EAT - DRINK - BE MERRY
Having grown increasingly frustrated with The Spectator's Low Life column in recent years I have decided to make my own version which I am calling Lower Life. I've loved that column since the days of Jeffrey Bernard, it was a place where one could be led astray in a well crafted, literary, sporty, boozy way. A place that showed a little love for the darker, grimier elements of life. A place that had a little dirt under the carpet. This is in no way a criticism of the quality of the writing currently in Low Life more to do with the rather pedestrian, sober and domestic content.
I will file 800 words here every Friday. These words will take you into the pubs you're not brave enough to enter, you will meet folk here that you'd probably rather not run into in your daily life and you'll hear stories right here that will make your toes curl.
Hopefully one day the powers that be at The Spectator will read this and think 'he's the bloke for us...'
And all of a sudden, itís Autumn. Didnít see that coming. Same every year, what happened to all the heat and light? Iím only just coming around to autumn. Iíve disliked it for most of my life as itís the start of school which is the start of the anxiety from my childhood. Anxiety began for me in 1973 between the Beatles split and the Pistolís last LP. Itís not a good season, the beginning of darkness and all that, you can keep your vibrant leaves, your mists, your mellow fruitfulness, no, spring for me please.
Well, as I say, Iím now coming around to autumn. Iím in a better place so have time to enjoy the ripe, red apples picked from my own tree and eaten in the garden in my slippers. The fall now seems a better furnished place than it was when I was young, it now seems warmer and less dreary, thereís international rugby and the foodís better.
It got so bad a few years back that I would get anxious in mid-summer just at the thought of the swifts leaving. I had to measure out the time in order to cope. The swifts went, the schools go back, half term, the clocks change, and the days get shorter. I needed to be able to get to Halloweíen, then Bonfire Night, the aim being December 21 and the tilting of the world back toward the light. If I could get to the beginning of December I was ok, because December meant Christmas and I could legitimately have a drink every day, and I thought this helped.
Autumn wine tasting season helps enormously. Iíve been into town on and off pretty much every week recently, itís a lot harder work than it sounds. I did three this week, Morrisons, M&S and the Co-op, I also got tied into beer and rum tastings in the evenings too. My palate is now buggered and this all came on the back of the Ryder Cup weekend so itís all been quite hectic.
The Ryder Cup is a time where I and two very good friends meet up every two years to drink, bet and watch golf in the confines of a darkened room in Milton Keynes - and what a success we had in the betting. All very profitable and on the Friday night we went off to the casino in Northampton like dogs with two dicks - and then we cleaned up there too. The problem with the Ryder Cup in Europe is the early start, when it's in the US we can stay up late with a much later first tee time. So we were good boys and in bed before 2am with a first tee time of 7.10am. Saturday went with a few wins on the golf, some decent action with the horses in the placepots and then off home for an 11am start on Sunday. All was well until Diddy's daughter called us as we were preparing the veg for our roast dinner, to say he'd fallen off his bike and was on his way to hospital. Now he's always been a colossal wanker, so if there was to be a weakness in his armour it would be his wrist. He broke it in several places, and underwent a two and a half hour surgery so missed all of Sunday's action, the lifting of the trophy and all.
This is all catching up with me now, not as young as I used to be.
Iíll miss tasting season when it ends, I just wish I had the self-discipline to have a cup of tea on the train home, rather than a pint or two in the Head of Steam and then a bottle of Staropramen on the train. And then a bottle of wine when I get home and a hangover in the morning. In fact the hangover, as it is, is much more a mental than a physical reaction, a gut wrenching feeling of illness of ease. But there will be more booze tomorrow and this helps kick it down the road.
In the last couple of years Iíve had November off the sauce. I generally have way too much in October and December is Christmas boozing so November becomes NO-vember. Again, itís all about self-discipline which is not my strong suit. But weíre back to the Autumn and winter darkness and my head, so itís really got to happen to see me through to the solstice and the lengthening of the days. The light and shade of the year are so closely associated with the light and shade of my mental health, which in turn is cast into horrifying relief by excessive drinking.
