My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.
We love our home. Our home is our castle, our refuge, our safe place, a place where we can do what we like (within the law). The phrase, ‘An Englishman’s Home is his Castle’ was adopted as early as the 16th century and is now hard-wired in our psyche. Yet when it comes to going out and about near home we are strangely reluctant. We’d rather go to Rome to visit the Colosseum or sunbathe on the French Riviera than investigate what’s on our doorstep.
I’m just as bad. Having moved to the Surrey/Hampshire border over five years ago you’d think I might have gone to see some of the local attractions. OK – so we were renovating a Victorian Farmhouse and I did have a heart operation but still…
A sixty date would put it right.
I asked John and Carol, two local friends who we’d met shortly after we moved in. They tried to hide their surprise when I said I’d never been to Midhurst or Petworth. And what about Jane Austen’s house they said? Only 30 minutes away.
And so, a date was fixed.
Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire
I confess – I love Pride and Prejudice and read it every year. When I’m particularly tired, which happens when you reach a certain age, I make a cup of tea (or pour a glass of wine) and re-watch Joe Wright’s film. Of course, I loved the 1995 hit BBC TV series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but it’s too long for a quick sit-down. The only problem with the film is the missing kiss. Why didn’t we get to see Elizabeth (Keira Knightly) and Darcy (Mathew McFadden) kiss at the end? Don’t the producers know every good love story ends with a kiss? The only disappointment in this otherwise lovely romantic re-telling.
I was excited to visit the house (museum) where Jane Austen lived for the last eight years of her life (1809-1817). There she wrote or rewrote some important works. Sense and Sensibility (published in 1811) and my favourite Pride & Prejudice (1813), followed by Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). While she lived at Chawton, she also wrote Persuasion and Northanger Abbey although both were published after her death.
As I walked from room to room I was struck by how much it still felt like a family home. Full of family memorabilia and creaky stairs. Clothes and cooking pots. Books and pens. The writing table where she worked. Pause. Really? It’s so small. Positioned by the window in the dining-parlour, you can’t help but wonder. No grand desk and expensive laptop for Jane to produce her memorable characters and great story lines.
Perhaps my favourite item was the blue ring. It caused a national outcry when the singer Kelly Clarkson outbid the museum in an auction, paying £152,450 for the ring. She intended to take it back to America but after a fundraising cri de coeur, donations flooded in, including an anonymous one of £100,000, enabling the Museum to buy it back, saving it for the nation.
Outside the kitchen there’s a pretty courtyard which had such a feeling of tranquillity that I sat for a while and imagined myself transported back to 1813, having tea with Jane, and discussing writing. I grinned at the idea of asking her to read my blog.
Rule 1: Focus you’re exploring on your interests
Midhurst, West Sussex
Still on a literary tale we headed for Midhurst, a pretty market town and only fifteen minutes’ drive from home and the inspiration for such writers as HG Wells, Anya Seton and Ruth Rendell.
The town voted one of the best places to live in the UK dates back to before the times of the Romans although the name was first recorded in the early 12th century. We walked to St Ann’s Hill where there is evidence of an Iron Age fort and pagan worship. (see also my blog on a date to Danebury Hillfort).
The hill, lying to the east of Midhurst’s market square, was once the sight of the festival of Beltane, an ancient fire festival celebrating the start of summer on May 1st. Bonfires were lit (usually on 30th April), and rituals followed. The Anglo-Saxons and the Celts believed fire to be purifying and healing. I particularly loved the story of the Beltane cakes. A large sweet offering to the spirits, it would be big enough to split into portions, with one containing a piece of charcoal. The unlucky recipient of this piece would be thrown in the fire, although usually rescued by friends. Villagers would dance around the fire and cattle would be herded through two bonfires to protect them from disease.
Anything to do with the time of the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts and the Norse is right up my street.
