Chapter 29

Tuesday 14th December

Meet my brother Tom for lunch. He insists on a pizza but I refuse and force him into Japanese curry house to expand his dietary horizons. If Japanese curry was the only food left to civilization then I would not complain. It lived on it for my entire year in Tokyo, eschewing the McD at Kamata Station for a local curry diner, where 500 Yen bought you the most delicious, oozing, chicken curry and rice you could possibly imagain, even if the lackadaisical way it was slopped into your bowl made you feel like a prisoner.

Wednesday 15th December

I am faced with a dilemma this evening: a Chateau Latour vertical tasting back to the 1924 vintage or the final antenatal class with Maria. I choose both.

I arrive at the Bentley Hotel in a rain-sodden Gloucester Road just before 7p.m. where Linden has already poured the first five glasses. Whilst the rest of the group take time to savour the wines (and they really are worth marinating on your palate for as long as possible) I surge my way through ten vintages as if Armageddon was due at 7.30pm (which will transpire if I miss the antenatal class.) In thirty minutes my olfactory senses gorge themselves on Chateau Latour 2000, 1995, 1988, 1978, 1970, 1966, 1962, 1953, 1947 and 1924; a smorgasbord of claret that I approach with inhuman clinical analysis. Having stabbed the full-stop of the final note, there is no escaping the fact that I have waded through a trough of monumental wines and in the shape of the ethereal 1924, possibly my wine of the year.

Yet the clock tick-tocks inexorably towards my latest feasible departure time that would not incur Medieval retribution from Tomoko, so downing the remnants of the 1924 in one gulp I bid the bemused party of Latour-lovers farewell and hurry out of the hotel. I manage to catch the second half of our concluding class in which we are confronted with the realities of having a baby i.e. time will be consumed whole by our offspring; we will enjoy less sleep than a 16-year old raver for Billericay and our future will be a simulacrum of our former lives. How will I ever be able to watch CD:UK on Saturday mornings? How about the gym? (Oh forgot, I have not stepped foot on a running machine since the improvements in general health failed to compensate for the boredom of spending an hour running nowhere.) Life's luxuries are destined to be atrophied by the fetid stench of used nappies.

There is always a touch of melancholy as the group finally disperses, to venture into the unknown and open a new chapter in our lives. We arrange to meet up next week, subject to our unborns' decision whether they would like to spend Xmas indoors or outdoors.

Thursday 16th December

Although my days as an English teacher finished many moons ago in deepest Tokyo, a valediction marked by a troupe of lachrymose pig-tailed schoolgirls in paedo-friendly sailors' uniforms blubbing undying friendship as I bid them "sayonara", my penchant for Burgerking ensures that foreign students still benefit from my English tutelage. Today I walk up to my local BK to find my next unwitting student who turns out to be "Marta", one of several Senoritas conscripted to the front line of the fastfood war that has raged down Oxford Street for twenty years. By the looks of things, BK is on the defensive since one of their outlets recently morphed into a noodle bar overnight.

I bid Marta "hola" and opt for an advanced lesson, ordering a la carte (i.e. a Rodeoburger and medium fries rather than a set meal.) Immediately Marta is flummoxed by my unexpected veering into the unchartered regions of the menu and we start badly as she keys in a "BK Royal set meal". Indeed I repeat my order four times before my exact request registers and all the time my beloved Marta makes panicking gestures to her short-tempered boss who sports an outrageous Roman nose and a head shaped as if it grew between the claws of an industrial vice. I eventually end up with the correct order although Marta only just scrapes a pass due her refusing to accept I want to eat in-house and furnishing me with the wrong sauce. To her visible relief the next customer reverts back to the set meals that do not necessitate the use of prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs and demonstrative pronouns and she can revert to auto-pilot. Rest assured Marta, next week I am coming in and venturing into salad territory.

Friday 17th December

A day off work in order to make the flat suitable for a new-born child. I wouldn't want the midwife to inspect our abode and send the child straight to social services. That would not go down well with the in-laws. In this respect, I drive down early to Purley Way IKEA to exchange the new chest of drawers that was found to have a hairline fracture on the top surface. Our baby deserves to have her nappy changed on furniture that will not collapse after three days.

I arrive ten minutes before opening time to ensure that I will not have to spend eternity waiting to be served, like it did on Monday when a riot almost ensued. Although I am first to arrive, carrion crows arrive in the form of hawkeyed women, all laden with assorted malfunctioning IKEA items, all hovering around the entrance thus usurping my position at the front of the queue. As soon as the doors slide open, the flock barge in front of me, grabbing their tickets and literally running to the counters like a bunch of unruly Saint Trinians. So much for the fairer sex...that is the last time I show any chivalry. One of the culpable party feels my guilt-rays burn the back of her head and informs the compassionate IKEA staff about my mistreatment. The IKEA lady apologizes and compensates my hurt feelings with a £10.00 refund for "distress". Womankind is forgiven.

The rest of the day is spent assembling and swearing at aforementioned chest of drawers.

Saturday 18th December

Phil comes round to help me move the old fridge-freezer that contracted an incurable disease called "rust" a couple of years ago. Ever since Tomoko moved in, I have received written complaints from Mrs. T about the diminuative size of the Lec fridge, how the interior light is kaputt, how a glacial sheet has formed an ice-rink at the base of the fridge compartment and how the freezer is so iced up that she keeps finding permafrosted pork chops from 1996/97 and what may be a perfectly preserved wooly mammoth. Now we are proud owners of a new, much more cavernous kitchen appliance, yet I still feel sentimental as the defunct fridge is unplugged and carted round the corner to join the mortuary of forlorn household appliances destined for the crusher.

