Mama weer all crazee now

This is something I wrote for the Spectator on wackiness.

At Glastonbury in 2000 I noticed two young men both wearing enormous Y-fronts and carrying an even bigger pair with the word ‘pants’ written on it. They both looked miserable as you would if you’d come up with the idea while drunk and then found yourself stuck like that for the duration of the festival. Some of the more thuggish elements jeered and threw beer cans.

Seven years later, at another festival I attended, they wouldn’t have attracted a second glance, because dressing up had become ubiquitous. This year, seven years on from that, far from being weird, wearing Y-fronts superhero-style over your trousers is all the rage — not just at festivals but out and about in normal life. It’s the latest charity fund-raising craze, and come Christmas you’ll be a party pooper if your pants aren’t on display.

Of course, the odd eccentric has always done wacky things for charity: bathed in baked beans or run a marathon in a gorilla suit. The difference with Movember, the ice bucket challenge or the new fashion for Superman Pants is that the wackiness is communal, almost compulsory. It’s become the default setting for the British at play.

Read on here

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Is this the worst name for a wine ever?

Tesco used to do a wine called ‘Great with Friends.’ An innocuous name until it was placed next to other wines called ‘Great with pasta’ or ‘Great with fish.’ Then it took on a Hannibal Lecter quality.  I was reminded of this when I came across a wine called ‘Willing Participant’ at a recent tasting put on by Tesco, who seem to be the home of wines with names that sounds a bit sinister.

Willing Participant‘ is a chardonnay from the Yarra Valley. . .  actually it doesn’t really matter where it’s from, why have they called it ‘willing participant’? Are they saying this wine should only be drunk with people who have agreed to have a drink with you? Enjoy this wine but remember, don’t coerce anyone into drinking it, and definitely don’t drug them, strangle them and then do peculiar things to the corpse. And if you’re kidnapping journalists in the Middle East, you might want to try something from the Finest range instead.

It’s a shame they’ve lumbered it with a dodgy name because it’s actually quite a nice wine. They do a red too. Next time you’re having a mutually consensual drink with a friend or even a potential lover, you should try it. If they’re initially reluctant, they might always change their mind after a couple of glasses and becoming a willing participant. Sorry, I’ll stop now.

Image from The Silence of the Lambs.

 I hope readers will note hyperbolic headline. I’m trying to be modern. See previous post

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You think this lion is going to eat the zebra but what happens next will blow your mind

I’ve been trying to get up-to-date, to learn a bit about the future rather than burying my head in the sand and hoping that it’ll go back to 2002. I’ve stopped saying SOE (Special Forces Executive) when I mean SEO (search engine optimisation – as if you didn’t know.) I’m going to start using words such as ‘platform’, ‘package’ and ‘content.’ It’s time to make myself employable. I mean even more employable (just in case potential employers are reading.)

Anway, this week’s post has nothing to do with lions, I’m just trying out new eye-catching headlines which will bring people to my site and then. . . . well I don’t know what. Anyway!

I’m really posting with the prosaic news that I’ve just tried a wine that is not only excellent but also cheap. It’s my wine of the week. It’s been about a year since the last wine of the week so that really makes it my wine of the year. It’s from a company called 31 Dover who sound like the sort of art gallery that caters to oligarchs and hedge fund types. Oddly for a company with such a name, their wines aren’t expensive.

It’s called Mas d’Amile Vieux Carignan 2010. It’s from a little village in the Languedoc called Montpeyroux. My wife was once sick very near here whilst pregnant and being driven on windy roads in a Jag by a man with strong body odour. Not me I hasten to add. Don’t let that put you off. This wine is quite tannic and spicy but with great freshness. Despite being quite old, it still has masses of fruit and hasn’t gone at all funky. When I tried it with some pork chops on holiday recently, I’d have guessed it was at least £14. I’d gladly pay £14 but it’s actually £8 or even less if you buy a case.

That’s enough content for now. Next time I might even produce a ‘vine’ of me drinking the stuff. A ‘vine’ is a very short video clip but of course you knew that. Oh and apologies to those who clicked on the link thinking they were going to see a picture of a lion being beaten up by a zebra or some such surprising footage. Those links are always disappointing though, aren’t they? Not like my wine of the week. You won’t be disappointed by that.

 

 

 

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Planet of the Grapes

Many people have this idea about wine merchants that they just sit around all day drinking wine and then occasionally selling a case or two . Having worked as one myself I know that isn’t true and yet whenever I walk past Planet of the Grapes on New Oxford Street, there they are, sitting around the table tasting wine and deciding what to have for lunch.

The shop has a somewhat old-fashioned air. There are no enomatics or polished tiles. In fact, with its wooden claret boxes doubling as shelves, haphazard stacks of wine cases and trolleys left around the shop, it has the air of an Oddbins from the 1990s. It’s not a surprise to learn therefore that one of the founders, Marc Wise, is ex-Oddbins (like so many of the British wine trade and press.) He then worked at Milroy’s of Soho where he met Matt Harris. They decided to start their own business when Milroy’s was bought out by Jeroboams. Planet of the Grapes specialise in upmarket wines from classic regions. They’re particularly strong on Burgundy, Italy and Australia, and they do a nice line in mature Bordeaux. The shop functions as a hub for two wine bars that they run in the City and the wines reflect the taste of their customers.  You’re not going to find funky Languedoc wines that smell of old socks.

It’s a shop well worth becoming a regular in because you will be invited to sit down at the table and try some wines but be warned you will be expected to have an opinion. They really know their stuff and you’re not allowed to say non-committal things like ‘I think it’s a bit closed.’ After each visit, I return to my publishing job around the corner a little tipsy and wishing that I’d stayed in the wine trade so I could spend all day tasting wine.

