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Book One: Chapter 29

Saturday 23rd April

Lily has started uttering meaningless sounds: oo's, goo's and ah's, which means she is already just one level below my own vocabulary. My flat has turned Bletchley Park in order to decode her babble and interpret their meaning. For example, two "oo's" in quick succession means "feed me", one staccato "oh" means "I have a gift for you in my nappy" and one "ee" means "I know the answer to the meaning of life, just translate my "oo", "ah" and "ga-ga" and all will be revealed." Once I have worked out exactly what "oo-ah-ga-ga" means, you will be the first to know."

Today we do a family shop at Sainsbury's. The bill comes to £70.00, twice as much as usual. Tomoko mutters an incredulous "How much?" and the acned teenage cashier automatically assumes that he has made an error and begins checking the receipt. We quickly inform him that it was not his fault, just that we are a cash-strapped couple to whom every bill is like a below the belt punch.

Sunday 24th April

Lily receives her £256.00 Child Trust Fund voucher from Tony Blair, though he fails to deliver it personally. I plan to list the voucher on e-Bay and use the money to start Lily's CD collection. She will only show gratitude once she understands the genius of Nick Drake.

Monday 25th April

Like syphilis, the General Election seems to have crept up on me unnoticed, perhaps because I was abroad when Tony declared it. I have traditionally held Left Wing ideals, thanks to a breakfast diet of the "Daily Mirror" until I left home. However, Tony has proven to be a major disappointment, with the military zeal of Genghis Kahn and a duplicity that politicians are so adept at...PMs even more so.

No, my vote is for Charlie Kennedy (I am still waiting for someone to tell me how he is related to John F.) He is the only leader of a political party, albeit the Liberal Democrats, who I have shared a beer with, though not the 10,000 cigarettes that he chain-smoked during our conversation at a FOF's nuptials. Michael Howard I cannot abide by...too sinister with a disingenuous smile. The Green Party could not run a chip shop, even though when the Earth is burnt to a radioactive crisp, we will wonder why we never took them seriously, whilst UKIP are just a bunch of bumptious fools inveigling the nation to dump Europe and reclaim the British Empire. Having said that, I did catch their secret weapon, z-list celebrity Rusty Lee on their party political broadcast, no doubt attracting the disenfranchised TV-AM vote.
Next, Roland Rat will be advocating the BNP.

Tuesday 26th April

Today I sort out the DJ for the wedding. Naturally, I am meticulous about the musical fare and have instructed the DJ's the exact playlist before I have confirmed they have the gig. I must decide who will do the reading. Since the theme is wine, perhaps I should recruit HRH Jancis? Think how impressed relations would be, when the Reverend announces that an OBE will be taking the lectern. Failing that, maybe I should request Sven the Hippy? Even though he lacks letters after his nameE, I am sure it is only a matter of time before Queen Liz 2 recognizes his dedication to enviromentalissues...which apparently is newts at the moment.

Also, I would just like to say that if I see that bloody advert for Esure Insurance with the odious Michael Winner dressed as a woman, making some lame joke about a mouse, then I will put my foot through the screen.

In case you are wondering, yes, I am addicted to The Apprentice on BBC2, though I would rather impale myself on a sharp metal spike than be in the lackie of Siralan Sugar.

Thursday 29th April

German wine tasting at Lords. I arrive in the afternoon to witness a tasting room regrettably devoid of thronging masses, despite a plethora of wonderful, refreshing, complex Rieslings and Sylvaners on show from respected producers. I take a break for lunch. Although the Germans are renowned for their organizational abilities, it appears that it does not extend to lunch, for we are forced to queue for decades for a beef sandwich. Though I appreciate the fact that my sandwich is fastidiously made, tailored to my precise specifications (i.e. nothing green), it entails aeons to construct and even then, a lethal dollop of horseradish renders my sensitive palate neutered for an hour. Great.

Friday 30th April

Lily has now moved out of the crib at the foot of our bed into her own room...well...err... the boiler room if you want to be pedantic. Like a goldfish that grows comensurate to the size of the tank, Lily's more capacious enviroment have precipitated an overnight metamorphosis from wrinkled, helpless baby to cherry-cheeked, perceptive human being with a distinct personality coagulating within.

