Book One: Chapter 30
Tuesday 31st May
Tonight I attend a vertical tasting of Chateau L'Eglise-Clinet courtesy of The Fine Wine Experience, though
this time I forego the KFC. Having said that, exiting Gloucester Road, Colonel S. beams across the road, his mantra floating in the
breeze: "Come on in, my son, come on in."
But God led me not unto temptation and I manage to arrive at the glitzy, marbled Bentley Hotel, which looks like a mausaleum of Gianni Versace, without reeking of eleven secret herbs and spices.
Since I know this Pomerol chateau like the back of my hand, Linden Wilkie asked whether I could do the introduction. Unlike the VCC debacle where I had to ad lib my way through, I make a modicum of preparation this time. Not only are the wines exceptionally fine, but we are afforded the opportunity to appraise the wines ivories tinkling in the background. So, the 1998 is accommpanied by Elton John's "Song For Guy" whilst the 1990 is enhanced by a muzak-lite "Sweet Home Alabama." Perhaps I should offer to DJ at future tastings? A Lafite vertical with a Stax retrospective or maybe a Guigal 100-pointer with "Great Instrumental Number One's."
I decline an invitation to a post-tasting dinner since Lily will be expecting me to wash a day's-worth of dribble and bile from her chest. On the return journey to West Norwood, by chance, I meet one of the Eglise-Clinet attendees who is a wine consultant and lecturer. Lo and behold she lives but 100-metres from my humble abode. Perhaps West Norwood has become a Mecca for budding wine sages? Or maybe, since a vinous career condemns the foolish dreamer into a salary that hovers just above the minimum wage, it means that future wine scribes will be forced to live in the favelas of South London, where a basement broom cupboard "ideal for buyers into DiY" is just about affordable.
Wednesday 1st June
You know I had planned a tirade against our weathermen, those meteorologists who despite being armed with a cosmic armada of satellites instead of an pine cone and a moth-eaten wind-sock, have predicted the weather with unerring inaccuracy of late. Now we are lumbered with the new BBC state-of-the-art graphics that implies they can pinpoint the precise geographical location of each and every cloud. Is it not too accurate for its own good? Should we not receive a rebate on our TV license fee every time they get it wrong? Let's hope the wedding-day forecast is for torrential showers and the odd typhoon.
Thursday 2nd June
I thought Britain had endured enough retribution for its compliance in Iraq. Little did I know that the ultimate punishment lay ahead. I talk of the ubiquitous "Crazy Frog" that can only have been despatched by Saddam and his cronies. That will teach Blair and Co.
Friday 3rd June
The "big day" is ominously approaching, creeping up behind me like a snake ready to bite you on the derriere. If only this was as easy to organize as my teenage parties, when you could just trot down the pub, declare that your parents were on their annual caravan sojourn and like the Pied Piper, escort the masses back home, the home entrusted by your parents because they foolishly assumed you were a "responsible young adult". Then, you could dispense with time-devouring formalities like sending invitations, creating spreadsheets designed to tell you who had RSCVP'd, who is coming, absentees, others abstaining whilst they strive to remember exactly who we are. Although I am looking forward to the "big day", there is part of me yearning for it to be all over.
Saturday 4th June
Today I meet my brother Tom in central London who is accompanying me as I bankrupt myself on a new Paul Smith suit for the wedding/blessing/baptism (I write it that way, so that I can mentally divide the suit's price by three.) Before sartorial purchases, we drop in at the Rough Trade record shop. As we enter, I mention to my brother that you can guarantee someone famous will be leafing through the vinyl just as I stumble into stick-thin Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, struggling with a push-chair in front of me. Strange to see the man who performed one of the most enthralling gigs I have ever seen, created one of the defining albums of the last 20 years, exasperated by the inconvenience of a vertiginous spiral staircase that bars entry for his pushchair.
