The road to hell is paved with bad champagne

The road to hell is paved with bad champagne


I DO wonder, sometimes, if The Companion is slightly stupid. I don’t really think he is, but when I stop to think about why I think he’s not stupid it’s mostly because he keeps saying: “I am not stupid”. And usually he says this after he’s done something demonstrably stupid.

‘One does not merely attend a Melbourne Cup do, nor any sort of significant social gathering. One must prepare. One must research.'

I think we’ve previously covered the rocket launch from the penthouse, his efforts to install wi-fi at the farm and replace a broken soap dish in the shower. We know about his Nerf arsenal and his attitude towards weather forecasting, and weather presenters.

He’s good natured and well-meaning, but in the same way a three-year old grandchild is good-natured and well-meaning when they dump a tub of yoghurt into your handbag so you’ll have something to eat on the way home.

We attended a Melbourne Cup event at a restaurant in the city. The event started at midday which meant there were three hours of fairly solid small-talk before the featured race, and small-talk always goes better with champagne. Naturally the event budget wouldn’t run to Boërl & Kroff (I’m finding it’s becoming more difficult to track down these days anyway, but in any case, it’s rude to buy one’s own drinks at a catered function), so we had to make do with something markedly inferior. I fully expected to wake with a raging hangover and I wasn’t mistaken in that regard.

However, one does not merely attend a Melbourne Cup do, nor any sort of significant social gathering. One must prepare. One must research. A guest list ahead of time is essential (it helps to know the host), for background checks.

One must never be short of something with which to begin a conversation, especially if one ends up stuck speaking to “Tammy”, a generic term I use for the sort of woman you seem to run into at every gathering who never seems to go anywhere not dressed as though she is about to step on to or has just stepped off the tennis court. The male equivalent always looks as though the social event is getting in the way of a round of golf.

Spouses’ names, former spouses’ names, occupations, names of kids and recent holidays – all these things can be difficult to memorise, and can be even more difficult to deploy if guests share similar names, or are so slavishly conformist to this season’s look that they are visually indistinguishable from each other. And this is where The Companion came unstuck, aided by too much of the cheap bubbly.

Like I said, I don’t think he’s actually stupid, but even he admitted afterwards that it was his fault he’d mistaken a former rugby union international for a dentist. How that happened is beyond me. I don’t know if you’ve ever stood near a former (or even current) rugby player, but they’re nothing like any dentist I’ve ever met, and I’m not only talking about the teeth.

Even so, The Companion made a well-intentioned inquiry about the man’s oldest son, expecting to be regaled with tales of the boy’s sporting prowess, only to be informed, perhaps appropriately through clenched teeth, that the dentist’s offspring is currently serving a community service order for dealing drugs at his eye-wateringly expensive and exclusive private school, and was damn lucky not to have been expelled.

Panicked, The Companion sought to laugh it off as the lad’s youthful hijinks but blundered into a further ill-targeted comment about worse things happening at sea, which was meant to be a funny reference to the former rugby player’s recent charity kayaking event, but then remembered in horror that the dentist and his wife had only relatively recently recovered from a severe yacht cruise trauma, started by some bad oysters and only ended by an intravenous drip in hospital.

At this point the woman declared she was no longer going to stand there and be insulted by “this clown” – and she said it in a tone and at a volume that just cut straight through the background conversation. The room fell silent as she grabbed her husband’s hand and dragged him from the room. With all eyes now on him, The Companion – to his immense credit – drained his champagne glass, shrugged and made a beeline for the bar.

In the car on the way home he explained to me how all of this happened. He hadn’t done it deliberately, but as usual his good-natured and well-intentioned motivation merely provided a foundation for things to go stupidly wrong. I know the couple he encountered: he’s a prick, she’s a cow, and their son is a menace to society. He drives a Range Rover Sport and she drives and Evoque, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except that they have his ‘n’ her’s number plates. I simply couldn’t be angry; in fact I was proud of him, more than anything else. I let him fret about it for a good long time before I let him know that, though. In fact I let him know twice.