Fast-forward a few centuries to Tudor times and to the Cowdray House Ruin. Originally called Coudreye, the Norman name for hazel woods, it was built in 1273 by Sir John Bohun as a fortified manor house. In Tudor times, Sir David Owen, uncle to Henry VIII, used the same footprint to build his celebrated Cowdray House. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were guests at the house. It was partially destroyed by fire in 1793 and now sits as a magnificent ruin overlooking the South Downs National Park. With another of my interests being Macbeth, (written in 1606 the year after the Gunpowder plot and probably because of it), I was intrigued to learn Guy Fawkes had been employed as a footman at Cowdray before his infamous attempt to blow up parliament.
In more recent times the house has hosted film crews intent on recreating period drama. Due out at the end of 2018 is Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and featuring a scene using the Cowdray House ruins.
Unfortunately, it was closed but I did manage some photos. Still, it’s a good reason to go back.
Rule 2: Read websites or books on local history so you know where to explore. Check opening times.
We finished the day with a delicious meal in the Spread-Eagle Hotel and we agreed to arrange to see Petworth, with yet another famous house, an artistic heritage and, as I would discover, a Macbeth connection.
Moral of the date: A national treasure may be close to home. Don’t miss out.
With many thanks to John and Carol who came with me on this date.
My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.
In the dim and distant past one of my favourite dreams was to win an Oscar. Not as an actor but as a film director. I was lucky enough to make a film once. A short film called Macbeth’s Disciple.
It was incredibly hard work and, as an inexperienced female director, there was sneering to endure; that aside, directing a film was the most exciting moment of my professional life. And I’ve had a few. My film was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, not an Oscar contender though. At 60, I know a career as a film director has passed me by but that doesn’t stop me being interested in the latest releases and enjoying the pizazz of the Oscar ceremony.
It’s only natural then that the Oscars should feature in my milestone celebrations. I planned to see all nine nominees in the ‘Best Film’ category, with as many friends as possible, then cast my vote, dress up and drink champagne all night. As the ceremony doesn’t start until 2am, UK time, it was also an endurance test. Could I possibly stay awake?
Last year, I decided my favourite film from those nominated was Hidden Figures. My criteria for choosing best film are; would I watch it again? – yes. Was it well acted? – yes. Was it a good story? – yes. Did I learn from it? – yes. Was there a moral/social issue highlighted? – yes. Racism, as a side-story, was all the more impactful. Was there a prominent role for a woman? – Yes – three women actually. Who knew a bunch of African-American women had been responsible for the maths calculations behind the John Glenn space mission? Responsible for his safety in fact. It was a story I’d never heard before and the US space exploration was very much a part of my childhood. I loved it.
Last year’s Oscar for Best Picture did not go to my choice but to Moonlight – oops or was that La La Land? Moonlight won. A hilarious and unforgettable moment, just when we were thinking of switching off the TV, the drama happens.
Will something equally dramatic happen at the 90th Academy Awards 2018? First, though, I have to go on nine dates to see the nominated films.
Spoiler alert: Please don’t read if you still plan to go and see any of the films listed below.
The nominees for Best Picture are:
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
THE SHAPE OF WATER
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Squeezing in nine trips to the cinema between the nominations day and the ceremony is quite demanding because some of the films will not have been released in the UK until a few days before. This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t want to clash with the Winter Olympics so there’s an extra week in which to see the films. Yippee.
RULE 1: Keep early February clear so you have time to see all the nominated Best Pictures.
The Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles is the culmination of many other festivals which take place throughout the year. For feature length films, entry requirements include a 7-day Los Angeles theatre release in the qualifying year. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, all of whom would have “achieved a distinction in motion picture, arts and sciences” and have multiple credits to their name. They can only join one group, for example, even if the person is both actor and director he/she can only join one of those groups – not both.
As a live action short filmmaker, I discovered I had to get my film shown and win a prize at two qualifying competitive festivals to be considered for Oscar entry. Whilst my film didn’t win any prizes, I did discover the fun of the film festival and the opportunity to see a film in advance of its UK general release.
