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Where I Was Then

June 4th 2003

Home was a ground floor hovel in downtown West Norwood. Major tourist attraction? B&Q. The flat was not big enough to accommodate a cat, let alone swing one. I was not materialistic back then. Enjoying my profession was more important than wealth and my desultory third world salary at the London office of a Japanese importer was compensated by regular access to First Growths and the lesser-spotted DRC. My job had introduced me to people that were not mad to work in the wine trade...but it helped. That included my recently acquired significant other, who like myself spent the day shovelling Claret to the then burgeoning market of Japan. However, in recent months there had been the creeping realisation that my cosy position was in reality a cul-de-sac leading to the bungalow of boredom. I had to consider new avenues and confront one of life's imponderables...
What the hell was I going to do with it?

The Internet intrigued me. More than stalking ex-girlfriends on "friendsreunited.com" to see whether they had recovered from the trauma of splitting up twenty years ago, I was fascinated by the opportunities it presented. Like many, I could see the tectonic plates of communication shifting. The gatekeepers of information were having their keys pickpocketed. Having authored a couple of articles for Tom Cannavan's website (Wine-Pages) and rediscovered the pleasure of stringing a few words together, I considered offering my untested penmanship for the handful of wine-related fledgling sites such as Chris Kissack's and Jamie Goode's.

Then I hit upon the outlandish notion of doing it myself.

What could stop me? Maybe the ineluctable fact that I possessed the computer literacy of a goldfish. One that had flunked out of its computing GCSE course at Goldfish College. The last programming I had attempted was on the mighty ZX Spectrum and that was an epic fail. Still, now aged 31 and having memorised a couple of lines of HTML (which I had assumed was something you popped to keep you dancing all night) I was amazed to find that Tim Berners-Lee had invented a computer language designed for simpletons. And it did keep you up all night, as you desperately scanned reams of hieroglyphic code to find an errant full stop. So began hours of laboriously constructing a rudimentary, amateur website to house my growing library of tasting notes.
I could not give you a reason why I was motivated.
I thought I might be a decent taster but no professional. I harboured no pretentions as a professional writer having studied English up to legal requirement and no further. I racked my brain searching a catchy name for my new venture. To my surprise nobody had snatched wine-journal.com. I made the crucial call and the hosting company informed me that my site could go live on 4 June. Countdown was commencing.

What did I do that day?

Vague recollections of nine to five office servitude/Microsoft solitaire; delayed and over-crowded cattle train back from Victoria Station and then, in the squalid spare room painted gaudy yellow and housing the A-H section of my vinyl 12-inches, I set about uploading the first pages onto my Dell computer.


Wine-Journal was born.

The umbilical was cut, bottom smacked and website handed to beaming, if rather exhausted father.

I never kept any images of the original design of Wine-Journal and before you try, Internet archive machines complied and wiped the original. I remember that it looked bloody awful with its puked-up beige background and garish typeface. I recollect some kind of manifesto written from the top of my head, also a horrible snapshot of the man responsible and most importantly, over 2,000 tasting notes accumulated over the last three or four years. This primordial website reflected the extent of my technical prowess, though what I assumed was its weakness ultimately turned out to be its strength. Unbeknownst to me, Google's algorithms were turned on by its primitiveness. It did not care about a misplaced apostrophe or the odd spelling error, turned a blind eye to tautologies. It loved big squelchy content.

How many people logged on to Wine-Journal ten years ago?
My analytics recorded two visits. They were both mine.
That evening, my girlfriend rustled up some pasta and we probably popped a bottle of Jacob's Creek before vegging out to Big Brother. I phoned mum. I asked her to type the URL and view my new baby. Alas, she had not mastered the art of switching on a computer without the aid of her technical support team i.e. one of my brothers.

Even so, inside I was welling with pride. Back in those days you had put in the effort and come up with your own master plan: build, design and program websites yourself. This created a do-it-yourself ethos, a vast "slum" of amateur sites like mine surrounding professional ones. Remember that back in 2003 there was no Facebook or Twitter. Even MySpace was two months away. I can recall just half-a-dozen wine-related websites in the UK with barely few more in the United States. Perhaps through rose-tinted spectacles I feel sentimental about a time when amateurism was often compensated by passion and content. You could argue that today the opposite is becoming true: the virtual world clogged up by sleek, polished, indentikit websites bereft of content, personality and intrigue. No doubt the same thing will be said in ten years time.

I went to bed thinking that if this was the furthest it would ever go, then I would still have the satisfaction of building my own website from scratch, an unthinkable feat just a few months earlier. I fell asleep with that question ricocheting around my mind.

What am I going to do with my life?