In anticipation of self publishing on Amazon Kindle at the end of the Month October 2013 I’m putting up the Preface and Introduction on the site here for all to read. This memoir covers my traumatic leaving of home as a young man of 18 and joining the Wine Trade in London.
Two years after starting work a Wine trip to the Burgundy Region of France and beyond propelled me into adulthood and a whole new perspective on the world. It was an experience of a lifetime and I’ve decided that it’s finally time to share it with the wider world and hopefully encourage other young people who start out with a somewhat fractured family background to be bold and give it your best shot. No one else will.
If any of you reading this would like a review copy prior to publication please leave a comment on the post or PM me on Facebook and I’ll be happy to send you the manuscript.
From Dublin to Dijon on a Glass of Red.
The Wine Odyssey
The study or appreciation of wine unlike life, is a never ending journey. It’s a long distance train ride with stops and halts along the way. I like train journeys! I grew up with them. The smells, the sounds, the smoke billowing past the window, the ever changing colour of the country side and the rush of commuters anxious not to be late for work and above all, the thrill of anticipation. All of these sensory experiences are found within Wine. People get on; people get off; usually at designated stations. My Monday morning Wine Express was the 6.59 to Charing Cross from the Kent Coast and if it was on time there was just enough time to hike into Marylebone to begin my Wine week.
Wine lovers often have to wait for hours for the next train in order to continue their journey particularly if they have had far too much St Julien the night before! They while away their time waiting to continue their journey by amusing themselves by striking up a conversation with anyone who happens to be nearby.
“Tried the Beaujolais Nouveau yet? No? You should; it’s a cracking bottle; I won’t drink anything else at this time of year”
“Well no actually red wine doesn’t agree with me The missus prefers me to drink Asti Spumante. She says it makes me much more romantic than usual!”
Wine and conversation make good bedfellows as it happens. Wine and animated discussion can solve many problems; it can also create a few!
My own Wine journey came to an abrupt halt when perusing the wrong timetable. I had chosen the right Train network but I got off at the wrong station. It’s been a regret of mine ever since. You know the way it is when you’re young, headstrong and a little too impetuous for your own good. For some reason I have always had a more than developed sense of fair play and when on the receiving end of exactly the opposite, the ensuing outcome is not pretty. To describe my feelings as distraught would be an understatement when treated unfairly or adversely. It still has this unfortunate and debilitating effect on me even to this day; 44 years after leaving behind a promising career at the age of 24. How I rue that day when I promised myself that never again would I work for anyone else and would make my own good fortune if it killed me.
Jumping straight into my story without some semblance of background would have, I think made for some pleasant light reading even if this is a trifle presumptuous. Doesn’t everyone‘s story deserve to be aired if only to fill-in the blanks in a family history that would otherwise be lost to the mists of time?
The trouble is that while there is most certainly a book inside everyone, not that many people summon up the courage or make the time to put pen to paper. Life is always getting in the way of important projects but then as a serial procrastinator I would say that! It’s a pity that not everyone overcomes their fears about writing personal life stuff since there are wonderful and encouraging stories of human endeavour, sacrifice and triumph against all the odds that will never see the light of day. I found out only recently that there has been something of a writing gene within my family which surfaces regularly, so fear of ridicule or worse just doesn’t appear on my own modus operandi thankfully.
Now let’s get on with the good stuff and talk some Wine! We might even open a bottle to smooth things along a little which I find always helps when in a stressful situation, which this undoubtedly is as now we’ve started we had better continue.
Memoir is not an easy genre to get stuck into. I have the renowned Author William Zinsser to thank, for hopefully turning this snapshot in wine time into something resembling a story worth reading. I had written this book almost in its entirety before I immersed myself in Zinsser’s wonderful collection of books which teach the art and craft of memoir. It’s my sincere hope that some of the craft that William so lovingly explains in his amazing books has rubbed off on me and that my future forays (some of which are already written) will interest at least a few readers.
There can surely be no one who is out of short trousers or a frilly pink dress that is oblivious of the connection between food and wine. Wine has been around for millennia as has the effects of overindulgence. In the last 60 years, especially in the heyday of the foreign travel explosion which burst unexpectedly on the previously mundane deckchair army’s scene, wine has become an everyday occurrence: even an every night happening! It’s no longer the preserve of the well to do or those fortunate enough to have been born into family fortunes: those with a country seat and a dimly lit cellar which is out of bounds to the under 8’s and which invariably is stuffed with bottles of claret bearing legendary names and vintages.
