What I’m doing (March Edition)

All the odds and sods that went on in March and I didn’t bloody tell you about. Hampshire yomps, Hampshire scoff, wine bizniz and a special arrival…

Yeah, I know it’s April now. Sue me. Here’s what I’ve been up to in March.

Walking the Hangers Way

Isn’t it fabulous — genuinely fabulous — to live in a country so crisscrossed and enmeshed with long distance paths? Of course there are the well known national trails: your Ridgeways and West Highland Ways. But there are hundreds more. The Hangers Way passes only minutes away from our house and is named for the range of hills about and atop which it meanders, the Hangers. In spring its woodlands are carpeted with wild garlic and the Hangers bloom from brown to green. Like so many of these paths, the variety of terrain and ecosystem is fantastic.

Eating at the White Hart, South Harting

The White Hart is one of the best of several good food-oriented pubs that dot our patch of the South Downs. Come here for lunch or dinner after you’ve clambered your way up and down neighbouring Harting Hill. We had supper here on Saturday with Amy’s parents: excellent mushrooms, egg and prosciutto on toast (yup, with wanky shrooms), then tender, deep-flavoured venison haunch. Cooking is generally very good and the staff are charmingly gauche. The place has a pleasantly convivial atmosphere and is (crucially) welcoming of yellow labradors. Wine list could do with a revamp (too few food-friendly reds) but the Berry Bros Claret is a solid choice.

Reading about Majestic’s demise

If it weren’t for Majestic Wine, my life would undoubtedly be very different. The bastards rejected my graduate trainee application after interview on the basis of my not being ‘a natural salesman’. A fronthanded compliment indeed.

Majestic is to be subsumed into the company it bought a few short years ago, Naked Wines, which (in the abstract) gives a whole new resonance to the phrase caveat emptor. But nobody watching the UK wine bizniz with even the vaguest interest can have been much surprised.

I enjoyed two takes on the sadly predictable story, both (in their contrasting ways) eloquently evoking the dissolution of the old Majestic: Victoria Moore’s and The Sediment Blog’s.

Celebrating with Veuve Clicquot

I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting the main Champagne houses’ non vintage wines side-by-side, so I have no objective favourite champagne. My subjective favourite, though, is Veuve Clicquot. So there. I’m not reviewing it because it was consumed in celebration — of the fact that, on the same day that Theresa May failed to deliver Brexit, my dear sister succeeded in delivering an infinitely more welcome entity: one tiny human female.

My niece, Elara, with her father Ed.

So, really, all the above waffle is nothing. What was up to in March was: becoming Uncle Parn.

What I’m Doing (mid-Feb edition)

All the stuff I’m up to that I either haven’t been concentrating enough to write about properly, or else can’t quite be bothered to. If that sounds like a compelling pitch to you, god help you. Cocktails at Hide Below, Oysters at Bentley’s, alcoholic wisdom from Morgenthaler and more…

You ache, don’t you, for further insights into my almost inconceivably rich and varied lifestyle?

Well let that ache be soothed! Here’s a new series in which I rifle through the receipts crumpled in my wallet and the memories crumpled in my brain. To be published at a frequency of whenever-I-can-be-arsed. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far in February.

Drinking Out at Hide Below

Hide (verb, I presume, not noun) is rather trendy. Pretty much anything anyone writes about it will start by talking about the staircase. How tedious; how predictable. Oh fuck it.

Staircase at Hide Restaurant in London

We descended those shapely stairs for cocktails. Which are expensive, obviously. You don’t get the cash to build stairs like those in Mayfair with a business plan that involves BOGOFs and happy hours. The bar staff are utterly charming and the drinks are good. Everything I tried was a bit sweet for my taste, but the flavours were excellent. I appreciated the complexities and subtlety. And the turding great ice block they put in my second drink.

Eating Out at Bentley’s Oyster Bar

I see why Bentley’s is an institution. It’s the kind of restaurant where the curtains are heavier than your maiden aunt, and probably first saw the light of day at around the same time. The oysters are bloody lovely. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough of a clue to be able to choose between six different types. As it was, the seafood platter was the perfect, delicious opt-out of making such a choice. And some magical grilled turbot afterwards.

Drinking In with Chateau Mont-Pérat

I whipped this charming fellow from the rack the other day to drink with garlic and rosemary roast beef with caramelised onion gravy. A lovely substantial mouthful of dark fruit with some proper tannin to grab onto. Almond and pepper and spice too. Serious but totally approachable.

Chateau Mont-Perat Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2009 was £16 from The Wine Society but is now, alas, sold out. You can search for stockists via Wine-Searcher. Good luck…

Reading Jeffrey Morgenthaler

I tore my way (not literally; it’s a hardback) through Morgenthaler’s Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique (£21.99, but reduced to £15.43 at Blackwell’s at time of writing). I bloody love this kind of thing. It speaks to the monstrous geek lurking within me who wants to know exactly the most efficient method for everything, and also likes to know why.

Morgenthaler dissects the many elements of cocktail making. Elements may be processes, equipment, ingredients and so on. Simple but fucking crucial things (like ice) which most cocktail recipes consign to a sentence are here the basis of whole chapters. Hell, the man does a controlled experiment to demonstrate that neither rolling citrus before squeezing it nor keeping it at room temperature measurably increase juice yield, thereby making the life of everyone who reads this that little bit better for ever afterwards.

Saint the man, I say.

Mongenthaler's 'Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique' atop a wooden table

Unlike lots of booze books that I tend to dip into and out of, I read this one all the way through.

Listening

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of organ music — one of many areas about which I’m reprehensibly ignorant.