There is one thing I absolutely love about winter drinking though. Itís when you go into a pub and itís daylight and when you leave itís dark - I find this wonderful, like worlds have changed and events taken over while I wasnít looking. Itís like waking from a coma after many years and re-discovering the world again.
So note to self - steady as she goes as we glide into the darker times or they will become, as I know to my cost, really dark. I shall endeavour to practice restraint, get some exercise done and try to see the autumn in all its glorious colour and thank my maker that as I lift the glass to my lips I've not got a broken wrist.
So itís yet another week of alcohol stories. In the past month weíve had Ďconsumption of any alcohol is dangerousí, this weekís message is that middle aged folk, and I suppose at 48 that means me, should have a couple of days a week with no booze. This to me seems perfectly reasonable advice and not a sign that the nanny state is taking over. The hoo-har around this story is that the advice comes from Public Health England in a joint problem with Drink Aware, and hereís the rub, Drink Aware are funded by the drinks industry.
So there we have it, good health advice is bad because of the people who fund it. Those Drink Aware bastards, itís in their interest to keep their customers alive, how dare they give out good advice? Did anyone have a go at the bookies for saying ĎWhen the fun stops - stopí? As it happens, I am an inveterate gambler and consequently skint all the time, I am waiting for the fun to start! (We all know the fun starts later this month when the jumps season starts in earnest).
Also recently we had Adrian Chilesí latest Ďdocumentaryí, in his previous one he was having some issues with God and whether his imaginary friend wanted him for a sunbeam. Now it appears he thinks he's drinking too much. I have news for you Adrian, weíre all drinking too much. The good news is that there's quite a simple solution, drink less. Much more complex if you have addiction issues Iíll grant you, but for a bright person in control of your faculties, you can make the assessment and drink less or not at all if thatís the way you want to go.
And what is too much anyway? In the last year Public Health England made it more than fourteen units a week, irrespective if youíre a man or woman, it used to be fourteen for a woman and twenty-one for a man. By doing this, at a stroke, a huge number of men in the safe zone became unhealthy or problem drinkers. These are men drinking fifteen to twenty-one units, thatís eight pints a, one a day and two on Saturday or say a bottle and a half of wine per week, clearly not an unhealthy amount.
Thereís also something very curious, dare I say suspicious about the measurements. By every scale as a nation we are drinking less than we used to. Young folk show the biggest drop, but older drinkers too are much more careful than previous generations. And yet, we are told, the damage caused by drinking increases year on year. This simply does not add up unless in this declining drinking population there is a growing number of extremely destructive drinkers or maybe the older drinkersí lives are simply catching up with them - or, as I suspect, the collection of data on drink damage is Ďback of an envelopeí at best. Iím not denying that drink causes damage, clearly for some it does but arbitrary limits and sketchy stats are not helping the cause of public health.
I drank too much this week, on Wednesday I was at a tasting of Spanish cider, or sidre from Asturia if you will. Basically one glass was too much of this stuff, it was pretty appalling across the board. One or two were vaguely palatable but on the whole they were over dry, acidic and some very dirty tasting. Having travelled through Asturia I've tasted sidre out there and it was pretty good, they do this odd pouring thing into a tilted glass held as low as possible from the bottle held as high as possible. All good fun but a bit of a barrier to having a session. Trouble is it doesnít travel well and theyíve tried to go all posh by using Champagne bottles which just sets it up to fail.
Sadly, it sounds like sales of cider, Asturian or otherwise are on the wane in the UK, pity, I think of it as the original British drink and thereís some really great stuff out there, so I think our Spanish friends, not only are they producing some really poor stuff, they are also late to the party. Drinking sidre would certainly make me want to have a number of alcohol free days a week.
LOWER LIFE 13
Iíve gone from some kind of bloody virus thing that absolutely knocked me sideways to an excruciating bad back. Back pain is a right bastard, it infects every movement, even breathingís tough. It also seems to have thrown my right knee out which is doubly inconvenient as Wine Tasting Season started in earnest this week.
