Year 2009: Chapter Two

Wednesday 1st July

After writing my magnum opus that is Pichon-Lalande 1928-2006, I catch the train into London to attend a tasting organized by the Circle of Wine Writers, a seminar of Gisborne biodynamic producer, James Millton. The wines are fascinating even if there is some confusion about the order they are being poured in, a minor kerfuffle. As usual with the CWW, there is a contingent of OAPs who look as if they are on a SAGA holiday and customarily, Steven Skelton MW poses a salvo of impossibly complex viticultural questions that nobody really understands. But hey, they sound good. After stealing a few sandwiches, I record a short interview with James high on the penthouse terrace and naturally being one of the pioneering biodynamic producers we discuss tides, the sun, the moon and so on. At any moment, I expect a giant albatross to land and whisk him back to Middle Earth. Alas today, the plumed giant appears to be circling the wrong building.

Thursday 2nd July

Back to my fragrant hygienist this morning. Sarah is her name. As much as she delights in flossing my teeth until they bleed, notwithstanding scolding me like a naughty boy for failing to care about my dentures and warning of inevitable periodontitis as depicted in her vomit-inducing photo of rancid, decayed gums), I think she might be falling in love with me. She cannot help but drop her ice maiden facade and cannot help break into a rare smile. As I leave, she seems to gleam as she urges: "Together we can beat this thing together."
You and me babe, you and me.
She recommends a third session in her chair. Thrice doth a relationship make.

In the evening, a momentous occasion as Tomoko and I attend Lily's introductory parent evening at her impending infants school. Those familiar scents, the glue, the crayons, the paper mache, the parquet flooring, the crash mats, the pencil lead and the paint pots collectively whisk every parent back to their childhood and consequently we all act a little childish in the presence of the stentorian headmistress. We are enlightened upon their approach towards reading and writing for their reception class alumni and we even participate in classes ourselves. I am immensely proud of my joined-up writing and almost feel cheated by not having it graded. It is worth a silver star at least.

It is a strange mixture of people, mirroring the polarized socio-demographic populus of Guildford: half rich, half council estate and seemingly nothing in between save for ourselves. The council estate mums sport jogging bottoms and yearn for a fag, the posh parents enquire about the possibility of second languages for their little pumpkins. Overall I am impressed by the school and I think Lily will enjoy it here. I make a mental note to massage her skull and prepare it for a flood of education.

Friday 3rd July

Oh shit. Tomoko has a temperature and lies lifeless in the bed.
SWINE FLU
Shit, shit, shit...now I have to look after the kids.

I act as doctor all day and appreciate how hard it is looking after what are unequivocally the best behaved sisters in the world. There are so engrossed in their third-rate Cinderella DVD that I manage to write a few hundred words in the morning. With my wife continuing to pass in and out of consciousness during the afternoon, I take them down to a third-rate childrens' playground in the village of Shadwell, which boasts one poxy roundabout and a swing currently occupied by a trunculent looking female hoodie hot-wired to a B&H.

In the evening I sacrifice my Blur concert at Hyde Park and instruct my brother to flog my ticket to a tout. Bugger. But still, it would not have gone down well if I had returned from the sell-out gig to find that my wife had expired. Might be awkward explaining that one to her mother, let alone explain it in Japanese. I would have to get Lily and Daisy to do it.

Saturday 3rd July

My Florence Nightingale level of care and consideration has paid off. Tomoko is feeling a little better and is able to walk and talk. I flit between writing and household chores during the day and rustle up a hearty chicken chasseur in the evening.

Sunday 5th July

Drive down to Brighton. Tomoko snoozes in the car whilst I listen to Michael Ball in Radio 2 (one of my favourite radio programs: how old am I?) Today is David Wainwright's 40th birthday celebrations and the fact that he has advised us to arrive on time lest we miss the Krug 1979 and Dom Perignon 1971, means that every invitee arrives 30 minutes early. He owns a beautiful, characterful Regency flat along the Brighton seafront and today is blessed with the hypnotic view of the rolling turquoise sea flecked with feisty white horses on this breezy afternoon. Our lunch is accompanied by some mid-1960s jazz from David record-player and it warms the cockles of my heart to see and to hear beloved vinyl.