She goes to sleep in her "surrender" repose: hands aloft in perfect symmetry, as if to say "Sleep, take me now." Although I position her in the middle of her cotbed, she moves during the night so that she awakes having mysteriously rotated 180 degrees with her head wedged in the corner. Where she is trying to go? Furrow her way to Brighton? Henceforth I will station a troop of assorted teddies, Snoopies and the strange creature of indeterminate taxonomic origin knitted by my mum, around her supine body to keep her stationary, or at least facing the right way.

Saturday 1st May

Aaargh. Gardening - why do I bother? What impels me to bung three grass turfs into the car after the weekly shop, convinving myself that I can make my small patch of verdure look like bowling green rather than a pig sty? After an hour I am covered in earth like Stig of the Dump, with the lawn undulating like the Mendip Hills to such an extent that they will have to revise the contour lines on the Ordnance Survey map of South London. I can hear the worms stifling their laughter, before burrowing into the soil.

Did I learn nothing from Percy Thrower when he taught us how to manicure our sunken garden?

Sunday 1st May

Warm weather = barbeque. We have one of those small poxy £1.99 jobbies from Safeways that seem to do the job adequately whenever I have used them in the past. Also, due to the capricious weather that cannot decide whether to rain or shine so does both, I construct our modest little al fresco grill just outside the kitchen door so that I won't get caught in a sudden shower. Michiko, Richard and Lily's paramour Alisdair come round, as does my friend Cath who I have known since university.

We manage to wash down three of four bottles of vino during the afternoon. Parenthood has not stymied our consumption of alcohol, though I am a bit wobbly when I give Lily her bath later that evening.

Tuesday 3rd May

I have salivated over this day for a few weeks now: a Vieux Chateau Certan vertical organized by finewineexperience.com's featuring a stellar collection of wines such as 1952, 1948 and 1928. Travelling to Gloucester Road, I make a mental note to drop in the nearest takeaway upon reaching my destination and elect the 3-Michelin starred emporium (well, in my mind anyway) - KFC. With only ten minutes to spare I phone master-of-ceremonies Linden Wilkie to tell him that I am mid-way through my second leg and not to pour anything until I arrive.

One error I must correct: I have mentioned Colonel Saunders 13 herbs and spices, but whilst gorging myself on the remnants of the chicken like a starving vulture with a penchant for fast-food, I notice that it is in actual fact 11 herbs and spices...secret ones of course. Hmm...have two secret ingredients been serrupticiously withdrawn? The least the Colonel could have done is called me and let me know.

I turn up at the Bentley Hotel. Can you think of a more perfect evening than KFC following by 10 vintages of Vieux Chateau Certan? I study the crib sheet which is headed with the words "Introduction by Neal Martin of wine-journal.com". Bugger, I had not realised I was introducing the chateau to the audience. Somehow I manage to present a concise synopsis after which David Elswood, chief auctioneer of Christies' wine department is heard to mutter: "I can smell KFC."
I am both aghast that I have ruined his olfactory impartiality, yet impressed that he was able to identify my dinner. Perhaps he could also identify the secret 11 herbs and spices?

The tasting is immensely enjoyable, the wines intermittently breathtaking and what is more, there is a jovial atmosphere that pervades the room, participants remembering that irrespective of the cache attached to such wines, they are still there to be savoured and enjoyed.

Wednesday 4th May

Oh, this wedding/blessing/christening is stressing me out. I am trying to find some cheap champagne but it's just so expensive. How can a wine writer live down the ignominy of serving sparkling wine on the most important day of his life? Still, those philanthropic people at Farr Vintners donate a case of stupendously delicious Macon 2003 from Verget so at least there will be some decent plonk to serve the 3 million or so invitees, half of which I have not met since I was six.

Then there is the flowers to organize. Perhaps the profusion of mint in the back garden is a blessing in disguise, perhaps this was its reason to be. Granted, it lacks the aesthetic magnitude of of an orchid...but it would make the church smell nice. Plus people could take a sprig for cooking later that evening. Tomoko vetos the idea, so it is back to the drawing board.

Thursday 5th May

Polling day. Whoopee. I did not vote last election for some reason or other, so I am determined to make my "X" count this time. Unfortunately I have to visit three polling stations before I find one that I am registered at. I peruse the candidates and momentarily contemplate voting for one of the fringe parties out of sympathy. Then I think of George Galloway and play safe. Tessa Jowell, our Labour candidate and patron of the arts (yeah - right) has lost my support due to her insincere expression whenever she is on GM-TV. So I vote Lib Dems who are morphing into the Socialist Party under our very noses. Plus, Charles Kennedy is ginger like wee Lily.

Saturday 6th May

I am currently reliving pre-pubescent horrors at the hands of ITV3 every Saturday. They are repeating the classic television (not film) series "Hammer House of Horror", whose legendary "House That Bled" manifested recurring nightmares for months after I watched it. Ten-year olds who saw it will know exactly what I mean. So far, this infamous episode has not been shown, but the others are a wonderful nostalgic slice of hammy horror, with kitsch cameos such as Diana Dors and fashions that dated about a week after it was originally shown in 1980. But there is something genuinely creepy about it, an underlying grotesqueness made more disturbing by the cloying muzak last heard in Crossroads. Just in case you were interested, tonight's episode features an ancient mirror used by a religious cult located just outside Amersham, who are hell-bent on reincarnating a latex demon. A bottle of Chateau du Tertre 1989 accompanies my viewing.

Sunday 7th May

Day-trip down to Brighton to introduce Lily to the youngest sibling John (who has been forgiven since his no-show a few weeks ago.) As we pull up outside his very yellow house, my mobile rings. It is John, asking what time we will arrive? When I reply in about 10 seconds, there is a silence, after which he says that he had better get dressed. To his credit, he shows more avuncular interest in Lily than other members of the clan.
Either than, or he is still stoned.
We lunch at the Saint George vegeterian gastropub that appears to have lost the plot culinary-wise, after which we drive up to Sven the Hippy's.

Sven and Lily

For a person who must spend much of his life up to his waste in mud and nature's excretion, it is amazing how frightened he is of a little baby poo. He cowers in the corner as I whip off Lily's nappy in the living room, at which point she marks her territory by urinating on the floor. Cousin Katy also drops by to greet the immaculately behaved tot and we enjoy a typical Sunday afternoon chat, accompanied by some delicious, gloopy flapjacks.

Tomoko and I discuss living in Brighton and whether it would be suitable to bring up a child in this coastal town. Fine if you are loaded, more tricky when you lack the finances to buy a house, or come to think of it even a dolls house.

Monday 8th May

Jesus H Christ, the wedding/blessing/christening is progressing at a funereal pace. We are shortlisting potential godparents for Lily, those that we can trust to care for her should Tomoko and I simutaneously spontaneously combust one morning. The trouble is that most of the people I know are 34 going on 14 (that includes myself by the way), or are peripatetic travellers with no desire to settle down or are terrified of babies. I might as well ask Frank the dog and Hammer the tortoise if they mind fulfilling the onerous duty. Perhaps Hammer as he will outlive all of us.

Tuesday 9th May

"One Hundred Everyday Bordeaux Wine" tasting at the Century Club, a private members haunt for PR and media-whores who lounge around of plush leather sofas comparing Diesel jeans and drug habits. There is always an air of elitism that pervades these kind of places, the "haves" tucked up in the cosy retreat while the "have nots" act out their meaningless lives outside. Having said that, I would probably join if I had the money.

Saturday 14th May

Mum and dad come up to babysit armed with the best doughnuts in the world: Gilberts Bakery in Leigh-on-Sea, made from real Tiptree jam. Now that is what you call a quality doughnut. Tomoko and I are going out in an attempt to buy wedding essentials, appurtenances such as rings for example. We venture into the hell-hole that is tourist clogged Oxford Street, a veritable confluence of tourists that makes Oxford Circus a circus.

The wedding rings prove surprisingly easy to procure, although we have to postpone our purchase since the jeweller is being accosted by an intimidating, big boned woman in a long black coat and a cap bearing the words "Security". The increasingly irate curmudgeon is haranguing the assistant about some guarantee, inevitably ends up completely out-of-control and being escorted away by a policeman, an inch away from using his handcuffs. "God is my guarantee" she hollers as her Saturday takes a turn for the worst.

We buy the rings. They sum up our relationship: hers cost quadruple mine, but still, I intend to attire myself in a brand new Paul Smith suit so that I will not look like a vagrant compared to my wife.

We also manage to procure a bag and shoes. Given that the fairer sex usually need approximately two months to procrastinate over such accoutrements, I congratulate Tomoko on her decisiveness. No doubt, I will be returning the shoes, bellowing "God is my guarantee" at some later date.