After traipsing all the way to Selfridges to find that they did not stock my size, we wind our way back to Covent Garden, to Paul Smith HQ. Of course, once you don the suit, it becomes part of you and it is impossible to leave without offering it a home. I also splurge out on a shirt whose price tag approximates to the amount of debt that Bob Geldof urged the G8 to write off from Third World states. Plus a tie to finish it all off. The suit disguises my poverty and overdraft. Job done.
Sunday 5th June
Today I take Lily for a walk in Crystal Palace Park on my own, a kind of bonding exercise between father and daughter, as well as an opportunity for Tomoko to rest. We talk to the geese, marvel at the dinosaur statues and watch testosterone-fuelled men play 34-a-side football. I am self-conscious that I must look like a melancholy, estranged father, spending his alotted two-hours per month trying to establish a meaningful relationship with his offspring. I might hang a sign on the front of the pram declaring my marital status. I try to strike up a conversation with Lily, but her utterances are limited to mimicking flatulence and the intermittent screech of excitement. Poetry readings have been put on hold for the time being.
Sunday 12th June
Down to Leigh-on-Sea for final preparations from the "Big Day" next Saturday. Mum has planned this like a military operation, with reams of lists detailing the precise movements of all 100+ guests. I half-expect the wall in the living room to suddenly rotate, revealing a grand console of flashing, beeping computer screens plotting the movements of every invitee (of course, such a screen would include the movements of all house-hold pets...look, there goes Hammer the tortoise making a B-line for the cucumber.) I have not had the heart to tell mum that the tortoise is not invited.
After a delicious roast dinner, with the finest, tastiest new potatoes I have ever eaten (direct from mum's allotment) we drive round to Vik's for her partner Martyn to "play with Tomoko's hair." This is a momentous occasion, for Tomoko's hair has remained unchanged since her folicles sprouted her fine, straight black locks, locks that have unwaveringly maintained their perfect symmetry ever since. The only force that has styled her hair is gravity. In fact, she has refused to let any Vidal Sassoon wannabe touch her hair since migrating to England, choosing to remain loyal to her Tokyo-based salon who apparently "understand" her hair, irrespective of the trans-continental commute (thereby making it the most expensive haircut in the world.)
But finally she has accepted to my advice that Martyn, one of the best coiffeurs in the business, could do wonders. She takes a pew in front of the mirror and before she can run away, her hair is at the mercy of Martyn and a flurry of very talented hands. She almost has a heart-attack when the hair-curlers are warmed up for action and within minutes her hair is adorned with an intricate scaffolding of floral hair-pins. Miraculously, with a subtle twist of the wrist, Martyn declares "How's that?" and I take a sharp in-take of breath, for his design, swept severely across the crown to a cascade of curls on the right, is stunning. Her appearance is completely transformed and even an enlightened Tomoko cannot hide her delight. She is going to look beautiful, that's obvious. Me? I will have to rely on my Paul Smith suit.
Wednesday 15th June
Have decided that my faded Bhs boxer-shorts, approaching their fifth anniversary, simply will not do, so I walk down to Selfridges to purchase some smart, sexy boxers that will complement my non-existent six-pack. I also have my own hair cut at the recently refurbished "Ego's" in Soho. I love coming here: not only is it relatively cheap for this area, but I am intrigued by my hairdresser who has a pair of mirrored shades permanently glued to his head like Roy Orbison. I wonder whether he can actually see what he is cutting? Maybe he has some Terminator-style LCD screen on the inside lens picking out the loose-ends in infra-red, guiding his scissors along the most efficient passage around my cranium? Who knows? But I leave shorn, happy and smelling of wax.
I take the tube to the E&O bar in Notting Hill for a vertical tasting of Staglin in the company of Shari and Garen. HRH Jancis is ensconced in her own private tasting of the wines already, no doubt rushing off to another tasting or to get the dinner on. The tasting itself is illuminating, even though I am squashed at the corner of the table next to a congenial Shari Staglin who I suspect has an idyllic family life back at the ranch. I will report on the wines later. I walk back with David Pearce, who has kindly offered to photograph the wedding on Saturday and we enjoy a post-Staglin KFC at Victoria Station before catching our trains home.
