by PHILIP WHITE
I was flirting with Rachel in the charcuterie at Jo Goldenberg’s when Jean Bugatti came down the stairs with four beautiful white sheep. I thought the first question would be him asking how long it had been since Jo moved the charcuterie into the cellar, and had trouble deciding what I would say if he did ask me and what Rachel would say if he asked her, because she didn’t even seem to realise that the charcuterie should be upstairs.
But Bugatti asked nothing. He gave me an instruction.
“I want you to look after these sheep”, he said.
I had no hesitation. We were in a charcuterie, and the sawdust on the floor suited the polished hooves of M. Bugatti’s sheep as well as the precipitous Manolo Blahniks I just watched sashay up the stairs before the sheep came down so dainty.
Bugatti left, flicking his lapel.
I’d been watching the sheep for some time before I noticed the lumps. Each beast had a pair of strange lumps just behind its shoulders. I could feel through their wool that this was the end of a flexible slightly springy affair that followed their sides to below the hips, as if they wore some sort of interior sword beneath their skins, and one on each side, by Bacchus!
I sharpened Rachel’s boning knife, and taking the first beast between my knees, pulled the tender wooly hide up above the end of this strange intrusion on her left hand side, and made a neat ten centimetre incision. The wool was arctic white – the beasts had never seen the sun – and surprisingly the flesh was pink and pale blue beneath the white skin and there was no blood.
Rachel screwed her face up.
Feeling that warm exhalation of life that escapes each time such a breach of epidermis is affected, as if there were breath trapped between hide and flesh, I reached into the white wound with my left hand, and grasped something that felt immediately vegetal. It was loose, as if in a sheath within the side of the sheep. I withdrew it and as it slid out quite readily, we were both astonished to see that it was a stalk of perfect celery, the tips just a little more pale than usual, like whitloof.
The sheep was relieved. She shook her head and murmured something in Sheep.
Once I had withdrawn the celery stalks from each of Bugatti’s sheep, they stood there in the sawdust looking thankfully at me, me looking at the celery we’d laid neatly on the table, wondering whether Jo would like to put it in the pot au feu, when the health inspector arrived.
The neat parallel incisions, which never seemed to bother the sheep at all, were clean, not bleeding, and seemed ready to heal without sutures. But they were obvious.
“Who’s been at these sheep?” the health inspector demanded, while Rachel calmly put the boning knife into my right hand behind my back, and with exquisite deliberation, closed first my thumb and then my fingers around its deer horn handle. I can’t work out whether I woke on the staircase or I’d got outside, but when I realised I was suddenly at home I swear I’d heard M. Bugatti’s Royale. No it wasn’t. It was far too raucous.
M. Jean Bugatti with his Royale - 12,763cc; 260 BHP. Having built five Royales, which were tricky to sell in the Depression, Bugatti used the same eight-cylinder engine to drive his fast, modernist passenger trains (below).
And in the shed was parked the source of that beautiful noise. Phil Bradey had driven his 1934 K3 supercharged MG to work. 1100cc six, offered without the Rootes-type supercharger poking through the bottom of the radiator (40 horsepower), or with (120 hp), and nobody ordered one without.
The late Phil Bradley's 1934 MG K3 1100CC 120 BHP supercharged six. Enough said?
It has been cool since those awful firey days. We’ve even had some rain. A cool misty sesh of strong wind and occasional drifts of cloud more than rain drops, but enough to moisten the ground down to about 20 centimetres.
The celery stalks were exact replicas of each other. Fractals again!
The vineyard is not the place it was on Black Saturday. For a fortnight it has been a calm, growing carpet, and even the faint yellow seems to have subsided, revealing a new verdancy. The men have picked delicious chardonnay and some shiraz at almost ideal numbers, and there’s a viognier fermenting on its own yeast with really stony tannins. A few of the bunches on the old bush vine grenache which somehow were post or pre veraison when it went way over 50 in the sun seem to be rejuvenating. There it is again. Juve, Jove ... But Bacchus is my man. Well Bacchus and the Bugattis.
It's raining again.