'A buttery one, please,’ I said.
The sommelier smiled. ‘Certainly, let me fetch something you might like.’
Malling Lass turned to me, respect and suspicion battling it out across her face. ‘Buttery, eh?’
I nodded and nibbled a bread stick.
‘It’s cold, isn’t it?’ Lass said, stalling. ‘The nights are drawing in.’
‘They are indeed. We’ve put the heating on.’
‘Ah, no need up in Malling. Heat rises, you see.’
‘Our house is warm as an Athens sauna in August. Uncle Adultery’s laid up on the sofa in front of the fire, demanding non-stop Bath Olivers and Darjeeling. It’s good to get out.’
‘Glad to oblige.’
There was a pause.
‘So,’ she said. ‘What’s this buttery business all about?’
The sommelier returned with a large glass containing a swirl of golden liquid. ‘I think you’ll find this extremely creamy,’ he said.
I sipped it, channelling the Jilly Goolden of my youth. ‘Mmm. I’m getting the full dairy here. Butter, stilton… and is there just a hint of macrobiotic yoghurt?’
The sommelier’s smile shifted into a lower gear.
‘Let me try,’ Malling Lass said, snatching my glass. I don’t know what they teach ‘em up that end of town. She swilled my wine from cheek to cheek like a hamster, then swallowed it with a cartoon gulp.
‘How exactly is that buttery?’ she demanded. ‘It just tastes like wine.’
I gave up my pseudo-oenophilia. ‘Look, I once had a scrummy wine which was described as buttery. So now I always ask for something buttery because I know I’ll like it. When I was fifteen I used to ask for the one with the blue nun picture because I knew I liked that.’
‘Ooh you had me fooled, I thought you were an expert.’
We clinked glasses - ‘Cheers!’ ‘Sláinte!’ ‘L’chaim!’ ‘Mud in yer eye!’ - and she chugged down her own wine, a vibrant red full of raspberries and apple blossom (it said on the label).
‘Something else I know nothing about, other than one useful fact,’ I said, ‘is Ancient Greek.’
Malling Lass indicated to the sommelier, by means of an oddly emotional mime, that she needed replenishing.
‘I’ll want a shedload more alcohol if you’re going to start muttering about Greek,’ she said, and ordered ‘something with a kick of Tabasco.’
‘I was going to say that the only Greek I know, is the meaning of the word symposium.’
‘And this came to your mind because…?’
‘…because we’re in a wine bar called Symposium.’
‘So we are. Go on then, cleverclogs.’
‘It means “a drinking party.” Which would have enlivened most of the decidedly sober symposiums I have attended.’
‘Symposia, surely?’ Lass said, sipping from her fresh glass. ‘Mmm. More Aromat than Tabasco, but in the right arena. Or arenum as you doubtless prefer.’
‘Actually, symposia and symposiums are both correct.’
‘Here’s a plan,’ Lass said. ‘Let’s stay here until we see this Symposium in plural.’
And we drank to that.
Beth Miller, 27th October 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith