Like antlers on the wall, old Punch cartoons in the downstairs loo or a second-hand copy of Catch-22 in a student’s bedroom, the corkscrew in my handbag has been the symbol of a certain kind of life. A certain attitude to life.
Corkscrews come in very handy on summer evenings. Parks become your pub garden; dates by the river are saved from disaster. The corkscrew in my handbag was the signifier of my single, riotous life.
The sludgy heat, thick in the city today takes me back. I worked in a wine shop then, late evening finishes softened by bottles in my bag; clanging against my shins when I sat on handlebars of my friend’s bike. We’re barrelling through the sultry evening to sneak them into the pub garden. We’ll chain smoke over glasses of rosé and the bouncer (practically a friend now) will pretend he doesn’t notice that the bottle on the table magically refills itself.
I’m on a date at a wine tasting in Vincent Square with a old-young man who’s all but made of corduroy. With verbosity borne of Chablis he’s mansplaining the correct way to taste wine. Our Tinder chat didn’t cover the fact that in three days I’m sitting my Unit 3 exam.
On the East coast of New Zealand, I met a Canadian who ate tomatoes like apples. We sat in a hot tub on the edge of the world drifting through the Milky Way, high on the East’s ‘homegrown’ and full of pork chops cooked on the camping stove. We drank Sav, of course. Rivers of it, our veins rich with its tropical whiff. For all the years between then and now, whenever I catch that scent I see the Canadian. Dawdling on the sun-soaked pavements of Taupo, he eats a beef tomato stalk and all, and the juice runs down his chin.
In St James’ the heat pools between buildings. Life slows to another pace, another century. In a clinging dress and my nicest shoes I pass into the cool of the vaulted marble halls. In the plush silence of members-only clubs, I tease mouth-puckering cocktail onions from antique silver cocktail stirrers. It’s the frisson of a date which was completely unlike I expected – I drink one more Gibson than I really ought. One for luck.
I wish I could say we fell in love over a bottle of Clos Rougeard Brèze, but the truth is rather more prosaic. But of that meal, small details knit together to form life changing moments. We were still feeling our way around each other then, but that bottle united something in us keener than sex or even intellectual frisson. We both loved that wine and needed to have more of it. Wine alone ignites certain synapses.
Yesterday I was measured for my wedding dress. In a little over three months we’ll be married.
It was a curious happenstance, then, on Sunday last: “This is the train conductor speaking. We have a bit of a situation. If anyone has a corkscrew please can you make your way to the bar in carriage J. There is a lady who needs assistance opening her wine.” No, not the opening lines of a Monty Python sketch, a real-life announcement on the 15.51 express from Montrose to London. Reader, I came to her rescue. And told her to keep the corkscrew.
Photo © Natia Dat