Although not in evening wear we dressed up as best we could for an unseasonably cold October evening. Walking the red carpet is one helluva exciting thing to do and worth the effort of the re-dial-sore-fingers to get tickets.
I wasn’t expecting to like the film; murder, antihero police, racist overtones, violence but as the credits rolled I turned to my friend and said ‘Wow’ at the same time she did. It says a lot for the film-maker, Martin McDonagh, and the cast performances, particularly Frances McDormand, to have made me say, ‘I really enjoyed that.’
Rule 2: Learn how to pose on the red carpet (I still haven’t got it right)
Another genre of film I wouldn’t normally go for is ‘Horror’ and that’s exactly what GET OUT turned out to be. A young black man meets his white girlfriend’s parents and all is not what it seems. Luckily, I watched it on TV download and only my husband noticed when I hid my face behind a cushion during a scary scene. When I looked up again, he’d run from the room. It was a surprise then, to feel I’d watched an original story with outstanding acting by the male lead, Daniel Kaluuya. A pacey, suspense filled exposé of liberal racism.
Another form of horror is war. I avoid films that feature war. My father, when he was alive, refused to discuss his six years in the army during WW2, ‘why should I inflict those horrors on you.’ However, when two are nominated in the Best Picture category I don’t have much of a choice and so I went to see Dunkirk and Darkest Hour with husband in tow.
DUNKIRK was first, and although we know the story – the rescue of 300,000 servicemen from the French coast by an armada of small boats – it was good to see it from different points of view and not just from the soldiers on the beach. I found it particularly poignant to follow the journey of one fishing boat owner and an aircraft pilot. I felt there were too many ‘water’ scenes where we witnessed the desperation of men wanting to escape a watery grave. I got the message with the first and it made my heart ache to see the suffering of those young men – even if it was film.
DARKEST HOUR certainly stirred the patriotic juices and I wanted to clap as the credits rolled, such was the power of the last scene. I wasn’t convinced by the tube train conversation. It felt fake, with the longest stop at an Underground station ever, but I was happy to accept it as an illustration of what might have transpired. I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of a meaty role for Churchill’s wife, Clementine – as they say, ‘behind every great man….’ I was unaware Churchill was disliked by his peers and the role of the King was new to me. Gary Oldman’s performance brought this new information to glorious light.
Rule 3: Be prepared to see films out of your comfort zone.
The Governors Ball is the official after-ceremony-party where the big names in entertainment get to let their hair down. Over 12,000 glasses of champagne will be drunk, 10,000 glasses of wine, 6000 Kobe beef burgers and, not forgetting, 7000 edible chocolate Oscar statuettes, covered in gold dust, the stars get to take home.
I’d really like to go to that ball.
One woman who does get to go, and often, is Meryl Streep. She holds the record for number of nominations as actor and has won the coveted statue three times.
And, in 2018, she’s been nominated again, this time for her portrayal of another real woman (her last Oscar win was for Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady). Katharine Graham was the first female publisher/owner of a major American newspaper, the Washington Post. A woman I’d not heard of before; who exhibited real courage at a time of male dominance, against an all-powerful antagonist, Nixon’s US Government.
The film didn’t disappoint. A thrilling suspense. A drama with high stakes. An edge of the seat story with a link to that other Nixon exposé. The only downside; Streep’s performance, for me, had too many echoes of her Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Not that that’s a bad thing. Both films are rainy day, easy re-watchers.
The first Oscar ceremony was on the 16th May 1929. King George V was on the throne in the UK and Herbert Hoover was president of the United States. The Wall Street crash happened in October and the great depression started.
And homosexuality was illegal. Decriminalisation wasn’t until 1967 in the UK, and It’s almost hard to imagine that only 50 years ago it was illegal for a man to love another man. A situation that forced secrecy and hiding your real self. The first gay-related film to win and Oscar was Midnight Cowboy (1969). Probably one of the break-through male love stories was Brokeback Mountain which won for Best director but not best picture. It wasn’t until 2017 that a LGBT film won the best picture category – Moonlight.
