It has been a grim week. First, we edged a bit closer to nuclear war. Then Theresa May did you know what. People of intelligence and sensitivity like me have been staggering under the repeated hammer blows of political fortune for nearly a year now. So let me tell you a happy story.
As some of you already know, I have a happy and beneficial relationship with the branch of Majestic Wine down the road. The staff rotate, but slowly, like the crew aboard the International Space Station, so there is always time to get to know them. And, like with the astronauts manning the ISS, knowing that the boys are there (there used to be a very attractive girl, but she has gone now. Alas! More female staff, please, Majestic, pulchritude immaterial), even when one is not, contributes somehow to one’s peace of mind.
I once went in there and, seeing that there was: a) a queue and b) a bottle on the shelf from a case of six I’d paid for previously, I grabbed it and walked out, indicating to the Wine Guy behind the counter what I was doing, so he could cross it off my account. (I collect my wine this way now, as the cardboard boxes they come in by the half-dozen had started to crowd me out of the Hovel. When I removed the empty ones in the winter, the temperature dropped by 3° Centigrade.)
Wine Guy muttered as I walked out, “Yes, because you’re so important.”
The next day – because if I collect my wine by the bottle it always is the next day – I came in and he apologised. He was hassled; it had been a long, hard day.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “I deserved that, and it was also hilarious. I should be the one apologising. In fact, I do so now.” (I forbore to mention that it took me some time to realise he was being a bit grumpy with me, rather than stating a simple truth.)
Anyway, cut to last week. I go in there and see a rather ugly but unambiguously celebratory trophy placed slap bang in the middle of the display shelf in front of the tills. It is far too big to ignore when one is anywhere in the shop, and it bears the legend “Team of the Year 2016-17”.
“Is this yours?” I ask, stupidly.
Wine Guy (the same one) breaks into a proud half-smile.
“It is indeed. Did you know,” he goes on, “that you can fit a whole bottle of wine into the cup bit of the trophy, without it overflowing?”
I peer in. It scarcely seems possible.
“Anyway – well done!” I say, and maybe shake his hand, take some wine, and go. A few steps down the street, I turn around and go back in.
“Do you mind if I take a picture of this and share it on a social medium?”
“Be our guest.”
The responses come in thick and fast. There is a general theme, summed up in my friend D—’s words: “Without you they would be nothing.”
This is a slight exaggeration, but one sees what she means. I have been drinking between a bottle and a bottle and a half a day of their cheapest drinkable wine, whatever it is, from that branch alone, for the past nine and seven-twelfth years. That adds up to rather a lot of wine. I think I’ve missed out on two to three weeks of those years through illness or travel, but it’s still plenty. Majestic Wine has over 200 branches in the United Kingdom, and of all those 200-plus branches, guess which one wins the trophy? The one with my boys in it. (And the one girl.) Coincidence? I think not.
I remember the time I went to Casa Becci, the excellent little local Italian restaurant, and the Majestic staff were all having a dinner in the back room, and when I walked past them to go to the loo they all cheered. They knew who had paid for it. Another Majestic employee recently made me a very good Bloody Mary when I walked in early one Sunday afternoon.
I went in there the other day. The trophy is still there, as it should be for the rest of the year.
“Do you want to come in when we fill this up with wine?” asks Wine Guy.
“Why, yes,” I say, blinking back the tears.
Evil walks abroad: it controls the world in its clammy, hideous hands. Its talons pierce the flesh, its breath reeks in our nostrils. But in one corner of Marylebone (and – who knows – 200-plus corners elsewhere, too?), there is also Truth and Beauty and Kindness. l
This article has been written without any assistance, financial or otherwise, from Majestic Wine
This article appears in the 26 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On