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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Covid-19 outside mainland China: update

... while passing on the disease, of course:
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/18242077.thirty-brighton-doctors-coronavirus-isolation-says-clinician/

According to the Johns Hopkins tracker the total number of confirmed cases now approaches 78,000 of which over 600 are outside the Chinese mainland. https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 . Of the latter, only 12 have died so far.

However, it is clear that the virus is lethal to more than East Asians. Two days ago, a couple of Iranians succumbed; and it seems they had not travelled outside their country. They died in Qom (90 miles from the capital, Tehran), and two other patients have been diagnosed there since, plus one in Arak (who happens to be a doctor from Qom), bringing the total cases to five. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/iran-qom-coronavirus-covid19-religious-gatherings-cases-12455638

Qom is a magnet for pilgrims, so there is some question as to whether piety may outweigh prudence. 20 million visitors (both domestic and foreign) come annually because it is not only a holy city but ‘the largest centre for Shiʿa scholarship in the world’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qom Conversely, millions of Shi’ite pilgrims travel from Iran to Iraq each year to see the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala; Iraq has now taken the precautions of suspending flights to Iran and closing their mutual border https://www.timesofisrael.com/iraq-closes-border-with-iran-over-coronavirus-fears/ but we shall see how effective and sustained these measures will be.

And today we hear of a fatality in Italy (see below).

Here is the toll to date, in sequence, for the world outside mainland China:

(1) 02 February: a 44-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan, Hubei province died in hospital in Manila, the Philippines; he was ‘thought to have had other pre-existing health conditions.’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-51345855

(2) 04 February: a 39-year-old Hong Kong man dies there of heart failure, having been diagnosed on 31 January with the virus. He is said to have had a ‘long-term illness.’ https://agbrief.com/headline/coronavirus-live-updates-2020/

(3) 13 February: a woman in her eighties died in a Japanese hospital where she had been kept since February 1; her son-in law is a taxi driver and has also been confirmed infected. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/13/japan-reports-first-coronavirus-death-as-44-more-cases-confirmed-aboard-cruise-ship

(4) 15 February: an 80-year-old Chinese tourist from Hubei province died in Paris, France after weeks in hospital. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/15/world/europe/france-coronarivus-death.html

(5) 15 February: a 61-year-old male taxi driver from central Taiwan died in hospital there from Covid-19-related pneumonia and sepsis; he had a history of Hepatitis B and diabetes. Many of his fares had come from China, Macau and Hong Kong. 

(6, 7) 19 February: two Iranian citizens died in Qom, northern Iran; both were elderly and with underlying health conditions. They ‘were not known to have left Iran’ but as said above, Qom is a major religious destination for pilgrims and scholars. https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-first-deaths-reported-in-middle-east/a-52436966

(8) 19 February: a second Hong Kong victim dies there – a 70-year-old man with ‘underlying illnesses.’ He had previously visited mainland China on 22 January via the island’s border checkpoint at Lok Ma Chau. https://www.hongkongfp.com/2020/02/19/breaking-70-year-old-dies-bringing-hong-kong-coronavirus-death-toll-two/

(9) 19 February: a 63-year-old local man died in a hospital in South Korea and was diagnosed posthumously with the virus. Many new cases have been registered in the South Korean city of Daegu, where a South Korean woman is thought to have infected the congregation of a Christian sect; she is said to be in her early 60s and with no recent record of overseas travel. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3050517/coronavirus-how-diamond-princess-cruise-ship-became

(10, 11) 20 February: two Japanese citizens died in a hospital in Japan, having been taken off the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship (quarantined near Yokohama) the previous week. ‘Both were in their 80s with underlying health conditions.’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-51568496 The infection may have been spread by a Hong Kong resident who had briefly visited the Chinese mainland prior to boarding the ship at Yokohama on 20 January https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3050517/coronavirus-how-diamond-princess-cruise-ship-became ; he disembarked at Hong Kong on January 25, reporting to a hospital on the island, where he was diagnosed with coronavirus. The ship’s itinerary from 1 December 2019 on is here: http://crew-center.com/diamond-princess-itinerary - the latest cruise was to have been 29 days long, starting in Singapore. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3050517/coronavirus-how-diamond-princess-cruise-ship-became