David Wainwright lunch

(David W. pouring yet another priceless wine...I was not complaining.)

The food is exquisite and the smorgasbord of vino extraordinary: Musigny VV 1969 from de Vogue, a Montrachet 1986 from Comtes-Lafon, Chateau Margaux 1961 and a 19th century Boal amongst over twenty other utterly spellbinding gems. Christ, how am I going to follow this? A bag in the box Blossom Hill and a pack of party poppers? Despite the overflowing wine, I notice that nobody has booked a strippergram, perhaps a policewoman or if she is too expensive, a lollipop lady. I am sure they take last minute bookings. Perhaps lastminute.com? But I finally decide that the sight of a buxom 48-year old wench with Naval tattoos and cellulite may put guests off their Climens '62.

Since I am not driving back, my libation is untramelled, but spread over several hours my faculties remain intact.
Still, Linden appears to be compensating for my sobriety having arrived amidst a stinking hangover from the previous evening. We promenade back along the promenade with him and his wife and then Tomoko and I check into the famous Grand Hotel, the one that was blown up by the IRA in 1984 in a failed attempt to wipe out Thatcher's government who were in residence. I have always wanted to stay here and the prices on a Sunday are no different to any other B&B, so why not? The bed is the size of a football pitch but for some inexplicable reason it is very stuffy even with the air-conditioning on at full blast.

No explosions tonight.

Monday 6th July

Gorge on the Grand Hotel's splendid full English breakfast amongst a large population of catawauling children who obviously do not appreciate their salubrious surroundings nor the delicious chipolatas on offer at the buffet. We stroll back to the abandoned car outside David's apartment against the revivifying, bracing wind and drive to Sven the Hippy's new house in the outskirts of the city. He is still a hippy, in fact, he is now a councillor for the Green Party (who else) and has a lovely daughter called Ivy who is sadly at nursery when we visit. After a chat and coffee, we drive back to London, Tomoko still weakened from her illness and so she takes it easy whilst I take over Lily and Daisy duty.

Tuesday 7th July

Attend a blind tasting of wines from the 1999 and 2004 vintage from Octavian reserves in Parson's Green. I am in a team with Richard Bampfield MW and Derek Smedley, two Bordeaux experts and elsewhere is Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe. To be honest, I cannot work out the purpose of the tasting, but I enjoy tasting blind and we come across a marvellous Moscatel whose identity I will endeavour to discover. It is funny reading the Internet, those that proclaim that wine is a subjective thing and that all tasting notes differ. Between Richard, Derek and I there is amazing consistency and on several occasions we award the identical score out of one-hundred. Perhaps like any vocation, you have to train to be skilled?

Thursday 9th July

Write during the morning and then catch the train up to Lord's Cricket Ground for the "Definitive Italian Wine Tasting". Now, the organizers named last year's even "The Definitive Italian Wine Tasting", so obviously it was not quite as definitive as they thought. I might ask whether this tasting in 2009 is the definitive one, or whether next year's will be even more definitive?

Anyhow, I taste a fair few wines including some nice Venetos and a fascinating selection of white from UK importer Les Caves des Pyrenes, which I shall write up duly. It is one of those afternoons when I am constantly stopped and enter in conversation where there is a conspicuous imbalance between our level of acquaintance i.e. I do not have a clue who they are, but they know me. Either my fame is spreading or amnesia is. More likely a combination of both.

Friday 10th July

Writing intensively all day and in the evening, chez Jamie Hutchinson for the deliciously titled "Dodgy Bottle Dinner" where a dozen attendees/victims proffer all their low ullages, decrepit vintages, leaky or unidentifiable bottles. It is a wonderful evening even if most of the wines could have provided evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction when Saddam Hussein was under trial. The one shining light is a stunning bottle of Gruaud Larose 1914, but overall it is a wonderful, almost comical night enjoyed by one and all, even if an outsider would think we were a bunch of complete idiots. They might be right...but we don't care.