Numidie

After enjoying an amusing afternoon of putting up shelves and Uni-bonding the bathroom, we have dinner at "Numidie", an Algerian/French restaurant that I have been intending to visit since it opened a couple of years ago. The clientele is comprised of the Crystal Palace bohemian set, out for their weekly dose of vegetarian cous-cous, loudly regaling the latest exhibition they saw at the Tate and what colour of beret to be seen in. I opt for the calorific beef with truffle oil and slither of fois gras whilst Tomoko plumps for the sea bass. The food is excellent and sticking to cranberry juice we manage so save more pennies for the baby who, at this rate, will be attired in second hand clothes until puberty. But at that age Oxfam garb becomes in vogue and we will be forgiven.

Sunday 19th December

I must confess, I am useless with Xmas cards. It just seems a chore too much these days, especially as everyone is on e-mail and bereft of home addresses. There is definitely a Scrooge in me when it comes to yuletide greetings and every year my doormat is deluged with cards from friends who accustomed themselves to the fact that I offer loyal friendship instead of cursory card. So for all those who have not had their card-sending reciprocated, I would like to wish "Happy Xmas" to the following:-

Family: Martin family in Southend; nan; John & Penny; the Witt family; cousin Caitlyn sunning herself in Sri Lanka, Jo & Dave and kids
Pets: Frank (the worlds most stupid dog); the cats (Tigger and the others whose names I forget); Hammer the tortoise (see you in April); the aquatic community in the backroom (keep on swimming guys, you`ll get there eventually)
Southend posse: Vik and Martin, Carolyn C, CJ and vegans everywhere, Justin and Philly.
Southend posse migrated to London: Jude and Erika.
Brighton posse: Sven the Hippy and Theresa (and trees everywhere); Nick P, Julia and kids
London posse: Kim & Dave; Cath & Gareth; Joel, Oliver & Charlotte; Linden & Eiko; Alex H; Boon; Xavier and Sabine
Japan posse: the Mitani family, Pip and fiancée Hong-King posse: Toby and Ilja
Malaysia posse: Sam Tan
Chorley posse: Paul, Kirsty and the kids
Ex-Japan posse: Canadian Carolyn, Di and your new husband and to all Welsh-speaking people everywhere (I guess they only exist in Wales.)
Also: Kirsten, David and baby; Takashi, Motoko (1) and baby; David Pearce and family; David Pope; Motoko (2) and Michael in India
Work colleagues: Phil, Al and admin dept. downstairs
Chateau owners: Frederic Engerer, Denis Durantou, Ronan Laborde, Helene Garcin-Leveque et. al.
Wine critics: Tom C and forumites, Jamie G, HRH Jancis and poet-laureate Jefford

There, much easier that writing out hundreds of cards.

Monday 20th December

Oxford Street has suddenly become a maelstrom of panicking, last-minute shoppers, cramming their festive purchases into a last-gasp flurry of activity. The pavements have become a microcosm of colourful, multi-racial London; torrents of Puffa jackets and fake furs; guerilla packs of obstreperous chavs and catatonic housewives; pashminas clashing against jilbabs; disorientated pensioners; stalling families of tourists consulting their dog-eared A-Z; credit cards hammered into submission; Scouse evangelists armed with rhyming couplets and megaphone; spivs laden with hydrochloric eau de toilet; purblind beggers with penny-whistles and yours truly, returning back to base without a single gift.

Tuesday 21st December

I have heard that my youngest brother John is bringing his girlfriend to join us for a "Martin Family Xmas". My God. Did she not read last year's account of the Festive madness? I just hope she remembers to buy individual presents for the tropical fish.

I have resigned myself to the fact that every present that I will receive this year will be marked "From 0-6 months". Henceforth I do not exist. Still, at least I will be able to flog the toys on E-bay and buy a couple of CDs.

Wednesday 22nd December
food blender

Last tasting of the year: six vintages of Le Dôme down Saint James Street. I drift around John Lewis after work, hoping that a gift for Tomoko will find me, rather than me finding it, whatever "it" is. I contemplate a sturdy looking blender until I find the £300 price-tag, yet it is so aesthetically pleasing that I cannot imagine the kitchen without it, next to the vegetable steamer that was taken out of service in February due to the excessive time it took to extricate shrapnel of broccoli. The problem is that Tomoko is not materialistic and does not clamour for particular brands. She prefers useful gifts, but what will be useful after Xmas?
A bottle sterilising kit?
A breast-pump?
I cannot exactly lay those under the Xmas tree can I?

I procrastinate for another day.

Thursday 23rd December
Weeble

Tomoko and I pop for pre-Xmas drinks with our antenatal class. One couple offers some lame excuse that the wife has gone into labour. Our group is basically waiting to parachute into parenthood. Tomoko appears to have donned her parachute in recent days, having noticably expanded, however she has maintained her remarkably slim "designer" bump. You would never know she was nine months pregnant looking at her from the front. I must analyse her diet so that I can sell her secrets to all mum-to-be's turning into "Weebles".