(12) 22 February: a 78-year-old man died in Padua, Italy. The first arrival of the virus in the country is traced to China: ‘The "index case" - or patient zero - was reported to be a 38-year-old man from Codogno who is believed to have caught the virus from a friend who had returned from China in January.’ https://news.sky.com/story/italy-reports-first-coronavirus-death-as-infections-worldwide-pass-77-000-11940004

The pattern of lethality is similar to that for ‘ordinary’ flu: Covid-19 hits the old and infirm disproportionately. That said, we also see how easily it seems to spread, and (thanks to modern communications and mass travel) how far – not only across the Far East but the Middle East, Australasia, Europe, North America, India, Egypt… So far, nothing reported from sub-Saharan Africa, or central and southern American states; but we are hardly three months into this outbreak and not all countries may as quick to diagnose cases correctly.

There is no room for complacency, as Charles Hugh Smith explains. http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2020/02/covid-19-pandemic-complacent-are.html

Friday, February 21, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Caroline Shaw, by JD

Earlier this year on BBC 4 Stewart Copeland host a three part series called Adventures in Music; https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000db8m

These were three exceptionally good documentaries in that they didn't follow the usual formula but asked the question - "How does music work? What exactly is this thing that brings us together, moves us and binds us, communicates stories like no other art form, and which seemingly has transcendental powers?"

Among the various people Copeland spoke to in his search for the 'magic ingredient' was the American composer Caroline shaw. Perhaps a bit too unorthodox for most tastes but I thought her music was excellent!

It was also good to see a couple of very hostile commenters beneath her videos make fools of themselves by declaring their own musical qualifications and pedigree; their professional jealousy in other words!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Shaw

"How do you capture the tragic, beautiful loneliness of existence, and the complete, ecstatic joy of existence?" asks Caroline Shaw. Shaw was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2013, making her the youngest ever recipient of the award. She explains in this video that music helps her tackle some of life's loftiest questions."














Thursday, February 20, 2020

This just in...



Are we off-air now?

-          Yes.

‘Cause you know what I said was all bollox, don’t you?

-          Sorry?

That stuff about ability to speak English being dog-whistle politics.

-          Yes, but surely Labour is in favour of immigration?

That was just an angle, you know the game we’re playing and you love it. Actually this points system is the best news I’ve heard since I was a kid.

-          Amazing! Why?

Think, for goodness’ sake. What’s going to happen when we can’t bring in loads of poor people to do essential services like elderly care?

-          There’ll be a shortage and old people won’t be looked after.

There’ll be a shortage and care workers’ pay will have to go up, at last. And then there’ll be a recruitment drive, more employment.

-          But healthcare costs will go up, won’t they?

And about time. Our country has been exploiting the labouring classes for far too long. Besides, yes, there might be more taxes to raise, but there’ll be more people earning enough to pay taxes too. And they’ll spend more, and create more profits and employment elsewhere.

-          Excuse me for saying it, but that sounds like right-wing economic thinking.

Right economic thinking, you mean. Why do you think Jeremy and I have always wanted us out of the EU?

-          But that wasn’t Labour policy, was it? You’ve opposed Brexit before and after the Referendum and the last General Election.

I’m surprised you don’t know the difference between policy and strategy. You know we’ve had to ride two horses in the Party, same as the Tories. Half our voters haven’t a clue, they’re teddy-huggers who really do think money grows on trees.

-          Wow, you’re a secret Tory!

Let’s get this straight. You vote Labour, don’t you?

-          Well, at the BBC we maintain impartial-

Just say yes, it’s quicker.

-          Erm…

And what do you think you’re voting for us for? You get, what, a six-figure salary? The person who lifts your poor old nan out of her bed doesn’t get a fifth of your pay, while the heaviest thing you lift is a sticky bun in the BBC canteen.

-         - Tahini wrap, actually

Never mind. Workers take care of your olds, dead cheap, so you can go clubbing and stick happy sherbet up your nose. Is that your idea of socialism?

