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Book One: Chapter 33

Monday 18th July

Would you Adam and Eve it? Lily is half-a-year old today. Where has the first six months of her life gone? And I still have not invested her £256 Child Trust Bond.

After half-a-year, Lily is angelic as ever, unerringly well-behaved to the point where I fear she is storing her angst and hissy-fits for puberty. She is one of those babies who can make even the most stoic, stony faced stranger break into a smile, therefore you can imagine her affect on her doting father. Lily spends her birthday evening blowing raspberries, dribbling and flapping her arms in some futile effort to fly. I will not break her inability to fly just yet. Let her dream on.

Anyway, "Happy Half-Year Birthday Lily-chan".

Saturday 24th July

Brother Tom up chez nous. Shopping in Croydon, he purchases three of four CD's that sound like dirge when played in the car traveling home.
Have I got old?
Am I no longer in touch with the youth of today?
Or was the music just crap?
I opine the latter.

Sunday 24th July

As a vinyl-junkie, the iPod represents my personal nemesis, a glossy white block of brilliant marketing that saps the romantic notion of buying a piece of black plastic with an A-side, B-side and a limited edition hand-painted sleeve. However, Tomoko's munificent brother bought me a 30-gig iPod as a wedding-present and until this weekend it had lain untouched and unwrapped on the dresser, unemployed and redundant.

Therefore, it pains me to say that my curiosity got the better of me and within thirty minutes I have succumbed to its hypnotic power of the pandemic iPod. Once I had uploaded one song onto the beast, the challenge of uploading my entire CD collection became an addiction and when I discovered the "Shuffle" button...well...that was the end really.

When you have as eclectic music taste such as I, this random jukebox uncovers a welter of intriguing juxtapositions: The Kinks, Sinatra, Felt, Ennio Morricone and Funkadelic all jostling for attention. ABBA's unseasonably insipid "Happy New Year" forms an oblique soundtrack to my commute into work in mid-July. I just hope that no-one else can hear it through the headphones.

Monday 24th July

There is a new busker at Oxford Circus tube. Every morning as I ascend the escalator, the shrill timbre of the clarinet becomes audible, belting out some Mozart Concerto with a stack of homemade CD's for sale in his clarinet case.

What happened to all the true buskers, the homeless bearded men parping away on a one note penny-whistle? Where have they all been shoved off to? If I want to hear Mozart of Puccini echoing around the London Underground I will go to the Proms of the Royal Opera House.

Tuesday 25th July

Cheval-Blanc Vertical with Linden Wilkie. I avoid any pre-degustatory KFC for fear of upsetting the Christies contingent whose ultra-sensitive olfactory senses picked up the scent of thirteen secret herbs and spices at the last tasting, though they lack the skill to actually identify those ingredients. Having savoured the remains of Cheval-Blanc 1934, I ensure I am in home for voyeurism-hour courtesy of Big Brother.

Wednesday 26th July

Boilermen - they will feature in this diary over the next few weeks. So far, two cheeky chappy boilermen/plumbers have made appointments to come round to quote me a new condenser boiler and precisely the same number have failed to materialize. I am stressed and we have not even got to first base yet. What stunt will they pull when one actually lowers himself to do some work?
Install it upside-down?
Maybe I should print their names and numbers so that readers can avoid this brigade of charlatans; strike a blow for the stricken middle-class.

Thursday 27th July

I have been reading complementary remarks on Mark Squires Forum about the, and I quote, "dry wit" of Neal Martin's blog page, the comedy of errors that make up my pitiful life. I am glad it makes people laugh. Wine takes itself far too seriously sometimes. But perhaps there will come a day when I have exhausted my supply of humour and bathetic prose. Perhaps that time has passed already?

Friday 29th July

Meet Linden of Fine Wine Experience for a Friday beer, along with my work colleague Phil. Even from the opposite side of the road, I can see that somebody has taken a blunt lawn-mover to Linden's billowing mane. On the positive side, he looks ten years younger, but on the negative side I do not know whether his hair will ever forgive him, especially when I spot a flock of crows circling menacingly overhead, patiently waiting to nest. All they need is for Linden to remain stationary for a minute.

In the evening, a smorgasbord of amazing wines courtesy of a munificent Sam at the pulpit of Good Bishop Gill. It deserves its own article which will follow soon. Yes, I was drunk by the end.

Sunday 31st July

Drive down to Brighton through this summer's temperamental weather. One minute it is sunshine, the next I have to slam on the breaks as we enter an Amazonian downpour. What the hell is going on? We meet Sven the Hippy and his girlfriend Theresa and venture down to Brighton museum for high tea. The scones are delicious, even better than those at the llama farm, though their gargantuan size defeats even I, the all-powerful scone-master.