Sunday 15th May

Dinner chez sibling Simon and partner Paul. Paul has a palatial flat with floors so polished that I should have brought my roller blades; a luxurious en suite bathroom and a kitchen with lots of shiny, rotating cupboards and marble surfaces. The exchange rate for the pink pound must be good. Also, I must congratulate Simon on a stunning panacotta.

Tuesday 17th May

Devastated by the news that Kylie has breast cancer. Wine-journal loves Kylie so it wishes her all the best.

Today: the annual London Wine Trade Fair at Excel, located in the nether reaches of East London. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why they named the exhibition centre after a Microsoft application?

I must admit that each year, this event excites me less and less, as the big brands and supermarket buyers begin to dominate the hall. It used to be more balanced, with numerous small, interesting producers wedged into crannies between the temporary palaces for the global brands, but this year there are few wines that pique my interest. A taste through the Ernst and Gallo range? Not my cup of tea, thank you.

But still, the long-legged "air stewardesses" promoting some vodka catch my eyes. But there you see the downfall of employing a pair of Britney Spears/Toxic video look-a-likes. The male brain clicks into Neanderthal mode and is distracted by the comeliness of the women instead of discerning exactly which brand they are promoting.

I spend the morning enlightening my colleague about the wonderful world of wine, sampling different grape varieties and countries. One of the esoteric examples is from China, which unfortunately is abysmal, although the adjacent stand for Michel Rolland's Indian "Grover Estate" is impressive. I have lunch with Tom Cannavan of wine-pages.com fame, who is launching a new magazine focusing of whisky, wine and beer. I then have a chat to Maggie Rosen of the glossy, verbose and intellectual "World of Fine Wine". We have a good chat, the magazine deserves to be a success, even if you need to be an Oxford graduate and a member of MENSA to subscribe.

Thursday 19th May

Tasting of Kumeu River wines with Michael Brajkovich MW, courtesy of Farr Vintners. HRH Jancis is teaching some business students in a separate room, signs some autographs after exiting and joins us for the tasting. She opens up her laptop and types her notes directly onto the computer whilst I scribble mine on a notebook.

I should be aggressive, after all she is the competition, it's a dog-eat-dog world. I am a minnow aspiring for greater things. I should be less obsequious, I should be tripping up Hugh Johnson at tastings, I should be pick-pocketing Jefford's dictionary, I should have spiked Tom Cannavan's wine when I met him for lunch the other day. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

I contemplate several despicable strategies but it is like the Hooded Claw attempting to foil Penelope Pitstop. Whilst she is not looking I could copy all her tasting notes, or sabotage them completely and compose something ridiculous, something that I would write. I could accidentally spill my Maury 1928 over her computer.
"Oh sorry Jancis," I would apologise before cackling hideously as she departs in tears.

End result. After a delicious dinner alas without HRH and some wonderful wines, I realise that my notes have gone AWOL. Just deserts for my callous thoughts.

Friday 20th May

Tasting notes found chez Farr in their tasting room, so expect a report on Kumeu River in the not too distant future.

Lily cutie

Tomoko and I have a healthy diet. We are not one of those couples whose shopping trolley brims with readymeals, whose slam of the oven-door has been usurped by the ping of the micro-wave. No, most of our dinners are cooked fresh, but tonight we decide to binge out on a takeaway, namely KFC. Well, you don't think I would be betrothed to someone who did not like KFC...some things are irreconcilable. Our meal is washed down with some cheapo Tempranillo from Majestic that should be renamed "Bodega Tate & Lyle", a wine with the residual sugar content of three tea-spoons.

Lily is disgusted that her parents not only stink of KFC but finish off the saccharine bottle of wine in about 45 minutes. Yet again she must endure her asinine father singing ad libbed ditties such as "We're Cleaning Lily's Hair" and its follow-up single "We're Cleaning Lily's Feet". She is towel dried with careless abandon and is carted off to the bedroom with smudges of moisterizer on her face, whereupon her ginger locks are blown dry. I go for the wind-swept look, wind-swept as in a five-month old girl being chucked into a tornado.

Poor Lily. Still, as the photos on the right shows, still a coy little cutie.