Saturday 11th July

Piss poor rainy day. I take the kids on a magical mystery tour just to get them out of the house, listen to Dermot on Radio Two as they snooze in the back and admire the lush green Surrey countryside. Lily awakes feeling slightly cheated that we have driven nowhere. In the evening, I slap a rib-eye on the grill with a crisp Kiwi Pinot Noir that goes down a treat, then pass out into a coma in the middle of Casualty 1909.

Sunday 12th July

A more clement day today. We venture out to a rather over-priced country pub although their chunky chips are sufficiently chunky to make amends. I slap on the L-plates so that Tomoko can drive back and we have one or two moments of Steve McQueen-like driving, moments when I grip the door handle leaving permanent nail marks in the rubber whilst Lily and Daisy look at each other in the back, wondering whether their lives are going to be shorter than expected. Despite the odd hair-raising right-hand turn, she is a very capable driver.

Monday 13th July

The entire day is spend writing with intermissions for blind tasting New Zealand wines whenever I start getting writers' cramp.

Tuesday 14th July

More writing. Daisy insists on performing her interpretation of Swan Lake whilst I finish of my Pichon Baron article. I must admit that her balance is quite supernaturally graceful, like a miniature Anna Pavlova, although unlike that Russian icon, Daisy ends her performance with a whiff of something toxic in her nappy. To the best of my knowledge, I do not think Ilyich Tchaikovsky included this in his score.

In the afternoon I purchase a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush that my love-interest/hygienist has insisted I use, lest my teeth fall out by Christmas. I am loath to part with a hundred quid for a bloody toothbrush, but meet her halfway with the lowest range model, which is reduced to sixty quid in Boots on the proviso that I can share it with Tomoko and prevent her molars falling out. I must admit, the 1,000 per minute reverberations through my head is an enjoyable sensation and my teeth are now remarkably clean. Now, if Philips could attach a few kitchen implements to the end, like a whisk, then it would represent value-for-money.

Wednesday 15th July

I have been writing constantly, including weekends, for many days now and I need a break. Given that I cannot help but write if there is nothing better to do, then I have invited my friend Kim down for lunch with a seven-month old baby, Ruby. I am using this as a litmus test to see whether a third child would be a positive or negative development in my life. We drive to Gomshall Mill for lunch, baby Ruby is well behaved and as cute as apple pie. But no offense to Ruby, the thought of a third child and all the effort that entails, the liberties he or she would rescind just when our first two are deigning us with a modicum of freedom, means that number three is more than unlikely.

Thursday 16th July

Catch the train down to Overton where a few selected scribes have been invited to have a look at a new vineyard under the aegis of Christian Seely of Pichon Baron/Suduiraut fame. I remember when he first told me about this. My spontaneous response was: "You idiot."
Still, the 12-hectare vineyard planted with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot meunier looks promising and afterwards we are treated to an al fresco lunch in the manicured lawn of his co-investor. He has one of the beautiful Grade II listed abodes you can imagine, although I do worry about his neighbours, who have strewn life-size figures around the village in some kind of pagan, Wicker Man ritual that I thought had died out in the 1970s when Edward Woodward was cooked medium-rare.

Saturday 18th July

Barbecue with Guildford neighbours. Since I do not have any friends in this town except our delightful next-door neighbours, this is my chance to make a friend. They are a very congenial couple, even if I end up cooking my Korean ribs sheltering under the washroom alcove as drizzle turns to rain. Still, end up imbibing a few millilitres of vino more than I expected.

