Thursday 14 March 2019


So it's another heady session of wine-tasting for PK and me, taking in some mixed Italians in the Institution of Civil Engineers' overweeningly terrific Westminster HQ (see pic), followed by a Barolocentric tasting at the Royal Horticultural Halls, just round the corner. It's all good. Who doesn't like Italian wines? And rain isn't even forecast.

Thing is, of course, I'm still fingers and thumbs at these wine-tastings, even after years of trudging along to them: big, small, classy, middle-of-the-road, you name it, I still freeze very slightly as I approach the table with the sample bottles and a tensely smiling winemaker/distributor on the other side. My mind blanks. I have no wisdom, no learning, nothing to say. I might as well be the spit bucket for all I contribute to the encounter.

No such problems for PK, who actually quickens his step the nearer he gets, beadily gesturing to the absolutely most expensive wine in the selection. Not only that, but he has the chat. At one table among the mixed Italians he lobs in a smartalec remark about burying a cow's horn on account of the biodynamics, which is returned quick as a squash ball by the lady behind the counter; an agreeable moment of banter ensues. I stand to one side, perfectly mute, inwardly interrogating myself about cow horns and what in the name of God can they mean? PK preens himself very slightly. I just move along, two paces behind, avoiding eye contact.

Part of the problem is that I have never been much good at learning anything, so the endless minutiae of wines were always going to be beyond my reach. Another part of the problem is that I am now so old I forget whatever it was I did once know, apart from certain brightly-lit fragments which won't go away even if I try and make them. Given which, any new information - anything from the last ten years, roughly - is never going to gain much purchase inside my head; to the extent that I now discount the idea of trying to retain anything, using other people to remember for me or simply acknowledging that I will have to get along without whatever it is I am supposed to recall. The concept of super Tuscans, for instance. Take one of the pencils, PK keeps muttering to me. Write it down. You'll never remember. I just give him a placating look, calmly acknowledging that what we think we know is not what we actually know; at the same time, forgetting which wine is which and completely losing sight of the best Barolo in the room. After three mouthfuls I can't tell the difference anyway, so why bother to make notes? That said, I do take a picture of a notice for a seminar which promises to rediscover Valtellina's Heroic Alpine Viticulture - such a great line it should be made into a film. So I haven't given up completely.

But then the next day, I am confronted with an unsettling metaphor for my own gradual disengagement from the business of making a mental effort. It's time to bottle my DIY wine: for which purpose I have saved six bottles + six corks and am good to go, when I start the final siphoning from the demijohn (where the stuff's been for the last six weeks). But what do I find? I have enough wine for precisely five bottles, not the six I thought I was making. All right, some of it I had to leave behind in the first demijohn transfer as it was mostly sludge. And in the second transfer there were a couple of puddles I couldn't quite reach with the siphon. But a whole bottle? Did I not pour enough tap water in at the start? Did I not read the instructions thoroughly? I thought I'd measured it out just right, but no. A whole bottle missing.

Obviously, this has implications for the booze itself; I won't know how bad for a couple of weeks at least. More than that, the missing sixth bottle is a kind of objective correlative for my dwindling faculties. Instead of a sixth of my home-made crap wine it might as well be a sixth of my brain that's disappeared through neglect or inattention. It's not just a question of semi-intended negligence. I am losing touch. My head is filling with emptiness. The vacant section of the wine rack where the sixth bottle should be is the growing vacuity in my mind. There you go: I'm becoming senile. Sooner or later I'll leave the house without any trousers; or I'll have to be told who Huw Edwards is; or I won't even notice that I'm not finishing my


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