Half an arse

Someone pinched my wallet when I was in France a few weeks ago. I couldn’t have been more susceptible – the first strawberries in the market, the first holiday for ages, the company and the place we were staying in were wonderful and the weather had shifted into warmairsville. You could smell the strawberries from a few yards away. If you’d have asked me for it, I’d probably have handed over my wallet happily.

A few punnets of strawberries and a couple of salamis in the bag, I turned to the stall behind me…some apples. I chose them, went to my pocket and no wallet. I knew immediately that it was gone but beneath this veneer of genius lies a real clump, occasionally given to losing, breaking or forgetting stuff. I checked my jacket, even went to the trouble of emptying out the strawberry/salami bag – it wasn’t there. Nor on the stall I’d just been at. The people we were staying with were mortified but if you are a semi-bright pickpocket all you’d need to do to set yourself up with a reasonable living is go to a market in the south of France on a sunny day where English people are likely to be smiling and you’ll clean up.

Within 15 mins the cards were blocked and I’d put it out of my brain. I’m quite good at dealing with stuff like that, the bigger the tedium the better I am at it, just don’t let me near dimness – I had a good 30 minutes of ranting to Mrs D when we arrived at the place we were staying in near La Rochelle – no cafetiere, I ask you. I ask you.

A few days later, on the way home when the novelty of having no wallet had worn off, I started to miss it. The wallet that is. For 17 years it had sat in my back pocket. It was there before I got a degree, when I saw Neil Young with Booker T and the MGs as his backing band, when I watched England play at Wembley in the run up to Euro 96, when my dad died, at his funeral, when I got married, when my daughter was born, at the turn of the new millenium, when 9/11 happened, through the Rwandan genocide, Kosovo, when Clinton was in and through Bush’s time, in the days before mobile phones when we used to phone up buildings in the hope that the person we wanted to speak to was in them, when email was only just beginning, before I bought my first computer, when Charles and Diana were still together, when I flew over and around London, when I met that gorgeous Italian woman, when my book was published, on the ferry to Corsica, when I ate at the Ivy, when I sat on the beach at Whitstable eating smoked eel, when I lived in Clapham Manor St, Bonnington Square, Winchester, Whitstable, Stroud, Black Dog and here. All that time gradually moulding itself to my right buttock, giving my rather bony backside the illusion of some substance, albeit lopsided. Not that it’s much of an backside – a friend said I haven’t an arse so much as a hole in my back. Charming. It had a few things in it (the wallet that is) that strictly speaking shouldn’t have been there but I couldn’t quite remove them. The ticket from the first time I saw Liverpool play, in 1997, against Wimbledon, Michael Owen’s debut. The card from a restaurant, Del Buongustaio in SW London, where I used to go with someone very lovely at the lowest time in my life.

There was the ticket from when I went to see the Afro Cuban Allstars at the Royal Festival Hall in 1998. I’d accidentally caught them on the South Bank Show (I think this is a clip from it). I know your all busy, but do have a quick clicky on these links, it’s a lovely noise being made. Band leader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez had helped to gather the aged band members from the heyday of interwar Cuban music together after many years of retirement. He’s in the South Bank Show clip, all in red, wearing the beret. I was blown away by the magical noise, the piano of the unbelieveable octagenarian Ruben Gonzalez, the bass of Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez (here they are playing together as part of the sister band, Buena Vista Social Club). Then there’s the singing of Ibrahim Ferrer (singing a duet here with Omara Portuondo and PĆ­o Leyva, here, singing a song that I understand may not be entirely about a domestic blaze. And Omara Portuondo singing the song my wife walked into our wedding to…*sniffs*. I felt like Steve Martin in The Jerk. I was living in London, properly unhappy. I got on the tube the next day, sat down and felt sorry for myself. Someone sat down opposite me at the next stop. I looked up: it was Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. ‘Aren’t you…’ We chatted, they were playing the Royal Festival Hall in a few months, tickets were going on sale that day. I couldn’t believe it. I rang at 9.01 and booked the whole front row and took many of my closest friends. None had heard the Afro Cuban Allstars before, yet three of them burst into tears when Ruben Gonzalez shuffled on and started to play, I kid you not. He was that special.

I started remembering the wallet’s stitching and where it was coming apart a little. Funny how a few bits of sown-together leather get to hold a whole lot more than a few notes and cards. I haven’t replaced it yet.

The new cards came through rather quickly, in plenty of time for when I got back from holiday. A few days later I had a long overdue visit to Jekka’s Herb Farm. I was picking up plenty of perennial herbs for the new herb garden at River Cottage and taking my chance to spend a day with the undisputed Queen of Herbs. I like Jekka, she’s nice and direct, and very mischievous. She’s also got an incredible set up there and she not only knows her herbs, she’s got a good sense for what will suit you. I knew I’d buy a few, perhaps a handful for adding a little lift to the garden but I ended up with almost twice as much as I’d picked for the River Cottage. Now Jekka’s not cheap but you’ll not get quality and varieties that match these from many places. You’ll leave with a dent in your pocket but long after that’s been sanded over, filled and resprayed your garden will still be enjoying the difference these herbs make. With the handful of mints I picked, I realise I now have 11 types of mint. Ridiculous I know, but when I try to whittle them down a little I can’t. That one (Eastern mint) is simply amazing as tea, as is Moroccan mint. And nothing beats Tashkent Mint with potatoes. And so it goes. And that’s the beauty of what you get from Jekka’s – she shows you how brilliant so many herbs are, down to the difference the varieties make. It’s not just mint, it’s that mint, perfect for xxx. Of course, none are essential, but then neither’s ice cream, lemons or chcolate, and once you’ve seen the light it’s hard to do without them. And as anoracky things go, it’s better than wanting a flash car.

  • Sorry to hear about your wallet, its funny how we attach so many memories to inanimate objects. I have a bracelet which my aunt gave me many years ago which had been her aunts and I completely panic if I cant find it.

    The plant addict in me cause my heart to have palpitations at the site of your top photo

  • That was a really enjoyable read, despite the wallet loss, painting a fantastic picture of everything & the photos are fabulous.

  • Oh… I know exactly how you feel about the wallet – like saying goodbye to an old friend. At least it has given you chance to share some lovely life memories with us.

    I live in fear I might lose my handbag. We bought it from a small artisan shop in Lucca years ago. The owner asked us what religion we were and the Bedsock and I (never really having thought about it) looked at each other in some confusion and eventually came up with "Well.. er Church of England probably..". I always wondered why he asked and whether we would have got discount if we'd said Catholic.

    Anyway the bag wasn't particularly expensive but the leather is now beautifully aged and worn and is often admired by complete strangers!

  • You probably do already but if you don't give it a try. What I mean is subscribing to Songlines Magazine. (they're even on Twitter).

    You'll get your fill of Buena Vista Social Club and much much more "world music" besides.

    Gawd that sounds far to much like a commercial break šŸ™‚

  • "(Eastern mint) is simply amazing as tea" and you had the temerity to accuse moi of being a jessie for enjoying some lemon balm tea in the not to distant past. Ponce!

    ….pst is it though? I always get withering looks from the missed every time I pick up another variety.

    It's is funny how certain things trap memories though. For me it's music, certain times in life when your listening to something a lot, seems to bottle the memory of that time, waiting until you play it again the memories are released.

    Nice one.

  • holy moly – the Afro Cuban Allstars/ Buena Vista Social Club – WOW!!! You have made another fan out of me. LOVED the first clip and love Ibrahim Ferrer. I must learn to dance properly, that had the hips a-swinging!
    Sorry about the wallet šŸ™

  • Having reminisced earlier in the week In my blog on a few of my memories locked up in a tattered recipe for elderflower cordial, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your collection of memories. A pity you had to lose the wallet to share them, but thank you for an evocative read.

  • Love reading your blog, Mark. You should write a book y'know…

    Sorry about your wallet. I have a few wallets in my collection, which eventually just got a bit worn and old.

    I can't part with them – each of them remind me of different times in my life.

    I feel your sorrow. Hopefully the next wallet will last a little bit longer.

  • I loved this. Can't help but have a bit of an attack of thinking that this powerful nostalgia for the just lost (which is an attachment never felt while you still have it) is a peculiarly male thing, but love it anyway.
    And totally with you on the need for 11 varieties.

  • I am also particularly attached to my wallet, which I bought in the french alps a few years ago whilst on a snowboarding holiday. It is white leather with green birds all over, and is truly beautiful. I have occasional panics when I think it has flown my bag, but a quick rummage around in the depths and its comforting mass can be found. if you know what I mean. aherm.
    there is something about mints that attracts me too – I seemed to have collected quite an unhealthy amount for a (very late) twenties girl. My favourite is corsican mint as it feels like a tiny explosion in your gob, but then the sultryness of chocolate peppermint also grabs me…
    I even like variegated pineapple mint – now that's committment.

  • That was such a special restaurant, wasn't it. We had some very lovely evenings there. I remember the bliss of each course, and the enjoyment that came with knowing that there would be a long wait in anticipation of the next, filled with wine, water, planning and chatter.

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