Sunday 19th July

This morning I have an eleven o'clock appointment at a "Fairy Workshop". This is not something I could have predicted in my early twenties, but still, here we are driving down to Compton for two hours of making wings so that my two daughters can flutter their lives away. The venue is Watts Gallery and we make our way into an erected marquee where about a dozen budding fairies are waiting to learn how to make their wings. There are one or two of your New Age, multi-pierced hippy types who I feel are treating this lesson as part of their offsprings' core curriculum and at the other end of the social spectrum, pushy mothers who are determined that their cherub will be head fairy so that they will get a headstart in life...mix with the right social strata of fairies.

Two young women are masters of ceremonies. One dreadlocked adult fairy is sporting huge wings and garb that looks as if she spent Saturday night raving in a field to German techno. I suspect she shares a squat on the outskirts of Brighton and this fairy phase falls between her dropping out of her psychology degree and the fast-track scheme of the civil service. Lily sits at the front with her alumni, just in front of a wooden mushroom and whilst they are being read some yarn about how the fairies were derived from moths and butterflies, I read some pagan advice for the forthcoming autumn equinox. As the head fairy explains to her five-year old students who the peacock butterfly eats nettle and the skull-headed moth eats dangleberry, I suddenly realize that this is as close as I will get to attending a biodynamic seminar. I scan the parents quickly, just in case Maria Thun has not bought little Thun for some a fairy wing refresher.

Fairy Workshop

The new alumni of fairies ready for take-off. Like bloody Harry Potter, isn't it.

Anyway, one precocious know-it-all squatting at the front of the group dominates proceedings and I can tell that the head fairy is itching to flutter over and smack Ms. Know-it-all on the head. Before long, Lily and Daisy start making their wings from cut up pieces of paper being glued onto clear plastic and yeah, I get quite into the task and have to stop myself from admonishing Lily who is not following the design close enough. The fairy wings take about 15 minutes to finish whereupon they are sprinkled with magic dust and then the class of 2009 fairies gather outside to take flight around the oak trees.

I know, I am being completely facetious. Lily and Daisy love it. Almost as much as I.

Afterwards we pop over to the teashop where we enjoy possibly the best cream tea I have enjoyed in many years. Just a pity that the misguided, money-grabbing proprietors are kicking the teashop owner out at the end of the year. We are served by possibly the most camp teenage boy I have ever encountered and he is positively giddy with the thought of wearing multi-coloured fairy wings. In fact, he acts so gay that he may have turned full circle and be straight. Tomoko then drives as back and then I take them down to the swings in Haslemere where they don fairy wings and pick up leaves from the ground. Oh...to be two years old without a care in the world. I am considering making myself some fairy wings to flitter around next year's en primeur. Watch this space.

Monday 20th July

All I do is write all day and then flop in front of TV. Like a vast majority of the male popation, my days ends up with "Sexcetera" on cable TV. What is disturbing is that I am beginning to notice they are repeats. Still, I like the pseudo-intellectualizing after each segment of gratuitous porn, as if the director wants to raise the program to a serious documentary.

Tuesday 21st July

Argh! Why does everything have to be so bloody complicated? Tomoko's driving instructor is unavailable for her imminent test, offers some lame excuse about having to go to hospital. Hey, what about my wife's wheels? Spend the afternoon trying to get another instructor with a Nissan Micra to take his place and fortunately Eric gallantly comes to the rescue.

Wednesday 22nd July

Lunch at Caffe Caldesi in Marylebone, where I am tasting some wines from Tuscan producer Banfi. The journalist from The Times ups and leaves whilst our host has dashed to the toilet, which I think is incredibly rude. How about thanks for inviting me? After tasting several wines, I walk down to Select-a-Disc to buy this month's album of the month: Lisa Hannigan and then down to the Japan Centre to procure victuals for Tomoko, although I manage to buy the wrong kind of rice and receive admonishment when I return home. I plead innocence, I gave the shopping list with all its indecipherable Japanese kanji symbols to an assistant and she failed to follow instructions. The consequence of all this is that I will be eating brown rice for the rest of the year.

