THE sun is shining and we are tasting wine: what’s not to like? The gravel in my throat and a hacking cough, perhaps. This afternoon tour of the Swan Valley was booked some time ago, so I swallow a couple of Nurofen cold and flu tablets, as supplied by our daughter, and man up.
There are seven of us on this tour and the young woman leader drives the minibus between wineries, as they are called here. At the first stop, she gives us a mini-masterclass in wine-tasting, telling us to hold the glass by the stem and to swirl the liquid. I swirl the wine, and soon enough, the wine swirls me.
There isn’t much to say about a wine-tasting tour, except that they are pleasant occasions. Being a good boy, or possibly a foolish one, I drink everything offered, liking some more than others, but casting into the spittoon only a splash of red too oaky even for me.
Apart from the three of us, the other guests are an Australian couple (she’s from Melbourne, he’s from Perth but has recently been relocated to London); and a couple from Venezuela, now living in Perth.
Risking my sandpaper vocal cords, I chat as best as possible. Everyone is friendly and interesting, but what stays with me is a thought about Venezuela, a country of many advantages, including the world’s largest oil reserves, that seems to have become an economic and political basket case.
The president, Nicolas Maduro, blames foreign sabotage for his country’s problems, including severe shortages of food and medicine, hyper-inflation and worsening violence. Maduro has responded to this unrest by jailing and blacklisting opponents.
Anyway, it hardly seems fitting for a man drinking wine in the Australian sunshine to offer a definitive view on what’s happening in Venezuela. Some on the left in Britain side with Maduro and blame the US, seeing Venezuela as a proud left-wing country brought low by capitalism.
Again, swirling my glass, I don’t know the truth of this. But I do know that this lovely young couple – one a lawyer, the other working 50 hours a week as a chef in an Italian restaurant – left Venezuela because it was no longer possible to live any sort of life there.
All their young friends left too and are scattered around the world. When everyone who can leave a country does, it doesn’t look good for that country.
They are a bright, attractive couple, newly married by the look of it, lovey-dovey in the sunshine, taking photographs of each other and enjoying their day off. But it is possible to sense a sadness in them too when they talk about their country. They don’t mention the president or who’s to blame; they don’t take sides. They just pause beneath a different blue sky to say what a rotten mess their country has become.
They chose Australia because it was the man’s dream to visit the country, and now he’s living that dream instead of living the nightmare of life at home.
Later, over tiny paper cups of different chocolate liqueurs, they tell me that they like the sunshine here – and that they should visit London, but worry about the weather.
“Doesn’t it always rain there?” the woman asks, frowning.
By the time we head back into Perth, I have sampled everything on offer: assorted wines, bits of cheese, a little glass of beer, good chips and those chocolate liqueurs (bad idea that: I blame those lovely Venezuelans).
Back in the city, its banking towers scraping the blue sky, we retreat to a cafe hidden down an alleyway before heading out for a meal with the daughter of friends from York, who now lives out here. On the way to the restaurant, I go into a supermarket to buy throat lozenges.
Now it is late and I have been in and out of bed. I could accuse the cough but only have myself to blame. All that different food and drink is having a rebellious moment in my stomach. I get out of bed for a while and read Oliver Twist on my Kindle. After that I return to bed and sleep well enough, and wake feeling quite a bit better.