So, in some ways its early days for LGBT films and still many are acted by heterosexual actors.
I really enjoyed Moonlight and I was expecting to see a beautiful coming of age gay-love-story in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. However, whilst the setting was stunning, the lifestyle amorous and the acting impressive, I came away from the film feeling slightly alarmed that I had watched something sleazy. Instead of a sensual love story, I saw a young boy (aged 17 in the film, 22 in real life but looked to me about 14) being seduced by a much older looking man (24 in the film, 31 in real life and looked 35). This age gap was emphasised by the very slim frame of Timothée Chalamet compared to the buff Armie Hammer. I also disliked the excessively long last-shot, showing Elio’s pain after a distressing phone call, while life went on around him. The director wanted us to see Elio’s anguish but I couldn’t help thinking how odd it was of the parents not to realise their son was upset. We were told, during the father’s soliloquy, they knew of the gay relationship. I did not like this film but I’m glad I saw it.
And I couldn’t help wondering if a film showing a male actor who looked 35 in a love affair with a 14-year-old looking girl would get an Oscar nomination for best picture.
Oh, wait a minute, there’s PHANTOM THREAD. A romance story between a middle-aged man (a famous couturier) and a woman of about 25 (possibly a refugee). This film had an unexpected twist which shook me. I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. ‘Did she just…’ I said to my friend. ‘Not sure,’ she replied. It would be too much of a spoiler to say what happened but it was unexpected. In the end this dark tale, with it’s strange comedic twists, was less of a love story and more of a woman taking control of her life and deciding she was not going to let the man ruin it for her.
Clever but not sure I’d watch it again.
Another woman who takes control of her life is Eliza in THE SHAPE OF WATER. She falls in love with a sea-creature found in the Amazon who is worshiped as a god. Set in the height of the cold-war this film has a lot going for it as a period piece and a reminder of the espionage/space race between the US and Russia. Although I enjoyed watching the sublime Sally Hawkins I didn’t love the film as much as I expected to – the film does not live up to the hype. For starters the opening scene had a feel of Titanic and much of the story echoed past films. Was that the intention? A sort-of-ode to Hollywood – with a huge dose of ET for adults. There’s a dance scene reminiscent of La La Land and the ending for me was Splash. But my real problem with this film was its believability. We see evidence of a violent sea creature with the blood dripping hand the bitten off hands of the bully Head of Security. A short while later we see our mute heroine, who has had only one brief glimpse of the creature, sit on the edge of an open pool and peel an egg for the creature. Wasn’t she scared he would bite off her fingers too? And why was ‘the asset’ not being guarded anyway? How come the scientists weren’t watching him, assessing him, caring for him? Tooooo contrived for me. And, how come Elisa, a cleaner, knew the security code for the room anyway? Surely not! Further into the film, when the creature has been rescued from the evil security head he helps himself to a cat, having been left alone in a flat. A few scenes later he is sitting nicely at a table eating with Elisa. Sorry, but I stopped believing in this story very early on and at one point looked at my watch to see if it was nearly over. Some friends have loved this film. Not one that would get my vote.
Rule 4: Don’t listen to the hype or reviews – make up your own mind
On the other hand, a film I did enjoy watching was LADY BIRD. This mother-daughter relationship delivers two outstanding performances. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Laurie Metcalf (the mother and a nurse) interact with such ferocious interchanges that we begin to see when an argument is brewing. In this beautifully directed story, the 17-year-old Lady Bird, Christine to her parents, flips between loving and hating her mother, her family’s low financial situation and her friends. She doesn’t see her mother’s ‘behind the scenes’ protection – she’s asleep when a dress is altered to fit. This coming-of-age story had parallels in my own life so perhaps I was happy to let the story flow without a dramatic climax, although I did wonder if some serious harm was going to happen to our young heroine towards the end. There was humour that had me laughing out loud and I came away feeling Greta Gerwig deserved her best film and best director dominations. Token Woman she is not.
