Thursday 26 March 2020

An isolated problem

Well, this is a little bit annoying.

As the more perceptive (or less understandably preoccupied) amongst you might remember, I was away for my last post. Mrs K and I were in Amsterdam, and returned just as the world slammed shut behind us. So I see little point now in writing about the travel-sized bottles of wine I took, which you can no longer get out to buy to drink with a meal you can’t assemble to take on a train which isn’t running to a country which is closed. The very words “travel-sized” now seem as nostalgic as “cigarette holder”.

Instead, I am sitting inside, and blocking out larger worries by fretting about the order in which to drink my way through my cellar.

Full marks to those merchants who are continuing home deliveries of wine. But I would be embarrassed myself, when my neighbours are getting critical deliveries of food and medicines, by the appearance of a wine merchant’s van. Who wants to advertise that they’re still downing wine, when others are surviving hand to mouth? (Although hopefully they’re not actually touching their mouth with their hand…)

Perhaps wine merchants could avoid this by rebranding their delivery vans as something more currently acceptable? Berry and Citrus Fruits Bros, perhaps. Majestically Deep Home Cleansing. Laith Fitness Weights.

Despite the protestations of Mrs K, I have but a modest cellar. I realise, in fact, that I may have been aggrandising what now seems a meagre collection of wine by even calling it a cellar. And most of that is not meant for everyday drinking. It is reserved for grand occasions, like significant birthdays, which I now realise only happen every, oh, sixty, seventy years. For visits from members of the Privy Council, which for some reason never actually seem to occur. And are clearly even less likely than never to occur in the coming weeks.

One problem, however, is the lack of a timescale. How long does my cellar have to last? On the one hand, perhaps I should be rationing my consumption in order to stretch it out. But on the other, if this really is the end of days, then you can stuff your recommended daily units.

There’s one argument which says that if this could be my last ever spell of drinking – which, let’s face it, is more likely than it was last month – I should start on the good stuff, to make sure I drink it before I go. Never has the saying “Life’s too short to drink bad wine” seemed more potentially appropriate.

But would I enjoy it, imagining that each bottle could be my last? And what will it accompany? I was always a bit dismissive about “pairing” wines with my customary fish fingers, sausages et al, but at least I had fish fingers and sausages. Oh, to have the issue again of considering what to drink with baked beans!

And if I drink the good stuff, what would I then have to look forward to? Imagine coming out the other side of all this, with only a few bottles of grot? There must come a day when all of this clears – “unlock-down” perhaps they will call it – and what if I had nothing then with which to celebrate?

Worse, I may develop a habit of regularly drinking old clarets, top-notch Riojas and reasonable if not quite Super Tuscans. My finances could never sustain that full time. I could face a situation in which, after “the tide turns” (© Boris Johnson), I have existed on very basic food and very good wine, a pairing which it might be difficult to reverse.

But I am already beginning to run low on the supermarket stuff. And embarrassing as the arrival of a wine merchant’s van might be, worse still, surely, to emerge from a beleagured supermarket, passing a patient, socially distanced queue, pushing a trolley laden with budget booze.

So I have already drunk a suspect Italian red that someone must have left here as a gift. I am finding surprisingly appealing the sight of the acidic sauvignon blanc I had left in the fridge for cooking.

“And worse I may be yet: the worst is not/So long as we can say 'This is the worst.’”


Thursday 19 March 2020

The Fifteenth Day Of The Plague

So in the light of the current crisis, I've drawn up a ten-point plan to help me and the wife get through it while we're stuck at home:

1) Make sure we have enough whisky. At present we have nearly two litres of industrial supermarket whisky, one unopened bottle of single malt and a single malt about two-thirds down. This lot should last at least a week, although anxiety may force us to drink it quicker than usual.

2) Don't read La Peste in translation or the original.

3) Also two bottles of gin plus a supply of tonic, sufficient for a week if I don't get out of hand.

4) Several loaves of bread in the freezer, plus unidentified pots of brown stuff which may or may not be stew. In the long days ahead we can eat our way through the latter and guess what it is we're eating. Actually, one is marked as a vegetarian sweet potato ensemble which will be the last to go, I'm guessing.

5) Wine is more problematic. I seem to be unable to drink red these days. Not sure why. But along with four now-awkward reds I've got five ros├ęs, two bottles of champagne and a spare bottle of olive oil. The red thing is a bit of a mystery. I've only got to go near a red of any sort and I get a pounding headache. Age-related? Nature's way of telling me I've already reached a lifetime's consumption of the stuff and must now turn to other beverages? I'll be sad to see it go, but only slightly.

6) Oh, and a can of Guinness in the fridge.

7) On no account watch or listen to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump in any medium.

