Bambis und Spülwasser (engl. Originalversion zur Kolumne in der htr hotel revue vom 25.06.2015)
There were no rules in our house, only ‘suggestions’ on how to behave. For instance: Never Lie. Secondly: Never Hurt Another’s Feelings. I believed implicitly in these Two Commandments – until I realised they were mutually incompatible. Sometimes it’s just not possible to be honest and please other people (sorry, Bambi).
I saw the clash firsthand at a Morning Tea – that strange custom which the English treat with the seriousness of a religious ceremony, involving huge teapots and piles of baked goods served too soon after breakfast and too close to lunch.
My mother, fresh off a very bumpy flight on a tiny plane from Scotland, accompanied me to the home of two ancient Oxford academics, who were close to a hundred years old and were experts in the field of Renaissance poetry. Unfortunately, when it came to domestics, their skills were akin to a six-year-old’s. After one sniff of my scone, I feared that scouring powder had been used instead of baking powder. Shoving it into my handbag, I watched in alarm as the old lady poured tea.
‘Cream?’ She seized a jug that must have been sitting on a windowsill in blazing sunshine for at least a week. Plop! Into my mother’s cup splashed a huge lump of rancid butter. My mother, already pale, took a sip and turned green. ‘Delicious!’ she murmured, breaking her first commandment in favour of the second – and then she ran for the bathroom.
I remembered this incident last weekend, when I eyed up a bottle of Australian red given to me by a philosopher friend. Being fond of both nuance and precision, he’d added his own instructions to the label in an elegant blue-black hand. ‘Open 24 hours before drinking. Seriously. It will taste like muck if you don’t.’
I pondered a while. I wanted a glass now, not tomorrow. And all my instincts were against opening a mid-price, screw-top Shiraz a whole day in advance. But the careful instructions seemed to indicate a knowledge far beyond my prior experience, even though I cut my wine-drinking teeth on New World reds. So I compromised. I opened the bottle, left it for four hours – and discovered that it tasted like muck.
Next day, I tried it again. Rolled it in the glass, said a prayer to Bacchus – and found it still tasted like muck. My boyfriend wandered in. ‘Would you taste this?’ I asked, wanting a clean palate and an objective opinion. ‘Tastes like muck!’ he exclaimed.
So what should I say when my philosopher friend asks how I found the Aussie red so thoughtfully selected because of my Antipodean roots? Have you heard the cautionary tale about the girl who hated frogs, was given an extraordinarily ugly ornamental one as a gift, lied politely and said she loved it, and as a consequence has been given frogs for every birthday and Christmas since?
To avoid my wine-rack filling up with bottles of carefully sourced sub-standard Down-Under Shiraz, I’ll have to ignore Bambi’s Second Commandment, and obey the first. It’ll be hard. But life’s too short to drink curdled tea. Or muck.