Wine tasting, as a profession is a lot harder than it sounds. It takes a lot of practice to get as good as me and it takes some skill to taste, evaluate and write legible notes on over a hundred wines in a session. A tasting day for me usually begins in the Wetherspoons a five minute walk from Milton Keynes Station. I will have a Diet Pepsi as I wait for the off-peak tickets to start. Some of my wine tasting colleagues, the glugerati, start the day with a coffee but I always find the flavour too strong when my palate has to be on top form.
I take the 10 oíclock train and am in Euston by 10.30. Itís then off to some room somewhere in the capital to sample the finest wines the British supermarkets have to offer. I only go to the supermarket tastings, the multiple retailers as they are know, this is in the main because over 85% of the wine sold in the UK is sold by them, so really why would I concentrate on anything else?
Now there is some debate among the boozeiscienti as to the correct way to approach a sizeable tasting. Some preferring to start with the reds and then do the whites, others vice versa and, despite them always being put out to taste first, none of us start with the fizz. I prefer to start with the reds but if itís a crowded room I tend to look for wherever thereís a gap in the crowd, and begin there.
Itís always the usual crowd, a larger than normal amount of red trousers, the odd cravat, very posh women with oversized handbags, a few young pups. I like the company of Brian from The Scotsman and Simon of Woods on Wine, we pass the time amiably enough. Often these dos are run by PR agencies, lots of very posh pretty young things, many of whom donít seem to realise that any perfume at all, ANY, is too much and it buggers up all our noses. I donít know if youíve ever been buggered up the nose, itís not nice let me tell you.
On a big tasting itís easy to get into a rhythm. Pour, sniff, sip, slurp, spit, think, write. A lot of rocking back and forth. Thereís usually a lunch, these vary from, Ďcanít be botheredí, through Ďinappropriate buffetí, right up the scale to ĎWaitroseí a full on three course with wine and cheese. The lunch at this weekís tasting was very much Ďcanít be botheredí.
This carries on until the middle of October while all the supermarkets get their Christmas stuff out. They know that, particularly with wine, if they have a bad Christmas they will have a bad year, so they have to get it right. Not all of them do and in fact many of the bigger retailers fail spectacularly, usually to do with lazy buying, lazy event management and lazy marketing. Then the season kicks off all over again in March at the start of my hayfever - itís never easy.
So what are the trends this winter? Pinot gris seems to be the thing, people are realising that itís just a different name for the over popular pinot grigio but when itís called gris itís usually got a bit more body, character and well, quality. Thereís also a lot of gruner veltliner about but I find it quite dull. Fizz is all the rage still. Lots of cheap, thin prosecco, there is some good stuff about (see my website) but as with anything that gets ragingly popular thereís over-production and naturally the quality sinks. Cava is making a comeback, it also suffered from over-production but itís scaled back and now the quality is returning. Thereís a lot of fairly decent Portuguese red knocking about, Chile is always well priced, thereís some dire Argentinian Malbec and if itís quality that youíre after I highly recommend higher level Aussies, both reds and whites aim for over twenty quid.
I will plough through the rest of the season and hope this back thing eases, itíll probably get much worse as I do tend to gain a few pounds in this lark. Might be back to the gym next week and then Iíll really have something to moan about.
LOWER LIFE 12
Itís no fun being poorly is it? I say poorly, Iím not ill, not like some of you poor bastards out there, people with real illnesses, ailments and hardships, Iím definitely only poorly. I think Iíve got some kind of virus. Iím all lethargic, my legs are like lead, breathing is troublesome. Itís a bit like having a cold but without the snot.
This certainly isnít cause for an appointment at the doctors. Not that you could get one for the next four weeks anyhow. My doctors is a fearsome place. The medical staff, when you can get to see one, all seem perfectly capable, itís the admin staff there that frighten me. Surely they must know that when a person is staring at them over the reception desk that they are either ill or there on behalf of someone whoís ill. Therefore we may not be as sharp as we usually are, we might be distracted or in pain and that possibly a modicum of empathy, dare I say kindness, might be in order. Every time I go in there I get shouted at.
A couple of occasions back I went in to see the doc about my back, I had an appointment and went into the reception remembering that I must check in on the machine behind the door - however the machine was not working so I went to the desk. ĎWhat do you want?í, ĎI want to check in for my appointmentí, ĎYou need to use the machine behind the doorí, ĎI tried, but the machine isnít workingí. Pause, looking me straight in the eye, ĎName?í.
