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Waugh On Wine

Waugh On Wine

by Auberon Waugh,
with illustrations by William Rushton
( Quartet Books, £10)

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Settle into a comfy chair, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy this entertaining collection of former Spectator wine critic Auberon Waugh’s writings ( first published in 1987), which sparkles with his legendary wit.

On pink champagne ( a personal favourite of mine), he writes, ‘ there is something Barbara Cartlandish about returning to this great Edwardian favourite. Perhaps it cannot compare, in delicacy or subtlety, to the very best white champagne, but how many of us ever drink the very best ? ’

Pink fizz is much more ‘festive’ to look at. Waugh admonishes:
‘ Hosts that skimp on their wine should be exposed, ridiculed and humiliated’ and ‘ anyone with money to spend should spend it on laying down a cellar. ’

Wise words indeed. Unputdownable, although a little dated, this is a must for wine-lovers.
RW

Review that appeared in The Lady Magazine last Friday which gave the book four stars.

A LEARNING CURVE

As I reflect in my old age on my life I am increasingly drawn to the reflection that there is often much to be gained by making errors of judgement; that we can learn from our mistakes.

Back in February 1983, I had been to the Bridge Lane Theatre in Battersea to see the musical Hollywood Babylon, based on Kenneth Anger’s hard-hitting book about scandals in the Hollywood film community of the 1930s. It looked as if its limited run was going to end there for no Central London theatre showed any signs of taking it up.

I decided to stage it again for three nights at the Camden Palace between 14 and 16 June, feeling that, properly promoted, this might induce a West End management to consider a transfer. The show, in my opinion, was worth another chance.

The play re-enacted fourteen stories from the book, using a mix of music, dance, dialogue, mime and film, assembled by the director Paul Marcus, who was fulfilling a three-year ambition in presenting it for the stage. It was unsentimental and hard-core, whether it was telling of the demise of the Mexican Spitfire, Lupe Velez, bungling a meticulously rehearsed suicide and drowning in vomit and toilet water; or of the kindly Ramon Novarro being murdered by having a dildo rammed down his throat.

Time Out described it as ‘not so much digging the dirt’ as ‘more of a full-scale excavation’. The critics were confounded by the breakneck pace of the show and the full horror of its story-telling. But they all agreed that Debbie Arnold, playing Lana Turner and Jayne Mansfield, was excellent and a theatrical discovery. Trudie Styler (now Sting’s wife) as Velez, Mary Astor and Barbara Le Marr was equally outstanding, and Nick Chagriu as Valentino and Novarro set the seal on the high quality of the acting. The production was slick and entertaining, so long as you had the stomach for it.

In retrospect I could see the reason for its failure. The public on a night out does not necessarily wish to witness scenes of human degradation; and the production’s shock tactics were hardly calculated to turn it into anything other than the kind of entertainment that relies on squalor and violence for its appeal.

From my own perspective the exercise was another learning experience that would no doubt help my selectivity in future. Debbie Arnold was soon to star opposite Omar Sharif in the stage version of Terence Rattigan’s The Prince and the Showgirl, in the role made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the movie. This was definitely as a result of her performance in Hollywood Babylon. So, on this occasion, something good had come out of my entrepreneurial misjudgement.

I would also publish, a few years later, what is now the definitive life of Terence Rattigan, written by Michael Darlow – still in print and still selling in its revised, updated version.

Where does the money come from?

There is something wrong in Britain’s toxic business rates system that is killing the high street retailers to a point where unless the government embarks on an urgent overall system designed to save them from total extinction, we are heading to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.

The bosses of many of the country’s best-known chains including John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer warn that sky-high rates are killing town centres.

In a powerful joint letter to Sajid Javid they urged the Chancellor to reform the tax before it is too late.

The retail leaders, who also include the bosses of Boots, B&Q and Harrods, say the combination of internet shopping and punitive taxes is having a dramatic impact on business. New figures show that more than 1 in 10 high street stores now stand empty.

The letter is also backed by executives from Pret-a-Manger, Greggs, DFS, Iceland, Asda, Debenhams, Primark, the Co-Op, Hamleys and River Island.

The Daily Mail has repeatedly highlighted the crisis in the retail sector, which threatens to ruin many of the country’s town centres.

Business rates are expected to rake in £31.3billion of tax in the financial year, according to the office for budget responsibility.

Organised by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), today’s letter takes aim at the broken system and says: This outdated tax is hindering our plans for investment, holding back productivity growth and detrimentally impacting communities up and down the country.

The UK has one of the highest commercial property taxes in the world.

The effect on many high streets and town centres has been dramatic. Business rates often represent the tipping point between opening a new store or a store’s viability and its closure.

The letter calls for a freeze on rates to stop them rising by inflation, a more efficient appeal process, ‘improvement relief’ for shops that spend money to upgrade their premises, and reforms to make the system simpler.