Thursday 23rd July

My God that Lisa Hannigan album is just exquisite. I have a fallen in love with her Irish lilting voice and when I Youtube her, I fall in love. I spend most of the morning in the Renault garage in Woking, typing up an article on my laptop whilst my Clio has its MoT. I write furiously during the afternoon, making up for lost time. The evening is spent sampling wine and glued to the tellybox for the penultimate episode of the riveting, but slightly disturbing Psychoville.

Friday 24th July

Write all day and the devour fish and chips in the evening. The fish and chips is particularly impressive, almost approching the perfection of Ace Plaice in West Norwood. I inadvertently watch Big Brother 10 and worry that I may become addicted, as has transpired every other year since it started, thereby threatening to poleaxe my marriage.

Saturday 25th July

What a bloody shite summer this is. Rain, drizzle and rain. I spend the early evening in the Siberian cold trying to rustle up enthusiasm for a barbecue. Waitrose alleviate the depression with their lovely sweet spare ribs, whilst Tomoko's homemade sauce perks up the chicken legs a treat. Watch Robocop for the billionth time in the evening.

Sunday 26th July

Overcast again. Aarrrgh! We take Lily and Daisy over to the children's playground in Burpham, a modern one with a chichi swing hammock that I could happily spend an afternoon rocking in myself. I desist since I might get strange looks from the other parents, although a couple of infantile dads board the roundabout and make it spin so fast that Lily goes white as a sheet and does not know whether to laugh with excitement or cry with fear. At least this experience of centrifugal force will stand her in good stead should she choose a career as a NASA astronaut. Afterwards the rain starts to fall, so Tomoko undertakes some driving practice whilst the kids snooze in the back seat.

Monday 27th July

Drive down to Chilgrove to return Barry Philip's original restaurant jaw-dropping wine list from 1977 (Mouton '45 at £45.00...yes please!) and to collect a bottle of Chateau l'Arrosee 1982 for next week's dinner at da Square. Barry is a bona fide legend, as always attired in his apron, nattering about dining with so-and-so from Latour or thingy from Krug. He asks me to accompany him up to his home nearby as he has to walk his feisty man-eating hounds and then we do a small tasting of Moroccan wines together with Francis Gimblett, who has authored a book where he travels across North Africa in search of Gerard Depardieu's vineyard in that very country. We lunch al fresco with a very fine Meursault 1982 from a grower whose name escapes me, valiantly remaining outside when a passing shower joins us for the main course. About halfway back I am aware that I have left my cheque book on his desk...bugger.

Tuesday 28th July

Drive back to Barry's to pick up cheque book. What a waste of a morning that is, although it is a pleasant drive down under a rare show of summer sunshine. In the afternoon I am writing articles for eRP and for some reason, fancy listening to some Miles Davis. It is at this moment I debase myself by treacherously downloading Spotify, thereby pissing upon my principal of steadfastly supporting the withering music industry down to its last CD. I feel like stabbing my ears with scissors as I fall under the spell of "Kind of Blue".

Question: What was the big news of today?
Answer: Daisy does her first poo on the toilet.

Toilet training began at an early stage with the theory. The course book was sent over from Japan and featured a character called Shimajiro, a kind of young tiger, who learns the art of pee and poo via some rather graphic illustration with stick on poo's, each with smiling faces. Recently, Daisy has taken to sticking them on my nose instead of the appropriate place on the picture.

Now for the practical, coaxing Daisy away from nappies and training her to do her number ones and twos on the toilet, just like Shimajiro. This, she is desperate to accomplish, because her big sister can do a wee like the "big girl" that she yearns to be. Unfortunately, I must have spent about twenty percent of my life watching her sit on the loo, straining every sinew to perform her wee. Alas the best she has come up with thus far is a small but perfectly formed fart.
Not the intended result, but better than nothing I guess.

