Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

A kindly old charge nurse once took me aside after I'd appeared before a psychiatric hospital's disciplinary committee accused of drunken behaviour. 'Get yourself a good woman, old son, ' he counselled. 'That's what I did. Then you can take her to the pub, have a nice conversation, and learn to drink in a civilised fashion.'

Cow Girl enjoys a drink in a civilised fashion. She likes wine and knows a bit about it.

When I'd told her, prior to our first meeting, that I was a pint of lager sort of a person and didn't much like wine, she said she'd educate me. So whenever we've stayed at the hotel we've gone to the bar in the evening and I've had a lesson.

The main bar at the hotel is a great barn of a place called 'The Champagne Bar'. We always choose the same high table, and sit facing each other on the same high stools. Cow Girl peers intelligently through her oblong designer frames at the wine list. Whatever else she knows or doesn't know about wine, she always knows exactly how much the same bottle of wine would cost if bought over the counter at Majestic.

The chosen wine is then brought to our table in a cooler sleeve if red, or in an ice bucket if white. If the wine glasses accompanying the bottle aren't the largest and most fragile the hotel possesses, she will send them straight back. She always drinks water with her wine, at a ratio of two glasses of water to one of wine. This means we always ask for a carafe of tap water, no ice. Cow Girl won't stand for any old carafe, either. If one of inferior manufacture appears in front of us, it is refused point-blank. Ditto the water glasses if they look anything like tooth mugs.

Cow Girl runs ten miles across arable fields three times a week whatever the weather. She walks the dogs for three miles twice a day. She lane-swims one and a half miles three times a week. (She does a fast, efficient front crawl with explosive tumble turns. ) And she does sit-ups with weights every evening before she goes to bed. The savage attention to detail with which Cow Girl orders wine, water and four glasses comes from roughly the same turbulent place in her psyche, I've always imagined, as the daemon driving the exercise regime.

One bottle lasts an evening. …

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