-          Blimey, if you’re going to be like that I’m voting Tory next time.

So am I, if we can’t change our strategy, ‘cause obviously it’s failed in the North. Meanwhile, let’s stay together for the sake of the viewers, darling, shall we? Let’s do a bit more on racism next time, okay?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

ANCIENT EGYPT: Giza revisited, by JD

The first part of this post appeared originally on Nourishing Obscurity, here:



First introduction to the Pyramids comes on the road to Giza where the hedges are all shaped accordingly.

The only thing missing from the photograph below is sound. And the sound would be beep-beep. Non stop all day everywhere you go beep-beep; not an angry blaring of horns just a quick beep-beep for the sake of it.



This is a very familiar sight. Everybody knows what they look like and we all know they are very large stone constructions but they are huge. It is not until you stand in front of them that you realise just how big they are.

At 480 feet, the Great Pyramid of Cheops (or Khufu if you prefer) is taller than any Cathedral in England. St.Paul’s in London measures 365 feet from the floor of the nave to the tip of the cross on the dome so it could easily disappear within the outline of the pyramid.



Here is a good indication of the size with people at the base and also at the entrance.
The sign sitting on the 7th course of blocks about halfway up to the entrance reads “no smoking inside the pyramid”.

I wonder what John Greaves would have thought of that; he carved the name ‘J Gravius’ in the King’s Chamber in 1637.

The limestone blocks are partially intact around the base as can be seen here. They say that if you want to see the Pyramids you just need visit Cairo’s City of the Dead where a lot of the casing stones were used for building houses and monuments.

Even more impressive was the red granite facing of the third pyramid. After all this time it still appears highly polished and the heiroglyphic characters on the face are clearly defined. The fit and finish of the stones is astonishing.



According to Herodotus it took twenty years for a force of 100,000 to build the pyramid. I heard some time ago of an American engineer who decided to calculate the time in man-hours that would be needed for the construction including all ancillary work such as quarrying, carving, hauling etc. His answer was more or less as Herodotus had said.

I may never return to Cairo but I am glad I was given the opportunity to see one of the wonders of the world.



________________________________________________________________________________

It has been more than thirty years since I took those photos and I have 'revisited' Giza in various books I have read over the years trying to get a better understanding of the enigma.

Recently I came across this video which sparked my interest once more. It's about half an hour and starts and ends with Nikola Tesla and in between it has Graham Hancock explaining the significance of the dimensions and location of Giza and its famous pyramids.



He didn't mention that the number 432 pops up again in the mean radius of the sun - 432,000 miles: and the famous Kali Yuga of Hinduism will last 432,000 years according to Sri Yukteswar (he is on the cover of Sgt Pepper top left corner!) I'm pretty sure Graham Hancock knows all that but he wouldn't want to make things too complicated or confusing.

When I first stood in front of the pyramid I thought "that is not possible!" but there it is, so it must have been possible for somebody at some point in history. Unlike Hancock I know how to build large structures but I still have no idea how it was done. A lot of years ago a friend of mine called it "God's calling card" which is no more nor less plausible than any of the other theories I have seen and heard.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sleepers, awoke!

When you read the term ‘woke’ these days, you assume it is to do with dizzy-headed left-wing idealists making a fuss over the things the government (Lab or Con) is happy for them to witter about – generally, sexual matters that ought to be private, equality of outcomes (well, up to a certain level in society), and the benefits system that can be used to bully the poor, subsidise workers’ wages and boost corporate profitability.

Oh, and greenery. Apparently the reason we are deindustrialising a small country whose bloated population depends on industrial trade, and turning for our power needs to solar panels that work only intermittently in a cloudy climate and windmills that have to be deactivated in a gale, is to protect ourselves against the carbonavirus, that disease which, so we are told, will be caught by all and is 100% fatal... except in the East, to whose coal-fired economies our corporations have transferred our productive capacity and from which they derive vast wealth that must be hidden in tax havens.

Let us turn from this ship of fools as they sail in search of fantasy adventures with Tintin (yep) Thunberg at the helm, Snowy yipping excitedly by her feet; for that’s not where ‘woke’ started.