Thursday 16th June
Here we go: the in-laws are arriving in Blighty. I drive to Heathrow to pick them up, Tomoko and Lily remaining at home due to lack of space in the Renault Clio. I have a mental list of disgusting habits I should refrain from in their presence: no picking toe-nails, biting finger-nails, no picking of nose, no farting (both "loud and proud" and deadlier "silent but violent"), no swearing and no zombie-like watching of Big Brother.
I love the Arrival gate at Heathrow: one of the few places where people overflow with emotion, irrespective of race, class or age. I could sit all day as a voyeur: peripatetic young Brits returning from inebriated round-the-world trips, Arabian women hidden within abayahs or designer hejabs meeting loved ones, grand-parents seeing their grand-children for the first time (ours will have to wait.) It is a vicarious thrill witnessing such private affairs acted out on the centre stage of Terminal 3.
Eventually my mother and brother-in-law make their entrance along with a mini-Fuji of suitcases. Of course, I will not divulge
Tomoko's mother's age, but let's just say its about 20 years younger than she actually is. The language barrier inhibits any in-depth
conversation, although my Japanese is good enough for pleasantries, enquiries about the flight and directions towards the car, currently
totting up a humungous parking charge by the minute. London welcomes my Japanese visitors by introducing them to
the West London gridlock, so severe that I am repelled back in the direction of Heathrow.
Welcome to our emaciated infrastructure, my good friends.
Our curlicued route also involves a diversion to an industrial estate, much to their bemusement and confusion.
After two hours of hell, we eventually arrive chez nous and naturally, both mother and brother are immediately besotted by a smiling Lily: this, the first time they have met the newest member of the family. Unfortunately, our flat being the size of a rabbit-hutch, there is barely enough space to unpack their suitcases. Her brother has the luxury of a futon on the living room floor over-shadowed by the stereo speakers, whilst my mother-in-law has no option but to slum it on the sofa (fortunately I had measured both in-law and sofa and calculated that I had a couple of centimetres to spare...as long as she does not move during the night.)
We celebrate with some fresh trout from the local fishmongers and a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blanc 1997. Fortunately, they do not notice Tomoko and I demolishing the bubbly with the alacrity of a parched Oliver Reed. Jet-lagged, they retire to their bunks early, perhaps ruing the fact that there is no en suite bathroom, for both in-laws are obsessed with personal hygiene: each taking approximately three hours to shower and another to scrub every last patch of tooth enamel. I suspect that they will be finishing their protracted douching by the time we are waking up the next morning.
Friday 17th June
One day to go and right on cue, God switches on the summer heatwave so that the temperature is soon approaching Venusian extremes, fortunately without the 250 mph winds, clouds of sulphur dioxide and showers of sulphuric acid (although that is just a matter of time.) Lily is in her cot, practising rolling over. She cannot achieve a full rotation, the weight of her wee-filled nappy preventing her from completing the complex manoevre. It is just a matter of time and application.
Firstly, I have a package to pick up from the Gypsy Hill post office, one of those hermit-like sub-branches hidden behind the
frozen food counter at your local Kwik-E-Mart. I have to wait ages for unemployed/unemployable to collect their Giros, but eventually I am
handed a large parcel addressed to Lily Martin. Is it something I have ordered on her behalf but completely forgotten about?
What could it be?
When I return home, I leave the package with Lily for ten minutes for her to open, but having failed that simple task (her mental processes concentrating on how to complete the rolling-over manoevre) I help her out. Little Lily has been given a christening present, a magnum of L'Eglise-Clinet, which I shall cellar for her safe-keeping until she is 18 years old, which means it will be wrenched open on the occasion of her first house-party when she is 16 and deranged by a 2-litre bottle of cheap cider.