We are joined by one of Sven the Hippy's comrades, who joins us at the table. At first, I am nervous in case he enquires by which mode of transport I travelled down to Brighton in? I will fib and reply that I flew south on my eco-friendly tandem, stopping off at vegan restaurants on the way. Fortunately he never asks, though he does spout polemic about oil prices that goes way over my head. He also seems excited about some upcoming festival whose selling point is (quel surprise) "jugglers". Great. Bbook me a family tent.

Despite my cynicism, I actually harbour a lot of support for the Green Party. They are probably the only ones to fully recognize that global warming is major threat, not some hokum-pokum dreamed up by some hirsute, sandal-wearing hippy on his third Greenham Common wife. My generation is all too aware of the radical climate change. I remember sub-zero winters traipsing knee-deep in snow, part of my childhood but not my daughter's. Suddenly Latin-America is battered by four or more major hurricanes per year, the deserts are even more dessicated, the icecaps are inexorably melting into slush and the ozone layer is dissipating into thin air. Future generations, should there be any, will look back at the 21st century wondering why we were incapable of doing anything to prevent such ecological Armageddon and why people such as Brighton's hippies attired in kilts were ignored?
I guess the answer is, because they were wearing kilts.

Tuesday 2nd August

A tasting of Matassa wine with Bordeaux Index at their offices on oh-so cool Clerkenwell. Jamie Goode of wineanorak.com fame is also in attendance, though I am surprised that he does not enter with a Conservative Party tie and Michael Howard rosette, now that he is columnist for the Sunday Express. Indeed, Jamie is my first point of call when seeking scientific background on viticultural matters. Science was never my strong point at school. Performing an autopsy on a worm made me squeamish. Worms had feelings too, didn't they? Physics was taught by the most boring man on Earth, with a not dissimilar appearance to Jesus Christ, though with the most monotone voice you could imagine. If the Messiah spoke likewise on the mount, then his disciples would have fallen asleep half way through and the Bible would have stopped and Christianity come to an abrupt end.

Thursday 4th August

"We're all going on a summer holiday,
No more worries for a, week or two.

Well, four days to be more precise. The Martin family are taking a well-earned long weekend break to the heart of England, somewhere I have never ventured to before. There are few nether regions of this sceptred isle that I have not visited, thanks to my family's indifference to foreign travel, particularly anywhere whose denizens did not speak English and eat strange food such as pasta, garlic and so on. Our version of going abroad was a week in the Isle of Wight.

Indeed, apart from a solitary day-trip to Boulogne, I had no need for a passport until I was nineteen, when I enjoyed a libidous weekend with my psychotic girlfriend. Of course, this pent-up peripateticism resulted in my fleeing to Australia and Japan and compensating for all those weekends watching one low pressure system after another ruin my summer holiday. But what you do not know, you do not miss and in retrospect, I would not change my pre-pubescent vacations for the world. Literally.

Today we are off to the Peak District in Derbyshire. Lily has her bagged packed: comfort blankets, Size 3 Pampers, anything chewable. Tomoko looks as if she is packed for a year-long circum-navigation of the world whilst I throw a few boxer shorts and socks into my laptop bag. I love the thrill of travelling from "A" to "B",I have a soft-spot for "The North" even if it is grim. In fact, given half a chance I would move "oop north" tomorrow. It is the romanticism of the barren dales and mountains, its cobbled streets and ferret-loving folk. I find beauty in copses of grey cooling towers as if moulded by a giant potters wheel, huddled together for warmth.

The wheels drop off soon after we arrive at our B&B. The location is perfect, perched atop Monsal Head ravine, overlooking the famous viaduct that traverses the steep, meandering valley. However we are couped up in the loft that is claustrophobic and pokey to say the least, exacerbated by the fact that Lily's cot takes up any floor space. The toilet is moulded out of a single piece of plastic and appears to have been lifted straight out of a medium-sized caravan; cosy to the point where your head overhangs the sink when sitting on the loo. It is equipped with a loud lavatory, its fan cranking into action as soon as you open the squeaky door, which means that for the next three nights, Tomoko and I lie rigid in bed, demurring ablutions in fear of waking Lily.

Then I suffer possibly the worst migraine of my life. Now, I have suffered more than my fair share, in fact I had a CAT scan last year to check there was nothing nasty lurking within my dome. This year has been far better than most, partly due to the fact that I can sense them brewing and take pre-emptive action. But this one catches me unawares and bereft of paracetamol, I spend the entire evening with tidal waves of nausea sweeping across my head, a feeling of sickness in my stomach; my metabolism at an all-time low. Apart from that, I feel fine.