Pace Wikipedia, the first time I was struck by the contemporary usage was when watching the 2008 TV series ‘Breaking Bad’. Walter White, a man who has always done the right thing, studied hard, passed lots of exams and gone into teaching, suddenly realises that life has shafted him. Underpaid for his learning – Anglos despise education – he is eking out his salary by labouring at a garage, only to be spotted and mocked by his students. His conditioning breaks and returning home, he says, ‘I am awake.’ For if you only do what you’re supposed to do, you get what you’re supposed (but not by you) to get. That word, with its ominous undertone, was like the moment in ‘The Long Ships’ when the Viking leader who has long sought a huge golden bell, disgustedly flings away the little one he finds hanging in a deserted chapel, only to have it strike the dome with a great ringing sound…

I heard a tinkle in c. 1990 when none of my life company’s excellent pension funds was hitting the 13% growth ceiling assumed by the regulator as reasonable for projections. I heard it when, post-dotcom bubble, the stockmarkets halved in 2000-2003 and yet all that happened was monetary reflation, especially in mortgages; I heard a clang when the loan-fakery blew up in 2008, Congress refused to bail out crooked banks with $700 billion, and the US Treasury Secretary ‘Hank’ Paulson ordered them to vote again and shares re-collapsed; and when, instead of financial reforms, the money-pumping continued at a far greater rate, reinflating the burst balloons of the S&P 500 and the FTSE. Again, when I read recently of the hundreds of billions of emergency overnight government lending to banks in the US ‘repo market’, rather like the old custom of desperate businesses ‘kiting’ cheques over a weekend because there wasn’t enough in their account on Friday. Nobody up there is doing the right thing, but they want you to keep calm and carry on.

The whole thing is running on tick. Fiscal conservatives wail about the levels of government debt, but that’s only half the story. If you want to see the big picture, look for the overall burden of credit in the economy, both public and private; known (in the US, at any rate) as ‘Total Credit Market Debt Outstanding’, or TCMDO; and compare it to the overall level of economic activity, aka Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Back in January 2012 McKinsey reported (page 5) that the UK’s total debt-to-GDP stood at 507% - rivalling the moribund Japan (512%).

At that time America’s TCMDO-to-GDP was merely 279%; but by the third quarter of 2019 its TCMDO had soared to $74.56 trillion. This compares with US GDP of $21.44 trillion  – so, by late last year, their total-debt-to-GDP had not fallen but risen, to around 348%. Unfortunately, the British government is rather more coy about such matters and does not publicly disclose such data on a regular basis, so I can only guess that we, too, have sunk deeper into the mire.

Worse still, debt-to GDP can deteriorate in two ways: a rise in debt, or a fall in GDP. Should there be a serious economic dislocation caused by say, a Covid-19-seized-up China, or a vindictive French Brexit trade negotiator, then we shall all find out that whatever happens to income or investments, debts remain fixed. If masses of individuals or their governments start defaulting, there will be a domino effect, and austerity may not be enough to stop it (indeed, may itself worsen GDP.)

The alternative is to pump even more money into the system, as has been happening for a long time; but possibly on an accelerating basis. So far we haven’t seen high inflation (though it is significant that almost the first act of the new 2010 ‘Conservative’ government was to stop issuing index-linked NS&I savings bonds.) One of the reasons we haven’t, is the declining velocity of money – the rate at which a pound changes hands annually. This 2018 article illustrates the general principle and trend  – the money supply is increasing, but not pushing GDP correspondingly higher. Whether capital projects like HS2 will turn things around is a moot point (look out for cheery government references to ‘job creation’ without details re limited duration), especially if the work is given to the Chinese.

It may be that a long-cycle economic downturn is unavoidable, as Irving Fisher and Nikolai Kondratiev theorised; and could be sudden, as latterly Hyman Minsky and following him the Australian economist Steve Keen have suggested (Keen would like to see a ‘debt jubilee’ to clear accounts and restart the system). Writing in 2008 before the Global Financial Crisis hit, Charles Hugh Smith forecast 2020 as the confluence of several negative trends including the passing of ‘peak energy’.