I’ve had so much fun seeing all these best picture nominated films I’m going to make it an annual event.
And, having seen all nine Oscar nominated films my vote for Best Picture would go to THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
The Moral of the Date:Even if you don’t go to the cinema often use the Oscars as an excuse. It makes you feel current.
Many thanks to Lynne, Lyndsey, Maya-Jane, Pam & Brian for coming on these dates with me.
My mission was to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.
When I was fourteen I remember wanting a McVities chocolate digestive so badly I formulated a plan to sneak downstairs when everyone was asleep and steal one from the packet my dad had bought earlier in the day. Each of us four kids had been given two biscuits after tea but I just couldn’t get that sweet, creamy flavour of chocolate out of my mouth. I wanted more. And there were at least six left in the packet. All I had to do was wait until everyone was asleep.
I got caught. By mum. Just as I bit into that delicious yumminess.
Whilst my teenage night raid was unsuccessful, the feeling that a McVities chocolate digestive was the best biscuit in the world has never left me. (Full story in my book Wonderful Things)
Fast forward another 46 years and I’m formulating a plan to celebrate my 60th birthday by going on 60 ‘dates’ with loved ones doing things we enjoy – so chocolate had to be in there somewhere.
One date? Well – maybe two or three.
I considered the options.
1. The obvious – eat lots
But where? It didn’t take me long to find the Hotel Chocolat restaurant in London called Rabot 1745.
In 2010, two British guys decided to open a hotel and restaurant on a cacao plantation in St Lucia and ethically produce high quality chocolate. Their menu was all about cacao, dishing up exquisite delights like cacao-nib encrusted fillet of pork and white chocolate mash.
They then thought, wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring such flavours to London (and Leeds)? Who said men don’t like chocolate as much as women?
So where better for a chocoholic date?
How can a girl resist a restaurant that makes chocolate its gooey centre? How could I fight against my senses clamouring to taste a Praline Soother, a vodka and coconut milk, white chocolate and praline blend? (My mouth waters just typing the ingredients).
I invited two cousins, June and Lorraine. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, so once we started talking we didn’t stop – well only to savour the gourmet chocolate treats.
We started with the cocktail and decided it was far too yummy to stick with just one.
I wanted to move straight to dessert. The Rabot mousse selection, a trio made with cacao from the Rabot estate, 65% Supermilk, 70% dark and 90% dark chocolate. (Such a terrible habit to look at the dessert menu before choosing the main course).
But chocolate isn’t all about the sweet. I decided to try the seared cod with coconut milk and cacao butter and very tasty it was too.
The mousse didn’t disappoint and by the time we rolled out of the restaurant we had well and truly boosted our serotonin levels, improved our mood and reduced fatigue. So much so, we just had to explore Borough Market – looking for more food to buy.
Although they say it was established in 1756, I was amazed to discover the market has existed, in one form or another since 1014, the time of the Anglo-Saxons and the Viking invaders and my favourite time in history. Our English king then was Ethelred the Unready. The markets position at one end of the bridge was the same then as it is today, although the bridge then would probably have been wooden, possibly constructed as a defence parapet to prevent attacks from those pesky Vikings sailing up the Thames.
When we finally said our goodbyes later that evening, we all agreed the date had been a huge success and had definite health benefits.
2. Walk it off
What better way to ease the conscience – to stick the nagging, sweet genie back in his box. Eat Chocolate and walk at the same time. Guilty conscience gone.
I find Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. They guarantee a tour full of chocolate. Not just any chocolate but fine chocolate.
We meet in Ebury Street at the chocolate shop of William Curley* (not the inventor of the Curly Wurly), a four times winner of the ‘Best British Chocolatier’ by the Academy of Chocolate. He has even won a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics.
Who knew such things existed?
I decided to invite Pam, a friend of fifty years who likes chocolate and whose hobby is rambling.
