Book One: Chapter 26

Wednesday 9th February
Lily

I don't want to get mushy and wheel out the old cliché of "Oh...my baby is so beautiful...she's the best looking baby in the world...etc" So instead I will post a photo of ten-year old Lily and let you decide for yourself. Even at this early stage in her life, I can already Google her name and up she pops, thankfully not alongside a third-rate soft porn actress. If any model agencies are seeking for newly borns, then Lily is for hire. At a reasonable fee.

Thursday 10th February
Elisabeth Pichler

Today I attend the Austrian tasting at the Institute of Directors (the home of Linden Wilkie) and cherrypick producers such as Bundlmeyer and Hopler with whom I am familiar. Concentrating upon the wines of FX Pichler is a task in itself, not because of the wines, but because of the dangerously low cut dress worn by Elizabeth Pichler (apologies to members of "Women in Wine".) If I awarded marks for "hourglass figure" then it would be a perfect 100.

After two dozen Gruners and Rieslings, I follow the sound of an Austrian quartet towards a mouth-watering spread laid on by those munificent Austrians: salmon sandwiches, spicy sausage rolls and all manner of Wursts. I engage in some serious gossiping with fellow male tasters, all of whom inquire the identity of the voluptuous young lass who has just entered the room. I believe the Pichler stand was inundated soon after.

Friday 11th February

How come London's tube system manages to bring out the worst in people? Oxford Street station is a veritable rat run of impatient commuters fleeing home for the weekend, including myself briskly walking down the escalator to catch my train. Half way down are two rotund gentlemen amidst some banal conversation block my passage down the left hand side. You know the type, lower-middle managers dressed in mid-range Top Shop suits straining to contain their beer-guts, ironic comedy ties and self-importance generated through their exclusive mutual appreciation society.

Flaunting escalator etiquette, I politely ask the suit on the left if he could move over? He ignores me completely and continues babbling to his friend, whose facial wound I now realise is a goatee. I ask once more, but the inane conversation enters its fourth Act.
Am I a ghost?
A third request in a raised voice induces him to move reluctantly, accompanied by a sneer and some sarcastic comment. What kind of person consciously acts in this way, what kind of ego must they possess?

I shout "Twat" as I finally move past and I hear him make a hilarious comment about "four-eyes", which I last heard when I was an 10-year in the school playground. All I want to do is get home, kiss the wife, bath the baby, watch some soap. Surely the London Transport Authority can ban such idiots from their infrastructure, attach electronic tags to them so that their commuters can have a less stressful journey home?

Saturday 12th February

"They start young these days," is a phrase often heard these days. Now you will hear it again.

Lily in love

"They start young these days."

This morning, a Valentines Day card arrives. At first I assume that it is from Tomoko, but the writing is not hers. No, the card is actually for 3-week old Lily who is being courted by 3-month old Alisdair from up the road. Now, apart from the obvious age-difference (he is four-times her age) I believe that Lily is a bit young for affairs of the heart. The star-crossed lovers met last week over coffee, jam tarts and breast milk.
It is like Pete Doherty and Kate Moss, but in nappies and without the hard drugs.

But take place it did. Here in my hand is a romantic card marked "To L" and "From A---?" Fortunately, there is no mention of secret trysts down West Norwood Station, but you cannot be too careful these days. I will keep you all abreast of any developments of the heart.

By the way, today is my birthday. I received from my parents (one cheque), nan (one cheque), brother Simon (nothing), brother Tom (nothing), brother John (nothing), Tomoko (a kiss on the cheek and a promise of a fine supper), Lily (nothing - too busy penning love poems). Once upon a time, my birthday would be marked by some Dionysian orgy: today I am shopping alone in Morrison's looking for margarine.

However Tomoko certainly delivers on the epicurean front: monkfish wrapped in parma ham bathed in saffron sauce. As customary I open a 1971 vintage, this year Léoville Poyferré that is undrinkable and a less risky Chateau Duhart-Milon 1989 that does not disappoint, indeed it could last a few more years. I crash out with Lily snoring upon my shoulder, another year less young, though I console myself that technically middle-age does not begin until 35.

Sunday 13th February
Lily in pram

Here is a photo of Lily, taken on her first expedition into the outside world, i.e. to Tesco Metro - Dulwich branch. In case you were wondering, she is the one on the left (on the right is mum`s knitted creature of unidentifiable taxonomic origin.)

Tuesday 15th February

Just as Kate Moss and Pete Doherty's tabloid relationship implodes in a puff of Bolivian marching powder, so Alasdair and Lily's flounder. My little ingenue made the cardinal sin of farting and dribbling in front of her boyfriend, never the most attractive of bodily functions. He was not impressed. A little souvenir deposited in her nappy at the end of the tryst was the coup de grace and henceforth her telephone calls have remained unanswered. One month old and already Lily is surfing the on-line dating agencies and claiming to have had it with men. I return home from work to find her drowning her sorrows to Neil Diamond's "Love on the Rocks".
Poor Lily.

Wednesday 16th February

Tonight my brother Tom and I venture to the London Astoria for one of the NME Tour shows, an annual event that we attend in order to catch the next big thing.

We nab one of the remaining tables on the upper tier, with a splendid view of the stage. Alas its altitude means that a fog of cigarette smoke accumulates during the evening, increasing my chances of cancer by a million.

First up are "Nine Black Alps" - grungy, heavy with one decent Yeah Yeah Yeah inspired number, but nothing to raise eyebrows. However the next band are brilliant. "The Dead 60's" are a proto-Clash/ska outfit of cocksure lads who are brash, energetic and have a penchant for the Hammond organ. They deserve to be massive. Having paid a ludicrous sum of a tepid beer, we watch the twee "Magic Numbers" surrounded by their retinue of hyperventilating girls screaming as if the Beatles had just reunited on stage with an exhumed Lennon. They are O.K....just.

Finally, the highlight of the evening: "The Tears", a reunion of ex-Suede members Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, which for some is a rapprochement akin to Lennon and McCartney patching things up circa 1980. Their first song is a melodramatic, solemn ballad sung to an audience in hushed anticipation, therefore someone shouting "Awful" as the final note fades, somehow detracts from the occasion. But they are too long in the tooth to be put off by one clown and they are utterly captivating, reigniting the magic that made the first two Suede albums essential.

We leave at eleven reeking of twenty B&H, my key enters the front door lock at midnight, Lily begins to moan half an hour later until two. Feeling guilty at spending time away from my daughter I take charge of her until four, placating her with tummy rubs and mollifying coos. Eventually I become inured to her cries and actually fall asleep while she is still bawling and thereby defeating the whole object of being a baby (i.e. to cry and get something.) I still smell of twenty B&H as dawn breaks.

Tuesday 22nd February

My morning routine is run with military precision, a series of chores programmed to enable me to step foot on the platform just as the train brakes are screeching. But Lily has put a spanner in the works. I calculate that I have sufficient time to check her nappy before leaving the flat, so I plonk her on the changing mat and begin undoing the poppers that hold her baby grow together.
But today, Lily has chosen to make a significant deposit in her nappy account, a deposit with the constitution of peanut butter, and so I commence the clean-up operation, deftly wiping away the smear that runs half way up her back. Everything is going to plan until a small golden fountain suddenly appears like a miniature geyser and drenches my right hand. Lily looks up oblivious to her inopportune micturation and as the fountain subsides, she begins to offload a puree of liquid faeces, so noxious that it could be reprocessed into plutonium. Whilst all this impromptu defecation is going on I am completely helpless since my hands are immobilised, suspending Lily's legs above the expanding tarn of wee and small hillock of poo. I emit my S.O.S. wail so that Tomoko will rush to my aid; she saunters in and once the ridiculing subsides, finally mops up the mess.

