For anyone who's stepped inside a Waterstones in the last month Coralie Bickford-Smith's 'The Fox and the Star' has been hard to miss. The gentle hints to buy it worked, I purchased one for my godson and put it aside to wrap.
With only a week until Christmas work is turning into all kinds of crazy, and I will admit that I struggle at this point to make sense of it all. I think there's a deep human need to light up the winter, to bring forth the good things stored up against this time, to give and receive, and to think about those we love. Naturally it should be a time for slowing down, taking stock, and creating warmth and comfort. It's also the time we're most likely to miss the people who are gone, and the older you get the more there are of them.
What I hate about Christmas is the pressure to spend, how angry and frustrated people get, and how in the rush to get everything done so much of the magic gets lost. I hate endlessly explaining that however much a customer might want a thing we don't actually have it, and that wanting it won't change that. I really hate that conversations I'd normally enjoy - say a lengthy discussion about which gin to choose - become a burden because of the constant pressure applied by the need to get, literally, tons of stock on the shelves.
Meanwhile back in my flat, all candle and tree lit with radio 3 doing something seasonal in the background, I'm finishing cards, starting to wrap presents, and unwinding enough to enjoy it. Even more now that I've stopped to properly read 'The Fox and the Star'. Now I really get what all the fuss is about.
Firstly it's an absolute celebration of the book as an object. A beautiful cloth bound hardback, good quality paper, exquisite illustrations which recall William Morris, and even details like the orange thread that binds it and echos Foxes glorious marmalade colour, make it something special. The story is optimistic without being overly sentimental and simple enough to allow the reader to find their own meaning in it. What I found was some unexpected perspective, and a bit of Christmas magic in the form of total delight in a well made, beautiful thing.
Sauternes is another well made beautiful thing that delights me, and as I was given a bottle yesterday it's very much at the front of my mind. Sauternes is a treat, a good bottle (don't stint on this) will start somewhere in the region of £15 for 35cl, and it's worth doing a bit of research (5 minutes googling to see what's a good vintage and a good vineyard) then buying to lay down for a bit as it just keeps getting better. A little can go a long way so even if a modest half bottle has gone round with the cheese, chances are there will be enough left over to enjoy a small glass in peace the next day. It's also perfectly reasonable to stash the whole bottle for personal enjoyment.
I love this wine, love its complexity and the tremendous range of flavours in it, the balance of luscious sweetness and racey acidity, the way it develops over time, the expression of terroir, the romance of its long history, all of it. I know not everybody shares my love of sweet wines but try it, and let it take centre stage; it deserves it. The flavours I associate with Sauturnes are marmalade, candied pineapple, apricot, and a whiff of lanolin (familiar to anyone on a business footing with sheep). It should be thought about and concentrated on so a book like 'The Fox and the Star' is just the right kind of accompaniment. Something that also demands appreciation, but won't take your concentration from the wine in the glass.