Last time around, I went in for a blood test. Hooray, the machine WAS working so I checked in and sat down to wait. I was the only person in the waiting room and then there was a aggressive shout from behind the reception desk. ĎWhat are you doing there, do you have an appointment?í, ĎYes, itís at 8.30, Iíve come for a blood testí, ĎWell you shouldnít be sitting there,í she barked, Ďyou need to be across the car park in the health centre!í
I skulked off for my blood test, only to be called by the dreadful receptionist a week later that I needed to come in for another one as my sample hadnít been labelled properly, but she said it in such a way as to imply that this was my fault. Perhaps this is a ploy simply to put us all off coming in the first place.
So, no, I will not be going to the doctors unless this becomes completely unbearable. In honesty, itís getting a bit better, well itís Friday after all, Iíve not had a drink since last Saturday and I have a rather good bottle of fino chilling in the fridge. Iím on a not drinking in the week health kick which means that I am compelled to go on a massive binge at the weekend. Since Iíve been ill Iíve not really missed it but as I say, itís now Friday. My sleep has certainly improved and my mental health is a little better, less negative reactions, more clarity, less anxiety, better mood in general - see, who needs a bloody doctor anyway? Also, Iím off out for dinner tomorrow night for my sisterís 50th and nephewís 18th, and I intend to celebrate, and I will go back to abstinence and being poorly again on Sunday.
On the plus side The Green Man has re-opened. Itís had a lick of paint and thereís a new couple behind the bar who seem friendly enough. Letís hope they can make a go of it. They come from the pub trade and seem to know what theyíre doing, not amateurs just having a bash. The one downside is the bloody TV is on all the time, slightly too loud, playing some kind of MTV. Not really the channel of the folk who drink in there, it would be more appropriate if it was the Shopping Channel, a bit more sedate and less intrusive. I got speaking to a bloke in there when it re-opened and now Iíve been roped into umpiring for the village cricket team. Might give the rest of the season a miss and get involved next year.
I did tell him that since qualifying as a Level 1 Umpire a few years back I have never umpired a match, I am all theory and no practice - but it didnít appear to put him off. The impression I was getting is that theyíd be grateful for any sentient warm body to fill their white coat. Well, illness aside, I am confident I can stick my finger up with the best of them, white coat or not. Roll on next season.
LOWER LIFE 11
Bloody terrible week. The Green Man has closed. Tara and Donna have clearly had enough. Iím not sure of the reasons why theyíve moved on but usually itís down to rent. The problem with pub companies (big and small) is that theyíre really not pub companies, theyíre property companies. I appreciate that theyíve got to make their investments pay but thereís always something very short-termish about the way in which they do their business.
Pubs, particularly those with enthusiastic, experienced and knowledgeable staff can do really well. They should be little gold mines. But as with most things, itís the economy stupid! The owners of these wonderful buildings, rather than nurture the businesses that sit in them seem intent on bleeding them. Not in a symbiotic relationship where both benefit, but in one where the owner actively wants to screw the tenant to the point of destruction. And they rarely care for the tenant or the public who use the public house. Their main concern is their asset and even if it stands empty it is always accruing market value.
So you see these brilliant pubs, run by wonderful entrepreneurial people, opening, running and closing as a matter of course, usually on a two year cycle. Sometimes they close for good and the owner of the building will get a decent return by selling off the building, car park and beer garden for housing. More often than not another bright spark will come along and sink his redundancy money into a business doomed to failure.
Running a boozer is not a s easy as you think. First off, the new publican should attempt to remain as sober as possible for as long as possible. Itís not like being a writer where frankly you can be drunk all the time. You need your wits about you. Second, being a publican is a lifestyle and not something you can pick up and have a play with for a couple of days a week. Running a pub is NOT a viable option for an easy retirement. This is a seven day a week operation. Look at Wetherspoonís opening hours, very often 8am to midnight every singe day of the week. I promise you will not be able to compete with that.