My entry into the rarefied atmosphere of the traditional wine merchant and his stock in trade came about by a circuitous route, but it all started in a dark basement kitchen in post war London where I had been parachuted as an 8 year old to live with two strange people. They turned out to be my father and stepmother both of whom were acquainted with wine having met in Germany at the end of the war. In case you are wondering, it would be quite some years hence before a glass or sip of crimson nectar would pass my lips so there’s no need to think badly about my parents and how they were responsible for inducting an 8 year old into the hall of alcoholic fame and over indulgence.
Practically every meal at that time was a new experience for me since the war time rationing was over and food we take for granted now was beginning to appear on the shelves of the local grocers once again. In between lengthy sessions with my Balsa model airplanes and that strangely hypnotic smell of dope, I would occasionally watch my father doing his pre- celebrity chef era tricks, in this excuse for a kitchen. It would usually be a Sunday when he took control and rallied his talents to produce a Sunday roast of some distinction. All the trimmings, including mint sauce if it happened to be lamb; lots and lots of steam, hot air, smells to whet the appetite culminating in a feast fit for a King. That was the usual procedure except when the gas ran out and there was a frantic scrabbling for shillings to feed this ugly black box in the corner. The days of utility bills were quite some way into the future. It was common practise to have your gas supply on a coin meter, especially in flats.
My interest was aroused when I realised that to put a meal on the table for three people and a dog, took effort, sweat and lots of flair, not to mention the ever present to-ing and fro-ing to the sink and back. I thought to myself that this was a noble endeavour equal to that of perfecting model aeroplanes and infinitely more useful. The only downside to a full stomach was the seemingly unending mountain of washing up, which in the days before dishwashers was an absolute abomination; especially if it was your turn which it invariably was.
The seeds of my future kitchen activity( including cooking with wine) were well and truly sown when after watching diligently for some weeks or maybe months, I proudly announced one day that I was going to prepare the Sunday lunch from start to finish and would even do all the washing up. There had been a period of apprenticeship where the joy of peeling potatoes and carrots were mastered and the lighting of the ancient gas cooker perfected. That was no mean task. A gizmo held at length while pressing the button to create the spark, hoping that you wouldn’t fall into a deep sleep or worse while the gas hissed menacingly, took a good deal of practise. Actually I remember now that preceding the gizmo was an ancient Anglo Saxon device that you squeezed with all your might to create a spark. Cooking was such a technological challenge in those days especially if a saucepan boiled over and extinguished the gas when you weren’t looking. If it was parsley sauce you were in for a big surprise as the sauce caught fire momentarily and turned the bottom of the saucepan a tidy shade of black which then took hours to remove, especially if you had run out of Brillo pads.
You are wondering, all of you, what parent in their right mind would let an eight year old loose in an ancient basement kitchen. On reflection I must have impressed my father enough for him to have acceded to my request to take control of the Sunday ritual this one weekend. And so it came to pass that this little boy with no epicurean training or Swiss hotel apprenticeship actually succeeded in completing the Sunday roast although I have to admit that I did take a shortcut with the mashed potato. Even in those austere times instant food items were beginning to appear just as servants and those below ground were becoming a vanishing and threatened species. Enter the saviour of all hard pressed chefs. POM… an easily prepared instant mashed potato that with a knob of butter and some black pepper was indistinguishable from the real thing. That is of course assuming you didn’t lunch at the Savoy or the Dorchester every day…
Desert was fruit salad I’m sure which, when using a can of same requires just the skilful handling of the can opener. Incidentally, I still use one of these ancient Roman Can openers to this day while the wall mounted designer can opener still remains in its box after 29 years! Well D.I.Y has to take its place in the scheme of things and while the excellent device is moving up the to-do list my leaky radiators take preference currently. There you have it in a not-so-nutshell. My introduction to the World of Food which heralded, some years later, my introduction to the World of Wine, but not before the introduction to the World of Beer via a heavily diluted shandy and a night time raid on a pint bottle of Watneys Pale Ale which got me into trouble with Le Patron.
It’s almost 60 years since that first adventure into Culinary Heaven and today I am never happier than when donning my trusty apron and opening a bottle of red which I am going to liberally use in my very special Bolognaise: occasionally even allowing myself the odd glass or two while slaving over the hot hob. A word of warning here. It’s much better to wait until the meal is served before pouring your third glass of Montepulciano since focus on the sauce is imperative.