Planet of the Grapes, 9 New Oxford Street, London, Holborn WC1A 1BA 020 7405 4912

 

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What will Scottish independence mean for drinkers?

Every month or so the marketing bumf from Majestic Wine Warehouses comes through my door outlining their latest offers. It’s normally bargain rioja. If you read the small print carefully you’ll find that their glorious multibuy offers aren’t available in Scotland:

“The Alcohol Scotland Act 2010 disallows any alcohol promotion offering customers a discount for buying multiple products in Scottish stores.”

It seems peculiar that the adults of Scotland aren’t allowed offers that encourage them to buy wine in quantities of more than one. Isn’t that the whole point of visiting a wine warehouse? It’s like being forbidden from having seconds at an all you can eat buffet. Admittedly it’s probably healthier not to have seconds but shouldn’t that be up to the customer? The Scots do undoubtedly like to drink to excess, as do many British people, but it is unlikely that laws such as these are going to make people in the so-called Bucky Triangle drink less. If I lived there I am sure I’d need a bit of extra intoxication to help me through the day.

The devolved Scottish Parliament is an expert at such pointless legislation. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act makes it a crime to sing certain songs at football matches. Or the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act where every child born in Scotland has a guardian appointed by the state whose job it is to check up on the child’s parents and intervene where necessary.

I suppose the big question is after independence – should it come – whether the new Scottish government will continue creating unenforceable new laws or whether they’ll be too busy with the serious business of running a new country. I’d put money on the former. It seems crazy that Scotland’s leaders trust their people with a vote to break up a 300 year old political union but not to buy six bottles of rioja.

At the moment the Marques de Riscal Reserva 09 at £9.99 when you buy two or more looks distinctly good value. But remember, if you do take advantage of this offer, stay within the government’s drinking guidelines and for God’s sake don’t neck the whole bottle and start singing: ‘Boys from the Old Brigade’ – at least not if you’re in Scotland. 

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Henry, we’re Jewish.

This is an article that appears in today’s Guardian. I thought it would be nice to illustrate it with some old family photos:

My grandfather’s funeral service took place on New Year’s Eve 2002 at the Anglican church in Chalfont St Giles. The vicar kept referring to my grandfather as Donald and had to be corrected (his name was Gordon but he was known as Don). What I remember most is something my grandmother, Dorothy Jeffreys, said before the service. She was distraught and, I think, on some sort of tranquilliser and kept insisting Don wouldn’t have wanted the send-off to be in a church, it should have been a synagogue. I asked her why and she said, “Because we’re Jewish.”

This was the first I’d heard of it. click here to read more.

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Michael and Rose Levy on far left, my great grandparents, and on right Dot and Gordon Jeffreys, my grandparents.

dot and gordon on margate sands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandparents in Margate. Love those pleats.

 
The Jeffreys family at Henry's wedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own wedding. Left to right, me, my wife Misti, my brother Thomas and my parents. Notice father assuming traditional unsmiling photo pose.

George, Cousin Rupert, Nanny, Grandpa, Henry

Left to right, my brother George, cousin Rupert, grandparents and me. Probably taken at Moor Park Golf Club.

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The irresistible rise of Picpoul

If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t wait to read what the big names of the British wine world, yer McQuittys, yer Becketts, yer Moores, are drinking this summer. To a woman this year, they have picked a Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is now firmly established on the middle-class wine lovers shopping list. Most restaurants, gastropubs and bars stock a Picpoul.  I don’t think it’s ready to take New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s crown yet but it’s definitely a contender.

The best thing about Picpoul from a wine bore’s perspective is that it is unbranded. You don’t have all that garish advertising and vulgar discounting that you get with Ned or Oyster Bay. Instead you can pretend that you have discovered it yourself whilst staying with your auntie near Pomerols. And yet Picpoul, in its own quiet French way, has been a masterpiece of marketing. It was originally the answer to a problem of what to do with all the grapes grown for Noilly Prat vermouth when sales of vermouth declined.

Those tall embossed bottles, ribbed for her pleasure, mean that it stands out on the shelves. They’re the opposite of the squat Burgundy-style chardonnay bottle, it’s a bottle that promises  refreshment rather than oaky fatness. Similar sort of wines such as Muscadet and Vinho Verde also come in tall bottles but the Picpoul bottle is unique (it seems they’ve taken a leaf out of Chateauneuf’s book here by having a custom bottle). And then there’s the name. It literally means ‘sting lips’ in French (or maybe Occitan), a reference to the grape’s high acidity. It’s an easy word for Anglos to say. Not too easy, mind, we don’t want the Pinot Grigio brigade picking up on it but once you’ve learnt how to say it, you won’t forget. In fact it fufils a similar role on the wine list as Chablis or Sancerre, in that drinkers can flaunt their French pronounciation with a word that isn’t hard to pronounce.

But unlike these famous names to the North, Picpoul’s reputation has yet to be tarnished by lacklustre wines. Quality is high, it may never soar to the heights of a Grand Cru Chablis but I’ve never had one that tasted of vingerary water either. These are good simple wines. The only problem is that most of them are too expensive in Britain. My favorite Picpoul from Domaine La Grangette costs €5 from the cellar door but £11.29 over here.  If you want a budget PIcpoul, Aldi’s has one for £5.99 which isn’t half bad. Luckily for me my auntie brought me a case of the Grangette back from France this summer. 

34 wines in Altrincham have La Grangette for £8.95 a bottle which when you factor in British duty and VAT (£2 plus 20%) is really good value. It’s significantly better than supermarket Picpouls. Thanks to James Heron for pointing this out. 

Oh and in case you’re interested you can read an update on my book here.

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