Jeroboam's Whiskers

Guess what. It’s raining. Not sprinkling, not a shower; it’s raining cats and dogs, cows and tortoises, all day, not a moment’s respite. That’s the way it rains here, unlike any other place. Everything you’ve heard is true. And if you’re reading this next week, or last week, I can assure you it’s probably raining on whatever day you 
read. We live under a daily threat.

In the city of London, in the Borough of Camden, in the hamlet of Hampstead there is a wine shop, ahem, a fine wine merchant that I rushed into immediately creating a puddle on the floor. I set my big black umbrella (I have eight) by the door, and wiped my leopard rain booties (cheap as a nylon vintage shirt and more cheerful) on the coconut coir mat and pulled back the hood of my rainproof jacket. I could describe the wide-planked wood floors and the deep wooden shelves that hold very fine vintages about which I know nothing, but that might give the impression that this wine shop, ahem, merchant, might be a nose above, say, Oddbins. It might. And when approached by a young man, trying his level best to grow a set of whiskers in mutton chop form on his still tender skin, I am initially softened by this attempt to make me feel as if I’d just popped into a costume drama.  He wears a long hunter green apron and I wonder why.  Are there dusty catacombs in the bowels of Heath Street where he battles cobwebs to retrieve a rare bottle of port?

“Good afternoon.” Of course he would say that.
“Hi. I’m looking for an Italian red that I once drank in the Holly Bush pub up the street and can’t find anywhere.”
I search in the pockets of my jacket for the little piece of paper with the name of the wine, but it isn’t there.
“Gosh, it’s terrible out today, isn’t it?” I mumble still searching.
“I’m so glad you came in. You’re the first customer I’ve seen, the first person I’ve seen all day. I’m so bored. It’s so boring. What can I help you with? Can I tell you about this wine?”
AND HE WAS OFF…Like a smooth Kentucky filly he was speeding through the wind in rapture describing a red wine from god knows where, his whiskers whisking furiously. He rattles on non-stop, shows me around the place, and take a gulp of air after he asks what I plan to eat with the wine.

I don’t normally drink, but when I do… I just want a nice bottle of red for a lunchy-do and now that I can’t find the blasted piece of paper, I don’t really care from where it hails. When I tell him about the mushroom lasagna his face turns quizzical.

“I’ve never heard of that dish before.”
He wasn't joking. I didn’t know how to respond.
“Well, it’s lasagna, but instead of meat sauce it’s made with wild mushrooms and cheese.”
“Oh,” he said tugging on the ole whiskers, “that sounds very interesting. You’re making me very hungry. I was bored, and when you leave I'll be bored and hungry. We must find an earthy red to go with that.” It seemed he remembered I was there for a reason.

I mention a Shiraz. He looks appalled and spends an inordinate amount of time badmouthing it. He keeps glancing at the door and I silently question whether he has vain hopes for a crazy Monday onrush of customers, or perhaps he's thinking of locking the door and making me his listening slave for the rest of the day. It’s still pouring out, I've not chosen a wine yet and I really have to go.

Finally, we narrowed it down to two; one was a little more expensive, more than I really wanted to pay. I knew we'd only drink a glass or two; it was destined to sit on the baker's rack in my kitchen and turn to vinegar before I had a chance to give a marinara a kick with the remainder. But I bought it. I bought it because in spite of himself, he sold it to me – something about the earth, the grape and those mushrooms. I was beginning to feel badly about leaving him there for the rest of the afternoon. A sad look washed over his face when I picked up my umbrella.

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