Bach’s C Major Prelude & Fugue for Organ (BWV 553) speaks for itself and needs no besmirchment of ugly human words from me. I’ve been accompanying it with Nikka From The Barrel Japanese Whisky (£36.99 from Masters of Malt) which which has a combination of power, pellucid clarity and focus that feels entirely appropriate.

When Clemmie Misses Her Train

In which the delightful Clemmie is reintroduced to these pages, and a tale of debauchery, recklessness, minor infringements and cello-loving is recounted

Now, it’s a blogging faux pas to apologise for — or even refer to — the time that’s elapsed since one’s last post. So I shalln’t. Perhaps you’re hoping I’ll account for myself? Hell, believe me: I’m hoping the same thing, and have been for several years. Still hopin’.

But what follows, I guess, is a sort of oblique apology of its own, in a way. I’m going to tell you the story of yesterday evening.

And for this purpose I’d like you, please, to join me in welcoming back to these pages the inestimable Clemmie. Last time you met her, Clemmie missed her bus. This time, Clemmie misses her train. And then Clemmie catches a taxi, a coach, two tube trains and another taxi.

(I know: it’s all in the way I tell ’em.)

A bottle of Durnberg Gruner Veltliner white wine on a wooden outdoor table, with glasses, olives and assorted items

But our riches-to-rags tale begins with the best Oxford can offer: the Old Parsonage Hotel, with its perpetually burning log fire and its perpetually rather damn nice Durnberg Gruner Veltliner — bracing like a sea-breeze in spring. Of all Oxford’s providers of food and drink, this is the place I most miss.

(And I reckon they probably miss me, too. Clemmie and I have put a fair bit of business their way, y’know? And we’re fucking charming customers, too.)

In the garden of the Old Parsonage, Clemmie is on the phone to her mother. Clemmie’s phone only functions in loudspeaker mode:

‘Mum, don’t say anything rude or horrible, because you’re on loudspeaker.’

Clemmie was supposed to catch the train to her mother’s home in Suffolk. But Clemmie is drinking Gruner Veltliner at the Old Parsonage. The advantages of a phone that works only in loudspeaker mode begin to be apparent.

We don’t linger, though, at the Parsonage. Rather prosaically, this is because I have to go to my old home in order to pick up my cello. In so doing, I am also the delighted recipient of two enormous — but very nice — but enormous — cushions. A gift from my kind little sister.

When one is carrying a cello and two enormous cushions, one needs another drink. And that drink was provided by Portabello restaurant on South Parade. A blossoming blackcurranty Carmenere that had, mayhap, a bit too much of the fruit juice about it for my liking, but was nevertheless welcome enough. Welcome also was the brief presence of Anna ‘Big Mitch’ Mitchell from her house on the other side of the road. Anna had a small pinot noir. Anna is quite a small pinot noir herself. (That’s meant to be a compliment.)

By this stage, alas, anything resembling a plan for the evening had been shredded like a tissue in a blender.

So Clemmie and I left Anna to roam the streets of Oxford — and decided to get a coach to London.

At this point, the class and sophistication of our evening began to take something of a dive:

‘It’s a pity we can’t cheap propecia to canada drink wine on the coach,’ said Clemmie, wistfully.

There was a moment’s silence.

‘Is Tesco’s still open?’

And so it was, dear (horrified) reader, that Clemmie and I found ourselves on the back seat of the coach to London, surreptitiously pouring Tesco’s Finest Fiano (SECURITY PROTECTED) into plastic cups.

(Yes, I bought plastic cups. What do you think we are? Savages? Hey, don’t answer that.)

Now, I happen to believe that wine shouldn’t be taken even remotely seriously. Wine is our bitch, and we do to it as we will. So I don’t feel bad for subjecting Tesco’s Fiano to this treatment.

Especially as it’s not a very nice wine. It’s kind of thin, and has a bit of a fizz to it. Not in a particularly good way.

Nevertheless — as you know — we are nothing if not stoical in our pursuit of shitfacedness. So Tesco’s Fiano and plastic cups it was. Lesser humans might have caved; not Old Parn and Clemmie. The Fiano was dispatched.

… And there we were in Victoria. Me with my cello and my enormous cushions; Clemmie with her enormous bag.

Travelling on the underground on Friday night with a cello and two enormous cushions is an experience that itself requires a degree of cushioning — so it was as well that our resourceful acquisition of that doughty Fiano had anticipated this need. So Clemmie, cello and I happily swayed our way to Putney. To a pub.

At the pub, we had some sauvignon blanc. Or that’s what it tasted like, anyway. Look, if you’re still reading this for the tasting notes, you really need to carry out some kind of reality check at this point.

‘’Scuse me — is that a cello in there?’ asked a thin man wearing a tracksuit.

‘Um, yes.’

‘I love the cello. Do you play it with a bow?’

‘Yup.’

‘Can you pluck it, too?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘I love the cello. There’s something about it that speaks to me.’

Carrying a turding great cello around with you is, believe me, a surefire way to kick off some fantastic conversations. Be that as it may, stringed instrument vendors of Putney should take note: there is a man in a tracksuit out there. Make the sale.

Our cello-besotted conversant having departed, we were at length politely nudged in the direction of finishing our drinks. Even in London, y’know, pubs close.

And so Clemmie bundled herself into a taxi. And my cello, my cushions and I made our slow — yet somehow majestic — peregrination home.

***

An illustration of a rabbit and some flowersWhen I opened the door to my flat and turned on the light, I was greeted by a rabbit.

I picked up the card and turned it over. It was from my neighbour.

Tom
Please talk to me about your packages. Why didn’t you pick up the one last night, I knocked on your door?
H—

I turned the card back over, gave the rabbit a sick kind of smile, and went to bed.

(To be continued…)