Today, whilst Tomoko is out at a driving lesson and we are clearing up the toys scattered over the living room, Daisy says with a modicum of urgency: "Poo-poo". Usually this means that one is already waiting for me in the nappy. But when we reach the bathroom, my olfactory senses tell me that a delivery is yet to be made, so I plonk Dasiy on the loo and patiently wait outside.
Moments pass. Probably another false alarm and then...
PLOP!
Cue a moment of shock and then euphoric cries of: "I did it! I did it! I'm a big girl! I'm a big girl!"
Then the icing on the cake (not literally thank goodness)...a dribble of wee.
It is almost too much for Daisy to handle in one afternoon. She spends the next ten minutes running around the upstairs as if she had just won gold in the 2009 Ablution Olympics for the Under Threes. It is difficult to stop her jumping and skipping with glee, informing the entire town of Guildford of her incredible achievement. Perhaps I should place a small notice in The Times?
I too am elated. Nappies are bloody expensive. But a small part of me is sad, for the last vestige of babyhood is disappearing before my eyes. She really is becoming a big girl.

Wednesday 29th July

Spend the morning listening to Simple Minds' fabulous New Gold Dream album. If they stopped here then they would be revered as one of the true great bands of the 1980s (which despite the pomposity that blighted their later work, they probably still are.) Of course, I am listening to this on Spotify which sickens me to my wretched core. I make some more headway into my backlog of articles, taste some more samples that have been sent my way, read some of Francis Gimblett's excellent new travologue book: "In Search of Gerard Depardieu" that I am alternative with some Murakami short stories. In the evening, Lily asks whether in the event of us catching swine flu, we can telephone lawyers for the proles, BGR Bloomer, the "Accident and Claim Specialist You Can Trust" to quote the company spiel. Genius. If one of us does catch the pandamic du jour, then I will be straight on the phone to BGR to serve a write against the entire population of pigs.

Thursday 30th July

Work during the morning. Have a nice chat with Bob Parker in the afternoon (thankfully on a vastly improved phone line so that I can at least hear what he is saying. Previously it sounded like he was talking through a 1930s gramophone.)

I head into London for the Japan Centre to buy 3.5 tonnes of Akita Komachi rice that I have to lug up Regent Street, to London's most expensive and certainly most eccentric restaurant, Sketch, where Pierre Gagnaire weaves his culinary magic. It is the first time I have eaten here and frankly speaking, it is so unashamedly over-the-top in terms of its garish interior decor, all neon lights, padded cell walls and priceless antiques wondering why they are not adorning some stately home, rather than a restaurant the looks vaguely similar to Stringfellows without the topless lapdancers. Along with Rosemary George, we are escorted to The Library room by an obsequious maitre d' who is obviously more in love with Sketch than his own children.

I have been invited along with other journos for the launch of a boutique Provence winery. The wines are good, but this PR exercise must have cost a bloody fortune. Still, I can see where they hope the money will come from when my jaw drops at the astronomical price tag of their wine. Still, the proprietor has her heart in the right place and I manage to have a pre-prandial conflab with Zelma Long, which is handy for my Robert Mondavi article. As for the cuisine, I must say I am not overly impressed...too fussy, too clever. If I had the time, I would have popped down to KFC to fill in the gaping holes of my hunger.

Friday 31st July

Writing in the morning, then watch the final brilliant episode of Psychoville on the BBC iPlayer. In the afternoon, I drive down to Leigh-on-Sea with Lily and Daisy, who fall asleep as soon as I lift the clutch. The M25 is congested as usual and I pass the time revelling in Lisa Hannigan's album. In the evening I go for a cheap Indian with two of my three brothers, Tom and John. It is extremely rare that the Martin siblings hold a summit and we have a good chat about various relationships, family rumours, employment travails and brewing scandals. The curry is delicious and if I have the choice between the Leigh Tandoori and Sketch, it would be the chicken korma in Leigh. I return early and veg out to Big Brother 10 to see nasty Noirin's inevitable eviction. My dad cannot quite believe that I still watch such reality TV fodder and frankly speaking, neither can I.