Christmas came early this year. The snow buggered up the trains, so I called the university and said I wouldn’t be in today. It was only a half day in any case. Few if any students would have shown, all my admin was in order, so after calling I went back to bed with a coffee and gave the place no further thought. For fourteen days, it does not exist.
Later, I crunched through the snow to Waitrose, now full of uniformed twinks stacking shelves as fast as Christmas shoppers can ransack them. I remembered my summer and Christmas job back in 1978 in a wine shop in Huddersfield. There my page-boy haired, twinky self unloaded boxes, stacked shelves, and God fucking help us, advised customers.
I had just returned to England after six months in France and considered myself pretty wine-savvy. It never occurred to me that drinking wine in quantity did not in itself confer expertise, and that ‘piss-head’ is not a synonym of ‘master of wine’. But, you know, in 1970s Huddersfield, it might as well have been. We were, generally speaking, as alcoholically unsophisticated as aborigines.
Wine terminology scared people. An elderly lady stood baffled before a wall of sherry bottles before asking me ‘am’t yer got any sweet sherry, love? I can only see ‘cream’ here.’ The identical problem oppressed a bloke who was obviously looking for a present for a lady. ‘Is yer dry Martini sweet?’ he asked me, with the same sotto, confidential tone a man might use to ask another if he has a spare condom. Oh, the temptation. I was going to say ‘I sincerely hope not,’ but bottled out.
A wine shop naturally attracts winos – why else would I have been working there, after all – and we had our regular piss-heads. Look, I’m sorry, stereotyping and all that, but our regular drunks were all Irish. Their preferred tipple was Strongbow cider and this we kept at the front of the long-by-narrow shop, otherwise they would pocket miniatures of whisky as they searched down the far end for ‘The Bow’. It was their custom to pay in very small coin, so vigilance had to be exercised when one of them was counting out sixty pence worth of halfpennies at the till, as his mates might be circulating and prestidigitating cans into their macs while the check-out lady was watching the grubby coin counter and holding her breath against the smell of piss. One day, a gentleman wino was a few pence short of a two-litre bottle of Bow, and said he would ask his mate in the nearby churchyard to make up the shortfall so long as he could take the bottle with him as proof of purchase. The manageress would have none of this, and the gentleman took this want of trust very much amiss.
‘YER’LL DOY DE SAME AS OI WILL!’ he said, in capital letters, pointing at her from the doorway.
‘Aye, but I’m going where it’s nice!’
A loud lady came and hollered ‘Ave yer got some wine called Pie and Peas? My mate adsum an she reckons it’s fair right nice.’
Madam refers no doubt to Piesporter. We do indeed keep it, and it is fair right nice, as madam's 'mate' avers.
Some mean-spirited company rule deprived me of a small amount of money, and in retaliation I helped myself to four cans of Carlsberg Special Brew. Spot-checks on staff bags were permitted. Nobody checked mine. My mother was horrified when I brandished the cans in triumph, and she refused to accept my contention that they were taken in righteous protest against the stingy refusal to pay twinky employees for their breaks.
Anyway, now you know, Lodge Wines, so come and get me.
Incidentally, why in England are we never prepared for snow? Every year it takes us by surprise, and transport is screwed for three or four days. In all my fifteen years in Greece, I saw snow only three times. Indeed it is so rare that to describe an event as san ta hionia, 'like the snows', is to say that it hardly ever happens. Nevertheless, when it snowed, everyone was ready. Gritters were out, chains were secured around tyres and everybody was dressed as for a skiing trip. Within hours the dusting of snow would have evaporated, and all the accoutrements put away for another five years. What Athens never seemed to come to grips with was rain. In winter it regularly pisses down for hours at a stretch, and cars float down flooded streets like logs on a river. Nobody seemed to think anything could be done about this, yet everyone was ready for a once-in-a-blue-moon flurry of snow. Weird.