As a leading bon viveur, wine writer Hugh Johnson has amassed an enviable wine collection. For 42 years, the much-loved columnist – author of the indispensable World Atlas of Wine – has stashed it away in the cellars of his Elizabethan manor, Saling Hall in Essex. Now Johnson, 74, and his wife, Judy, have sold their home and are downsizing to London, and Johnson is being forced to auction off his wine.
Johnson describes the process of selling as "agony", but is keeping his chin up. Star lots at next month's sale will include a magnum of 1971 Krug champagne and a 1945 Château d'Yquem. The oldest bottles date back to 1830, and there will be wines from France, Germany and Italy. "This is the majority of my cellar but by no means the whole thing," he says. "We're trying to be realistic about what we would actually drink in the next few years." Why not just give a party?
Message in a bottle
George Osborne's weeping face was the defining image of Lady Thatcher's funeral. One enterprising soul has captured his tears and put them on eBay. Bidding for "a vial of George Osborne's tears from Maggie Thatcher's funeral" has reached an astonishing £5,100, though the auction runs until Wednesday lunchtime. The tears of the Chancellor come in a small bottle on a chain, and the vendor makes some helpful suggestions as to possible uses: "Drink them to turn yourself into a magnificent toff in a Popeye style event, [or] sprinkle them on an enemy's flower bed to ensure that nothing ever grows there again." A number of interested bidders have posted questions, one asking why they appear to be blue in colour. The vendor explains: "Of course his tears aren't ordinarily that colour, but he underwent an expensive and hideously painful operation to ensure that on the big day of Maggie's funeral, his tears were true blue."
Another bidder asks: "I have a small bottle containing the bile of Michael Foot. What would happen if we mixed it with George's salty discharge?" The answer: "The immediate realisation of Tony Blair's dream of a Third Way."
Lady Thatcher's funeral was held on Wednesday because, so we're told, St Paul's Cathedral was free that day. But was there another, less obvious, reason? It so happens that 17 April is World Malbec Day, held to commemorate Argentina's wine industry. It was on that day, in 1853, that the then president Domingo Sarmiento asked a French soil expert to bring some new vines to Argentina. Among those he chose was Malbec, from south-west France, which thrived and has become almost synonymous with Argentinian red wine. In 2011, when the festival was launched, Malbec-themed events were held in 30 cities around the world. This year, the event was somewhat upstaged by Mrs T's funeral. She was bound to get one over on her old foes, even if it was the last thing she did!
Anger under the covers
Bookish types have just endured the London Book Fair, typically a fraught affair. The stress has certainly got to Tim Tivnan, features editor of the trade mag The Bookseller, who has fired off a Giles Coren-style rant to a photographer. Frank Noon, a freelance, had at the last minute provided some free images, and followed up with an email. "Just to let you know I went out of my way to get the pics requested to you by 6pm yesterday and they haven't been downloaded yet," he wrote. "They were delivered at 6.19pm after I made a detour to my office, making me late for my other job. Out of courtesy, I would have expected a thanks or at the very least, an acknowledgement. Regards, Frank Noon."
But Tivnan saw red: "Hi Frank, Can I just say a kindly fuck you," he replied. "I needed the pics for 18.00 from which my final, final deadline was. Yours were delivered at 18.19. That, if you are counting is, let's see, let's see...19 minutes after my deadline. The deadline when we needed to go to the printers, not to the production desk. So even if you were late for your other job, I couldn't use them." It goes on: "Under the pressures of deadlines you can imagine I did not have time to thank you for sending me something that was too late for me to use as a balm to what assuredly is your rather delicate ego. But if you need it, then thanks loads, Frankie boy!" And on: "I may regret this intemperate email that I realise is not the height of professionalism. And in the normal course of events I would have thanked your profusely in time. But your whiny message just sent me off and life's too short to deal with cockhats like you. Kind regards, Tom." Noon wrote back one line – "That was professional", then forwarded the whole lot to Tivnan's boss.
Let us pray
Iain Dale is the ultimate digi-journalist, always moments away from his next tweet or blog post. But the Total Politics founder is surprisingly snail-paced when it comes to replying to emails. I wrote to ask how he gained access to the crypt of Westminster Palace last week, where he reports he spent 15 minutes paying tribute to Margaret Thatcher, and even touched her coffin. The thing is, journalists were barred from entering the crypt, though parliamentarians and even researchers were allowed.
So how did he wangle it? Dale fails to respond, but other members of the press gallery feel aggrieved. Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts says: "Some of us who date back to the Thatcher era wanted to go and have a quiet moment in the chapel and say a prayer. But in this post-Leveson age, the powers on earth won't even let journalists in to a place of worship. It strikes me as unChristian behaviour. Do the political class now consider themselves above the democracy of death? Does the Speaker think he can ban reporters from praying?" Heaven forbid.
Critics of Lady Thatcher liked to point out that she endorsed tin-pot dictators such as Augusto Pinochet. But not all her friends were deranged megalomaniacs.
Her greatest supporters in later life were the Telegraph proprietors, Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay, named Britain's wealthiest media magnates in today's Sunday Times Rich List. Thanks to them, Lady Thatcher died shrouded in luxury at the Ritz, which they own.
And who could fail to be moved by news that the brothers honoured her funeral with a 17-gun salute on their island fortress of Brecqhou? The Guernsey Press reports that "all Brecqhou staff gathered on the front terrace of the castle to watch the salute. Each was given a certificate in remembrance of Baroness Thatcher's visit to the island in October 2000." As any decent employer would.
Fanfare for an artist
Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth was a star of the Proms launch in London on Thursday, but her mind is also on her new Munch Music Festival in Oslo. Those who associate Edvard Munch mostly with The Scream might think the joy of music eluded the tormented painter. But the festival in June includes the wonderfully speculative event "What kind of music might Munch have hummed to?", violinist Nicola Benedetti among the theorists. The opening concert takes place under Munch's radiant The Sun. Maybe the artist is not so Nordic noir after all, then...