As long as there is a Welfare State, the government will have irreducible obligations (despite trying to declare the disabled and dying as fit for work) and as national earnings wane it will be increasingly difficult to balance the books. Something will give, and if there is not a debt jubilee then it will be the currency, I suppose. Already the law has changed to permit ‘bail-ins’, i.e. in another emergency, depositors’ account balances may be converted to shares in the rotten banks where they are held; but the strategy could go further, in raiding the value of money itself.

Back to gold, that ‘barbarous relic’ beloved of those who really don’t trust their rulers. Something funny is going on here, as ‘Tyler Durden’ has just noted: suddenly (in a two month period), the UK has exported a massive £12 billion-worth of gold and this has distorted official figures about the health of our economy. The Bank of England holds some 310 tonnes of gold (far less than it used to), which if pure and at current prices would be worth only around £9.3 billion, so presumably there is some other explanation. However, you may have noticed in the Daily Wail in past months, advertisements for gold coins for sale by the Royal Mint; and something you probably haven’t noticed, but rang a little gold tocsin in my head: a recent Privy Council meeting (chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg) on 6th November 2019 approved the issuance of a variety of gold coinage including a £7,000 one. Where is that gold coming from? Not from a Chinese government grateful for all the business we’ve given them. So, from stock.

What’s the thinking behind that last? Revenue-raising? Part of a long-term plan (as gold bugs suspect) to keep down the market price of gold so as not to scare the populace? Or an opportunity for those in the know and with deep pockets, to secure at least some of their wealth in advance of a looming financial crisis?

The discovery of great hoards of Anglo-Saxon gold shows how the yellow metal is no protection in the worst case; but I fear there may soon be a clapper of alarm that will jolt the middle-class poseurs out of their dreamy world-saving playing-about and make them ‘woke’ for real.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

ART: Joaquín Sorolla, by JD

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida 1863-1923 is a Spanish painter, born in Valencia, and is relatively unknown outside his native land.

He is regarded as the Spanish Impressionist and if his depiction of light is not quite as good as Monet it is certainly exceptional.
http://www.joaquin-sorolla-y-bastida.org/biography.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joaqu%C3%ADn_Sorolla

The Sorolla Museum in Madrid is well worth a visit https://www.gomadrid.com/museums/museo-sorolla.html -
it was his widow and later his son who bequeathed the house to the State.








Saturday, February 15, 2020

Wine Snobbery: A Glass Half Full, by Wiggia


This title was conceived after a conversation a couple of weeks back with an  acquaintance who likes to drink and is interested in wine. He was referring to a tasting he went to at a local wine merchant's and the customer there who appeared to be blinded by wine speak and elitism; I am not fond of isms but know what he was getting at.

Anyone who has read my articles on wine realises I do enjoy it and the whole history of wine, how it is made, the grapes used etc etc. It is a hobby that I enjoy as I do talking about it. Many talk of their love of wine, I certainly have loved a few great bottles in my time but love ! As in all-consuming, no; others may see themselves differently. It is all a matter of perspective, which brings us back to the conversation I had with this fellow drinker.

In many people's eyes wine does invoke this image of someone slathering over a glass and using terms of endearment more suited to something else that you would only use in private ! There is a whole lexicon of strange words and phrases used to describe wine. Many by leading wine critics are pure fantasy, used to convey a sense of superiority in these matters. Terms that suppose the human faculties can discern inert substances in wine are plainly ludicrous but are used nonetheless in the attempt to make that critic's review stand out from the mob; tasting notes by their nature are limited and therefore repeated, hence this fantasy-speak.

Still, all this this quite correctly conveys to an outsider the impression that there is an awful lot of snobbery and elitism within the wine circle.

If anyone goes onto a wine blog - and there are many - there are reams of quotes and statements supporting this view about wine; which is strange in a world that is dominated by supermarket wine buyers who couldn’t give a monkey's what some double-barrelled wine critic wrote about their plonk, all they care is it fits the budget and fulfils their taste requirements.

So does this snobbery and elitism exist. To a large degree yes, even now. The forums for wine drinkers show this trait all too well: whole threads become more than 'this is what I drank last night', they become 'what I drank last night was more expensive and rarer than that which you drank', that old world wineries are the only place to buy ‘fine’ wines from and the new world is fermented gnat's piss; and many in direct conversation will do the same. This moment scotched that thinking some time back, yet many still believe……..



There is absolutely nothing wrong in people who have the spare income to spend it in a way they enjoy and if that means a £500 or more bottle of wine then that is their choice, but often the writing on the same wine belies the truth about it. Whatever the cost, whatever grand name on the label, whatever the vintage, you still have to like it and we all have different tastes, so there is no greatest or there shouldn’t be. Wine is a food. Some will love a style, others will wrinkle their noses and reject it, it is that simple; but not for a wine snob, who will defend his bad bottle with a litany of excuses, many invalid. None, or few, seem capable of saying 'that was bloody awful' or simply 'I didn’t like it', they will have a whole lexicon to use of words that describe their disappointment and how the next bottle will be wonderful.



The correlation in people's minds of qulity to price is shown here, nothing new in this but it does show how you can fool some of the people...



'Great wine' is a much-used term usually attached to a tasting of a top-rated Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Barolo et al., but a great wine is one you enjoy whatever the provenance or price. I myself have been fortunate to drink some very high-ranking wines and many I have enjoyed; the best are memorable, but they represent a fraction of what is out there and among the lesser lights are bottles that have brought equal enjoyment. Thinking about the price clouds your judgement as in the videos here, it really does; yet the wine snob will never admit to enjoying a cheap wine, even if it is good.
Victoria Beckham was quoted as saying she would never drink a wine under £10 a bottle. Well, she doesn’t have to, but the assertion was it would be a poor wine, and that is simply not true: many £10-and-up bottles are not that good either and many even more expensive bottles have proved a let-down.

The wine snob will never ever admit to drinking anything popular. The rise in popularity in a grape variety will coincide with the wine snob deriding it and promoting an unheard-of wine from an unheard-of village made under a waning moon and a thunderstorm; these things bring great kudos to wine snobs and they will promote the same, until they have to move on because the unheard-of wine has become ‘popular’.

I read an allied thread on a wine forum where someone said in effect you had to take such and such courses on wine to be able to appreciate the finer points, implying those who didn’t were somehow inferior in their take on a wine - “how could they possibly know?” If that is not wine snobbery I don’t know what is. I have never taken a wine course. Would I? Not now; a basic course is not a bad thing for a beginner to simply understand the basics, but I am too old and it would add little, at great cost, to what I have picked up over decades of consuming, reading, travelling, tasting etc. What more do I need? Yet so many of those who take these courses love to tell how, hundreds of pounds lighter and now on Diploma level or whatever, they are more knowledgable than those who have not taken that route and they all clap like seals when one of their soulmates achieves a pass. Wine drinking is a pleasant pastime, not a civil service exam - and do they go on!

You can add to the swot, the idolator: the drinker who believes that certain wine makers deserve sainthood, so wonderful are their products and so dedicated are they to their winemaking that they deserve special status. The bottom line is, they are farmers making a product for consumption by the public. Yes, many enjoy what they do for a living, as with others in life in different occupations, but it is a commercial enterprise, and some are better at it than others. It is that simple, whether it is the small village winery or the giant conglomerates.

But you would never believe that if you heard the wine snob speaking: they and the whole wine world belongs to them and their self-belief.

Even the storage of wine becomes the cellar-owner's world of right and wrong. If you wish to store decent wine for long periods then a cellar with a fairly constant temperature is a plus. As very few people own a cellar now the wine snob will buy a wine storage cooler and if they really believe all the hype then it will be the one with two or even three different temperature zones for all those wine type variations. That is, of course, only if you believe this, which is mainly twaddle: it has been scientifically shown that all wines will survive quite a large temperature fluctuation with no ill effects. Serious wine snobs will talk about various serious faults a wine can develop if you don’t have the perfect storage facility. Most of these faults are one-in-a-thousand cases: I have never suffered any of them. You are far more likely to have a faulty bottle because of a manufacturing fault, dodgy cork or some form of taint getting into it. For all but the wine snob, a place under the stairs will be adequate in most cases, and being an expensive wine will not alter how it reacts to heat or cold.