In addition, you often get folk who want to run pubs who have no idea that the industry is the HOSPITALITY BUSINESS. Hospitality is a real skill, particularly as you have to fake sincerity to every drunken pub bore who comes through the door. Making idiots feel at ease as you extract money from them is a tricky business. Social skills are a must here. As is a cursory knowledge of the drinks youíre selling. Does the average man in the street know how to change a barrel or how to keep real ale? Does he know the difference between syrah and shiraz? Does he know the key ingredient in cider? Will he be able to make a serviceable gin and tonic? Youíve got to know a lot of stuff and take real care when ordering stock and serving these drinks for your customers to be satisfied and keep coming back.
So itís the end of an era with Tara and Donna going, they moved into the Green Man the week I had the offer accepted on this house in this little village about three and a half years ago. In reality I should have checked out the pub before putting the offer in but there we go - Iíd have still signed up. They were very good at running the pub and really put the hours in. They worked on the food, pizza night, curry night, Sunday roasts and all. They made the most of the field out the back, camping, music, weddings and who can forget bonfire night? Thereís nothing like the sight of a man setting light to his own trousers. Itís sad to see them go.
The new chapter? Well according to Facebook it re-opens on Monday with Susan and Carl at the helm so all is not lost. I just hope they have the experience, resilience and energy to make a good go of it. Little villages need pubs and the next village along the pub there, well it used to be a pub, itís more of a restaurant now, itís far too close to Iain Duncan Smith for my liking. I like the intimacy and community of the Green Man, itís a functional pub, no olives thank you, itís workers and retirees, itís school committees and darts teams, itís ham, egg and chips and good beer.
I think Iíd better get down there a bit more often. Use it or lose
LOWER LIFE 10
Itís been a week of hits and misses. The problem, and I think itís a human one rather than one unique to me, is that the misses always seem to outweigh the hits.
On the plus side I had a piece published in the Sunday Telegraph on a lovely little pub in Edinburgh which has gone down tremendously well. Emails from afar, well as far as Edinburgh have tumbled into my inbox like very welcome rain on this very parched ground. I can say that thereís nothing quite as self-indulgently pleasing as having your name printed in the national press. Knowing that on that Sunday morning your name is in print in every newsagent in every city, town and village across the country. More strikingly for me the Telegraph is my Old Manís paper and I know heíll raise a smile when he sees my name there. On the downside, itís the bloody Sunday Telegraph and thereís no more a Bufton-Tufton, Golf Club, Outraged of Tunbridge Wells, Brexit loving rag out there. Weíre poles apart, politically, my Old Man and me. One nil to him.
On the down side there were a couple of things Iíve felt quite left out by. First is the judging of the World Beer Awards this week and what galls me is that I wasnít invited (again) to be a judge. I was on the original tasting panels for this award some years ago but Iíve not been invited since. I suppose I should stamp my little feet and send some emails but itíll all sound like so much sour beer. I think I may have blotted my copy-book with them by suggesting that I had never tasted a beer made by Brewdog that Iíd liked. Oh Man! Believe me this is heresy. Iím surprised I wasnít dragged out there and then and strung up.
But the thing about judging in drinks competitions (and I do a lot of that) is that just because you donít like the drink doesnít mean you canít assess it on its merits. I donít like the vast majority of the wine I judge but it doesnít mean I canít identify a good one. And I am not conceited enough to think that just because I donít like Brewdogís beers I am right and the rest of the drinking world is wrong - you donít go creating billion pound, multi-national breweries by accident.
The second omission this week was my name on the guest list at Lordís for the launch of Sir Ian Bothamís new range of wines. I got the bloody press release, oh yes, but not the bloody invite. Bastards. And me, as the biggest fan of Beefy and a writer on the more commercial wines out there, it was the perfect fit.
So in an effort to engender some good will with the all mighty Sir Ian I will review these wines without even tasting them, this is not in any way a piss take, these are my tasting notes for what Iíd expect from the wines listed on their press release. I am playing this with a straight bat.
∑Barossa 81 Series Shiraz. Deep and inky looking. Big forward black fruit. Aromas of cassis, blackcurrant, black currant leaf and vanilla. Full bodied, powerful alcohol (15%) concentrated damson and plum on the palate, cinnamon, coconut. Long hot finish.