It was a cold day and the molten hot chocolate was a welcome start. As we drank the rich liquid we were given a lesson on making of fine chocolates and then offered a sample. My taste buds positively sang from the flavour of fresh velvety ganache. Not content with just one, I just had to buy an orange marzipan to take with me. A decision I would regret by the end of the tour. I ate it on the walk to the next stop.
The morning melts into one long gooey ramble through the streets of Chelsea where we learn more about the chocolate process, eat 100% nibs, pass The Royal Court Theatre and the statue of a young Mozart, who apparently stayed in London in 1764 where he composed his first two symphonies.
The tour lives up to its promise – we are chocced out by the end. Something I thought not possible.
3. Add it to your beauty regime
When I was in my teens I was warned not to binge on chocolate because it could cause acne. It never worried me as I rarely, if ever, got spots. Thanks mum. Still I remember chocolate took the rap for bad skin. Thankfully that myth has been scotched. The cocoa bean is full of antitoxins and can be anti-ageing especially when applied to the skin.
So a chocolate massage was a definite opportunity for a date. A luxury massage designed to make me and a friend feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
I invited Monique, who spends her days working for a charity, feeling she deserved being wrapped up in chocolate for a couple of hours.
First it was a cocoa butter scrub, both moisturising and nourishing. Then I was massaged with an indulgent ganache of cocoa, blended with essential oils. My nostrils flared with the added bonus whiff of chocolaty smell. Monique says she drifted off into a chocolate cloud, full of sweet dreams.
The only downside; having to wash it all off later but that’s nothing compared to the unforgettable assault on the senses.
4. Need an excuse?
No true chocoholic needs an excuse to indulge but if you’re looking for cacao ways to create, there are many courses including a Chocolate and Macaroons Masterclass.
There is also the delightfully indulgent Chocolate Hotel in Bournemouth.
And then there is always a chocolate Easter egg hunt which could involve young children in the family.
Moral of the date: Chocolate is good for your health and wellbeing. Eating it is both fun and educational
With many thanks to June, Lorraine, Pam and Monique who endured these dates with me.
Dates completed = 6/60
Next – a date with history.
Follow me to find out what happened.
*William Curely shop has changed hands and is R. Chocolate now.
My mission is to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.
I’ve always subscribed to the view that lifting a glass of wine to my lips time and time again is exercise enough. Hitting 60 not only reinforces this belief, it also gives me an idea for a date.
I can’t remember when I decided Puligny Montrachet was my favourite of all favourite wines but somewhere along the timeline I did. So what better way to celebrate my 60th than to dedicate a date to this delicious, fruity, marizpanny, wine? To go to where it’s made and taste it hot of the vine, so to speak.
I ask three girl-friends to come with me and find them, despite the costs, to be surprisingly willing. It’s not until we get there that one confesses she doesn’t like white wine. Oops!
Rule 1: Check your friends like your favourite tipple.
The four of us are giggly, like runaway schoolgirls as we catch a flight to Lyon and train/taxi to our hotel. The 17th Century building is a converted Maison de Maître in the village of Puligny Montrachet, owned by respected winemaker Olivier LEFLAIVE. The first thing we do is order a bottle. Yes – before we’ve unpacked. We get some odd looks until we realise we shouldn’t pronounce the ‘t’ in Montrachet.
Rule 2: Check how to pronounce your favourite wine.
We choose the cheapest bottle at 42 euros. With it comes bread, cheese and cold meats. It doesn’t take us long to order a second by which time we are a merry bunch of ladies.
The next morning I’ve booked us on a tour of the vineyard and a wine tasting lunch. We are escorted by Charles (pronounced Sharl), a young Frenchman with a-come-to-bed accent. He tells us how they grow and harvest their vines. How their micro-climate makes a difference between producing a basic Bourgogne or a Grand Cru. How they prune differently, 8-10 branches are left on the Bourgogne but only 6 on the Grand Cru, helping to improve the vegetation when the vine fruits again. He tells us their wine is best drunk after 5 years as the acidity is reduced and the flavour developed.
I’m feeling thirsty.
