Low life

The healing power of champagne

6 November 2021

9:00 AM

6 November 2021

9:00 AM

The day after Catriona was fitted with a plaster cast and crutches, her elder sister arrived from the UK for a rare visit. Marigold is also on crutches. Diabetes. Which left me as the only able-bodied member of the household, though an ethereal one.

I try daily ‘to run with determination the race that is set before me’ (Hebrews 12:1). Champagne helps. Our seasonal neighbour Professor Brian Cox has pointed me to a website specialising in getting the produce of small family-run champagne houses to your doorstep within 48 hours at a considerably cheaper price than the local supermarket and very decent it is too. I have a half-bottle at breakfast.

‘Glass of champagne, Marigold?’ I asked her at a quarter to nine on the first morning of her visit. ‘Why not?’ she said. ‘You’re only young once.’ One seldom encounters anyone as unintellectual as Marigold and she talks continuously. I like her enormously. I poured us out a glass each of Fermier Giles 2013 and settled back.

Marigold has plenty of excitement in her life, all of it online. Last year, for example, she fell in love with an impoverished young Nigerian masquerading as a prosperous Canadian businessman with a temporary cash-flow problem. Fortunately, before the money transfer went through, the scales had fallen from her eyes. ‘I saw red, I can tell you. I gave him what for.’ ‘What did you say to him?’ ‘Oh, I really told him. “Pardon me,” I said. “But aren’t you ashamed of your deceitfulness?”’ ‘And what did he say to that?’ ‘He passed me on to one of his friends. And this friend tried to get money out of me as well, for his education, he said. I’ve got to say he was a lovely lad and I might have sent him some. But he asked me for a ridiculous amount.’

Since then she’s been involved online with old television cowboys, including the remaining cast members of the late-1960s TV series The High Chaparral. She showed me on her phone a photo of a craggy-faced octogenarian wearing a Stetson. This old cowboy actor had taken a shine to this woman living near Redcar (which is the diabetic capital of the UK, I read the other day). They spoke often on Zoom. ‘Shouldn’t you take your hat off when speaking to a lady?’ she’d said to him the first time. He sent a signed photo and invited her over to New Mexico, to an airport hotel. ‘Suddenly, I smelled a rat, Jeremy,’ she said. ‘And when he told me he was also having an affair with his well repairer, I distanced myself. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m just not that sort of a woman.” And then one of his old girlfriends got in touch and she tried to get money out of me too.’

‘Another glass of champagne?’ I said. ‘I shouldn’t really,’ she said. ‘You’re on holiday,’ I said.

Having resiled from the dwindling — three regular cast members passed away during the pandemic — but still sexually active High Chaparralveterans’ association, she ventured online again, this time to find out who she was. She is Catriona’s adopted sister and had always believed she was of Indian heritage. At school in Paisley she was bullied terribly because everybody else thought so too. So she sent off some spit and some money and discovered that she was 40 per cent Navaho.

‘Jeremy, I can’t tell you how pleased I was. I have always felt that I might be part Native American Indian. I have always felt an affinity. So I wasn’t surprised. But we’re all such a mixture when you get down to it.’

‘Rubbish!’ I said. ‘I’m not. My sister did one of those spit tests recently and it came back that she was 96 per cent Essex and 4 per cent Scandinavian.’ ‘Well, I have to say, Jeremy, that that is highly unusual,’ she said primly.

Our champagne transcendence lasted until about midday. At three o’clock, after a siesta, I shepherded Catriona and her sister down the path. We were driving over to Professor Cox and family to sample his latest champagne consignment. Hobbling and staggering and bristling with crutches, we looked like a remnant of the retreat from Mons.

Once Marigold fell down and badly grazed her knee. I offered a forearm to haul her back upright but strength failed me at a crucial point and down she went again. It was the weight of our two champagne bottles that she had insisted on carrying in her pretty little canvas backpack that had unbalanced her, she said.

‘Did you bring your swimming costume?’ I said, changing the subject. ‘Brian’s pool is still open.’ And lying on the path among the jagged stones she went into this long-winded explanation of why she had finally decided, after a considerable debate with herself, to leave her swimming costume at home.

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