∑Margaret River 76 Series Chardonnay. Toward golden in colour. Intense tropical fruit nose, mango, papaya, pineapple. Dry and refreshing but the acidity doesnít match the fullness of the fruit on the palate. Big on flavour, a touch unbalanced but very expressive. Creamy malolactic finish.
∑Coonawrara 80 Series Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoke and spice on the nose. Palate is all bramble and hedgerow. Supporting the big blackberry palate is a lovely black pepper note and some interesting and quite angular tannins. The tannic structure really supports the fruit giving a pleasing uncomplicated BBQ wine. Lovely spicy, wood-smoke finish.
This all might be complete bollocks of course. Youíll be able to find out in the Autumn when theyíre released, the press release didnít say whoíll be stocking them, but theyíll be priced around the £12 mark. To bolster this ĎSeriesí range there will be entry level wines under the Botham All Rounder banner (£8.99) and the Sir Ian Botham Collection, wines at £30 to sold by Berry Brothers and Rudd.
On the plus side the invitations have started to roll in for this autumnís wine tasting season, so I am loved in some quarters and will continue to provide first rate tasting notes on all of the main retailers drinks ranges on the excellent www.thedrinker.co.uk
Note to self, letís try to concentrate on the hits and take heart that the misses arenít all that bad and raise a glass of Shriaz or Punk IPA to shameless self promotion.
LOWER LIFE 9
ďAnother sunny day so letís go where weíre happy and Iíll meet you at the cemetery gatesÖĒ
Spent a day wandering around Highgate Cemetery, something that Iíve been meaning to do for many years and finally got around to. A very hot London day up on the hill but lovely to walk around in the shade among the stones and the dead. Highgateís big star is Karl Marx who has the biggest effigy in the yard and he sits like a grumpy Father Christmas in his own lefty corner accompanied by Paul Foot, Ralph Milliband and other shining lights of the global socialist movement, pleasingly theyíre all over-looked by Max Wall which seems to give the place a bit of levity.
Iím not sure what Max Wallís politics were, he was properly Ďout thereí as a performer, really one of a kind. And it was lovely to see monuments to George Elliot, Alan Sillitoe and Malcolm McLaren, all innovators and dissenters - a good gang to be among.
I got to think, do any other philosophers get the same reverence as Marx? Canít think of any, and I certainly canít think of similar folk from the right who get the same treatment. Is this a rather mawkish thing the left have? You can go to see the remains of Lenin and Mao but the shining stars of the right all seem to be invisible. Churchill, I suppose is the only palatable one from that side of the spectrum, and World War Two aside he didnít strike me as the most noble type. I canít see Jacob Rees Mogg or BJ getting the same accolades.
Maybe this isnít a left-right thing but more a British thing? Walking around any cemetery is a bit like being in the Victorian age, dark, gothic and brooding, it puts you in your place - which is ironic because if thereís one thing that unites us all itís the inevitable arrival of the Grim Reaper.
Iíve got this thing that the media keep pulling up at the moment about the football bringing all of us (the English) together. In the darkness and division of Brexit we have the shining light of English civility that is Gareth Southgate and with a collective low expectation he rather pleased us all and united the country. Utter bollocks. Yes, a good few million of us might have watched some matches on the telly and felt a part of the collective endeavor (Marx would have been proud) but as soon as the tournament is over and team came home weíre back to casual racism and the Ďyou canít park hereí mentality that runs through our blood.
It was the same with the Olympics in London, a party that wasnít for the majority of the country, it was certainly nice to be reminded of the miracle of the industrial revolution, the formation of the NHS and the fact we invented the internet and Mr Bean and for a second there we were really quite proud of our contribution. But only a few weeks later we were back to our old selves, turning refugees away and patting Nigel Farage on the back. Itís sort of what the nation is, nasty, inward looking and uncivil while all the time pretending that weíre open, welcoming and warm.
So where am I going with this? Itís all very well remembering the past, the achievements of the great and the good and even ourselves, but it gets us nowhere unless we keep on keeping on with it. Itís no good being a bastard all week and then going to Church on a Sunday to repent only to be a bastard again on Monday morning. Same as wearing a poppy every November, it's all well and good but if we keep sending more poor bastards off to kill other poor bastards what's the point?