That reminds me, I still have not dealt with Lily's Child Trust Fund voucher of £256, currently still pinned to the notice board as I procrastinate where to invest it? At this rate, come her 18th birthday, I will simply be handing her back the voucher, which by then will be worth about £2.50. Good job I never became an investment banker.
I am trekking down to Leigh-on-Sea a day early to help my parents with the wedding preparations. On the way down, I pick up the wedding
and christening cakes from "The Cake Store" in Sydenham. I inspect the latter: it is a beautiful square-shaped design with an
ornamental Winnie-the-Pooh pirouetting atop. It is magnificent. I read the inscription, written in pink italic icing:
"Happy Christening Lucy".
Wonderful...worth every penny...wait a minute...who the hell is Lucy?
Oh dear. The first disaster, a comical one at that. I point out the error to the Vicky Pollard-esque teenage assistant who seems unfazed by the gravity of the calamity. Fortunately, this is the best cake store in London, which means that the cake is returned to the decorators working behind the scenes, who whip off the entire top, re-ice the cake and rewrite the inscription with the name "Lily". I carry the cakes to the car. Bugger, I have loaded it up too much, which means I have to unpack everything in the middle of a tropical Sydenham High Street, so that the very expensive fruit cake does not slide off out the passenger window somewhere down the A13.
I get home around 1p.m. with 3 million things to do. Firstly, buy a romantic box of chocolates for Tomoko, which I find in the "Secret Chocolate Shop" (obviously not as secret as they would like.) Next, pop in to see the Reverend Miller to ask a thousand questions about tomorrow. I take a pew (literally...are her parishioners aware that one has been pilfered from the vestry?) in her living room to confirm readings etc. Then down to meet tomorrow's DJ, part with a substantial amount of cash and instruct him to play anything except Status Quo. That includes "In The Army Now": a floor-clearer if ever I heard one.
In the evening it is down to my local, the Grand. It is sultry summer evening, but fortunately we find a spare table outside along with a small army of revellers making the most of the clement weather. Unfortunately, the pub has gone downhill in recent months. It was once a bastion of "alternative" types, ex-grammar school students, free-thinkers, the bohemian elite of Leigh-on-Sea. It had beer-soaked floors, dun-coloured, beer-drenched flock wall-paper and Appetite For Destruction on constant rotation at 300 decibels.
But the demise of The Grand seems to be irreversible. Firstly, the entrance is blocked by an tag-team of meathead bouncers in regulation puffa jackets and menacing stares. Within two minutes I am scolded by one of them for using my mobile phone in the pub hallway, where loitering seems to have been banned. Then there is the clientele. Gone are the days when Sven the Hippy found half a spliff on the floor and smoked it in the corner. The Goths, grebos and aspiring teenage poets have been usurped by a legion of testosterone-fuelled, muscle-toned, perma-tanned men in white shirts, out for a shag, a fight or both.
Chavs proliferate across the car-park, with acres of St. Tropez bronzed flesh and pierced navals of display. On the adjacent table, a livid Irish man is haranguing his unfortunate girlfriend, which reaches its denouement when the eejit starts smashing beer glasses, flouncing off shouting "I neva' shagged 'er". Naturally, the bouncers, with a collective IQ of four, are too busy checking the illicit use of mobiles to do anything. At 10.30, one of my oldest friends Paul gets a round in at the bar, only to be prevented from exiting the pub because the bouncers have decided that glasses are no longer allowed outside. This leaves us stranded inside, vainly trying to get a message that our party needs to vacate the table to consume their drinks. It is utterly, utterly pathetic.
Anyway, despite the best efforts of The Grand, I have an enjoyable pre-nuptial evening with various friends, some of whom have travelled from afar to celebrate with us tomorrow. I ensure that I return home by the midnight hour so that I am fresh for the "Big Day."