Year 2009: Chapter 7

Saturday 17th October

Joy of joys! A weekend in Leigh-on-Sea beckons. We drive down around lunchtime, the entire family snoozing around me, muggins here having to keep his eye on the road and prevent us from perishing in a multi-car pile-up. I thought that once my wife had passed her test, I could take the passenger seat and view the scenery? I might for the DVLA and see if they can rescind her pass.

We have come down to reinstate the Martin family ritual of visiting Peter Pan's Playground, located at the base of Southend Pier (the longest pier in the world, if I have not told you one million times before.) We drive down at dusk just as the illuminations are being switched on, draining power from the Southend Hospital (surgeons make sure their patients are sewn up by six.) We park near the Sunrooms bar where I misspent countless evenings in a various forms of drunken stupor. Almost the entire clan are present: parents, brothers with their respective partners and of course, the reason we are here: Lily and Daisy.

Peter Pan's Playground

The first news is Peter Pan's Playground is no longer the two-star, quasi-derelict, dog-eared, fag-stained theme park that we frequented the thirty years ago. Back then, the rides were 20p a pop and most imperiled your health. I am sure that there was some oil-stained handyman tightening a few screws before we put our lives in the hands some glue-sniffing teenager who had to use both brain cells to operate a start-stop lever. There were a few bumper-cars driven by psychotic 10-year olds destined to be banned from driving three days after passing their driving test; a roller-coaster that exerted a G-force equivalent to cycling over a flyover and a crooked house replete with scabby, macabre puppets that would scare Chuckie.

Today, it has been completely rebuilt. There is a plethora of gleaming new rides, the roller-coasters boast vertical drops and loop-the-loops and err...there is a crooked house full of macabre puppets that would scare Chuckie.
How did that avoid the cull?
Foolishly, I take Lily and Daisy in the crooked house for old time's sake, thereby guaranteeing nightmares for the next six months. Mum and dad then escort the petrified tots onto a few namby-pamby rides whilst we adults tackle the grandest roller-coaster. I have been feeling a bit melancholy recently. I am hoping that I can forget my troubles for the 45-second ride.

With my stomach still experiencing latent G-forces more common to the outskirts of a black hole, we regroup with my parents just as the sky lights up with a rather impressive firework display. It is all too much excitement for Lily, who resorts to running around in circles like a headless chicken, trying desperately to dissipate her superfluous adrenalin. Daisy responds with a 20-second burst of Swan Lake.

By now, it is time to take the kiddy-winks home. Too much excitement for one night. Tomoko and I pop down to Old Leigh for a quick beer and then, well, it's too much excitement for me for one night.

Sunday 18th October

Daisy On Slide

Up early for a continental breakfast and a mandatory visit to the playground in Chalkwell Park, where I used to play when I was a nipper. We then promenade down to Old Leigh to make the most of the sunny Sunday morning by the sea. Lily starts complaining that her "bones" are tired and therefore I have to yomp 300 miles with her on upper deck a.k.a. my shoulders, so that by the time we reach the pub I am absolutely knackered. Then I have to carry her back on my shoulders because yet again, her bones are tired.

Later we lunch at Estuary restaurant in celebration for my brother's 28th birthday, which seems strange thinking that I can remember mum bringing him down a crepuscular corridor, swaddled in blankets, the day after he was born. Here is your new brother.
We drive back straight from the restaurant, Lily and Daisy falling fast asleep as soon as I take the hand-brake off and I too, find it a struggle keeping my eye-lids open as I loop round South London along the M25 counting the junctions down to home.

Monday 19th October

Escort Lily to school. She gathers friends as we get closer and closer until I end up crossing the main road with a chain of 4-year olds all interlinked and promising to be friends forever and ever.
How I wish friendship was that simple.

Miguel Torres

Returning home, I make my way to London for a vertical of Pontet-Canet with proprietor Alfred Tesseron at Berry Brothers & Rudd. He always looks as if he is worrying about something. Cheer up Alf, it's vintage of century back on the ranch. I taste ten vintages from 1999 to 2008, which will add more meat to my treatise upon his estate and then I walk to the IoD to taste some new release Prosecco. When I arrive, they are cutting some huge cake to celebrate an anniversary of something or other, but I have no time to find out the cause for celebration, for there are Italian sparklers to taste.