My hand is not a pretty sight.

Therefore, I must sincerely apologize to the numerous winemakers whose hands I shook today. I promise that I did wash my hands properly.

Wednesday 23rd February

Day off work to help look after Lily, whose face today says: "It's tough being a baby." In the evening I journey up to Clerkenwell to the gastronomic abattoir know as the Saint John restaurant, to celebrate David Pope's birthday (21 I believe, the same age as I.) On the X-certificate menu tonight is a menagerie of carnivorous delights such as duck neck and braised squirrel. I speculate exactly where such ill-fated squirrels are sourced? Are they trapped using a bag of nuts in Regents Park or do the undergo some kind of gavage in some squirrel farm in East Sussex? I can usually eat anything with a face, but the guilty pangs I would feel every time Mr. Squirrel greets me as I walk past the cemetery to work, are simply too much to contemplate.

We imbibe a bevy of fine wines, including Hermitage Blanc 1990 from JL Chave, Chateau la Conseillante 1970 and a Richebourg 1993 from DRC. Food wise, I opt for the teal since I have never eaten it before. What meat there is tastes delicious but alas the teal would appear to have the build of an anorexic sparrow. I make it home through sub-zero temperatures and the midnight dealers loitering around Brixton Station, to find Lily moaning in her crib. She has her "You abandoned me" face on, just like her mother. Yet again, the somnolent Lily spends the night on my stomach, dribbling like Wayne Rooney.

Thursday 24th February

With the weather forecasters predicting cataclysmic snow storms across the British Isles, I have been stockpiling tinned food over the past few days so that Tomoko will not go hungry and resort to cannabalism (of course, Lily has a permanent supply of milk from her mother.) However upon pulling back the curtains not a single flake has settled and any notions of being unable to commute to work due to drifts of snow imprisoning me in front of trashy day-time talk shows, evaporate as quickly as the uncooperative snow itself.

This afternoon I attend a tasting courtesy of Bordeaux Index at the Royal Academy of Art, just a stone's throw from the Albert Hall. In order to reach the tasting I have to walk through the gallery and so grant myself a couple of minutes to seek the next Damien Hirst or Chris Ofili. I uphold a stubbornly cynical view of modern art such as those Tracy Emin tents and nonsensical video installations that express some deep inner meaning incomprehensible to us mere mortals.

I am a bit of a "Stuckist", I take umbrage at art that is unable to evoke some emotive response from the viewer without a hefty instruction manual, or requires some proselytising artist rabbiting on about various -isms. This oeuvre of art I file under "Artwank". Now that I have got that out of my system, the art on show is rather engaging.

The tasting is very enjoyable with some interesting Burgundies from Francois Mikulski, Nicolas Rossignol and David Duband. I take a shine to the latter two vignerons who act like two ill-behaved school boys, sarcastically slating each others wines, David attempting to ruin my photo of Nicolas (he failed.) It is refreshing to see growers having fun: perhaps at the next Bordeaux, Union de Grand Cru tasting, they should request growers to come in fancy dress?

HRH Jancis is working her way along the Australian wines, spots me scribbling a note of La Gomerie 2002 and takes a pew alongside. She inquires about the baby and I show her a couple of pictures on my digital camera, Lily with her eyes scrunched closed, Lily covered in dribble and so on. I consider asking whether HRH would be free to babysit every other Wednesday? I uphold the view that a baby brought up surrounded by Masters of Wine can only have a positive effect on their upbringing, but so far all requests have been politely declined.