8) Keep tabs on the drink supply in the supermarket. Obviously, toilet paper, paracetamol, tinned sardines, they went ages ago. Wines and spirits, on the other hand, seem to be holding up. If this state of affairs persists, what with the loo paper and the sardines, we will be malnourished and despairing when the whole thing blows over, but we will also be 93% pure alcohol - effectively, living sanitary handwipes. We might even charge people to wipe their hands on us as a precautionary measure. 

9) Remember what point number nine was meant to be.  

10) Paint the bathroom. I've been talking rashly about this for weeks. Now there's no way out, literally no way out. So I've got the paint, I've got the brush cleaner, I've got the sandpaper and the dust sheets. What I'm currently short of is willpower, but by next Monday I'll be so brassed off with wandering fretfully around the house trying to decide if I feel ill or not, I'll do anything to break the monotony. Maybe I can try drinking some of the brush cleaner, can't be worse than that Lambrusco. If I'm not already dead. Now I think about it, I could usefully also start work on a fresh ten-point plan for the next stage of the plague, whatever that looks like. I have a feeling toilet paper is going to be at centre of it. Toilet paper and whisky and everything else will be a bonus. It's like living in Lerwick. Who knew?


Thursday 12 March 2020

Thursday 5 March 2020

Great Wine Moments In Movie History XI: Solaris

Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) has become a one-film industry in its own right. Thousands of words have been written about it; thousands of hours spent debating its meaning and significance. It's Will Self's favourite film, but don't let that put you off. It's up there with A Bout De Souffle and Touch of Evil in cineaste culture. I saw it for the first time only the other day, so my take on it is still relatively innocent; although it's hard to shake off the feeling that Solaris is the kind of film enjoyed by people who don't really enjoy anything that much.

What's it about? In brief, this: strange goings-on (hallucinations, suicide) on board an elderly Russian space station floating above the planet Solaris require psychologist Kelvin to pay a visit and sort things out. When he gets there he finds the station tatty, mildly chaotic, the two remaining crew members (Snaut and Sartorius) in a state of deep, listless, alienation. He also discovers his wife, who actually committed suicide some years earlier. Not his actual wife, of course, but a projection of his memory of his wife, embodied by the psychically invasive planet above which the space station hovers. Hari - the wife - becomes increasingly real to Kelvin. Despite his efforts to kill her off and her own efforts to kill herself, again, she persists in hanging around to the point where the two rediscover their love for each other, or at least their love for an other which may or may not be the other. At the same time an accomodation must be reached with the sentient planet. Also, what is the meaning of space exploration? And what is the meaning of human? Is the film about the inevitability of repeating past mistakes? It's very Russian.

But here's the thing: in the course of a nearly three-hour movie, no-one on the space station eats or drinks a damn thing except at a melancholy party to celebrate Snaut's birthday. And what do they consume? Apart from the odd cigarette? Red wine. Why wine? It must mean something, because everything means something in Solaris

What is clear is that the wine accompanies an outburst by the misanthropic Sartorius, who reduces the luminously beautiful Hari to tears by reminding her that however real she may think she feels she is, she is no more than a representation of Kelvin's past and therefore has no existence. Shortly afterwards, she tries to kill herself. Again. It is one of the pivotal sequences - although every sequence might as well be a pivotal sequence, for that matter - and it has some red, not a burgundy, judging by the shape of the bottle, maybe a nice Dagestan, poured into crystal glassware. Tarkovsky was a deeply convinced Christian. A biblical, sacremental kind of wine? But Tarkovsky also disdained mere symbolism, the freighting of one thing with another's allegorical purpose. So perhaps not.

But it is red wine, after all, and nothing this colour inhabits the camera's field of view without some justification. Is it there merely to signal a lowering of inhibitions to the point where Sartorius can deliver himself of his thoughts? Man needs man, says Snaut, on his way to getting properly plastered. You're not a woman and you're not a human being, says Sartorius to Hari, a minute or so later, you're just a reproduction. A candelabrum crashes to the floor. 

Alex Garland's Ex Machina, from 2014, deals with similar ideas (handful of people in the middle of a futuristic nowhere, beautiful android girl crosses the line from machine to human) but the only booze in that movie appears to be designer vodka, in keeping with the affectless geeky modernity of the production. Or tequila. Either way, there's no visual impact if you use a clear beverage. Only red wine is emblematic of our shared humanity. Or maybe that's the point with the transparent vodka/tequila; maybe that's precisely the point in Ex Machina. And why aren't the Russians drinking vodka on the space station, it's the drink which fuelled a nation? Exactly. It has to be red wine. The characters in Solaris were dogged by disappointments, Tarkovsky later wrote, and the way out we offered them was illusory enough. I think, in the end, we all know what he means.