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Book One: Chapter 38

Sunday 11th December

I have made a decision to leave all Christmas present procurement to the last moment, anticipating last-minute sales down Oxford Street. Tomoko is the most challenging human being to buy a suitable gift for. Too petite to buy clothes, indifferent to perfume or cosmetics and ambivalent about CD's and DVD's. She never gives a clue what she might secretly hanker for and so I have to plump for some random purchase and hope for the best. Lily is easier. She is too young to gauge how much her parents have lavished upon her and whatever I buy, her interest will last two whole minutes before waning and then she will return to her favourite toy, the metal Homechoice remote control.

We go shopping in Croydon during the afternoon seeking inspiration. I find a cardigan that is cool in a Jamie Oliver kind of stylee, so that I can offer some alternative to Matt Skinner, but when I try it on, I notice a small blemish. Bah, foiled again, in fact I am foiled every time I attempt to be fashionable and hip. I don't want to look like a Gap clone, I want to express my individuality, my creativity, my quirkiness. No doubt I will just end up looking like a prat.

Wednesday 14th December

Linden's Lafite tasting (Part Two). After the tasting culminates in a regrettably undrinkable 1875, I join an intimate but perfectly formed party back to the palatial apartment of Dominic, the nemesis of Anthony Hanson MW after their contretemps at the Seguin-Manuel tasting. His apartment is amazing in a Manhatten duplex over-looking Central Park kinda way. I half-expect Carrie from Sex In The City to be seated in the tennis-court sized living room, tapping salacious prose onto her laptop. A veritable gallery of modern art adorns the walls, a vintage Star Wars pinball machine resides in the corner of the kitchen and for some bizarre reason, scores of German wine bottles form a U-shape along the marbled kitchen surface.

Dominic, as hyperactive and demonstrative as ever, opens a couple of bottles, downed without much ado and then they are off to the Ledbury restaurant for a late-night dinner and me, well I am back across the Thames as I cannot cope with these late weekday nights anymore (plus Tomoko passed a dictate that outlawed them.) My bodyclock goes out of synch and it takes days to recover. I guess that is the price you have to pay for producing an 11-month old baby, but still, coming home after a hard day at work, opening the door to see her crawling down the hallway with her angelic face is something I wouldn't swap for all the money in the world, (but do feel free to e-mail me with any seven-figure offers.)

Thursday 15th December

08:00: Receive a lovely Xmas card from my cousin's daughter Mia (aged 5) which she drew at school, a lovely felt-tip Xmas tree surrounded by colourful presents.

19:10: Card half-eaten by Lily. Sorry Mia.

Friday 16th December

Splenetic phone call to the estate agent for failing to push my buyer into nominating solicitors. I just need a reassuring sign, an omen to smooth by furrowed brow, that my buyer is definitely purchasing my modest abode. The whole chain depends upon her and I cannot stand going through Xmas unsure whether the whole deal is proceding on schedule, if at all.

I am a mild-mannered, emollient chap who rarely raises my voice. However when I turn into Mr. Angry, then you do not want to be on the receiving end because I turn into the Incredible Hulk (without the muscles...or the green skin...just the temperament.) If I care to argue my point, rightly or wrongly, my tactic is to hammer the opposition into submission and/or exhaustion. Consequently my estate agent is now petrified of me. Oh well.

Saturday 17th December

Walk round Belair Park in the afternoon, a peaceful retreat near posh but soulless Durban Village. I enact the estranged father: dishelved self, i-Pod and Lily strolling in deep contemplation through a verdant oasis in South London. The scene is perfect: a frozen winter's afternoon, ducks swarming round the pram for a nibble of stale Hovis and Nick Drake's otherwordly "Five Leaves Left" in the headphones. Lily responds by sleeping the whole journey, dreaming of comfort blankets, Winnie the Pooh and whether God exists? Whilst I feed the mallards, she stirs. Perhaps she has found the answer to Man's eternal question? However, she is enjoying her forty winks too much to wake and tell me.

Sunday 18th December

The Martin family walk into Dulwich School for Boys of Wealthy Parents for the monthly farmers' market. I buy a pack of mixed-herb sausages that I trust were running around the sty this morning and some haddock that were swimming around the Thames Estuary. We walk back past the multi-bedroomed mansions, each with mandatory fleet of Jags and Mercs.
I make a decision: I am going to be rich.
Just that it will take a couple of millennia.

