Back in step

Got back some of my old life yesterday. Put on a suit for the first time in yonks, and found some old-time swagger with it. Spent most of the day running around doing little things before heading into town.

I’d received an invite from the local Ted Baker store to a quarterly function – you know the deal, a tipple, a nibble, and 20% off. I used to get a lot of these invitations, and still get a few (changing email address lost some). Truth is it’s pretty easy to get about Melbourne living off the hospitality of promoters, marketers and networkers once you’re on the right mailing list. I used to do a lot of it, and though I still get regular invitations it’s been a while since I accepted – until last night. (And next week I’m off to the Pandora function).

So there I am in my suit checking out the fashion and doing the mandatory trying things on and teasing them that I might buy something I never will. I get my shoes shined, I have a chat and a laugh with the cute shop assistant in black riding pants and clipped British accent, and of course I stop by the small bar they’ve set up.

I’ve often said that I’m a born guest: hospitality was invented for the likes of me. I could do it professionally. And so, as I do, as I’ve done many hundreds of times before, and in places all across the world, I strike up a conversation with the barman of the night.

In actual fact the barman is Spanish, and owns his own specialty bottle shop in Port Melbourne. He pours me a Japanese whisky, then a Scottish one. We discuss the tastes, the provenance, the technicalities. I try the cheese – a triple cream from Normandy, a lovely goats cheese, and a smoked cheddar. I try them again, and once more, as we discuss cheese like cheese bores. I love these conversations, and he lights up with it too – here is someone he can do more than serve a drink with, here’s someone passionate and curious about the things you’re passionate about.

I cleanse the palate with a beer, then upon his insistence acquiesce to check out the lovely Shiraz. I learn my new friend – Jose – used to be a winemaker. He tells me how he has travelled and lived around the world following his profession. Now he is settled, he tells me.

By now one of the shop staff has joined the conversation. The customers are dwindling. We talk about barrels and aging of spirits. We talk about packaging, and how important it is – at which point Jose pours me a lovely tequila from a ceramic bottle. Jose and I are fast becoming best mates. Another time and place we’d spend hours discussing these things, him plying me with different things – here, try this – and me agreeably compliant.

I finally walk out with my lips just slightly numb from the tequila. The streets are buzzing with the Comedy Festival crowd. I’m gone about 2 minutes when my phone rings. It’s Ted Baker – I’ve just won the door prize. Do I want to come back and collect it? And so, happily, I return.

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