Saturday 21st May

My friend Carolyn comes for dinner chez nous. She is a Canadian with whom I shared a claustrophobic rabbit hutch in Tokyo and this is our first rendezvous for five years. She has not changed one jot and is suitably smitten by Lily, who shows her appreciation by vomiting over her chest.

After she has departed, I sit down to enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest. The songs are as abysmal as ever and this year, large troupes of formation dancing drummers appear mandatory. It is sad fact that I have watched probably every Eurovision since Bucks Fizz. In fact I listened to it on the radio one inebriated evening when I was a student. I really must get out more.

Monday 23rd May

Oo-er, today marks my inaugural hosting of a tasting, organized by CECWINE entitled "Wine-Journal Presents..." As I enter the Institute of Civil Engineers near Parliament Square, I spot the sign with my name emblazoned upon it. A small step in my career to becoming the Robert Parker of Southeast London. Fortunately the tasting has sold out, although to my chagrin, I did not see any tickets offered for hundreds of pounds of Ebay.

The event goes well, although butterflies flitter in my stomach at the beginning, partly because the audience was not mingling and jabbering like usual. But by the time we were getting to the treats such as the Chateau d'Armailhac 1942 and Richebourg DRC 1982 the patter begins flowing, the shoulders relax and everyone appears to be having an enjoyable, educational evening. Yet again, it was the stickies that bowled them over, apropos two vintages of Doisy-Vedrines.

(Neal Martin is available to wine host your tasting at weddings, funerals and barmitzvas.)

Wednesday 25th May

Oh, the wonders of us homo sapiens. Lily's brain appears to have received an upgrade and virtually overnight, her cognition, facial expressions, reflexes and utterences have entered a different league. She is no longer a baby, but a little girl, albeit one that has inherited her father's propensity to produce a superfluous amount of ear wax. Honestly, I have to dig out a whole carrot every evening, an act that I find curiously satisfying. Perhaps I should store it in jar and make a candle? Hmm...it might arouse a few questions when the in-laws are over in three weeks.

D-day is approaching. I have ordered the champagne, some white wine, mums in charge of balloons, the hotel is booked, the uprousing hymns have been chosen, DJ's booked with mandatory playlist and buffet ordered. I need to buy a decent suit since I am one of those untidy heathens with one functional suit that is donned for weddings, funerals, posh tastings and smart restaurants. I also need a smart tie. A tie says everything about you, more so than the suit. If you ever want to pass an interview than max expenditure on the tie, preferably one with a nice thick weave.

Friday 27th May

Sometimes, this country is useless. Utterly, utterly useless. It is the hottest day of the year, forcasted to reach around 30 degrees by midday, so what does the misanthropic South Central Trains do? Why, they amuse themselves by turning the carriage's central heating on to full blast and turn it into a mobile sauna.
Next time, I must remember to bring my towel.

Saturday 28th May

More pre-nuptial themed shopping in Central London. It is Lily's inaugural visit to the centre of this exasperating metropolis and true to form, the trains are up the creek (literally) and we are forced onto the bus and tube. Lily enjoys the bus since the wheels go round and round, but the Victoria tube is a traumatic experience, in no small part due to the deafening noise and clautrophobia. By the time we arrive at Green Park, she is a quivering wreck in floods of tears and vows never to use this mode of transport again. I have similar feelings every morning.

We make heavy use of the Visa card again: a creamy dress for Lily, some Kylie-esque lingerie from Fenwicks for Tomoko, or to be honest: me. I speculate upon precisely how much debt I will encumber by the end of June and then consider whether it is time for Lily to commence her modelling career. We have no other choice.

Monday 30th May

Lilly has spent too much of the weekend cooped up inside, so we take a day trip to Middle Farm, just east of Lewes in Sussex. The official line is that we are introducing our daughter to the delights of a working farm; the noises, fecal smells and all. Of course, the fact that there are 250 ciders to taste out of barrel has nothing to do with our decision to venture down the M23. Nothing at all.

After devouring a delicious apple and raspberry crumble, we tour around the pig stys and the unfeasibly large population of clucking hens. I never knew there were so many feathered species, although my asking whether they were the species destined for the KFC grill, fall on deaf poultry ears. Our tour includes a pair of libidinous goats, whose spontaneous fornication compels a perturbed father to cover his daughters eyes. One little girl asks her father what they are doing and I resist interjecting that they are building a "goat pyramid". Still, at least the girl now understand the birds and the bees...and the goats.