Book One: Chapter 41
Monday 27th February
A disturbing trend has been for winemakers to confess that they are learning English from wine-journal.com. Today, the third person nonchalantly mentions that Keats and Yeats have been foresaken for Neal Martin and his bastardized form of English that seeks to bend and break grammatical rules; English that has not looked up the definition of the word "spelling" in the dictionary, because it does not know how to spel it. Could that not learn from our oeno-laureate, Andrew Jefford? Next time you guffaw at the mistranslated prose on a chateau's website: blame me, not them.
Tuesday 28th February
Vertical "Monfortino" tasting courtesy of Linden Wilkie, a dozen vintages back to 1952. After the tasting, I join several fellow tasters including wine-journal designer Joel Hopwood and Charles Morgan for some post-Monfortino chicken at "Rotisserie Jules". They employ young, tactile female staff who put their arm round you whilst you order the mandatory chicken and delicious it is too. We drink a couple of Zind-Humbrecht's wines and a pair of Rhones. I manage to remain the right side of sobriety though a couple of my colleagues fall under Bacchus' charms and stagger out of the restaurant in a perfect zig-zag. I catch the last train home and as expected, Tomoko has prepared a makeshift bed for me on the sofa.
Wednesday 1st March
My dad will turn the big "Six Oh" this weekend. A pensioner. 'Tis true, I have relatively youthful parents who I cannot envisage turning into pensioners, I am so accustomed to them just being middle-aged. It must be having a cherubic eldest son that has kept them in such fine fettle.
Anyhow, to celebrate my father's birthday I have booked a table at "Pied-a-Terre", which had the misfortune of burning down last year. Never a good thing to happen to a restaurant. Rising from the ashes, it already has two twinkling Michelin stars, with speculation rife of a third. But that means little to my dad to whom a spade is just a spade, a restaurant just a restaurant.
Mum has been instructed to arrange his attire, just in case in deigns the restaurant with his presence dressed like a tramp on a bad hair day. I meet him at the entrance of Virgin Megastore: cloth cap (BhS rather than St. James' Street), lurid aqua jumper circa 1987, cheap pair of Clarks. Not a disaster since no-one has offered him some spare change whilst he was waiting, though it might have been different if he had squatted down on the pavement.
The last time I was chez Pied-a-Terre was around 1997 courtesy of a wine merchant: perhaps the first posh eaterie I had ever been to. I remember drinking some Henri Gouges, the rest is an inebrious blur. The restaurant is cosy, some might say claustrophobic, but the food is A1, perhaps even better than "The Square" and with a two-course lunch at just twenty-five quid it is an absolute bargain, perhaps even better value than the present £1.99 triple BK burger deal. I eat a scumptious dish of lamb tongues and succulent duck, all washed down with a divine bottle of Mouton-Rothschild 1983 (my favourite 80's Mouton to drink at the moment.)
My dad is a few sheets to the wind by the time we depart. That is his fault for ordering a gin and tonic aperitif.
I chat with either the maitre d' or chef Shane Osbourne in the cramped reception whilst dad spills a fistful of
coppers all over the floor. Whilst I praise the fine cuisine of his establishment, dad is bending down trying to
pick up the diaspora of one and two pence pieces.
His double-vision cannot help matters.
"It's his birthday," I explain in a vain effort to excuse the commotion around/below me.
I leave my dad in the thronging crowds around Tottenham Court Station, concerned as to whether his faculties will
enable him to return home on the train to Southend. He threatens to meet an old mate in the City, I wish him luck,
this could be the last I ever see of him, staggering into the gaping mouth of the tube station.
I phone home later to check whether he made it home and I am informed that he collapsed straight into bed.
Excellent, job done, he enjoyed it.
Thursday 2nd March
Somebody tell me why Cristal 1990 avoids me? First bottle at Mirabelle I recall being corked (cue expression of abject disappointment), the second was a methusalah served at Tom Stevenson's launch of his "Wine Report 2006", which I had to miss for some reason. This time I notice it being served at a Maison, Marques & Domaine tasting, hurry to the Louis Roederer stand, only to be informed that the Cristal 1990 ran out 180 seconds ago. Message to anyone holding tastings that include this champagne: wait until I arrive.
In the evening I make a special effort to watch "Poor Little Rich Girls", which really is scraping the bottom of the reality TV barrel. But this particular episode focuses upon my erstwhile next-door-neighbour, one DJ Sassy. I could never comprehend exactly why a patently loaded, nubile young model with purported DJ-superstar boyfriend chose to live in a two-bed flat in Crystal Palace alongside an alleged IRA-informant, an-Indian family whose abode was permanently shrouded by a fug of delicious biryani, a temperamental gay couple in permanent flounce and a irascible pensioner called Derek.
