one-horse race. Have you heard the abomination that is Westlife's futile attempt to do Sinatra? Should there not be some law against things like this? Isn't that what the House of Lords is for?

Monday 8th November

Jesus H. Christ. Tomoko and I are attempting to start a joint bank account with the "Abbey" (it used to be called the "Abbey National" but some PR-consultant advised them to drop the "National", no doubt for a fee that overdosed on zeros.) This should be a simple procedure, but the Abbey seem to be doing everything possible to prevent us giving them our savings. My local branch used to be teaming with advisers and helpers. Now it is a wasteland inhabited by incredulous customers desperately searching for someone, anyone to speak to. A clerk finally deigns us with her presence thirty minutes after our scheduled appointment, after which we endure a Spanish inquisition by someone at HQ. My reward for being an Abbey customer for 7 years, taking out an Abbey mortgage and a car loan and virtually begging them to let us give them our savings, is a frigging "Electron" card, usually reserved for teenagers to store their pocket money or weekly wage packet from stacking veg in Sainsburys.

Tuesday 9th November

Another company pissing me off is "Southern" trains, who are currently attempting to break the Southeast England record of consecutive delayed or cancelled trains. Good luck. You are nearly there.

Also a big thank you to the boilerman who on Monday "forgot" his appointment to service the boiler and who today whined on about his conked-out van. Cheers mate!

Wednesday 10th November

I have telephoned for another boilerman to come round a service my Volkera Flowmatic. I pick five random numbers from the Yellow Pages and somehow end up booking the most truculent sounding man, who quotes me sixty-five quid. He comes round the next morning, a squat, dishevelled ogre with greasy, white hair, sagging jowls, a baggy, stained Adidas track suit that would be rejected by Oxfam, a malodorous pong of a lifetime's Benson & Hedges and a young Asian apprentice learning the ropes, struggling two-handed with a heavy bag of tools.

The young Asian guy starts to service the boiler, ostensibly £65 for a 15 minute hoover round the torso of my Volkera. His boss slumps in the kitchen and does precisely nothing, except take the cash and "absent-mindedly" pocket the change. I make the both a cup of tea, he then uses my loo and whilst I am away turns on my radio (though does not go as far as changing the channel.) I might as well start cooking him a fry-up and flossing his teeth.

He then starts philosophizing about life, rueing his 20-a-day a habit that precludes him from going anywhere near soot, ergo anywhere near a boiler, seemingly bemused by coming into close contact with a woman of Oriental origin without ordering a number 54. He then proceeds to inform me that he is fluent in French and I respond with an incredulous stare that bounces straight off of him. "You see, its the grammar that I find difficult. For example, the past tense of faire is je fremme" and so on. I just nod sympathetically, leaving him in his solipsistic world that is orbited by his young understudy, who I sincerely hope graduates in the near future.

As he leaves I reflect upon the fact that his hourly wage is approximately what I, or a qualified teacher earn in a day. Plumbers, electricians, plasterers, roof-tilers, car-mechanics: they are the nouveau riche who have finally recognised that the middle-class are at their mercy and that they can exact their revenge on decades of suppression by calling the shots and charging extortionate prices for the minimal amount of labour (which is exactly what 95% of managers do.) They are the ones with the practical skills, the know-how, the portable welding-kits, the smooth plastering hand and the "Corgi" credentials.
Me? I am armed with a Diploma in wine.

Do you hear that? It's Karl Marx turning in his grave.