It follows an appeal from Tesco boss Dave Lewis. Writing in the Mail in May he called for rates to be cut and a new online sales tax.

Traditional stores have been hit hard by the rise of the internet, with household names such as House of Fraser, Debenhams and HMV rescued from administration. Even stalwart M&S is being forced to shut 100 outlets.

Last month, 10.3% were vacant, according to the BRC and data firm Spring Board. As the number of people visiting bricks and mortar shops were 1.9% lower in July than it had been a year earlier, the biggest fall for seven years.

Retailers claim business rates which are linked to a property’s value on the rental market, penalise high street stores.

Shops in prime locations with few customers can pay for more than warehouses operated by online arrival such as Amazon.

Stores are assessed and charged a percentage of their so-called rateable value each year. For large sites it stands at 50.4%.

More than 7,500 stores closed in 2018, analysis by the local data company shows and the BRC estimates that 70,000 jobs were lost. Among the worst hit areas is Mersey in Stoke-on-Trent, where it was estimated in April that 44 out of 130 shops were vacant.

The one thriving town lost 13 independent and 2 chain outlets last year and gained none.

A treasury spokesman said last month the Prime Minister announced £3.6billion town fund to support our high streets and town centres.

Personally, I don’t trust the present government to keep its promises simply because any money available to them they need to spend in propogandist efforts in order to stay in power.

And when you ask them where do you find the money we desperately need if we leave the EU without a deal, then they tell you a load of porkies to cover up a conspiracy of sorts.

The public is no longer stupid to believe it and to paraphrase it they will certainly retort; Tell it to the marines.

 

A HAPPY MEMORY

My blog of late has tried to deal with the chaos being plotted by the Brexit-at-any-cost bunch of conspirators who have seized power in the House of Commons. There is a limit to facing an abyss of this magnitude so I thought it might be a nice idea to remember happier times. Leafing through my autobiography, Fulfilment & Betrayal, I re-read an account of a happier time and thought it might cheer all of us up. So here it is:

‘Meanwhile, at my Regent Street office, a new light appeared in the form of Jess Collett, a young, attractive blonde who could have dazzled the socks off any red-blooded youthful male, let alone a man of my age. Her presence enlivened the atmosphere, and in her own words she sums up that time with a stylish cheekiness.

‘Getting Away with Murder

‘When I walked into the marketing department of Mappin & Webb in 1995 as office skivvy, the only thing I knew about Naim was that he and my dad used the same hairdresser – and still do, what class! I was surrounded by nubile young ladies accredited with brains, looks and charm. The only man to be seen in the office, apart from Naim himself, was the postman!

‘I seemed to fall into position of youngest (who gets away with murder) with extreme ease, and was soon known affectionately as ‘Blondie’. On Naim’s bad days I hopped on to his knee to cheer him up, and on his good days I did the same. After a month, I was presented with a beautiful watch for my services. I might have left at this point, pawned the watch and got the money I needed for going to Mexico. But I didn’t. Instead I had the most exciting, amusing and of course instructive six months. I met some lovely people, posed in a very short pvc skirt, modelled thousands of pounds’ worth of jewellery and watches up my arm, sat at the wheel of a couple of Ferraris in Bond Street, drank fine champagne in Winston Churchill’s underground cabinet war rooms and stuffed a lot of envelopes. So, as my only experience of working in an office (I am now a milliner), I would say it was a very good advertisement.’

As a great poet once wrote: toujours gai toujours gai

 

 

 

 

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A BITCHY MR LEWIS…

I’m no stranger to sarcastic reviews, nor do I think in most cases a riposte is called for, but Roger Lewis’s review of Quartet’s recent reprint of Waugh on Wine in The Times (August 3) is a bitch too far, I feel.

After what is mostly an appreciative account of Bron’s witty, perceptive thoughts on what constitutes decent wine, etc., describes Bron’s ‘genius, like his father’s, was for being abusive, not informative.’ Lewis’s parting shot however is to suggest our publishing the anthology ‘as the most pointless reprint in the history of publishing’ since we did not correct the few addresses of wine merchants, informing the reader instead that up-to-date information was easily available at Google.com. Lewis suggests I’m ‘having a laugh.’

What I was doing was reprinting a collection of writings still considered by many wine critics as a classic, in its original form. It is not presented as a guide for today’s would be wine connoisseurs – a consumer aid – but as a masterpiece of wine journalism at its finest, issued almost as it first appeared nearly forty years ago with the original information still in situ, rather like the taverns mentioned in Cobbett’s Rural Rides.

After all, even though the Holly Bush at Headley is still serving ale, there’s plenty more hostelries that Cobbett visited which now lie under the motorways and high speed train lines. Will Mr Lewis think Penguin Classics are having a laugh?

