So we’ve had another Covid-permeated year, and another New Year to hope for better things than last year – it’s all a bit déjà vu all over again…
Well, Christmas came and went. We spent it in England with family – the first one for 2 years. Before Noah and I set off for Blighty, though, there was this last sunset in Piemonte in 2021.
Naturally there were some bumps in the road – my brother-in-law called it a whack-a-mole Christmas – but a good time was had by most, if not all. And that good time started immediately upon our arrival, courtesy of Moke Fine Wines in Cirencester.
It was service above and beyond from them to deliver on the Saturday before Christmas so that the wines I had ordered were already waiting when we arrived: even more impressive was that the Champagne you see pictured was cold enough to open. While unpacking the case and noticing that this bottle was at the perfect drinking temperature, I took that as a hint…You can see the result of that thinking below:
Things went downhill a bit from there, though, since the first few days of our stay were spent trying to deal with the news that someone in Noah’s nursery had Covid the week that we flew to Britain. I found out only once we were safely ensconced in the Cotswolds. Obviously, if Noah had picked it up, then that had implications for our visit – it would essentially amount to spending the entire trip in our room – and for the rest of the family. My sister and brother-in-law were due to be visiting others over the holiday, and their children were going to be with us, too. Then there were Noah’s grandparents and my brother to consider: they were also due to be coming for a few days.
As you may imagine, trying to do a swab on the inside of a 5-year-old’s nose and mouth was not as straightforward as all that. You may, were you to have read my previous post, recall my opinions surrounding trick-or-treating and its resemblance to racketeering. Well, we can now add bribery to the list of charges levelled against my parenting…In the end, Noah was brave enough to undergo the procedure more than once on condition of special treats afterwards.
Then the rest of the household repeatedly tested each other. Though looking back as I wrote the above, I can’t for the life of me think why I didn’t demand special treats for doing the tests, for I know for a fact that there are some nice bottles of mature Bordeaux in residence at my sister & brother-in-law’s…
In any case, every one came back negative. After a certain point, we decided enough was enough and stopped doing them – tempting fate into giving us a false-positive seemed to be on the wrong side of the risk-reward ledger.
Once we had negative results for each of us, the first thing we did was head to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt for the Christmas Lights – this is the sort of thing you can expect if you go:
I have used Westonbirt’s video because 1: it is professionally shot, and 2: I didn’t film anything while we were there…I recommend going this year if you can – but bring at least 1 more layer than you think you need, as the wind was whipping along on the evening we were there.
Apart from that, we ate and drank and chatted and went for walks and Noah was especially excited to help feed the sheep and to hide in the tree house.
Then the Christmas tree arrived and so we had another little activity for Noah to take charge of. Here is what it looked like after his ‘supervision’:
On 23rd December, I had a night off – I fled the coop and stayed with a friend, Andy Barker, who had been the first guest that stayed in my apartment in Alba in May 2013. I hadn’t seen him since, and we reflected that in that time, my partner had moved from the USA, we had got married, had a child and got divorced! My word, exciting times.
It was great to catch up – Andy was my first assistant manager at Oddbins in October 1996, and was as jovial now as he had been then. Dinner was superbly cooked by Clare, his partner, who, luckily for Andy, especially, also loves her wine.
Between the three of us, we polished off the contents of the above photo…I kept telling myself that I still had a 5-year-old the next day, but I did rather feel it would be rude not to sample the bottles on offer. Rather fortuitously, I felt fine the next day. Well, I say fine. I wasn’t hungover, but nevertheless was a bit down on power.
You know how they say you learn something every day? Well, on 24th, as I was making my way back from Andy & Clare’s, I stopped at a corner shop to buy some mince pies. Upon finding that I wasn’t finding any, I asked the lady behind the counter if they had any. She did not know what they were: I had to describe them. This was a first for me. In these Covid times, it’s strange what passes for a highlight of your day…!
Christmas day itself dawned at sunrise…:
…which is when Noah dawned. Actually, he was up before that. It was great – Noah was really excited about Father Christmas bringing him something, even though his main present was being delivered to Alba, as Father Christmas very considerately did not want me lugging a lot of stuff back on the plane. (And I’m not sure how I’d have got the bike back anyway.) As is traditional in the Butchart household, presents were to be opened after lunch, apart from Babbo Natale’s delights. To my amazement, Noah was perfectly fine with that and just mucked about all morning with other things and helped me build the Lego TIE fighter that Father Christmas had brought him. Once we had eaten and drunk, Noah took charge of distributing the presents and getting sidetracked by his own.
Here’s a little present to myself, written by the inestimable Ben Spencer:
If you don’t have it, buy this great book. And visit Etna – Ben will look after you, via his Etna Wine School, and you’ll have a blast. (See what I did there? Volcano? Blast? Not happy with that…?)