Many years ago I went to a wine tasting put on locally by a very good wine merchant. It was only because it was local that I bothered to go. On arrival there were about 50  people already tasting the wines on three long joined tables in the shape of a horseshoe. We started out behind two or three couples armed with notepads and clipboards to make notes of the tasted wines. For me, if I liked a couple of wines I was well capable of remembering them and cannot see the point on notes of a raft of wines I don’t like, but each to his own.

We got about half way round and I had heard the wine-speak of the group ahead as they scribbled their notes, and as we reached roughly the halfway point they all tried a well-known red wine, mumbled approvingly, scribbled and moved on. I poured a tasting measure, and smelt and tasted, and the wine was very obviously off; I called one of the organisers over who agreed immediately, took the bottle away and changed it. Now you might say 'clever dick', but the truth was they were wine snobs in front of us trying to impress each other with their knowledge of wine but could not tell a totally flawed/awful bottle.



There are a whole list of things that divide the wine snob from the wine geek. Geeks are wine drinkers obsessed with vineyards, latitude, soil and obscurity etc.; they can also bore the arse off you given the opportunity, but they are not snobs.

Snobs obsess about the glass they use, unless it is Riedel or similar, very costly and very easy to break; no wine can be drunk and enjoyed without them. They actually believe this. They buy expensive wines and collect to such a degree that because the drinking ‘window’ is so far in the future their collection just grows and grows, never to be drunk, just admired.

If there is one item that epitomises the wine snob it is the corkscrew. The wine snob only ever uses the “waiter's friend” or sommelier's corkscrew; for some reason it has come to distinguish the ‘serious’ wine drinker from the others. Its only real value is the space it uses and for wine waiters that is why it is used: it fits in the pocket. However, for the wine snob, difficulty in learning to use it is points gained; all other corkscrews are for amateurs, despite the fact I have used a winged corkscrew for over thirty years that has never failed to extract a cork other than a couple that simply crumbled to nothing. That really is of no consequence to the wine snob: a waiter's friend it has to be, or nothing.
Naturally it follows that the obsession with removing a cork ‘correctly’ means that any bottle fitted with a screw cap is instantly fit only for the proles: no self-respecting wine snob would entertain a bottle with a screw cap on the table, God forbid; even the devil's spawn, a non-100%-natural cork, isn’t on the same level of evil; the mere thought of not being able to show your skills learnt over many years with the waiter's friend is too much to bear.

The ability to swirl everything, tea, coffee, water like a nervous tic is a skill well-learned by the WS. It is a forerunner to over-emphasised sniffing; side-on gives you extra bonus points, and slurping with much exaggerated jowel movements.

All wines without exception have to be decanted, sometimes for days, this goes with the 'all must be kept forever' syndrome before it is ready to drink, often to the extent that a case of wine will be opened and bottles drunk at strategic points in time, none of which are the correct time. Is the correct time for the perfect bottle ever reached? Probably not, such is the snobbery about drinking windows, the endless imagined aromas and tastes and the vocabulary. This is a true note by a wine reviewer heard at a tasting regarding two different Champagnes: “ 'One can always tell Krug from Roederer,' he said, 'by the sound of the bubbles.'  Give me strength, if ever there was a phrase to differentiate between the drinker and the wine snob, that just about takes the biscuit.



Things are not as obviously elitist in the wine world as in years gone by, when any self-respecting wine merchant had staff that all wore tweed jackets, bow ties and looked down on the customer if he didn’t fit a certain profile with that something-on-the-sole-of-my-shoe look, and many did.

More importantly, I have hardly ever met a wine-maker with that same attitude. Even the more famous ones have all been down to earth and would engage about their wines with you without any silly embellishments. As the late Vincent Leflaive said at a dinner and tasting of his sublime but hugely expensive white Burgundies after being questioned by a diner on the style of his wines vis-a-vis someone else's: “If you don’t like them that way, don’t buy them.” It really is that simple.