…Once upon a time in the City, there was a stockbroker and he had a wonderful evening arranged. Twas the night before the Christmas slapper, I mean slap-up dinner, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. My rucksack was hung by the chimney with care, in the hopes that my Uber soon would be there.
I crept to the cellar in the darkness, opened its creaking door, blew away some cobwebs, flicked on the dim bulb and with due deliberation withdrew two dust-mottled bottles from the collection. I placed them in a golden gift bag. You can keep your frankincense and myrrh. One, a Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo, Brunello di Montalcino, 2010 (which sounds like a beautiful countess but is a prince among vintages), the other a Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes 1990 which, according to some expert judges, represents the very apotheosis of noble rot.
This latter I must have bought more than two decades past in a misguided moment of career optimism because I haven’t been able to indulge and invest in trophy wines like this since the last millennium.
Nor, in these straitened days of Subsistence Broking in Austerity Britain, could I afford to really. Yquem scores 99/100 from Parker who paid tribute to its exceptionally sweet nose of honeyed tropical fruits, its well-integrated toasty oak and its botrytis-tinged, seamless, full-bodied power.
I’ll have to take his word for it, though. That bottle had snuggled up in my cellar, unmoved, untouched even, for more than 15 years, waiting for the right occasion for its cork to be popped, its nectar to be sipped. Dinner this evening was le bon moment. Even taking this priceless wine out of the house put me in a different band for council tax. I balanced the wine, my rucksack and my suit carrier on the low wall beside my garden gate as I waited for the car to arrive. When it did, I threw everything in the back seat, ran round to the passenger side, hopped in and off we sped.
Everything except the wine, that is.
There the two bottles sat for several hours, vulnerable and unprotected against the frost in their flimsy paper carrier, like orphans outside the workhouse. They were still there at 8am this morning when my daughter, dressing for school, looked out of the bedroom window and saw a van, from one of Britain’s foremost online grocers, pull up outside our house. A delivery man climbed out of the vehicle, calmly collected the bag and drove off.
Instead of writing this column then and the sparkling review of 2018 I planned to compose, all nuance and nostalgia, I have spent the greater part of today on the telephone to the retail giant whose driver’s mandate is to deliver but who preferred to carry off.
This is no Christmas fairytale. It is an episode of minor human meanness of spirit and I will be ordering a few deliveries in the next few weeks hoping my daughter can positively identify the driver and I can exact revenge of mediaeval severity upon him. Is this the real meaning of Christmas? It was feeling like it.
It would be unfair of me to mention the name of the supermarket in this forum because it does not reflect well on Ocado. Despite being essentially a logistics operation with a bit of alimentation on the side, they were unable to trace the identity of white van man with OCADO emblazoned in big letters on the side even though his coordinates were very specific.
They recommended I should call the police. I’ve been down that road with a stolen bike. Soviet bureaucracy, a victim impact statement, vaulting incompetence, exorbitant expense to the taxpayer and the stolen property never recovered. While PC Plod was asking me for my personal details for the umpteenth time, the transgressor against the seventh commandment was probably washing down a breakfast bap with a swig of Sauternes.
I tried a different tack. I work as a stockbroker. I called Investor Relations. I would say that my inquiry was not treated with the due consideration it merited.
They clearly had no idea of the range and depth of the financial clout I wield. Just a few well-placed calls to large, institutional shareholders and the revelation that it was a robbery rather than a delivery service being offered to the public and I could cause irreparable damage to that share price, wiping billions off it. Did they not see what Soros did to sterling? Have they not seen…
Okay, okay, that’s not the case but investor relations did not know that. They are not to know that I have not written enough commission in December to pay for those wines, that my client list is less reliable than those business cards escorts used to leave in public phone booths and that vulture funds are unlikely to smell blood and start circling because I have the hump with them and designated their stock an ‘ethical sell’. They have not heard the end of this but I know how and where these things go: badly and nowhere.
So here I am in my wine club, waiting for my dining companion to arrive and relating my story, Sophoclean in its tragic dimensions, to any member of the staff prepared to listen. Not one of them has heard the whole thing (they all kept wandering off, strangely) but later this evening in the pub, if they all chip in, they might know the story in aggregate.
I think it’s a fitting way to finish my final column of 2018.
As I have written every year before, 2018 has been the best of times and the worst of times but mostly it has been the worst. All my good intentions came to nothing, promise was not fulfilled, targets were not met, personal goals were missed but here we are again, Gentle Reader, wishing each other a Merry Christmas, yo, ho, ho and all that rot.
Bereft of my Brunello and my Yquem, I’m drinking inferior wines here, wondering how I break the news to my guest that the special bottles are not forthcoming, my job security is as filipendulous as it’s ever been, the spirit is not willing and the flesh is weak.
Is this my Last Christmas in the City? I don’t know. The irony of doing anything for the last time, even drawing breath, is you are not aware of it at that moment.
I raise my glass of bellywash red to my lips, Kirsty and Renata are being as sympathetic to their least favourite customer as decorum will allow, I see this brunette sashaying towards me, the table is candlelit, groans of thunder and sighs of fire, and I feel purple lightning strike inside. Hope is a bugle call to the warhorse. Blow that bugle.