Life, as I discovered in Highgate Cemetery can be cruelly short, lets try to do our best, follow the best and keep being better. Letís celebrate the great and keep putting up statues to them but only if that comes with the promise to emulate them in some way. Come on team, weíre a bit better than this.
So on reaching fifty your mind turns toward the last knockings of your life. Letís be honest thereís now more behind me than ahead of me, at a push Iíve got twenty-five good years left; tops. Recently I bought some razors, these are the disposable heads that clip onto the Gillette handle Iíve had since I was fifteen. Obviously Gillette donít make these heads anymore, whereís the profit in selling one decent thing for ever when you can change it every five years? But you can buy compatibles on Amazon so I looked it up and found I could buy one hundred of them in one go. Twenty quid. Bingo. Then I thought how many of these do I use a year? I surmised I get through about four. Iím buying one hundred, thatís twenty-five yearsí worth. I may have just bought my last ever razor.
What I have not yet turned to is the loafer. I mean I am a loafer, Iím fucking world class at that, no I mean the shoe. I was at a Cheltenham Festival (horses not books) preview event last night run by the wonderful folk at Betfair and at one point on the stage there were three men, not far off my age, all wearing loafers. Iím no fashionista, and indeed neither were the three men on stage, but this canít have been a coincidence can it? Iíve noticed lots of young men not wearing socks, even in the depths of winter, so is the loafer the next logical step?
Slip on shoes have never been a thing for me, Iíll go as far as a carpet slipper but anything without a lace is not for me. Slip on formal shoes like Taff used to wear to school, horrid insipid grey things, disgusting. Crocs? Wellies? For Godís sake, flip flops! No, no and no again!
The racing fraternity arenít renowned for their sartorial style. Itís like the wine tasting crowd I knock about with, far too many pairs of red trousers. No excuse for that, trousers maketh man my son, trousers maketh man. And gillets, they both wear gillets, Iím glad Iím typing that word, I couldnít bear to say it out loud. In fact what Iím getting at is the posh, itís posh folk who wear terrible clothes, they can afford to look ridiculous.
I saw a barman in a pub yesterday just off Euston Road, proper old school, he was wearing a smart shirt and a waistcoat and a pair of those metal elastic bands that keep your sleeves up. I didnít see his footwear. It was like being in the seventies again. The pub was a delight, it had a little glass cabinet with what looked like a selection of Royal Doulton figurines in it. A tinker, a shepherd a little fella with a drum. And it smelt of old pub, a smell of my childhood. Stale beer and fag ash trodden into a carpet for a decade. Wonderful stuff. I didnít know there were still pubs like that out there, particularly in central London. Probably the last of a generation.
Still I managed to get into London and out and this morning I donít appear to have any of the Coronavirus symptoms. I didnít wear a mask, I didnít use hand gel, I did however wash my hands after using the toilet as did all of the guys at the Cheltenham do, and your beery racing bloke is not known for his personal hygiene. At the weekend I was in the luxury of a private box at Kennilworth Road and I have never seen as many football fans wash their hands before leaving the lav. Executive box or no there was still piss all over the floor. But, one assumes, a better class of piss.
I donít know if Iím lucky to have made it this far, fifty is a pretty good knock for a lad who likes a drink and eats too much terrible food and has only recently taken up washing his hands. Iíve lost a few friends along the way, Chewsey was a lovely lad, proper smoker and drinker, useless until heíd had a couple of pints and useless again after five more, he could only have been forty-six. Stick of Lettuce, again he was only forty-five, poxy leukaemia did for him. Thatís just plain bad luck. Cliff had a heart attack but he must have been nearing 60. No one deserves to die in a Wetherspoons.
Each one of them was a terrific fella. Decent, fun, generous, so I suppose thatís the take-away, be kind and be remembered well. Itís coming to all of us. Lifeís too short for slip on shoes and Iím even thinking of never shaving again in an attempt at immortality.