Wednesday 22nd December

Every Xmas, I reward myself with a blow-out dinner: money no object as long as it is below £250. Previous years include the much missed "Chez Nico", the defunct "Noble Rot" and dinner chez nous. This year Tomoko and I venture to "The Square" a two-starred Michelin restaurant in Mayfair who have kindly allowed me to take my own wines (a bottle of Rousseau's Clos St. Jacques 1985 and a Batard-Montrachet 1993 from Leflaive.)

After two flutes of champagne and the bottle of white we are both aesthetically and vocally the most inebriated in the salubrious restaurant and the maitre d' pre-empted our intentions by seating us in the far corner, away from his regular clientele. I make the mistake of ordering a calorific fois-grois with muscat grapes that repeats on me throughout the remaining three hundred courses, though Tomoko's langoustine starter is sublime. We fall into a waiting taxi and stagger inside our abode, tripping over a review copy of John Livingstone-Learmonth's "Northern Rhone" tome that lies treacherously on the doormat. We greet my babysitting parents, both alarmed that such degenerates are in charge of a baby and before you can say good-night, I am supine and snoring on the bed.

Christmas Eve 24th December

In many ways, I enjoy Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. There is a small part of me that genuinely believes that Father Christmas is up in Lapland loading his sleigh, ready to distribute presents to the children of the world in a single snowy night.
I revel in the anticipation of the Big Day, the way that the most prodigal month of December crescendos into a flurry of present giving and gluttony that we will only regret come next year. The twin-engines of society, religion and economics are at full-throttle, a quick chorus of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" at the church we frequent but once a year, the festooning of decorations around the house, the Christmas sprouting beside the startled TV and a flurry of purchases at Argos.

I take Lily out for a single-father festive promenade through Belair Park and yet again she snoozes sound as a pound whilst mallards and moorhens gather round looking for crumbs. My discerning plumed friends appreciate the organic wheatgerm that I offer...none of that economy dough today kind sir.) In the evening I watch the Christmas carols from Kings College, Cambridge that unfailingly puts me in a festive mood. I conjure up a chicken chasseur from a packet of Schwartz (new recipe - very good), Tomoko pulls out a bootle of Michel Lafarge's Volnay Clos de Ducs Monopole 1997 and we settle down in front of the TV for Brigitte Jones, a film I never get bored of watching.

I creep into Lily's bedroom just before midnight to tuck her in. She is snuggled up in her baby growbag, clutches her smelly comfort blanket to her face as if she would stop breathing without it; dreams of reindeers traversing the starlit night to tinkling jingle-jangle of bells. Either that, or she is wondering what is for breakfast tomorrow morning?

Christmas Day 25th December

Burst into Lily room (well, it's actually the boiler room but we'll pass over that) and wish her a first "Happy Christmas". Naturally, she cannot tell what the hell is going on, apart from her parents are a little more animated and childish than usual, plus her daddy is hellbent on squeezing a red Santa's hat on her head. After our orthodox weekend petit-dejeuner of scrambled egg, we open the presents.

Lily Quatro

Lily receives her large tupperware box of "Quatro": gargantuan Lego breeze-blocks into which one-year olds can channel their destructive tendencies. I open it, take ten minutes erecting a tower, by which time Lily has lost complete interest and is back to the metal Homechoice remote control, firmly wedged in her mouth up to the volume control button. Tomoko buys me a trendy "Firetrap" cardigan to fit into my "cool dad" wardrobe, a much-needed backpack for the laptop in order to delay the hernia from lugging it to the station each morning, whilst I give my wife a bracelet. Good news: she likes it. (Oh, just in case you are wondering, my definition of a "cool dad" is a father who shops at both Diesel and Mothercare.)

Santa sign

Then it's off back down the A13 to Leigh-on-Sea for the infamous Martin family Xmas. As we pull up the driveway, I spot the "Santa Please Stop Here" sign planted in the front garden, just in case St. Nicolas omits number thirty-five. It has never transpired in the past. I guess the sign is an insurance policy so that we can sue if nothing arrives on the hearth.