Her spanking new Mazda MX-5 used to be parked amongst the second hand Mini-Metros and you could tell she was coming home by the distant racket of drum and bass that crescendo'd over Crystal Palace hill.
I spoke to her on a dozen occassions of which half were along the lines of "It's two in the morning, please refrain from practicing your turntable technique at this ungodly hour" (add expletives at will.) Of course, my polite request would be met with a look of incredulity, as if I had asked Hendrix to stop tuning his guitar or perhaps more appropriately The Sugarhill Gang to stop rhyming circa 1979. But hey, if you are keeping it real in Upper Norwood rather than Notting Hill, you have to accept complaints from the plebian neighbours.
Had DJ Sassy changed in the intervening years?
Not really, still solipsistic as ever and obviously reckoning on celebrity Z-list status once the world had recognized her talents in this abominable program. The "Poor Girl" with whom she exchanged lives with was far more attractive both inside and out and every cringeworthy frame of DJ Sassy was spent her trying to build a persona from thin air. Thank God that 50-something, singleton Joyce, my current upstairs neighbour, is yet to discover the joys of spinning on the wheels of steel.
Friday 3rd March
I am unfamiliar how your doctors' surgery works, here is mine.
First and foremost, it is impossible to make an appointment by telephone that remains constantly engaged until ten in the morning, by which time all the available spaces have been allocated to assorted members of the South Lambeth Association of Hypochondriacs. The only way of getting an appointment is to actually drive to the surgery at 8.15am, queue alongside other patients freezing in the cold, schedule a time with the receptionist, go home and then drive back later in the day. This country is going to the dogs, I tell you.
Saturday 4th March
The Martin clan usually only convene at Yuletide, but my father's 60th merits not only a summit of parents and all four sons, of which I am the eldest and fairest (I can say these thing because its my website), but of assorted accoutrements: partners, girlfriends, wives and solitary grandchild. We could have spent a weekend at a salubrious hotel, perhaps in the south of France, but no, mum has booked an 8-storey converted water-tower in the wilderness of the east Suffolk coast, a local phallic feature on the landscape known as "The House In the Clouds".
Actually, the choice is quite inspired, the vertiginous interior is well-furnished, with a marvellous top-storey mezzanine games room, replete with table-tennis and full-size snooker table (Christ knows how they got that up there.) I teach Tomoko a bit of snooker and as expected she cannot hit the white ball, let alone the colours. That's what comes from not spending enough time in pubs.
We arrive around midday, unpack, dump Lily with mum who then feeds Lily to the baby-eating swans who encircle the pram and make provocative gestures. We drive down to Aldeburgh on the exposed desolate coast, a pretty village whose soul has been chilled by the North Sea breeze; its inhabitants unable to disguise their crotchedy nature, save for the guy manning the wine shop. The quaint village cottages remind me of Lily's favourite program Balamory with its brightly coloured facades and doorways built for dwarves. I refrain from knocking on a door and ask the inhabitants "What's the story?" (those without infants will not know what on Earth I am talking about.) We then drive to Sizewell nuclear power station that ominously overlooks stares out at the rolling sea that I swam in many years ago, marvelling at its Mediterranean warmth. The fluorescent Ready-Brek glow only disappeared after a week or so.
In the evening, my brother Simon barricades himself in the kitchen to prepare what turns out to be a gammon joint cooked in cider, worthy of Escoffier himself. Meanwhile I open a splendid magnum of Hubert de Montille's, Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens 1985 to toast my father's impending birthday. John (youngest brother; petulant with girly long hair) fills his glass to the brim as evidenced by the photo left. Wine connoisseurs? I don't think so.
In fact, I have brought a second bottle worthy of such an important celebration: Chateau Margaux 1986, however my family flock upstairs to watch the semi-final of the execrable TV crapness that is "Just The Two Of Us", whose highlight features Curtis Stigers and operatic dilettante Russell Watson, ruining "Unchained Melody". Despite my protests, my family refuse to turn off the blaring TV and so I decide that this is not the appropriate circumstance to crack open a £300.00 bottle of wine, especially now that they are flicking channels to view "Dancing On Ice".
I flake out at eleven. All that fresh air has made me sleepy.
Sunday 5th March
When we ordered Lily Miyu Martin, we specifically upgraded to a model that would slumber peacefully through the night; one of our better decisions, one that has saved us a lot of shut eye. Lily has remained somnolent in her makeshift cot, wakes promptly at 06.30 as usual. I traipse down three hundred flights of steps and place my order for mum's comprehensive fried breakfast, dad wanders down as the most recent member of the pensioner club, John saunters in like Wurzel Gummidge after a heavy night.