CHUTZPAH IS NOT ENOUGH

Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm is a rare quality which we should not ignore. However, being a prime minister of the UK is never a laughing matter. The job demands diplomacy of the first degree, given that his Brexit policy will eventually lead our country into a disastrous recession and alienate those people whose goodwill he needs most desperately in order to survive. It’s also disappointing, to say the least, that his choice of a cabinet filled with his toadies is beyond comprehension. It is self-evidently made up of people whose political skills are clearly below the norm and are there simply because they do his bidding, come what may in order to retain their jobs.

Nobody in his or her right mind will now deny that Britain is facing the threat of recession after the economy unexpectedly shrank for the first time in 7 years, despite the fact that his Chancellor, the ever craven Jafid, still insists ‘that the UK is strong.’ Official data shows a gross domestic product contracting by 0.2% between April and June – the first contraction since 2012, and the worst performance since the 2009 financial crisis. Sterling fell below GBP/EUR1.08 and under GBP/USD1.21 after the numbers were published by the Office for National Statistics last Friday. It marks a sharp reversal from the strong growth of 0.5% in the first 3 months of the year.

That period was boosted by a frenzy of stockpiling of goods and materials by businesses on both sides of the channel, ahead of the then planned Brexit deadline of March 29. The extra demand disappeared in the second quarter as companies cut back buying and used parts of those stockpiles, hitting new output. The contraction could set the scene for a recession – which is defined as two consecutive quarters of falling GDP. In brief, the signs are not encouraging. The PM should change his tactics and embark on a less aggressive policy in order to give credibility to some of his more restrained announcements. We need Europe as a friend, not an enemy.

Johnson must realize that his advent as PM was due to the resignation of Theresa May and he has not been democratically voted by the nation – a precarious situation which he does not seem to realise or even acknowledge. The sooner his followers drum that fact into him, the better the Conservative party will fare in any future election. Corbyn is still a threat despite his dilly-dallying. We must always remember that. I don’t believe the Labour leader has been effective in anything, let alone become a good, decisive PM.

On the other hand, we must not forget the Tories would lose half of marginal seats to the Lib Dems, according to a YouGuv poll of more than 1,200 voters in 20 constituencies with small Tory majorities, and where the Lib Dems have come second in 2017, shows a 14.1% drop in Tory support. The poll, revealing a swing of more than 8% to the Lib Dems since the 2017 election, will act as a warning to Johnson who has put his party on an election footing.

The swing increases yet further if Johnson campaigns for a no deal Brexit and if parties opposed to no deal were to unite on a single platform, the Tories would be defeated in 13 out of the 20 seats. In other words, the PM’s gamble would mark his undoing. His behaviour so far, however, does rather suggest just deserts.

AN OCCASIONAL TIPPLE HAS AT LEAST SOME HIDDEN BENEFITS

Scientists have found out that drinking coffee close to bed time may not stop you getting off to sleep after all, a study suggests. Instead it is alcohol which is far more likely to lead to a night of tossing and turning.

Researchers track the sleep of nearly 800 people over 6 nights and asked them to note if they have consumed caffeine, alcohol or nicotine in the four hours before bed. Almost half had caffeinated drinks at night, but no link with poor sleep could be found.

In contrast, those who drank alcohol saw their sleep efficiency fall by almost 1 percent – the equivalent of five minutes lost sleep.

Those who smoke before bed saw a 2 percent fall in their sleep efficiency, an average of 8 extra minutes awake.

The study, published in the Journal of Sleep, did not take into account how much caffeine the participants drank or how sensitive they were to it. Some people break it down in their bodies faster than others.

Lead author Dr Christine Spadola of Florida Atlantic University said, ‘while we did find that evening consumption of alcohol and nicotine were associated with sleep disruption, we did not find an association between consumption of caffeine within four hours of bedtime and sleep disruption.

‘This was a surprise to us but is not unprecedented – the previous evidence is mixed when it comes to the effect of caffeine on sleep.

‘However, it is important to note that we did not look at caffeine dosing or individual tolerance and sensitivity levels, which are important factors that can impact the effect of caffeine on one’s sleep. Over all, it is best to limit caffeinated drinks after 12 noon for optimal sleep’.

Alcohol affects chemicals in the brain and is known to cause shallower sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants which can block chemicals important for sleep.

The NHS advises people looking for a better night’s sleep to cut down on caffeine in coffee, tea, energy drinks and colas, especially in the evening. It recommends a warm milky drink or herbal tea instead.

All the above makes a great deal of sense. Coffee in moderation has for me a great deal of benefit as far as my digestive system is concerned and an occasional alcoholic drink during the day especially with a good lunch at my favourite restaurant Le Boudin Blanc in Shepherd Market seems to trigger off my writing ability. Thank God for that.