The menagerie of pets, straight out of the pages of a Gerald Durrell novel, have been exiled to the garage since Tomoko is allergic to cat hair. Assorted brothers are draped over the sofas, tanning themselves with MTV-rays; the turkey is on the verge of discovering its raison d'etre, the ether thick with gravy. Dinner passes off peacefully with an agreeable bottle of Brunello 1999 from Altesino, imbibed from one of mum's green-stemmed wine-glasses last seen at Abigail's Party. Lily sits at the table in her high-chair, obviously enjoying Christmas despite her tender years. In fact, she spends most of the Festive celebration in blissful joy with a smile permanently painted across her face. Naturally she is spoilt with more presents. I keep a mental tally so I know which ones to flog on eBay next week.

I receive two CD's (Bob Marley and Blur), a shirt from Hennes (too middle-aged for my cool dad attire, mum soon digs out the receipt for me), a belt that strains under the pressure from my waistline (I can just secure the last hole), a bottle of Vin Doux Naturelle, a £10.00 John Lewis voucher; one de rigueur DAB radio to replace the antiquated Roberts that had a proclavity to detune or cruelly terminate the transmission whenever a human being came within a five metre ambit and a paperweight with Lily's face at the bottom, coasters individually designed with various pictures of Lily's face and a key-ring with a picture of Lily's face. Notice a theme towards the end there?

Avid readers of my diary, which seems to include most respected members of the wine-writing fraternity, will recall last Christmas when much of the afternoon was spent as an idle spectator, as intra-familial gifts were exchanged from one pet to another, ceremoniously opened to a chorus of groans from the Martin household. This year, perhaps anticipating ridicule in these very pages in front of 80,000+ readers, the presents not destined for homo erectus are put to one side for them to open later. Those of you wishing to know what Frank the Stupid Dog, Hammer the Tortoise or the tropical fish received from Xmas 2005, please e-mail me and I will let you know.

After the ceremony is over, the family disperses to various parts of the house before reconvening for turkey sandwiches. I bath Lily, by which time, despite my parents valiant effort to rid the house of hair, Tomoko's eyes begin to sore. We therefore go for a remedial drive into the nothingness that is rural Southeast Essex, a strange expanse of fields, marshes and dead-end country lanes, a sea-locked appurtenance to the featureless Essex countryside. You could imagine Magwitch flagging down your car for a lift. The atmosphere is intensified by it being Christmas night, when most people are safely tucked up in their warm, cosy homes. Once we arrive at the middle of nowhere, which geographically is somewhere around Wallasea Island, I wind down the electric windows are instruct Tomoko to inhale deeply.

It seems to do the trick and we drive home cleansed and refreshed to the mellow sounds of prime rasta-tastic Bob Marley. When we return we watch festive zombie gore-fest "Shawn Of the Dead" accompanied by a bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages 1997. Christmas Day is over: time for bed.

Boxing Day 26th December

Assorted zombies of the Martin clan wander downstairs and sit themselves at the breakfast table to load up on full English. Like a courtier inspecting the king's dish for poison, I survey my plate in search of cat hairs, of which I find two, both positively identified as Tigger's. We then take a morning promenade down to Old Leigh, the sun shining on the way there, but bashfully hiding behind an ominous cumulonimbus on the way back. Frank the Stupid Dog is being walked behind by John and his girlfriend, straining at the leash to chase seagulls and eat pebbles. After a roast beef dinner we load the car with assorted presents and baby, head back home to West Norwood.

Wednesday 28th December

You know, these few days were reserved for recuperation. Admittedly I have to work these three days; I need to save my annual leave for the potential house move (the wheels have not fallen off, but they are wobbling.) I have a constructive morning, send off some documents to solicitors, renew my web hosting package that has come up for renewal. I opt for the Professional package since the site's popularity has pushed me to the limits of my monthly bandwidth, a simple case of re-inputing my bank details, selecting the package I desire. Little do I know the consequences set to befall me.

In the evening I check the website, but I am met with a vast expanse of brilliant white nothing. It is like returning home and finding your house has been replaced by a car-park. "Where has it gone?," I wonder and call my hosting company.