It was yet another colossal drinking weekend, there seems no end to these right now. The weekend began on Tuesday night, I had a wine tasting on Wednesday and was judging in a wine competition on Thursday so I thought Iíd better get some practice in by sinking a couple of bottles of cheap white. At home I really donít drink all that well, I drink vast quantities of moderately priced but rarely anything youíd call excellent.
I was up good and early Wednesday morning and dropped off at Wetherspoons near the station for a large Diet Pepsi- it was 8.45am, I am not an animal. There were a number of specimens in Spoons, the usual crowd, all with two pints in front of them. I still have no idea why these characters buy two pints first thing in the morning, I donít think thereís a promotion on and I canít imagine that they think there will be a rush and need to buy two. I will get to the bottom of this mystery one day.
Down at the station I bumped into a dear old friend, Diddy the Taxman, and we shared a Greggs breakfast, me the sausage bap, he the Belgian Bun. It was good to have some company, the wine from the night before was working its magic on my anxiety and talking bollocks about who would win the USPGA. A very long hitter, resilient and experienced in the majors - we got it down to Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.
I arrived at Euston in much better spirits and we went or own ways me to Finchley Road and he to wherever he does his tax stuff. The Waitrose tasting is always a treat, they put out far more wines than you can possibly taste and always throw in some beers and spirits. In the old days Iíd have made a point of tasting them all, probably 230 wines. Itís too much and Iíd be kidding myself if I thought I gave equal attention to the first as I did the last. Iím now very selective, I tend to concentrate on wines in the £5 to £15 bracket, thatís really all people buy and thatís really all I ever write about. I add to my list anything that I particularly like, Burgundy, and take out the stuff which I donít, New Zealand Sauvignon. Then on top of that Iíll taste anything which is very expensive, just to keep my palate in with the top end.
Thereís always a very good lunch, surprisingly it was tandoori based on Wednesday, not the easiest thing for the palate on a big tasting, but I struggled through and even had some cheese. By the time lunch came round Iíd already done the reds, whites, fizz and rosť and only had the beer and spirits to go so that was a top way to close the day. I really donít know why people bother with rosť, I like a drop but Iíd never pay more than £8 for a bottle. You have to consider what we want from a pink wine, simple, cold, light and fresh, probably dry and with a hint of raspberry or rose petal. Itís just not worth serious consideration or serious money - winemakers donít take it seriously so why should we?
I struggled home where the boozing continued, first finishing off the four pack of Marks and Spencer train lager, then into the wine again and a good chuckle at Leeds getting beaten by Derby County. Top entertainment.
Judging on Thursday was a different affair, I was on a panel of five, a sommelier, a wine educator, an importer, a winemaker and me. We did 58 in total, all Italian, some splendid Primitivo and Prosecco, a couple of silver medals but no golds. After lunch it was becoming evident that the wine educator was getting pissed. You occasionally see this happen and itís not very edifying for a professional to be slurring and rambling. No one mentioned it and we got through but I began to think if I am ever like that? I really donít think I am and the more inebriated he got the more sober I became.
Thursday evening was a moderate affair as was Friday. I was Ďworking at homeí, I donít know why people always say Ďworking from homeí. Anyway, it meant a good hour down the allotment salvaging my brassicas from the pigeons.
Saturday was a bit of a session as it was Cup Final day and I had an appointment with Eugene in Leighton Buzzard to sink a few and, as it turned out, to laugh long and loud at Watford getting thrashed six-nil. We did a few pints and a scotch egg and then loaded with pizza my lift came to take me home but I was in bed asleep before the end of Eurovision.
Good thing too as Sunday was a trip to Wembley with my brother-in-law and nephew to see their team, Leyton Orient take on the mighty Fylde. Possibly the worst match Iíve ever seen, the only highlight being the only goal, a very dull affair. Then back for more ale at Wetherspoons Wembley and a few cans of cider on the train home - timetable change day so there was the usual fuck-uppery. Still, home in time to watch the end of the USPGA with a glass or two of cheap white and collect my winnings from backing Brooks Koepka at 10/1 but I wish Iíd done the forecast with Johnson coming second.
I donít deserve to but Iím feeling quite chipper after all that lot. I expect the hangover will kick in at some point tomorrow.