Kate, my sister, Ed, her husband, and I all celebrated our 50th birthdays in the 18 months between May 2020 and October 2021. I say celebrated. Kate had a lovely cake, and she and Ed might even have gone for a meal. I don’t think that there was anything more than that, though, between the 3 of us. So I got to have another night off from my parental responsibilities while the 3 of us slipped out for a meal to celebrate. It was naturally a low key affair, but it was very nice to be out with family again, and – heresy though this is – to drink something that was not from Piemonte.
We also had a couple of bottles dating back to our foundings in 1970 (a Colares red from Paulo da Silva) and 1971 (Coteaux du Layon from Moulin Touchais). So we opened them and imbibed the contents over 3 nights:
Eventually, of course, it was time for us to head back home to Piemonte. We had a flight on 30th December at an agreeable hour so that we did not have to leave the Cotswolds too early, and nor would we be back in Alba too late. But it was not to turn out quite like that…
As is standard procedure these days, I had filled out a Passenger Locator Form and taken a PCR test no more than 48 hours prior to departure. Thing was, by the morning of 30th December, I had not had my test result back and we were flying at 14.05. I resolved to call the lab. They opened, rather helpfully, at 10.00. So we were already on our way to the airport when I was informed by them that the test was in the system and that it would be analysed that evening. The more astute among you may have spotted that this was after, not before, our flight left. There was no way they could analyse it sooner they said.
So I tried at the airport. This involved being shunted back and forth between easyJet and the walk-in test facility a number of times in order to ascertain exactly what sort of test I needed and whether it could be performed. After much ‘right-back-to-the-lift-Noah’ -ing and, crucially, time, I took a test and was assured that I would have the results just in time.
I didn’t. Even when I went and asked what had happened to the results and had that horrible sinking-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling when the lady asked if I had checked my spam: the results, as foreshadowed by that feeling mentioned just now, were indeed there, but they had arrived after the gate had closed. I should point out here that I am not in any way trying to have a go at the testing facility at Gatwick – they were really helpful and bent over backwards to fit me in without an appointment. They could not have done more. And I think that they had plenty of bigger fish to fry than myself, as this photo from the café adjacent to their premises shows. Just count the celebs:
Still, that left us with some work to do – we had initially to decide whether it was back to the Cotswolds or try an airport hotel, and then take the appropriate action, which would involve having to book another flight home. Upon canvassing Noah’s opinion, ‘Stay at a hotel,’ was his unwavering choice: once he had said it was his preferred option a third time, the die was cast.
It all proved very easy in the end – booked a family room at the Premier Inn on my phone, checked in easily once there and reserved dinner in the restaurant at the same time. Ditto with the flights. I have to thank Kate, my aforementioned sister, for staying at the airport with Noah and myself until all was settled – it would have been inordinately more difficult without her.
While it was a hassle and an expense I could have done without, to be sure, there was nothing we could do about it, and we simply missed a commercial flight and got one the next day, staying in a comfortable hotel a 3-minute walk from the terminal in between. It’s not like we missed an evacuation out of Kabul because someone had decided to put cats and dogs on the plane instead. People moan about wearing a mask on public transport, but we don’t know we’re bloody born.
All-in-all it was a great trip back, and even the final day hiccup did not do anything to dampen our spirits. Indeed, Noah, whilst partaking of the repast at the hotel restaurant, told me that it was the best night ever. Then we got to watch David Attenborough before a sound sleep. (The one did not lead to the other.)
And I have to say that staying at the airport the night before a morning flight really appeals having now experienced it. It is great to be able to get up at a decent time, get some breakfast and walk to the check-in desk. Very much the way forward.
Considering all that, I arrived back in Alba having driven from the airport, if not totally fresh, then at least as fresh as a daisy picked the day before and put immediately into some sugar-water.
I didn’t realise it at the time…
At this point, though, I feel that I owe you an apology (because I have been advised that I need to feel that I do) for how 2022 started. I attended a gathering with some other wine industry professionals where there was cheese, guacamole, some salamis and everyone brought their own bottle(s). At the time I was convinced that this was most certainly a work event – I know that we all recognise the description of an invite-only gathering outside work hours where everyone brings their own bottles of booze and there are nibbles, as indistinguishable from our standard working day. However, I am now beginning to have doubts: I have heard whisper that this was in fact a party, and, while I was able to dismiss this interpretation of it initially, the suspicion remains that it might just have been. But I can’t think that it was – what kind of imbecile would not be able to tell if it was a party or not?
Right, more than adequate apology out of the way, I can now show you a couple of photos of the lads’ line-up of bottles that were put away in no uncertain fashion in the very same professional manner that we adopt at all other times when we are working:
A few days later it was time for a birthday lunch for my longest-standing (not after that lunch…See what I did there?) friend in Piemonte. As you can see, there was the odd bottle consumed, here, too. Midnight came and went before I hit the hay.
So onto 2022!
Now it’s back to nursery for Noah, back to ‘work’ for me – this counts, for example.
Here’s to a better year this than we enjoyed last. I will leave the final words of advice to my sister: