Howard Jacobson: Funny how the scenes of contentment you picture for yourself never materialise

I fancied that one day I’d be sipping Claret while reading Tolstoy in the original
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The Independent Online

Some of us worry about the temperature of the planet, others about the temperature of wine. We each make our contribution to the good of the world our own way. I'm going to fiddle while it burns. You think that's irresponsible? Then tell me what's worth saving about a world whose inhabitants would rather drown themselves than rescue someone else? A world where determining which footling ditty tops the Christmas charts is seen as a triumphant expression of democracy? A world in which you can't brain a career burglar who has threatened to brain you?

"You raise your fist to me, I bash your skull in; teach you not to raise your fist again" – so tell me what's unreasonable about that? The Tories say they'll fix it. When they're in you'll be able to brain people before they burgle your house. Promises, promises. In the meantime, drink and be merry, I say. The rest isn't worth a candle.

But back to the wine, or rather the wine glasses. Which glass for which wine? I used to think I knew. Whatever wasn't chipped and didn't leak. Times twelve. You were never going to have more than a dozen people for dinner, the men drank Bull's Blood from Hungary and the women Riesling from the Balkans, and both tasted fine in a teacup. Thus did the Sixties and Seventies pass in simplicity and ignorance, and let no one tell you we weren't happy.

As time went by I learnt to splash out on special glasses just for me – something to curl my tired typing fingers around at the end of a hard day. A machismo bordeaux grand cru glass from Riedel's Sommelier Collection was what I settled for at last. It answered to an old fancy, that I would confront the late afternoon of life reading Tolstoy in the original, wearing a smoking jacket, puffing on a cigar and sipping expensive Claret from fine crystal.

Funny, how the scenes of mature contentment you picture for yourself never materialise. You don't learn Russian. You spill borscht down the front of so many smoking jackets you revert to old pullovers. You give up cigars because your lips lose the tensility to support anything heavier than half a Woodbine. You break your favourite Riedel and end up gargling Jacob's Creek from a cracked beaker. The dreams, reader, ah the broken dreams!

But that was then and now is now. "These are for Crianza," the man in the glass department tells me. Crianza! There are special glasses for Crianza? I want to know whether they will do for Rioja as well, but I don't want to show my ignorance. What if Crianza is Rioja? And can you drink Pauillac from a Crianza glass? And if not, why not? They're both wine, for Christ's sake.

I am waiting for the sales.

In fact, even though more than a dozen people are coming round for New Year, we don't need new wine glasses. We have, in our cupboards, assorted wine glasses of every shape and size, including cheap imitations of the Riedel burgundy grand cru from which I had intended to drink the last of the grapes of youth. But I am married to a woman who matches.

I have, in my time, been married to women who, on bohemian principle, like every plate and glass to be different, and women who couldn't give a toss what we eat and drink from because we'll be throwing our guests out before dinner starts anyway, and even women who are too pissed to notice. But now I am married to a woman for whom everything must match. And for everything to match you need spares, otherwise last-minute breakages, or the unexpected arrival of twice as many people as you invited, will leave you short. My solution is never to invite anybody. Hers too. But just in case we forget we must have a hundred of everything, matching, at the ready.

Were I not a man from a poor working-class background who cannot bear to buy a wine glass that's not reduced in the sales, I would find a way of humouring her. We'd make an initial investment in a hundred gold-rimmed Baccarat Rivolis, handcrafted in France, secure in the knowledge that we could replace losses as necessary. This is something you can't count on with glasses made especially for the sales, because when they're sold, they're sold. But I still insist it's cheaper starting again from scratch every Christmas. Especially as we have to have a complete and matching set of red wine glasses and a complete and matching set of white wine glasses. Why? Or rather, why the f*** why?

I employ asterisks to suggest the Michelin stars our kitchen doesn't have. We are a house, not a restaurant. One of the reasons we don't have people round to dinner, except when we forget, is that my wife cannot cook. If you dine chez nous, you will be given a smoked starter followed by a smoked salmon main followed by tarte au saumon fumé, which is bought in. I don't know why I bother to make the distinction. It's all bought in. Nor will the wine you are given be expensive – my working-class background again – or elegantly served. I will have made a bad job of opening it, because I'm not as steady as I once was and don't hold with those fancy pneumatic bottle openers you screw to the wall. So if the wine isn't actually corked you can be sure you'll find cork floating in it. It's how you know you're enjoying my hospitality – a fine mist of floating cork. And how you know you're enjoying my wife's cooking – the smoked salmon.

Yet – yet! – we who do not cook and cannot pour must have matching glasses for red and matching glasses for white as though we're at the Ritz. Plus matching champagne glasses (though I will serve Cava if I can get away with it). Plus matching cut glass tumblers for tap water. Plus matching fairy thimble glasses for my wife's relatives who have never drunk wine in their lives but will sip a little syrupy something – I just give them syrup – when they've finished congratulating her on the food. Reader, there are so many matching glasses on our table there is no room for the matching plates.

The good news is that the sales start today. I'm buying up every glass in John Lewis. Don't care what wine they're for. Crianza Shmianza. Just be careful not to get in my way. Or to hum "Killing In The Name" in my hearing.

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