Lo and behold, my website has been unceremoniously wiped off the server, a nefarious act undisclosed when I renewed my hosting package. Apparently there is some incompatability between packages, so instead of gliding smoothly from one to another, I have lost my entire site and all the traffic statistics for the crime of offering my custom for another year. It is like Parker losing control of "The Wine Advocate" or Broadbent mistakenly throwing away his exercise books with the weekly rubbish.

How many hours of work have been flushed down the drain? It takes numerous, increasingly frantic calls to their admittedly excellent customer service to get the site back up on a new IP address, countless hours working through the night to rectify glitches with the images. Thank God I had it backed up on the laptop, otherwise you would not be reading about my travails. So, word of warning to all Pipex users: if you upgrade your hosting package, make sure you back up your website and traffic statistics, unless you want to risk seeing it go up in smoke.

Thursday 29th December

Wine-journal.com still in limbo. Denis Durantou faxes me a copy of the "Access Denied" and is refusing to make any more Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet unless the website is reinstated. HRH Jancis says it has ruined her Christmas and outside my house, legions of traumatised readers threaten to top themselves. The Nikkei, Dow Jones and FTSE have all stopped trading and that the interweb itself is teetering on the brink of harikiri. Spend the evening considering alternative vocations and composing a poem along similar lines to W.H. Auden., for nothing now can ever come to any good.

Friday 30th December

Still no website. Spend much of the day making increasingly anxious phone calls to Pipex customer service (I must reiterate, the people I spoke to were very helpful and admitted themselves that they should warn users about the small matter of wiping your website from the server when you change package.) I return home in the evening, drive round to the fish & chip shop ("Ace Plaice" in West Norwood, the best fish & chips in London) during which I receive a text from mum.

"Website up" it reads and a tidal wave of relief sweeps across me. Now I know how Mary Magdelaine felt when she witnessed Jesus exit the tomb. I just hope there is no Ascension Day.
When I return home the website has returned to its regular cyberspace orbit, Denis returns to the chai, HRH Jancis recommences her Festive celebrations, the disenchanted crowds outside my flat disperse and the stock market resumes.
But for the record, I have still lost all my traffic stats from last year.

New Years Eve 31st December

Another year over, one that has been eventful to say the least. Naturally it was dominated by that ray of light in the form of Lily Miyu Martin, but there was also the nuptials in June, falling in love with Tuscany, my morning Auslese chez Broadbent to name but few. We chill out during the day, take Lily for her last walk of the year during which Tomoko makes her final clothes purchase of 2005 at "Phase 8", a small boutique where the assistants barely register your presence and simply continue looking vacant (but not pretty.)

We see in 2006 with a low-key evening, commencing with a slap-up dinner at "Indigo", our local ultraviolet lit restaurant that serves some of the finest Indian cuisine I have ever tasted. Lily is strapped into her high-chair and immediately captivates the waiters who one by one, troupe up to our table and inquire how old she is. Alas she is too young to enjoy the delights of vegetable samosas and a spicy potato biryani, but she seems content to gnaw on a plain brioche.

We settle in at home for the night. I make the most of a wife, a bottle of Jacquesson 1995 and a baby who has a sleeping pattern that would turn most parents green with envy. We see in the New Year flicking between Jools Holland's Hootenanny (great music, embarrassingly turgid interviews) and the live celebrations taking place along the River Thames (eye-popping pyrotechnics spoiled by asinine commentary along the lines of "Oh, there's a pretty red one" and "Look, there's a purple one", interspersed by 6th form cod-philosophical musings upon the passing of Old Father time.

It is always a strange feeling, passing from one year to another. Did you make the most of the last 12 months? What will the next dozen hold in store? There is the feeling that you can never go back, the previous year a closed matter and whatever you regret is pointless to rue over, since there is nothing you can do.
File it away; move on.
Tomoko retires to bed; I stay up and watch Marc Almond sing the epic "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" whilst finishing the warm dregs of the Jacquesson. I check in on Lily before going to bed myself. Her wisps of strawberry hair poke out from under a Winnie the Pooh duvet; she lies belly down, eyes welded shut, comfort blanket wedged in mouth, as serene a sight as you could ever imagine.
Happy New Year Lily.