Together we troupe back down to Aldeburgh for some tea, as expected served by a woman who permanently gets out of the wrong side of bed each day. Tomoko and I have one last ice-cream, then we drive home after what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Its just a shame I have to return to the stress of moving house (full report after, or if ever we move.)
In the evening, Tomoko and I marvel at the new Sir David Attenborough series Planet Earth, which should be made compulsory viewing. I still have to avert my eyes whenever one of God's creatures becomes an amouse bouche for a peckish carnivore. Still, the sight of that orca lunching on a seal is something that never happened on Chalkwell beach in Leigh-on-Sea. We had to make do with the odd muddy crab nipping your toe before scuttling off into the turbid seawater.
Tuesday 7th March
An evening spent tasting a dozen vintages of La Mission Haut-Brion including the 1989, 1975 and 1945. Not a bad way to spend an night. Afterwards a small group of us walk back to Dominic's palatial apartment/museum of modern art, order in a dozen pizzas which are washed down with La Mission Haut-Brion 1981 and some Rhones. It looks as if they are preparing for a long inebrious night when I depart around ten.
Wednesday 8th March
Spanish tasting at the Old Billingsgate market. I know that winewriters are supposed to be interested in all viticultural regions, but I have never really got under the skin of Spanish wine. This tasting does little to alleviate my apathy, terribly organized with stands seemingly randomly spread around the hall. An interesting Spanish New Wave showcase catches my eye and I head there, meet Alex Hunt who is busy writing philosophical articles for "The World of Fine Wine", which is currently only available to members of Mensa. I sample a dozen rather moribund Rioja's and then coerce him to take lunch with me. The event is redeemed by splendid Catalan cuisine, which Alex and I load up on twice. Who said there is no such thing as a free lunch?
I have a laugh at the deplorable relaunched "Wine & Spirit" magazine, before deciding that I really should leave and finish off some work back at HQ. I think I need to visit a few Bodegas to inspire my interest in Spanish wine.
In the evening "The Apprentice", which has become mandatory viewing in the Martin household. I have decided that I want Alan Sugar's wealth, but not his personality, nor fuzzy wig.
Thursday 9th March
Upon my wife's insistence, I have started using cosmetics, namely L'Oreal's "Eye Revitalizer" cream for Men at about a tenner drop. All this stress of the house non-move, working tirelessly on the site and looking after a sprouting daughter has given me a complexion similar to Gareth from "The Office". I was sceptical about such products, but you know, I do believe that it is starting to have a positive effect. Next: liposuction and a tummy tuck.
Friday 10th March
To my surprise, I see "Country Illustrated" in WH Smith as I am trekking home to base camp in West Norwood (it's the magazine with a pair of frollicking rabbits on the cover.) I had a meeting with the editor just the other day to discuss future articles, what the countryfolk of this fair isle would be interested in reading. Our conversation takes an unexpected tangent when I mention squirrels and before I know it, the editor is neck deep in passionate discourse about the plight of the red squirrel in the hands of the ubiquitous and lets face it, downright common, grey variety, the "hoodie" of the squirrel world. She favours a mass cull to save the endangered red and I make a mental note to target the grey squirrel who greets me at West Norwood cemetary every morning.
Saturday 11th March
Has someone pressed the fast-forward button on Lily's evolution? One facet of babyhood that has taken me by surprise is its brevity. Blink too long and your helpless bundle of joy has morphed into a little girl, replete with all the mannerisms of an adult. Two weeks ago I would plop her onto the changing mat to prepare her for her bath; she would lie there like an upturned beetle peddling her legs. Now I have to chase her around the bedroom trying to disrobe one item of clothing, before she wriggles out of my grasp like an eel and sets off on another adventure.
In Suffolk she would take a couple of wobbly steps before collapsing into a heap of baby. But practically overnight she has found confidence within and now takes one euphoric step after another from one side of the room to the opposite, u pon which she gives herself a little hand-clap of achievement. Of course, this means we have to be more vigilant than ever. Already she has managed to headbutt a cactus (the cactus won) and seems hellbent on trapping her fingers within the defunct Alba video-recorder that may still have a 70's blue movie tangled inside. When I sell it for 13p on eBay, I will let it be a nice surprise for the buyer. Or maybe not.
Sunday 12th March
Drive down to Middle Farm in East Sussex for Lily to mix with farm animals. She chases after the chicken as if bird flu does not exist and takes delight watching the newly born foal whose walking skills mirror her own. Favourite though are the snorting piglets revelling in their sty. I am tempted to let Lily walk in, but a member of the RSPCC might be present. A fun day is had by all.
Monday 13th March
If you would like an inkling exactly why my house move is so traumatic, click here. Yes, one of those was my estate agent and their unscrupulous practice did happen to me. Fortunately, my present estate agents are much more professional and I cannot wait to reveal all, when if ever we move.