Finally, Lily cannot sleep for the first time in seven months. Sure, she has somnolent murmers in the night, but not the full-on bawling that must have woken the entire occupants of the B&B at three in the morning. We contemplate returning home. The only thing that stops me is my incapacity to drive whilst an army of little men are chiselling away my cranium.

Friday 5th August

Things improve: well they could not have got any worse. I make an early morning trip to the village shop and load up on paracetamol. They are not strong enough to nullify the pain completely, but subdue it enough so that I am not forced to lie comatose on the bed. The breakfast is superb. Locally sourced fare cooked to perfection (especially the oat cakes) although the remonstrating glares from sleepless fellow guests is palpable. Not me, it was this enfant terrible sitting next to me, currently trying to chew her way out of the high chair. I ignore them and Lily deploys a smile so cute that she neutralizes any vengeful sentiment in a moment.

We drive down to the idyllic village of Bakewell, every corner seemingly blessed with a quaint Ye Olde English pub, a smorgasbord of cafes, a butcher that has been garlanded by numerous awards, a river replete with armadas of ducks and swan and of course, the original Bakewell cafe that invented the now ubiquitous tart in the 19th century. Tomoko and I enjoy the afternoon demolishing two Bakewell tart cream teas topped with a hillock of cream.

After Bakewell, we drive to the wilder, more rugged northern Peaks. Here the hills are higher, dramatic limestone cliffs jutting out of the landscape where the elements have peeled away the veil of moorland. I take a single-lane into the middle of nowhere, wends its way to to the top of a hill that offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Peaks and in the distance the outer suburbs of Manchester that has so much to answer for.

Whilst Tomoko feeds the baby, I impulsively climb a peak crowned with large boulders. The ascent does not appear too imposing, but of course, looks are deceiving and the further I progress, another backwards step the bashful summit takes. Gasping for breath, I consider whether I ought to have bought breathing apparatus to cope with the thinning oxygen, but I eventually reach the wind-swept peak and soak in the view.
I return to Earth ruing the fact that my strenuous ascent has only intensified my mal de tete. I load up on more paracetamol and drive back to the B&B. In the evening we spend a second night at the Monsal Head restaurant and again the food is top-notch, though I absteme for fear of my head imploding.

Saturday 6th August

The weather is looking better, the pain in my head ebbs and flows less frequently and we are off to Chatsworth House, the salubrious home of the Duke of Devonshire. We pay £9.50 to view his inherited riches: a malachite bureau from Tsarist Russia, countless oil paintings of previous Dukes, gardens tended by Capability Brown (how I yearn for my lawn to be as smooth as his) complementary rock faces designed by Joseph Paxton and doubtless millions of pounds-worth of antiques stashed away out of view. Who said England was a classless society?

Tomoko studies the family tree, to see whether there is a single heir to the dynasty with a predilection for an obedient Japanese wife. I can see her weighing up the options. Life in the Duke's palatial surroundings, mowing the Capability lawn, feeding the chickens that cluck round the car-park, checking everyone has a ticket, mixing with the landed gentry; or life with Lily and I in a pokey flat in West Norwood. For some bizarre reason, she choses the latter.

In the evening it is back to the Monsal Head restaurant whose cuisine maintains its high standard. Since we must lie without moving an inch once Lily is asleep, it's lights out by nine o'clock, the time which Tomoko and I used to set off for a night on the tiles. Are our hedonistic, Dionysian fuelled days over? Stupid question.

Sunday 7th August

A beautiful, serene morning in the Peaks. Before driving back South we drop in at Castleton farmers' market. I had envisaged a ram-packed, bustling market square with mountains of fresh vegetables with the morning's soil still clinging to their skin. However, the market is just a dozen or so stalls in the village hall. We pick up some fresh lettuce, locally reared buffalo steaks, Old English sausages and the most delicious homemade apricot bread.

We drive home: nothing out-of-this-world to report save for the usual traffic jam in Brixton (although "The Prodigy" did jump out of the Merc in front of us, arriving for their evening's performance at the Academy.)

But unbeknownst to us, somewhere between Derbyshire in London, at some undetermined point down the M1, a little miracle occurs. Lily spontaneously learns the art of sitting up. When we left the Peaks her centre of gravity was extraneous, floating around her vicinity and she would flop unceremoniously to one side. But during our journey, that mischevious centre of gravity settles at a centre-point within her body and she sits up on the bed, blissfully unaware that she has taken another step up the evolutionary ladder.
I think she should be ready for the 2012 Olympics after all.