In the winery Olivier Leflaive himself shows us how they make their special wines. The fermentation tanks, the piles of oak barrels, the expert taster know-how.
I’m listening, learning but yearning for the tasting lunch. I can’t help thinking my friends might feel the same.
Rule 3: Book a wine tasting lunch. It’s cheaper.
We opt for the 9 wine tasting menu. Yes – NINE different glasses of wine. My arm muscles are going to get a serious workout. I think about my bedroom on the first floor and wonder if I will make it up the stairs later.
The list comprises of a basic Bourgogne to prepare the palate, three young white wines, three grand cru white wines and two reds which pleases my friend who doesn’t drink white. I notice, however, she joins in the tasting with as much gusto as the rest of us. I’m thinking we might have a convert in our midst.
We are instructed to taste the wine and tip away the rest. We all do that with the basic Bourgogne before someone says, ‘isn’t that a bit of a waste?’ We all agree. We are eating lunch with it after all.
Rule 4: Never tip any wine away during a tasting, think of the exercise.
At the end of four courses, we order double portions of dessert, a pear in red wine with a crumble topping. Nobody really wants coffee but we sit in the courtyard and tell favourite jokes. Laughing has a hysterical, high-pitched quality to it. For a while we become serious and talk of regrets. There are tears before we all decide to rest. I fall asleep in minutes.
Rule 5: Make sure you book accommodation where it’s easy to go and lie down after the wine tasting.
The next day we are greeted by a cloudless blue sky and taxi it to Beaune, the centre of the Burgundy wine region. We tour the Hôtel-Dieu Museum, a former hospital and stand in homage before the Altarpiece. The Jugement Dernier by Rogier van der Weyden is 9 large oak panels painted in oil, with stunning imagery brought to life. The feeling of awe lasts as we board the Disney-esque Visiotrain for a tour of the city. Then it’s find a restaurant, for lunch, and more wine.
Rule 6: Do something cultural if only to prove you’re not total philistines.
By the time we get to day 3 we have worked our way up the wine menu, ordering a bottle of Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru costing 140 euros. We feel obliged to taste the greeny-gold wine with its luxurious fragrant flavour to complete our education.
The hotel offers us four bikes. I haven’t ridden in years but manage to get on it (just) but my feet don’t reach the ground so I yell for the others to follow. I’m too scared to stop so my legs peddle furiously all the way to Meursault, where I find a high curb, allowing me to park. After the 4km charge, it’s necessary to find a café to rest.
‘As we’re here we should try a Meursault wine,’ I say.
Everyone agrees and we savour the nutty-butteriness of the wine. Much less fragrant than the Puligny-Montrachet I say, but very enjoyable.
It’s a jolly cycle ride back and we all arrive safely at the hotel front door. I feel thinner. Colour roses my cheeks and my eyes are bright with laughter.
Moral of the date: Drinking wine is good exercise.
On our 9th glass at the end of the wine tasting lunch
With many thanks to Gillian, Paddy and Raquel who generously gave their time and money to join me on this wonderful date. And guess what? We’re going to do it again – to a red wine region of France.
A word so bandied about it’s become a casual reference to something meaning ‘more than good’. I’ve long deplored its use as descriptive shorthand for a World Wonder but getting to the age of 60 really is awesome. Or it should be.
Sixty is very much ‘Me Time’ or is it?
Some of my friends retired. Others, having paid off their mortgages and with children settled, decided to travel to far-flung destinations. One friend enrolled on a degree course. Another joined ramblers.
So how should I celebrate this momentous moment? A Grand Party? Did that at FORTY. Lots of friends dressed up and drank champagne. It was jolly but the average length of my conversation with each guest was about five minutes. Considering, talking with friends is one of my greatest joys, the party was inevitably a bit of a let-down. It was over in a flash with the credit card having gained a few more zeros on the debt line.
A party for my 60th would just be a repeat: Where new friends would mingle with those I had known for twenty, thirty, forty years or more.