Friday 25th February

More existential madness courtesy of Haruki Murakami, whose metaphysical novels play havoc with my brain. I am currently reading his latest stroke of genius, "Kafka on the Shore" that contains all the usual Murakami trademarks: alienated Japanese youth, The Beatles, biological descriptions of sex, cats, human shadows, causality, the human condition, graphic violence, whisky, covert military operations during the World War II etc. etc. This particular novel includes talking cats, showers of mackeral, canapes of Greek mythology and a sadist named Johnny Walker who decapitates cats in order to build a flute that will collect souls...as you do. All this is quite mind-expanding on the 07:59 Ivor the Engine to Victoria.

You have to free your mind in order to enjoy Murakami. His stories exist within a fissure separating realism and exsistentialism. However bizarre the narrative becomes, the characters and events somehow remain utterly believable. Perhaps the backdrop of Tokyo with its rabbit-hutch apartments, nocturnal 7-Elevens and neon skyline resonates strongly with someone who lived the life of a gaijin for twelve months, in a labrynthian metropolis swarming with weird and wonderful people. Even though Murakami's novels are the product of a truly vivid imagination surfeit with unforeseeable digressions and subplots; mind-expanding philosophical conundrums; you always feels as if he is explaining the intricacies of life, offers you something to take away and think about.

When Lily is old enough to read, J K Rowling will be banned and Murakami will be compulsory bedtime reading.

Saturday 26th February

Tonight Joel, wine-journal.com's in-house web-designer/IT dept/shoulder to cry on, is round for dinner, the first guest to dine chez nous since two became three. I hope Lily is going to behave herself and not fall in love with an older man for the umpteenth time. Since the breakdown with Alisdair, she would seem to have an eye for the more mature man, at least older than four months.

Joel pulls up around four and Lily is there to greet him, cradled in my arms. As soon as her eyes set on Joel she is smitten and dribbling with amour. Joel is oblivious to her advances and is soon concentrating on turbo-charging my Mac (including a neat little program that will enable me to reduce the size of the photos on the website.) Joel has an Ethernet port discretely hidden just above the nape of his neck and once physically connected, he commences his tutelage entitled "The Way Of The Mac". About one-quarter of this information is saved onto my own cerebral hard-drive, the rest is filed in my short-term memory along with files marked "Where the Hell Are My Car Keys" and "What Did I Come Into This Room For".

I whip up a mean rump steak with Porcini sauce, which is accompanied by a delicious Brunello 1995 from "La Torre". For pudding, I serve up a purulent goat cheese called Whitehaven that is so pungent that I have to store it in the garden shed next to the garden strimmer. It makes Epoisse look like a mild cheddar. I can barely digest a spoonful (yes, it oozes that much) yet Joel manages to eat a whole rancid quarter before even his iron-cast stomach can stomach no more. How come out of dozens of fine cheeses at Neal's Yard, I manage to choose one that the government would designate a WMD?

Sunday 27th February

Our antenatal class reconvenes now that all six couples have contributed to the population, donating three of each sex in order to maintain the gender equilibrium of the nation. It is quite surreal to enter a room where everyone's lives have entered a new era, everyone surviving the tumultuous events of becoming a parent, coping with the difficulties and challenges it brings.

DNA is an amazing thing. It is fascinating to witness six babies who are all so facially unique, as heterogenous as adults but all with unique mannerisms. The various sizes of body indicate that God used his full set of baby moulds, limbs of varying proportions, skin colours pigmented different shades and textures, their crying a chorus of different pitches and tones. To celebrate meeting her new friends, Lily demonstrates her awesome ability to defacate with the sound of million farts as she sits on my lap, with vibrations that must have caused tremors in the flat below. The other babies look suitably impressed while I cart the messy pup into the bedroom, where I find a small heap of disposable nappies accumulating in the corner. The adults enjoy a wee glass of cava to toast our new additions, after which I return home to cook some homemade hamburgers that are even better than Burgerking. They are that good.

Monday 28th February

Excellent - Colonel Sanders, the Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, has just appeared in Murakami's "Kafka On The Shore".

In the evening I taste a series of marvellous Buals courtesy of Linden Wilkie. I know that is not cool, but who cares.