Inky-black and very welcome rain clouds are rolling in from the north and we might get some cooler weather. My young lettuces have been suffering in the heat so I am very glad to see these heavy dark clouds. I hope we get a solid downpour and the garden is soaked. Everything needs to cool down.
In between looking at recipes for tempuraed prawns and reading sober bloggers, I have been skimming through a review of the philosopher Roger Scruton’s latest book, entitled I Drink, Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine which is all about appreciating fine wines and sharing civilised bonhomie over small quantities of sauvignon blanc in glasses of Riedel crystal.
In other words the kind of drinking I never did, and which is as mysterious to me as nuclear physics. Naturally I liked the idea of wine-tasting clubs and collecting vintage wines and sipping single malt whiskies while discursing knowledgeably on why unwooded chardonnay is best to accompany poached salmon. The problem was, sigh, that I would drink anything that made me drunk and as much of it as possible. When I finished one bottle I would move on to another or switch drinks or drink from the dregs of others’ glasses or a hidden flask in my handbag or go out in search of rot gut cheap hardtack. A case of wine made more sense to me than a glass or single bottle, but even a case was not enough. I doubt even a wine cellar would have been enough. Or an entire distillery.
Every once in a while I meet what you might call ‘snob drunks’ in recovery who only ever drank good champagne – and never fell off bar stools or slept with strangers while in a black-out or undressed in public or drank vodka in shampoo bottles. But I get a kind of sardonic, knowing instinct about them and their ladylike stories of how they talked a little too loudly and realised they were mildly embarrassing when tipsy on Dom Perignon. A drunk is a drunk. If you gathered together a dozen active alcoholics from different walks of life and locked them up in a room with a well-stocked bar, they would all sound very much alike after consuming a bottle or so of vodka each. Some of us get belligerent, some of us get weepy, some more unco-ordinated than others, but we would all be scheming about getting our share of liquor when the bar supplies began running out. We’d all be talking nonsense and behaving badly and passing out and puking on one another’s shoes. And hiding our private supply of booze under our chairs while we bragged about our doctorates or years in therapy or talked in plummy voices about family genealogy. Or philosophy and how to tell a decent cabernet sauvignon from plonk.
I hope Roger Scruton doesn’t end up with alcoholics at his dinner parties or his appreciation of wine might be tempered with cautious realism.
His dinner parties sound a real gas: “A good wine should always be accompanied by a good topic”; he prescribes, for example, “whether the Tristan chord is a half-diminished seventh or whether there could be a proof of Goldbach’s conjecture.” Everybody back to Rog’s, then…
That pedagogical side comes out strongly in the book’s second part, which gets to grips with the philosophical implications of oenophilia. This is less enjoyable, though one may still sift bracing minerals of good sense from the slightly dry lecturing: he is good on wine as the expression of a place and community, on the nuances of intoxication and on the social beneficence of buying rounds. He is insistent, though not entirely convincing, about wine as an agency of moral enhancement: “Wine respects our illusions and even amplifies the more benign among them. But it does not provide an escape route from reality.”
If wine hadn’t provided an escape from reality, I wouldn’t have bothered with several litres at a time, would I?
The mood in the village is very festive. Everyone is listening to Susan Boyle, Rock Against the Machine or Yvonne Chaka- Chaka. This morning I ate a handful of cashew nuts, a small mince pie and a slice of blue Roquefort cheese for breakfast. People are stringing old-fashioned coloured lights from their rooftops and the branches of camphor trees. My housemate sings Once In Royal David’s City, the same verse over and over again, as she fries herself eggs and bacon for breakfast. We lie sprawled on sofas with small dogs on our stomachs, groaning gently and passing back and forth a bowl of pistachio cookies. Sober hedonism.
Once the rain stops I am going to admire labrador puppies on a nearby farm. There is nothing like a small golden labrador puppy with toast-and-milk breath, silky ears and floppy paws, pink-tongued yawns and wet-nosed snuffles to make everyone all soft and gooey inside and overflowing with gratitude. Life is good.