16 May 2008

Merlot moments

"When I was a young boy," he said, his white-flecked eyes matching the sea behind him, "we lived close to the race course." For a moment, the lines on his face disappeared, and the face smiling back to me over the flickering candles, while still recognisable, was 52 years younger. "And you know, back in those days, the stables were between the houses. We knew the horses by their real names," he winked at me.

When he told his stories, we would all huddle around the table, wrap the blankets a little tighter and ignore the chill in the breeze blowing off the sea. These are not stories you want to hear sitting like ducks in a row on a couch. These were wine-drinking, good food, sea in the background stories.

Of course, over the years, we have heard some of the stories multiple times. After doing this for well over 40 years as a group, some repetition was to be expected. And over the years he has added slight variations - whether it was on purpose, or due to a faltering memory, we weren't sure, but we were all grateful nonetheless.

"Every Saturday, we would wait outside the race course, and all these old men would come for real tips. We would just point to the horses that would win, and, afterwards, they would reward us with treats: shoes, sweets, toys. I still have the red wooden train from the day old man Gibbons won big." This at least we knew to be true.

It was the piece he kept locked behind glass, along with all his other trophies: a piece of Hendrix's Fender - the first one he ever smashed - a bowler he swore Sellers wore once - and he stole off set personally -  Monroe's scarf, Bardot's sunglasses. Relics of a distant past. Strings that tie us all together, and, as a group, to a time we all remember with rose-tinted clarity.

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