I nab some food and heading off to the Naval Club for a Torres tasting organized by the Circle of Wine Writers. I am introduced to Miguel Torres and take a seat opposite Julia Harding and diagonally across from Peter Richards, who I last saw on BBC1 last Saturday, sitting in a tank, promulgating his recommendation for the week. Peter manages to spill his wine in my direction, but my lightning quick reactions, honed by averting similar catastrophes with Lily and Daisy, means that the tide of red wine does not deluge my laptop.

As is customary, there are a few technical questions lobbed Miguel's way and he threatens a four-hour long speech on sustainability with slide show at the end. Thankfully, the projector is broken and we just get to see a few images of Torres's hybrid vehicles. I depart the Naval and venture back to the IoD to get some more Prosecco action, but alas the tasting has closed and so I head home, armed with more reams of notes to type up.

Tuesday 20th October

Today is UGC day...hoorah!
It's the Bordeaux 2007!

As usual, I cock it up and arrive half-an-hour early when the stands are still being set up. Thankfully, I am let in and can start tasting with the entire Royal Opera House to myself. Blissful. If only it could stay that way. I set up a little grotto in the Pessac section where I can fit my laptop onto a table and beckon desirables in for a chat. Michael Schuster is ensconced on the opposite side, although someone tells me that he has a minion fetching wines for him all day.
Where's mine?
Oh well. At least it keeps me fit(ish). I stay in the "zone" for the entire duration of the tasting, which is about six hours, in order to take notes of all the wines. I taste through the lauded (by me) Sauternes as the end-of-tasting bell rings, two or three proprietors secreting their samples under the table, just for me to taste, bless 'em.

Afterwards I join David Wainwright for a coffee and then we had down to Chez Bruce for a dinner with some American oenopals. The food is exquisite, the Rayas '94 sublime, the Musar '95 served blind has us all stumped and we spend a good portion of the evening rating the female clientele, though no marks are given out of hundred, or at least they are not made vocal.

Wednesday 21st October

More tasting, this time Kumeu River's new 2008 releases and after working in La Quotidienne on my laptop, off to London's finest restaurant for thet 1,000,001st time this month, The Ledbury, for a Gruaud Larose dinner courtesy of Bordeaux Index. I enter into conversation with an elder gentleman who is neatly suited with the elocution of a second-hand car dealer from Dagenham; one who has ten cases each of La Tache 1985 and Richebourg 1985 in his cellar. He tells me he is about halfway through his stash and all I can think is that I could flog the rest and buy a three-bedroom semi in Guildford. I like him a lot though.

Throughout the dinner, we chat about bankers, the economy, wine and whether the Gruaud Larose '62 is corked (it is.)

Thursday 22nd October

Take Lily to school. She skips carefree up the driveway, myself following behind carrying her satchel like some personal dogsbody, which I ostensibly am. Lily walks about three metres before she steps in dog poo.
I carry her back to the front door while her shoe bangs against my leg, thereby covering me in dog poo. Dog poo is everywhere. I spray her Clarks shoes with elderflower toilet spray to disguise the pong.
In the evening: sixteen Domaine Leroys. Fortunately, no comments along the lines of "There is something fecal about the Richebourg '99."

Saturday 24th October

Everyone in the Martin household awakes in a foul mood for no explicable reason. Mr. Opodo make his regular morning call, offers some sorry excuse for the salmon being unavailable, then I try to by croissants from the Co-op but they are sold out, whilst Tomoko breaks a wine glass in the dining room and claims that a hex has been placed upon her.

Time to leave. I strap Lily and Daisy into the car and drive down to my parents for the second weekend running. They perform a marvellous rousing duet of "1,2,3,4,5...Once I caught a fish alive" as we drive to my parents house, although I am a bit annoyed that their dulcet tones are drowning out Jonathan Ross on Radio 2. I dump the kids with mum and dad and take an afternoon stroll down the Broadway, stopping off at my favourite second hand book shop that has an unimaginably fecund array of out-of-print wine literature. Each time, I buy one or two books for a couple of quid and wonder where the hell they get them all from?

A soiree chez Vik in the evening, a rare occasion where a small group of all old friends elect to stay in, watch X-Factor with obsessive fascination whilst moaning at Simon Cowell, imbibe copious amounts of cheap rose and just generally chill out. Vik's lasagne is exemplary, Jude's upside down pineapple cake delicious and we somehow end up jabbering until the small hours interspersed with a burst of Oops Upside Your Head that provokes that ridiculous sitting down action that was the highlight of many a disco. I soon realise that I am several sheets to the wind. Oops. Hope I don't have a hangover in the morning.

