Saturday 16 January 1999
Matters of Taste
How a runaway horse made me a legend in my own bathtime - with a little help from a Château L'Arossé '89
By Andrew Lloyd Webber (from his weekly column)
This is not the New Year opener I had intended to write. Not because of the court case that I had to defend in New York. Thank God I won the case. Yet even though everyone said I would, Jim Steinman’s line in Whistle about American lawyers and their traps hits the spot.
Amateur sages of the psyche and its relation to medical conditions tell you that when you go through extreme moments of stress the body somehow resists the lurgies that are battering its defences. Once everything is OK, the immune system hands in the towel. Boy, did it do so in my case.
So my intended survey of 1999 foodie guides was not to be. True, I wasn’t beached with the flu writhing on some hospital trolley while awaiting the arrival of newly drafted Filipina nurses. This was partly because I was in Ireland.
In Ireland the local medic is still prepared to jump in a car, antibiotics akimbo, to visit the sick in their very own lairs. Matty, our local doctor, was most understanding when 1 called. "I'll be over just as soon as I have ridden out the horses and had a spot of breakfast," he reassured.
Matty arrived clasping pills the size and shape of small quenelles. Indeed, they looked worryingly like suppositories. "We need to have you up for your Christmas drinks party," he declared, while perishing the thought that if yours truly was still bed bound the better halt might ration certain life-infusing liquids.
Once quenelle A had safely entered the orifice, I began musing. Was it only the New York saga that had caused my sorry state? What other activity could have stressed me out? For instance, the office party?
The Office Party!
In a flash I recalled an investor in a particularly boring show who I found myself sitting next to on opening night. The cove had gone to sleep. He awoke with a jolt during a moment of extreme hushed bathos and, wishing to cement the show’s hit status, leapt to his feet with a rousing cry of Bravo!"
My behaviour was similar, except that my cry was Momo!". For it was at this Franco-Moroccaney glitzery off Regent Street that the office held its Christmas bash.
lt’s amazing how a group gathered together determined to enjoy themselves make the best of things. My crowd certainly did. But as the third dose of Veganin followed the second mini-quenelle down the hatch, I found myself wondering where I had eaten worse food since I began gobbling the newsprint re matters culinary three years ago.
OK, obviously nothing quite rivals the coronation chicken bap at Membury Service Station. Also a lunch at another Moroccan, Pasha, was a top contender for Worst Visit to the Trough 1997. On the Momo front, bland hummus and an outstandingly appalling dish of overcooked lamb with prunes sum up the fare my office got courtesy of this joint. Mind you, the use of the word joint insults decent meat. I hereby rescind it. I’ve heard of tangerine dreams. This was a tagine nightmare.
On day three of Matty’s s magic mega-capsules I began feel a bit better. I recalled having a similar lurgy over Christmas a while ago when I was deserted by wife and house guests for some Boxing Day bash. By the lunching hour I was so fed up that I stumbled cellar-bound and seized a bottle of Charmes-Chambertin ‘69. I recall its taste and the consequent instant cure to this day.
This Christmas, darling wife plus brood had gone off atop their respective steeds. The house was quiet. No feminine restraining hand could impede my progress to the cellar door. I descended the staircase falteringly. Would a combination of claret and capsules perform a similar miracle?
"What are you doing?" The voice, at once loved, feared and revered, was not far behind Webber, bottle and screwpull. "Has no one told you that antibiotics and wine don’t mix?" Actually, Matty’s hadn’t.
"Well, since you’re obviously better, you can look after Bella. It’s too cold outside for her and she’s getting the snuffles."
I quaked, rather I quook. Some readers of this column may recall the last time that I was left alone in Irish pastures with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, that redefinition of the apple of daddy’s eye, Isabella. Indeed, some readers will, I am sure, still sympathise with yours truly regarding the schtuck in which I found myself following the hair-raising saga of Greyey the pony, Bella-boo the Apple and daddy’s first horse whisper.
"OK darling, I’ll keep an eye on her. She can come upstairs and help daddy have a bath." Bella likes that, especially drying daddy and muddling up his clothes. "Fine, but no repetition of last time."
Clearly I was in clover. No way could snuffling daddy and Daddy’s Apple venture into that frosty Irish sunshine. We would stay housebound, far away from stable yards and ponies who climb out of their boxes at the mere thought of emerald grass gracing their lengthy intestines.
So upstairs we went, daddy with his bottle of Château L'Arossée '89, a Bordeaux which is drinking particularly well at the moment. Daddy's Apple dragged her doll by the hair and dumped it on the landing.
The bath oil duly foamed. Daddy’s Apple covered herself with bubbles and yours truly was immersed, glass of claret in hand, remarking how wrong the better half was on the subject of red wine and antibiotics.
"Dolly needs a bath," declared the bubble-covered one. "Bella get dolly from landing."
Now Daddy’s Apple is a careful little thing so, with an enjoinder to come back plus dolly at once, yours truly lay back in the tub, contentment only slightly alloyed by the appearance of soap bubbles in the glass of L’Arossée. Then the bombshell exploded.
"Daddy, daddy, come quickly. There’s a horsey in the house." I uttered a sanitised version of pull the other one.
"No daddy daddy please come. There’s a horsey on the staircase. Come now, [big tug] come daddy, hooorrrsey, pleeeeese."
I am, of course, putty in my daughter’s hands but this time I replied sternly. At times a father has to. The gist was that I’d take a peek, but if this turned out to be a fib there’d be no story tonight. But the tugging and pleeeeesing continued. Clearly a swift exchange of foaming waters for dressing-gown was unavoidable.
Now, you’re not going to believe this any more than I did at the time. Indeed I thought I was hallucinating and perhaps the better half was right about antibiotics and red wine. For stone the crows, or Iapidez les corbeaux as a Frenchperson would say, about to climb the staircase was a fluffy white pony.
I remembered something too grisly to contemplate. When I passed the front door the house was very hot and so was I. So I had opened the door and left it ajar. And now there was a horse in the house. A horse that looked awfully real.
"Andrew Andrew, where are you?" The much-revered voice was in full pony-trial throttle. My first thought was to leg it back to the bathroom leaving Daddy’s Apple in charge of proceedings. Too late. The escape route was now blocked by the all-too-real hairy quadruped.
If you don’t believe a single word of this, you certainly won’t believe what happened next "Andrew,’ the revered one’s tone had changed, I didn’t know you had it in you, Well done, darling
My mouth dropped. I may well have said "Ah". Clearly I was hallucinating after all. "Billy," the revered one continued, "had let go of Fluffy in the yard. How clever of you not to let Bella out in the cold and how brave (she might even have said selfless) to chase Fluffy into the house when you’re feeling so poorly."
I definitely said "Ah".
"Do you know darling," the revered larynx continued, "maybe you do need some red wine to get you over the cold air. Lets have a good bottle over lunch."
Fluffy was escorted from the passage and I retrieved the L’Arossée. Never look a gift horse etc, was my view.
The drinks party went swimmingly.
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