Sunday 25th October

Wake up, check head, clear, no hangover, nice one.

A quick fry up courtesy of mum, then down to Old Leigh to buy some fish from the fishermans co-op on Bell Wharf. Faced with a smorgasbord of seafare fresh from the Thames Estuary, I panic and buy some fillets of conger eel.
Why, why, why?
Why did I not just buy some salmon, mackerel or lovely glistening fish. How am I going to explain this to Tomoko? Monday: conger eel and chips?
Maybe I am still pissed?

I return home, end up working on the laptop while Lily and Daisy watch a DVD of Garfield for the millionth time. We eat a Sunday roast, which is devoured in about 65 seconds flat, mum takes the girls up to Chalkwell Park for some last minute swing action and then we drive back to Guildford before they forget who their mother is.

Monday 26th October

Let me be straight with you, I prevaricated posting this entry, but since that exact same attitude needlessly kills hundreds of men each year, I thought: what the hell.

So anyway, this morning I have a check up on a private region of the body whose medical terms is bollocks. I felt something and rather than ignoring it, thought I would get it checked out. So my doctor referred me to a professor, a "gonad specialist", and here I am, driving to Cobham for our appointment. We smalltalk. I feel comfortable. Then orders me to pull down my trousers, which I find discomforting in front of a sixty-year old grey-haired professor who seems to relish his profession a little too much for my liking. He tackles my nether regions with great gusto and I am rather perturbed that he sees it unnecessary to use the latex gloves that I can see hanging over yonder. As he rummages around, I decide that this is the closest I will ever get to being gay. Anyway, he gives me the all clear and I hastily pull up my trousers to recover my dignity, thank the professor and drive back down to Guildford.

The only reason I publish this entry, is that the professor tells me that most men are too embarrassed and have too much self-pride to get themselves checked out. The scan takes about 45 seconds and if caught early, any operation is quick and simple. Unfortunately, a majority of men would rather keep their pride and take their chances, which results in us needlessly dying of testicular cancer. That is the moral of this tale.

In the afternoon, I try to work at the computer but my mind keeps drifting back to the 60-year old professor massaging my bollocks.
It cannot think straight.
Maybe, I'm gay?
I make a mental note to watch Sexcetera tonight and check I have no loss in arousal.

In the evening, I catch the train to have dinner with a colleague who works on the technical side of The Cote-Rotie La Landonne 2006 from Rene Rostaing is absolutely sublime, the roast guinea fowl just a tad dry, the native Colchester oysters with a simple glass of Muscadet a match made in heaven. We have a good old chin wag and I leave to catch the last train home feeling slightly tipsy.

Tuesday 27th October

Libraries were born to inspire intellect and creativity. Surrounded by thousands of books, works of literature, three-inch thick reference guides...all the information. I should expect to open my laptop and beaver away and depart with a smug smile and a newborn work of art just a few hours later.
So how come Guildford Town Library does the exact opposite?
It somehow saps inspiration, as if the library's creativity magnet has been mistakenly switched onto reverse. An impenetrable wall of writers block snuffs out any hope of productivity and you end up reading the Guardian supplement.
I have thought long and hard about the reasons for this.
Firstly it looks a little shabby, threadbare and grey. Colour non grata. Secondly the ergonomics of the library. The chairs are uncomfortable, there are no individual cubicles were one can set up shop and most annoying of all, there are no sockets in which to feed my laptop. Thirdly is the clientele. Whilst editing a chapter on Chateau L'Eglise-Clinet, I hear shuffling feet, a spluttering, phlegmatic cough and a scent of wee as an OAP collapses into the adjacent seat in his dusty old flat cap and manky raincoat (even though it is sunny outside.) He does not read anything. He just sits there for ten minutes expecting me to say something, before upping and leaving to disturb the next table. Another gentleman is reading the Financial Times and is constantly muttering under his breath, shaking his head in indignation.
"You are working hard," he comments after an hour's worth of strenuous huffing and puffing.
"Trying to," I reply sotto voce.

In the evening, a culinary faux pas courtesy of two fillets of conger eel. It kind of stinks. Even Tomoko, who as a Japanese citizen can digest anything that has fins and gills, can barely disguise her disdain and rejects her portion. Conger eel is now off the menu.

Wednesday 28th October

This overcast morning I taste the Sauternes 2002s blind courtesy of Farr Vintners in order to finish off my assessment of this maligned vintage. There are a couple of surprises: that is the beauty of tasting blind.

Afterwards I run an errand for Tomoko to procure some emergency Clarins cosmetics from Harrods since they have a special deal on offer.
What a nightmare.
This being half-term, it is more ram-packed with bustling tourists than usual. When I finally locate the Clarins counter, I am forced to wait while customers undergo their consultations, discuss multifarious kinds of foundation like the Earth's rotation depended upon it and then undergo an interminable facial.
I would not mind if I was having a facial myself. I could probably do with one. But not today and so I wait impatiently as assorted women are pampered by the Clarins staff in their white lab coats, valiantly pasting over their clients' aesthetic deficiencies bestowed by Mother Nature. I spend the remainder of the working day tapping away at the keyboard until I invariably fall asleep.

Thursday 29th October

Boring day. Just writing and writing. Nothing more to say really.

Friday 30th October

Lily and Daisy are power-lunching with friends, so I evacuate to Guildford Library to work and as usual, I am surrounded by eccentric, cantankerous, misanthropic pensioners. One chap makes a pithy remark about me using the dictionary and not replacing it back on the shelf. He makes a comment along the lines of: "I bet you didn't even read it."
Hey, what I do? Start at "aardvark" and work my way through the entire English language?
I respond with total disinterest and leave him to wallow in his molten indignation.

In the evening, Chinese takeaway because neither of us can be arsed to cook. I end up falling asleep on the sofa midway through Jonathan Ross as I have worked so hard this week.

Saturday 31st October


No Mr. Opodo this morning. Instead, Tomoko drives us to Waitrose like Jenson Button (in the first half of the Formula 1 season.) Her driving is now so proficient that Lily and Daisy no longer have a look of terror on their faces when they see mummy sitting in daddy's usual seat. Remarkably, our weekly shopping bill comes in much cheaper than usual and I consider splurging our £30.00 savings on the lotto (instead, the money is divested into two "Princess" magazines so that my daughters can continue stickering the entire house.)

I work in the afternoon, take a break to build their train set in the living room and watch multiple pile-ups as Daisy sets her train on a direct collision course with Lily's. In the evening, Lily and Daisy put on their witches costumes for tonight's Halloween shenanigans although to be honest, they are far too cute to pull it off. I mean, if Shakespeare had opened Macbeth with his coven of witches dressed in bright pink (see exhibit right) then I doubt Macbeth would have followed their iniquitous advice. I think he would have put his rapacious kingly ambitions on the back burner and accepted his role as a Scottish baron, Thane of Glamis and to hell what Lady MacB. thought. She'd get over it.

Halloween is a much bigger event in the UK than in previously. Partly this is because it falls on a Saturday this year, partly because there is money to be made and partly because Sky keep repeating Halloween specials of The Simpsons. Consequently this pagan ritual (which actually began on this side of the Atlantic and exported to the other) has seeped back into our consciousness as something to be celebrated.

The only drawback is the Lily has recurring nightmares. I can sympathize. Even Saturday morning's CBBC Chuckle Brothers spooky special gives me the heebie-jeebies, although I am burdened with a very low threshold to horror.

I rustle up a spookie chicken chasseur, washed down with Mullineaux White 2008, a divine South African Chenin Blanc that fully deserved my lauding a couple of months ago. As usual, I fall asleep on the sofa in the middle of the f--king genius that is political satire "The Thick Of It" and sleepwalk into bed in the small hours.

Saturday 1st November

Wake up to torrential rain and a leaden sky that says, "Just get back under the duvet, mate."

This morning we keep our vow to breakfast at the Watts Gallery teashop, one of those self-effacing establishments run by a husband and wife team. Sure, the decor leaves something to be desired: stained walls, wobbly chairs and torn linoleum tablecloths. So what. They serve the most delicious homemade cakes you can possibly imagine, positively oozing with deliciousness. We order a full English breakfast and it is top class, even if the leaky roof means compels me to position my plate away from the drips that splash in front of my face every three minutes.
It is all part of its quaintness, its charm. The tragedy is that it is due to close on December 23rd because their landlords when into administration and it will doubtlessly replaced by a bland, sterile teashop with food imported from a central depot in Southeast London.